WHAT AIN’T IN IFA ?—MATHEMATICS
By Alashe Michael omo’Oshoosi
© All Rights Reserved, 2019
My task here is to take address the view that the divination system of Ifa (especially its method for marking down the 256 octagrams that distinguish one odu from another) should be called "mathemat- ical," in general, or a "binary mathematical" system, specifically. There are some who have too literally taken to this idea. I will critique a sample of their offerings in the appendices to this essay. But, let me first start with an example of a place where this idea is better expressed than usual. In this case, it is a narrator of a publicity video entitled "The House of Oduduwa," whose narration celebrates the life and mission of the current Ooni of Ile Ife HRH Ooni Adeyeye Ogunwusi Ojaja II in commenting on the grand cultural history of Ife civilization. He does mention the Ifa divination system and the idea of it being "mathematical" or, at least so, in one notable respect. In his view, the da'fa marks that reflect the mes- sages that the oracle presents during a session are (or certainly look like) the "binary codings of (1's) and (0's) in some respects. For example, here we have one of 256 types of "da'fa" marks or signatures. ("Da = to cast" "Fa = Ifa"):
I could be written "in binary" as 1100
An Ifa Odu Mark A "Binary" Numeric Sequence
Thankfully, the narrator's explanation is of the highest quality precisely because he stresses that the two systems are "akin" to each other or may be "likened" to each other. And then, quite appropriately, he goes no further. For example, this narrator is appropriately silent on the question of the historical relat- ionship (if any at all) between Ifa practice of more than a thousand years, on the one hand, and north Af- rican Arabic (and eventually European) "base -2" notation, on the other. He also does not address any
substantive contents of the Ifa oracle in this brief video because such an explication was not the purpose of his project. By contrast, I respectfully submit that calling the Ifa divination practice “mathematical” is not necessarily the best way to describe the interplay of “light” and “dark” polarities that get marked down in the divination session. Going on, in pertinent part, he said (at 5'04") of the video: * Ifa retells the destiny of men and nations”… “Contemporary thoughts liken the
divination system of 16 Opeles and mathematical probability to the binary system
which is the basis of computer technology (at 5’25”)… Is it a coincidence that in log-
arithms there are 256 logs and in Ifa there are 16 opele each having 16 odu all total-
ing 256. Is that a coincidence?...The binary system uses implicit arrangements of zero
which is akin to the odu system…” (Emphases added).
I find these statements to be believable and appropriately self-limiting. “Liken” and "akin” are deliberate
words that express themselves perfectly.Ifa’s octagrams, on the one hand, and “binary (mathematical)
sil vous plait) coding, are similar. This, however, does not mean that they are the same nor that they en- tered into Yoruba thinking, and into European/American mathematical and computer engineering prac-tices through the same historical route. Let me provide for you another good example of how to state
the relationship between a mathematical idea, on the one hand, with a wholly cultural idea, on the ot- her.
The true relationship between nature, culture, and mathematics can be exemplified in the work of the
brilliant African-American mathematician and theoretical physicist S. James Gates, Jr. of the University
of Maryland. He is one of the authors of the concept of “supersymmetry” in physics. He was inspired
by the idea that the visual geometric paintings or textile designs of the Akan of Ghana and the Gyamen
of the Ivory Coast—that express cultural concepts like aphorisms (“truisms”) and proverbs—would also
be good illustrations of physics’ models and geometry—especially because of their use of symmetry. The Adinkra design--see the top of this page, please--means “He who does not know can become know- ledgeable through learning.”
As a result, he started calling his geometric designs “adinkras,” but he was exceedingly careful to point out that these had no mathematical nor, specifically, geometric meaning to the Africans now nor in the past. He just borrowed the idea that a geometric design (frankly, like Mandalas) could have semantic meaning or (in his case) applied mathematical meaning. (See https://onbeing.org/blog/symbols-of-power-adinkras-and-the-nature-of-reality/)
By contrast,this paper will examine the limits of the wisdom in—too literally—regarding Ifa divination as “mathematical”or saying (or implying) that it is a system of“binary mathematical” computation. In“math- ematizing” Ifa, they tend to overstate their case, tend to attribute Ifa divination methods to others than the Yoruba themselves without distinguishing the “marking” of symbols (i.e., the octagons as a recording method) from the substance of the odus’ folk wisdom that is sui generis to the Yorubas alone. I think that these other writers (see Appendices A, B, and C, herein) should take the same care in expressing their views as did the narrator in “The House of Oduduwa.”
Finally, because this video, which is only 15 minutes long, is so good in explaining the history of the Yor- uba world-view, and the great character and plans of the Ooni of Ile Ife, I shall review it in the Endnotes to this essay.(12) Again, the narrator's comments are a part of his successful YouTube video called "The House of Oduduwa." This public relations video features the new Ooni of Ile Ife: his history and his aug- ust mission and destiny. It may be found at:
As one further example of inappropriate “mathematicism,” I will critique the video of a certain Shango- dare Fagbemi, in Appendix C, in highlighting the many instances where he interjects or projects math- ematics into Orisha/Ifa religion as a whole (i.e., not just into its divinatory processes). For example, he said that the Fibonacci sequence of numbers is determined by simply adding a number to the last num- ber in the sequence in order to get the next number: 1 + 2=3, then +3=5, then 3 + 5 =8, then 5 + 8 =13, then 8 +13 = 21, and then 13 + 21 = 34 and so on. Therefore, the sequence is 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34… The video lecturer, Mr. Fagbemi, then declares that because the orisha Oshun’s (an Orisha/ Ifa deity’s) cerem- onial number is “5” and because the orisha Obatala’s number is “8,”this then proves that 'Oshun’s and Obatala’s place in the orisha pantheon is based on mathematics because their numbers are also in the Fibonacci sequence.' This, of course, is preposterous. (The orishas Yemoja and Oshoosi share the “num- ber” 7. Did God forget to ordain them with a number that was in the Fibonacci sequence? How about Oya, whose number is “9”; did our "God of Mathematical Nature" forget her? In fact, there are variations on the theme of creation in the religion: Some say that are 401 orishas in Yoruba religion while others have it at 601 orishas. So one is given to wonder who else did not make the "Fibonacci Top 40")?
I humbly ask that those people who are already familiar with the concept of “odus” in Orisha/Ifa religion, and its divination practices, to be patient with me in respect of these introductory remarks. I promise that I will clearly demonstrate why I say that there are no embedded mathematical processes “in” Orisha /Ifa religion--particularly in its divinatory rituals--despite ever-popular misconceptions to the contrary. In- stead, I say that the religion is entirely qualitative in nature. But in order to demonstrate this--for the sake of those who are not familiar with the religion at all, let alone its divinatory practices, some introd- uctory remarks are obligatory.
The problem confronting this writer is that there are readers who know a lot about math but only a little about Orisha/Ifa religion. And there are those who know a lot about the religion but are modestly school ed in math (like me). And then, of course, there are those who know a lot about both, yet some who know nothing about either. For these reasons, a good deal of introductory commentary must issue in or-der to contextualize the arguments contained herein. Therefore, I ask for persons, especially those who are new to Yoruba’s “Orisha/Ifa” divination practices, as described below, to be indulgent while I set forth what are the main theses contained in this paper--for the sake of the skeptics and for those who are familiar with the topic of Orisha/Ifa divination alike.
What sparked my interest in this subject are two things. First, in 1996, I wrote a book entitled “African
Spirituality vs. The African American.” My main aim in that book was to caution African-Americans who
--like me—were pursuing a bi-cultural existence that contained our American (i.e., Western) world view,
on the one hand, with what we could re-capture of our west and central African intellectual and religious heritage, on the other, about the fact that we were far more Western in our mentalities than our roman- tic inclinations would allow us to easily believe. As the great W.E.B. DuBois once remarked: ‘there is no one so American as the American Negro.’
I recognized then that most of us are functionally ignorant about the nature and importance of under- standing the influence of Grecian philosophy and mathematics, of Hebraic theological and literary cul- ture of antiquity, of Arabic-Islamic science and (especially) mathematics, European Hermeticism (includ- ing Gnosticism, alchemy, astrology, Rosicrucianism, and Freemasonry), as well as European and Anglo-American empiricism (fostering a new methodology of science), among others, on our thinking—even as we valiantly sought to distinguish ourselves from “Eurocentricism.(7)”
For this reason, after I read or saw videos of various African-American and Nigerian intellectuals asser- ting that “mathematics” was at the root of our nature religions of west and central Africa, foremost am- ong them Yoruba Orisha/Ifa religion, I was moved to respond. Such a proposition arose, and could only arise, I believe, from those with mathematical acumen but who are inclined to project into or onto Orisha /Ifa religion a ‘mathematicism’ (to coin a term) that, otherwise, they could never have found there except for their projections and those of like-minded people. Accordingly, I have identified the culprit as being an unrecognized Grecian Platonism in their thinking; i.e., non-conscious biases in thinking styles and bel- iefs that were born of educations in Western dominated post-colonial schools (for our African kindreds) or our general American education system and media in which, for us, we were all wholly immersed.
Additionally, we are usually unaware of the Arabic cultural biases on us about mathematics (which, for them, included the primacy of algebra as the internal language of all mathematics domains except arith- metic), not to mention their astrology, numerology and geomancy (the technique of cutting divination symbols into the sand as octagons) on our ways of thinking. So, not only do I assert, by contrast, that there are no mathematics (meaning no mathematical operations) in Orisha/Ifa theology but, moreover—consistent with the fact that ours is the most robust religion of nature and ancient communal societies--I must also suggest that there were, and remain, no mathematics embedded “in nature” either.(13) Math- ematics is, I suggest, embedded in our minds and rooted in human labor interactions, mechanics, trade, coinage, astronomy, the applied physical sciences, innovation, and socialization over the eons.
This is not to say that we cannot learn something from the mathematically-minded who are interested in Yoruba Orisha/Ifa religion nor that it would not be of, at least, passing interest to the rest of us for the purposes of intellectual entertainment. Entertainment, indeed, as many of them do seek to “wow!” us with talk of ‘fractals,’ Fibonacci sequences, ‘golden ratios (phi ratios) , the constants of physics, “base 2” binary coding and computations, the Boolean algebra of “sets,” and on and on, as illustrative of embed- ded mathematics “in” nature itself—transcendent above and independent of all human beings and hum- an cognition. Those who are themselves embedded in Platonic assumptions about the Universe believe that there are embedded in the universe [perfect] [essential] [forms] of [everything] including numbers, numerals (their written symbols), and mathematical ideas, formulae, and operations—all independent of any human thought processes or reflection.(1)
This view was introduced by Pythagoras and Plato into Western and all Mediterranean-rim cultures’ men- talities (eventually including North African Arab and Moorish groups as well). But what one is actually likely to learn from them—the fetish priests of mathematics--is a lot about mathematics but only a mod- est amount (at best!) about Orisha/Ifa religion! Accordingly, what one does learn from them will have no bearing whatsoever on the cultivation nor enlargement of one’s ashe (pronounced "ah-shay") or spiritual knowledge, power and effectiveness as a priest or priestess in this, nor any other, truly (sub-Saharan) African traditional religion. Small wonder then that you have never seen a babalawo nor any other divin- er pull out a hand-held calculator, a slide-rule, nor paper-and-pencils to do arithmetic in a divination ses- sion using the Orisha/Ifa oracle.
The Main Assumptions and Theses
For your perusal, let me set forth these ideas:
Orisha/Ifa Religion Is Far and Away Qualitative In Nature, Not Quantitative
When considering Orisha/Ifa as a corpus of received wisdom—substantive folk wisdom—there are no numerical operations (meaning no calculations), nor any other versions of mathematical (binary) com- putations, axioms, theorems, proofs, nor algebraic expressions in it. Orisha/Ifa theology is, practically-speaking, entirely qualitative in nature. The few “numbers” thought about in it or numerals written down in it are virtually incidental, having only nominal uses, i.e., “naming,” labeling, or designation roles, but are not used for measurement, calculation nor computational ones. For example, certain odus (we will cover what they are later) may have number--as labels--associated with them and certain orisha (deities) may also have varying numbers associated with them while the offerings given to them will use their "numbers" as designations. Some rituals may be associated with determining the span of the approp- riate number of days or nights, or certain hours of the day or night to do them, as may be deemed con- ventional by local customs. But none of these numbers are actually used for calculation nor computat- ional mathematical operations.(2)
Unfortunately many writers, whenever they see a ( I ) in a sentence written in close proximity to ( 0 ) or to ( II ) automatically think that the first symbol is a “one” and the second is a “zero” or digital polarity. So, from there they declare that these are “binary” numerals derived from “base 2” enumeration. Not necessarily true! These symbols could also mean, qualitatively-speaking “something” as contrasted to “not something”; that is, the quality of “somethingness” vs. the quality of “nothingness.” Polarities do not necessarily mean numbers. This is exemplified by the polarities of “pregnant vs. not pregnant” or “night vs. day.”
They will even go so far as to write out the binary number equivalents to the 16 odu figures that Yoruba priests use to denote the “16” odu (Olodu) signs or signatures.(3) For example: see the odu quality figure when written here as the analogue to the binary quantity notation numbers that these writers proffer:
I (light) This odu equivalent would, they believe, be written in
I (light) “binary” as the following number sequence:
I I (dark) ➔➔➔➔➔becomes➔➔➔➔➔ 1 1 0 1
This an quadragram named
“Irete” (in Nigerian Ifa)
“Irete” (in Afro-Cuban dilogun)
I will go into legitimate questions about doing this in Appendices A, B, and C of this essay as I describe what odus are. (Much mental and cultural mischief flows in the wake of this misunderstanding if it were left standing as a misrepresentation of Orisha/Ifa divination because it would wreak havoc on a key as- pect of Yoruba divination that is common to all of its legitimate variantions—namely the decisions that have to be made that depend on each “sign’s” or octagon’s seniority rank vis. a vis. the other 15 main signs). (4)
Albeit, as a non-mathematician, my opinion is that all mathematical operations must ultimately involve measurement, calculations or computations. Which is to say that, at some fundamental level, they must ultimately involve number ideas and numerals (i.e., number symbols for them) and numerically quantized measurements expressly scaled as units of some kind that are acted on by the simple “operators” of arithmetic (+, - , x or / ) operations acting on them in strict adherence to its basic rules and algorithms.
In my view, regardless of how esoteric and symbolically expressed are the mathematical operations, I would go so far as to say that if they do not ultimately involve the contemplation and calculation of num- bers—in the final analysis—we are not dealing with mathematics—or, at least, not with mathematical operations at all.
And, finally, if we are dealing with mathematics then all of its measurements (i.e., its measured units) of weight, speed, time-intervals etc.) must be scaled. The scaling might be in the nature of an ordinal scale (where quantities get ranked numerically as being in1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th place, etc.) or a ratio scale (where some number is considered to be a percentage, square or inverse square of some other relevant num- ber). Finally, things may be meassured using an interval scale where the “interval” is the amount of ‘stuff’ or time between any two adjacent natural numbers: say the amount of “stuff” or units between 6 and 7, is known to be the same amount of ‘stuff’ as between, say, 10 and 11. And, of course, there are other types of scales like, for example, logarithmic or exponential scales (where numbers are expressed as multipliers of themselves).
By contrast, “nominal” or labeling numerals or integers—such as the few that appear in Orisha/Ifa prac- tices—are only, at most, “designators” that simply identify and distinguish one thing from another. These numerals, like the numerals on the tops of various autos in a car race, are not scaled. They are only numerals used as “names” for the purposes of identification, not measurements. Nominal “numerals” are used in Orisha/Ifa divination, but not for the purposes of mathematic calculation nor computation. And, in fact, they are completely dispensable (though this is impractical). That is, the rules and methods of Orisha/Ifa divination can be written down as words alone, including words that denote “seniority” rules and algorithms, as will be discussed later in Part VI, below) and followed without any numerals appearing anywhere!
What do I mean by the idea that some numbers are only used as identifiers or “designators”? Again, I mean that they are only nominal in nature, as categorizers. For example,‘this person has “type 1” diab- etes, while these other two patients have “type 2” and "type 3” diabetes (brain starvation), respectively.' You see, these numbers only designate types or categories of the diseases, but there are no arithmetic calculations involving addition, subtraction, multiplication nor division using those numbers in clinical medicine. They are only identifiers of one thing used to distinguish something from another similar thing, e.g., like the numbers on a soccer team’s players’ uniforms or on race cars roofs. Those kinds of numbers do not interact with each other. Theyare merely nominal (name labeling) “designators.”
Similarly, there are “ordinal scales” the numbers of which only serve the purpose of informing us about the sequence or ranking of things that have been identified. This information only tells us what place or rank in a list of things does the thing we are interested in fall in a sequence of similar things. For exam- ple, saying that “Mr. Smith’s car came in “1st place” in the race,”while Ms Green’s car came in“2nd place” and Mr. Brown’s car came in “3rd place. This example of ordinal information does not tell us nor suggest how fast either of the was traveling, nor how much distance at the end of the race lay between Mr. Smith’s car and Ms Green’s car, as compared to how much distance there was between her “2nd” place” car and the “3rd place” finisher.
In other words, no calculations nor computations ensue from this information. They are merely numeric information denoting which place a car finished the race. Hence, no mathematical operations are invol- ved. Similarly, in Orisha/Ifa divination there is minor use of ordinal numbers—e.g., this odu here is “senior” to that odu (ranked older or higher) "over there," while both of them are “junior” to these rem- aining odus. This information is useful—indeed obligatory-- to know in some parts of the divnation ses- sion--but has nothing to do with arithmetic calculations nor computations with other numbers. These kinds of incidental numbers (1st , 2nd place etc.), numerals, digits or integers (or whatever one wishes to call them) cannot, therefore, be used to assert that Orisha/Ifa ontains “in” it any essential mathematical processes. The point here is “designators,” or identifiers. And they may be used as “rankers” or “raters” but otherwise not be further involved in any mathematical calculations nor computations.
The relevance of this will soon become clear, as some of the “things” that we will be talking about a little later as being “in” Orisha/Ifa theology are things called “odus” that have nominal numeral labels. These odus are like the chapters and verses of Yoruba folk wisdom, originally only stored, and recited orally from generation to generation. The odus (which double as “deities” as well!) have names and numbers assigned to them. But, again, they are merely “nominal” numbers. Their numbers serve only to disting- uish them from various other odus among the 256 total possibilities. [Ishall explain the centrality and nature of odus in Part VI of this paper].
That is, these number labels for the odus—because numbers, otherwise, state the magnitude or length of something—are used to identify which of the odus are relatively older or “senior” to others, as men- tioned above. But after such ranking is taken into consideration in the methodological choices a diviner has to make during the session, they have no further calculation, computational, nor interpretive value in divination results. So, again, since no arithmetic calculations nor computations are involved there is—in short—no “math” is involved (i.e., no adding, subtracting, multiplying nor dividing)—in Orisha/Ifa theol- ogy, generally, nor its divination methods or substantive narratives in particular.
What Does An Odu Sign, Symbol, or Octagonal Da’fa Mark Look Like When Written
or Etched Into Powder On A Tray or Chalked In As An Inscription On A Straw Mat?
They look like this, where ( I ) = “light” and ( II ) = “dark”:
I = I I
One “leg” of Ifa → I ←Two “legs” of Ifa → I ←One “leg” of Ifa
I I I
I I I
(As a quick aside, there is a “weak force energy” sensitivity, metaphorically-speaking, at each of their four levels in the octagram that "senses" whether its counterpart is of the same radiant “energy,” i.e., whether or not it is in a qualitative state of “lightness” or “darkness” over there. This is how one “leg” of Ifa can sense if the other, in the octagram viewed as a whole, is a “meji” (its identical double) or is a frat- ernal twin of some other sort. This feature is of minor interpretive value and is discussed in Appendix C).
Since these Orisha/Ifa’s divination’s odu “da’fa marks” or “signs” only signify different ones among the total 256 possibilities, i.e., signs that are marked such as “I" or "I I,” or “X"or "O,” or “I" or "O” etc., only designate “light” or “dark” patterns that are not actual numerals or digits. And since the da’fa figures never involve more than four such mark such levels (of an I, an O, or an X) for each “leg of Ifa” octagon, there never is any actual “counting” of them. [Please see Part VII, below, for complete illustrations of the 16 odus’ “da’fa” figures quadragram/octagrams like those above].
This is because the “counting” of objects—such as da’fa “marks--in Ifa divination, or in any other situa- tion in life, does not begin until the collection of things contains five or more objects. Provocative, huh? That is, “counting” does not begin until we humans perceive five or more things in a collection owing to the neuropsychological principle of “subtizing” which has proven that human “counting” does not occur until the sum of objects visible to or audible by us in a collection of things has passed the number “4.” Notice that a da’fa sign always has only four levels. Thus, they never need to be “counted” per se. And this is why in some elemental cultures, the only “mathematics” that they have in rather complete (for them) numbering system have for counting and calculation is in the nature of the following: “one, two, three, four, and many.”
(It has been shown that infants of one or two month’s age can demonstrate a brain-embedded, a priori, awareness that a collection of two objects is different than a collection or three or four of them. But for years to come they can count no more. A similar innate capacity for understanding the simple structure of spoken language—regardless of culture—i.e., the rules for grammar, syntax and prosody--were dis- covered by Noam Chomsky sixty years ago. It “comes in on a gene”—so to speak—since these rules of speaking and comprehending cannot be taught to an infant or toddler. They learn to speak, more or less, correct syntax by exposure to spoken language operating on this innate capacity. Only later, in school, can they be taught the rules of grammar).
Now back to the subject at hand: Orisha/Ifa theology and divination does not contain nor depend on the mathematical operations of calculation and computation. The only very minor exception to this general- ization about the Ifa oracle is evident in the merindilogun (or, in Afro-Cuba, “dilogun”) divinatory method that is a version of it. This approach using cowrie shells derive or “pulls down” the relevant odu signs in the divination session. In this method of Ifa divination (of which there are about eight different meth- ods) a diviner must “count” up to 16 shells in order to add up how many shells’ mouths among them are face-up on the mat or “speaking” (as per each cast). Also, this kind of Orisha/Ifa divination is the only method where “0” cowrie shell mouths “speaking” is notable--i.e., where all 16 shells fall facing down- wards--is possible.(5) In such a case, this odu is named “Opira” and is an odu which has its own very un- ique “substance” and unique way of being responded to by the diviner. The word "speaking" is the the
analogue to "light-side up" and conversely, "not speaking" is the same as "dark-side up."
In fact, the very word—“merindilogun”—as the name of the “16 cowrie shell” version of Orisha/Ifa divin- ation—means “twenty minus four” or “sixteen”--inherently a numerical subtraction idea—because, ag- ain, in this kind of Ifa divination sixteen cowries are used.(6) After that, however, this is only a “numer- ical word” that simply labels or describes this one type of Orisha/Ifa’s divination method, beyond which it has no mathematical operational in determining the interpretation of the odu “signs” that are reveal- ed by each cast of the cowies that ‘fall onto the mat.”
In the appendices to this paper I shall critique the contributions of some who assert that, in its essence, Orisha/Ifa religion is “mathematical” at its deepest levels. I hope to make the argument that this idea should be rejected along with the lunacy of some professional mathematicians, theoretical physicists, and cosmologists-in-the wild who maintain that the ‘Universe itself is—or can be reduced to--some prof- ound single equation ‘in the sky.’
Mathematics Is Embedded In Human Thought, Not In Transcendent “Objective” Nature.
Last, in Part V of this essay, I will make the argument that Ifa, in regard to its substantive content, is a religion of nature and West African social experience and that there are no mathematics embedded in nature either! I am fully aware that this blasphemy may exercise the mathematics adepts among us who passionately believe the contrary But I suggest that despite all of their mathematical acumen, they have yet to escape the Platonic(Mediterranean-rim) cultural core at the root of their convictions. Some may discover—perhaps to their dismay—just how Eurocentric (Platonic , Aristotelian and Hermetic) are their actual mind-sets when they make projections onto Orisha/Ifa theology propositions like “mathematics is embedded in Orisha/ Ifa divination systems; that they are, essentially, mathematical in substance and methodology.
I recommend that one read the foundational points in “Where Mathematics Comes (George Lakoff & Raf- ael Nunez, Perseus Books, 2000) that exhaustively makes the cognitive, neuropsychological and philos- ophical case that mathematics is not some thing that exists objectively in nature—i.e., apart, detached from, and transcendent “above” humanity—as Plato and other seminal Greek philosophers of mathem- atics believed.
Who Am I To Opine On These Lofty Topics?
This line of argumentation will be particularly difficult for many skeptics to accept coming from a mere intellectual wayfarer such as myself! After all, I am not a mathematician. (In fact, I am lucky to be able to balance my own checkbook). So, what could I know about such esoterica? Well, all I know is that it does not take mathematical genius to understand, conduct, nor comment on mathematical operations where no such operations exist such as in nature or in Ifa theology--the religious expression of nature.
To make matters more interesting yet, I am also not a babalawo in the Orisha/Ifa religion (they are its divinatory specialists). However, in my humble defense, I proffer the following: I am an olorisha (a priest of Oshoosi and Oya within Yoruba religion) with thirty-six years of experience in the religion; thirty-one of them “made” or “crowned.” I have a fundamental level of Ifa initiation as well, though I am not—and never intended to be--an awo nor babalawo. Authorized as a “made” (deeply initiated) priest, for dec- ades, I have used some of the various Orisha/Ifa methods of divination--though not hardly with the put- ative skills of an italero or oba-oriate--who, like babalawos, are divinatory specialists in my branch, the Cuban Lucumi, branch of Yoruba’s Orisha/Ifa religion.
It is the case, however, that I do have some modest educational and professional achievements: For ex-ample, I have a Ph.D. in clinical-social psychology (The Wright Institute, Berkeley, 1976), and a J.D. degree in law (Boalt Hall School of Law, U.C. Berkeley, 1981). I also have and triple board certifications in foren- sic psychology (American Board of Professional Psychology, American Board of Forensic Psychology, and the American Academy of Forensic Psychology since 1989) which required me to have developed exper- tise in clinical, neuropsychology and cognitive psychology along the way. These experiences afford me a certain confidence in my abilities to deconstruct the complexities involved in this diatribe.
My interest in ferreting out European-thinking, as it may non-consciously and semi-consciously operate
in our minds, as we adopt a bi-cultural “traditional African religious world-view in addition to our natal
perspectives is not new. As mentioned, in 1996, I authored African Spirituality vs. The African-American favorably reviewed by Dr. John Henrick Clarke at the time, in which I addressed some of these topics. It mostly focuses on identifying Platonic and Aristotelian thinking, as well as other important Eurocentric and Mediterranean-rim cultural influences, on our thinking styles and biases, that concerns me as a priest and psychologist. [This book may only be purchased through my website at “Oshoosi.com.”].
In my view, we African-Americans are notably inclined to eclectically incorporate all kinds of thoughts
and ideologies and religions into our bi-cultural practices of traditional African religion but, unfortunate-
ly, do so naively; not recognizing the Mediterranean-rim philosophical roots (that are not sub-Saharan in nature) involved in what we proclaim as “knowledge.” Accordingly, in my series of “What Ain’t In Ifa” es- says I will interrogate the ideas that, e.g. mathematics, or astrology (especially astrology!), chakra ideas, melanin-racism ideas, sectarianism, religious sex-guilt repression, Kemetic mystery religious thought and Hermeticism (and other topics) are even recognized, let alone essential to our Orisha/Ifa religion—not withstanding a few instances where words in Yoruba might share etymological or cognate counterparts in other cultures and other intellectual traditions, specifically. (7)
They are not—regardless of how interesting (and even instructive) may be their contents and analogues to our religion when studied for their comparative concepts and deities. Analogous and metaphorical il- lustrations drawn from other lines of thought, knowledge, religions and other fundamental cultural worldviews can be—heuristically-speaking—very interesting so long as one does not naively incorporate –let alone—syncretize them with our traditional sub-Saharan intellectual legacy (owning to our naïve Western-biased projections and introjections). Orisha/Ifa religion does not need any external legitimiz- ation and, conversely, it is not subject to external impeachment. Comparisons and conceptual analogues are fine, but they must not be incorporations. Now having made introductory and contextualization rem- arks, let me describe for new comers to these subjects basically how Orisha/Ifa religion is, how it works, and what some claim are its mathematical properties in the area of divination.
What is Orisha/Ifa Theology?
Orisha/Ifa is a sub-Saharan, west African, religious system that has some content and ritual methods —though minimal--from central Africa, from far west coast Africa, from the Sudan and Sahil of east Africa, and the etymology of some words from far North-east Nilotic (Egyptian or Kemetic) antiquated roots as well. Ours is a nature-based and animistic religion and worldview. Ifa is rooted in human experience and in nature itself for its substantive wisdom.
As a religious system, it is replete with a priesthood, deities, spiritual “possessions” by some of its prac- titioners, the complex and sophisticated divination system. The divination system in the religion helps its practitioners discern, in light of a question or problem, what spiritual or mystical forces and factors are at work behind the scene, and what can be done with an offer to the honored ancestors or the orishas (the gods) in order to understand the problems or challenges, and to secure satisfactory resolutions.
The traditional religious and psychological wisdom contained in these divinatory “oracles” was oral in nature. That is, it was given and received in the form of stories, proverbs, allegories, poetry and ritual remedies -- that were passed on from generation to generation based on pure memory and recitation. These Ifa oracles--or wisdom-- can be consulted on a daily basis if so desired. And please note that with- in Orisha/Ifa divination there are anywhere from 6 to 10 different methods for consulting its oracle-- depending on the country in which the practice is being done and which kind of priest or priestess, with- in the religion, is doing the divination. (8)
And, as mentioned, these wisdom -containing ‘s stories and poems contain the entire corpus of cultural, psychological, proverbial, medicinal, and substantive religious and ritual wisdom passed down to us for centuries and millennia in West and Central Africa as a complete religious system. The Orisha/Ifa practit- ioners now number in the tens of millions in West-central Africa, Brasil, the Caribbean islands and Mex- ico, and in other places in Latin America and now, not least, in the United States. But the main locat- ions of these practice are Nigeria, Cuba, Brazil, and in multiple cities in the United States.
The Orisha/Ifa religious system and worldview goes under various names: in Nigeria it may be called Ifa, orisha religion or, specifically, Isheshe Agbaye. In Cuba it may be referred to as Lucumi, Santeria and, in a sense, we can include Palo Monte & Moyombe (which is Cuban-Congolese) in so far as chamalonga divin- ation practices are concerned). In Brasil it is known as Candomble, Macumba, and Umbanda. While in the United States and Puerto Rico, we refer to it as “O’cha” (a contraction of “orisha”). In lesser numbers, the Orisha/Ifa system of divination in Benin (Dahomey) is known as “Fa,” in Ghana as “Afa,” and in Haiti as Vodu (in which a Fa-like divination system is also employed when its priests and priestesses, if trained, so desire).(9)
The Concept of Odus As “Chapters of Wisdom on Life’s Conditions” That Constitute the “Oral” Books and Libraries-- Centuries Old—That Orisha/Ifa Priests and Priestesses Are Consulting On Behalf of a Client
During Divination Sessions.
As mentioned, the accumulated knowledge contained in this complex “black” African religious world- view was stored in oral libraries. The multiple containers or “oral books” were organized into “chapters” which are called odus ("odu" for the singular case). Traditionally, the priest and priestesses in Orisha/Ifa‘s religion recited the stories (parables aplenty )and poetry to each other from generation to generation based on rote memorization and echolalic repetitive recitations (which took the average person decades to grasp and retain even a usable portion thereof, because the entire corpus of knowledge contain tens of thousands of separate stories, parables and poems). For the last 80 years, or so, many of these stories and poems-- that is, the ese Ifa (odus poetry--have been written down in collections and books. (10) But, in toto, there are tens of thousands of them, and no one knows them all.
A priest who had been taught to do Orisha/Ifa divination methods can, for himself, herself, or others, divine or inquire into the background circumstances that are at work affecting the client (or people of concern to the client), explain those circumstances in terms of which spiritual entities and deities were at work producing them, and affecting or changing them, to explain how the client arrived at his or her present station. The odus at work in the background can be identified by the artful practice of Orisha /Ifa divination--discovering what are the present, behind-the-scenes, dynamics at work, and how the cir- cumstances are likely to play out in the foreseeable future. With this knowledge a client can make of- ferings (or avoid certain behaviors) in order to achieve favorable outcomes regarding the problems that he or she sought divination to elucidate.
A very important aspect of the wisdom contained in the odu stories, parables, allegories and poems are creation accounts. For example, in one odu we may find ‘how love came into the world’ while in another we may learn the origin of certain rituals or proverbs. Indeed, thousands of references as to how this phenomenon, or that idea (like the relationships between certain allegorical animals or orishas came about). These are the types of things to which I refer when I later speak of the substantive contents of the odus. Arabic (Islamic) culture would find all of this the stuff of “witchcraft” which is why writers that claim that “Ifa came from North-African Arabs” (when what they mean is that the current use of octa- gons to represent Ifa’s odus came from them) is so dangerously wrong! (See Appendix C, below).
We would also find in them anecdotal stories and illustrations of problems that the orishas (the gods) encountered when they inhabited the world long ago, And, most importantly, which incantations, cures, offerings, sacrifices and advice that they use to solve their problems. All of these things—lessons and cautionary tales—are in the 256 odus. And, in any given divination session for a client, one or many of these odus may ‘fall to the (divination) mat and become central to the diviners’ assessments of the client’s issues and question. Following that will come instructions on what to do about them. Last, the odus that fall to the mat may inform the diviner what others close to the client are doing or needing and even what is the client’s personal attitude toward the diviner and the oracular session itself may be.
Odus Are Also Deities In The Own Rights
So then, what in the heck are the odus? This term can mean three related things:
Odus are “containers” of narratives about the types of conditions in life that may, at any given time, be coloring-- indeed controlling—the experience of a person or group as she, he, or they proceed through day-to-day, week-two-week, or year-two-year experiences here on earth. There are 16 truly basic odus (called “Olodus") in Orisha/Ifa religion.However, a diviner will most often “pull” pairs of these odu "signs” (the omo’dus or “children of odu”) down onto the divination mat to explain to a client what his or her sit- uation is (as well as to give an explanation of how the situation came about and where it is likely to be headed).
Thus, there are 240 octagons (or pairs) of the 16 basic ones, thus making 256 total “odu” types once one has added the original 16 to the 240. It is only for convenience sake that these 256 odus are numbered. But what is indispensable is that each of them has its own name. And, as mentioned in Part III, no math- ematical calculations nor computations are involved in (nor as between or among) these odus once, us- ing one Orisha /Ifa divination method or another, the odu’s signs have been cast down on to the mat dur- ing the divination session.
Next, as described immediately above, the stories and their wisdom and moral and practical advice are also (loosely) called “odus” but, more exactly, are called patakins or apatakis.
--Finally, odus are also considered to be orishas (gods) in their own rights. As such, they can be prayed to, they can be given offerings, they can be invoked and addressed verbally. And in their stories others among the more well-known orishas (like Shango, or Yemoja or Elegua etc.) appear (i.e.,they “are born” in them) and speak giving advice and ritual instructions for suggested offerings and sacrifices to the clients of the divination sessions. Odus parade through one’s life on a weekly, monthly, yearly or life-time basis ever unpredictable—and in no discernable order (to humans). It is said that “odus are born every day” (read: ‘changing “circumstances” of which there are recognizable as distinctive types that, for the individual, are pregnant with unique blessings and challenges “are born every day.)”
Each other 256 odus, as mentioned, has its own octogonal graphic “sign,” symbol, or “signature.” The signs represent only “light” and “dark” (or "speaking" and "not speaking") patterns that are, by virtue of that fact, entirely qualitative in nature. Numerals are not important. The odus are only enumerated in certain lists for the purpose of convenience in ordering them (i.e.,rank ordering them by “age” or “senior- ity”). But the number assigned to each of them has no further importance in interpreting them and var- ies—a little(and only a little—as between two (and only two) Yoruba sub-groups (which shows that there is nothing sacrosanct about each odu’s designation “number.” (Note that its number label or des- ignation number is not to be confused with its seniority rating (an ordinal number), though neither are
parts of mathematical operations.
In fact, in the Afro-Cuban version of Yoruba (Orisha/Ifa) religion, the odus also have “number labels” at- tached to them but to insure that people do not confuse these “numerals” assigned to them with math- ematical numerals, they call them “letras” or “letters!” For example, in inquiring what were the results of someone’s Orisha/Ifa reading or divination results, they will ask “what were the letters that were 'pulled down' in that divination session?”
By using certain ritual tools of a natural nature—for example, nuts or shells— the diviner can cast them down onto a mat in response to each question of interest to him, her, or the client and observe the pat- terns shown by the way the shells or nuts fall onto the divination mat (or, when the tools are large palm nuts, the way they fall from one hand of the diviner into the other hand). These patterns will produce observable results: Some of the tools would have either the “light” or “dark” sides showing once they had fallen to the mat. In the case of the cowrie shell tools--16 of which would be used in any given divin- ation session--many would fall to the mat with the “speaking” (light) side up while others would land with the “non-speaking” (dark) side up; an example of another non-numerical or non-digital version of visual duality or polarity.
As mentioned, the theological wisdom contained in the thousands upon thousands of oral stories and poems (some now written) would be classified into 16 main olodus or “main oral books.” The diviner would also cast—for any given question --the divination tools a second time in order to get a second set of patterns. Each odu would have its own four-part pattern of light and dark showings that randomly fell to the mat. In the use of some divination tools, the light-dark (four-level) pattern would be immedia- tely visible. And each of the 16 basic patterns of light vs. dark “signs” of the odus would have its own un- ique name. Once the tools-- whether shells or nuts— are thrown to the mat for the second time, the pat- terns would still retain the same names even if they appeared twice.
The only exception to this occurs when the cowrie shells are used as divination tools. In that case, the number of shells with the “speaking side” facing up would determine which odus were signified as hav- ing fallen to the mat. (After that, no “numbers” were particularly significant-- except for denoting which pattern's number was higher in “seniority” than another odus pattern’s number). But aside from the sim- ple cursory act of counting the number of “speaking” shells that fell to the mat for each cast, there were no mathematical calculations nor computations involved in divination. The odus, and their light versus dark signage, and the stories, poetry, and wisdom contained in them was—and will forever be— qualit- ative in nature.
The important thing here, is that Orisha/Ifa divination does not involve numerical computations, calcul- ations, nor symbols that involve any counting or mathematical operations (with, again, the sole excep- tion being the cowrie shell method which would require a person briefly to observe and count from “0” shells “speaking” up to 16 of the shells speaking). But after that no further addition--and certainly no subtraction, multiplication, division--calculations or computations would be involved in recognizing and interpreting the odus that had fallen to the mat for that particular question.
As stated at the outset of this essay, it is indeed difficult to simplify this complex system of divination in a few paragraphs. However, for the convenience of persons for whom this is entirely new, I will illustrate how the odus are written down as light-dark, four-part, patterns once a given “throw” or “cast” has arriv- ed on the divination mat for the perusal of the diviner and the client.
About the Odu “Octograms””Figures,”“Signs,” or “Signatures” That Get Cast or “Pulled Down” In An Orisha/Ifa Divination Session
What Are The 16 “Odu” (“Olodu”) Marks That Are Available For A Diviner To Scratch Into “The Sand” (Or Into A Special Powder On A Tray) Or To Be Written Down On A Pad During the Divination Session?
[ BELOW A “I” MARK SIGNIFIES THE QUALITY OF “LIGHTNESS” AND A “II” MARK SIGNIFIES THE
QUALITY OF “DARKNESS” ]
THESE MARKS ARE NOT NUMBERS, NUMERALS, DIGITS NOR INTEGERS MEASURING QUANTITIES.
THEY ARE THE “SIGNS” OF THE QUALITIES OF “LIGHT” OR “DARK”
THE NUMERALS THAT SIT ATOP THE FIGURES ARE MERELY THEIR “RANK ORDER” IN “STANDARD” IFA. (THESE NUMBERS ARE MERELY RANKING LABELS; THEY DO NOT ENTER INTO ANY MATHEMAT- ICAL OPERATIONS; I.E., THEY ARE NOT ADDED TO, SUBTRACTED FROM, NOR MULTIPLIED OR DIVIDED BY ANYTHING. (PLEASE IGNORE THEM FOR NOW). ALSO, NOTE THAT IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF NIGER- IA, OR CUBA OR BRASIL, THE YORUBA PRIESTS AND PRIESTESSES MAY HAVE SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT
RANKING ORDERS AND SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT NAMES BECAUSE THEY OFTEN USE DIFFERENT DIV-
INATION “TOOLS”,E.G., COWRIE SHELLS, COCONUT PIECES, KOLA NUTS, ETC. BUT WRITTEN BELOW
BELOW IS THE STANDARD IFA SCHEME FOR DENOTING THE 16 MAJOR ODUS).
UNDER THEM I WILL LIST THE MOST COMMON NIGERIAN (ILE IFE TOWN) IFA NAME FOR EACH
(BUT THEY DO HAVE “ALIASES”).
AFRICAN AND AFRO-CUBAN IFA NUMBERS FOR EACH ODU
1 2 9 10 13 14 5 3 6 4 15 16 8 7 11 12
I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I II
O O O O O I I I O O O O O O I O
G Y G S T R R W W D S F K B K T
B E U A U E O O O I H U A A A U
E K N R T S R N E N N R R
U D A E U I R R A A
A N I A P
N N O
THE CORRESPONDING AFRO-CUBAN DILOGUN NUMBER FOR EACH ODU
8 2 3 9 15 16 4 12 11 7 5 10 1 6 13 14
E O O O O M I I E I O O O O O O I M M
J Y G S F E R R J W W D C F K B K E E
I E U A U R E O I O A I H U A A A T R
K N N U T S L R N E N N R A I
O U D N E U A I I A A N N G K L N L L
B A A A S M A A E N E A
R B F
A O U
N R N
You will recall that I choose to use an “I” mark to signify a “light” side of a divination tool falling face up. And the dark side of a divination tool is signified by a “II” mark. Most Orisha/Ifa divination books use these two marks. But remember, these marks are not numbers nor “Roman numerals.” They are simply the marks for “light” or “dark.” There are other choices! Let’s take the Odu named “Ogunda” (the third column above). I have written it as:
But if I decided that “O” represented “light” and “X” represented “dark” I would mark “Ogunda” like
If I decided to use an “L” for “light” and a “D” for “dark, I would still mark “Ogunda” this way:
Similarly, if I choose to mark the light/dark polarity (a qualitative thing; not numerical) using + and –
symbols, Ogunda would look like this:
You see, it simply does not matter. Any symbol could be used to signify “light” while any other symbol could be used to represent “darkness.” It is the sequence or pattern of “light” and “dark” marks that
make the odu announce itself as “Ogunda.”
In fact, one could use two numerals to represent “light” and “dark,” respectively (as Wm. Bascom did in
his seminal volume “Ifa Divination,” Indiana Univ. Press, 1991, at Page 48, where he uses the numeral
“1” to represent “light” and the numeral “2” to represent “dark”). But these numerals are simply used as
symbols and are not arithmetic “numbers” used for any counting nor arithmetic operations like adding,
subtracting, multiplying nor dividing anything. In other words, no math is involved in the methodology
of Orisha/Ifa divination. The numbers—when they are used at all—are merely nominal designations for the purpose of indication “light” and “dark” sequences or patterns (and, as mentioned, in some parts of the divination session, the “numbers” may represent ordinal scaling—simply listing which odu is senior”
when compared to one that is “junior’). [Please see Part II, (2) above for a brief description of an ordinal
The take home message here, again, is that Orisha/Ifa’s divinations numbers (when they are used at all) have nothing to do with mathematical calculations nor computations like we see in arithmetic or in com- puter digital programming. Nothing. Orisha/Ifa divination is entirely qualitative. They are not “base 2”
digital computations at all. “Light(ness)” and “Dark(ness)” are quality states—not “numbers” that enable
mathematical operations of any sort. That is why you will never see a babalawo, or an italero (both are specialists in Yoruba divination), nor any kind of Yoruba priest or priestess resort to pulling out a hand calculator, a slide rule, or a pen and pencil to do arithmetic, before, during nor after a divination session. “Math” has got nothing to do with it.
Finally, you may wonder why marks like “I” and “O” are not the same as “base 2” numerals so familiar
to mathematicians and computer programmers? The reason is that for them a series of “I”s and “O”s
leads directly to a real number crunching (inside the computer program) and then, maybe, to a real let- ter, or a real “yes” or “no” choice in the computer's operations. After that, a series of these numbers, in turn, usually (though indirectly) “add up” to indicate a numerical summation (and then go on to a letter, word or semantic symbol that we end up seeing on a computer screen). The same digital language may also be the information that causes the computer to make choices via some algorithm in the soft- ware’s or hardware’s pre-programmed functioning. By contrast, a light-dark duality (or di-unital) signs in Ifa divination like:
I Lead directly to a word/s After that, an arbitrary numeral may (or may
I I ➔ e.g., “Odi,” the name of not) be assigned, by local convention, to that
I I an odu or “container of ➔ label “Odi.” In Nigeria that rank number is
I verbal folk wisdom” with- “4” but in Afro-Cuba Odi’s number is “7.”
out any numerals being Hence, the number-tag is arbitrary and is
involved. used to show “seniority rank” in that local Ifa
system. Again, the “number” never enters
into calculations nor (digital binary) comput-
ation as in computer program operations.
Again, there is no math in Orisha/Ifa divinat-
ion because there is no calculation nor com-
putation in it. Such numbers, as they go, re-
main only nominal or ordinal designators”
devoid of arithmetic roles.
Just a final note on the nature and appearance of the “signs” or markings of odus in the Orisha/Ifa div-
ination process. The first thing a diviner will do when the casting of the shells or nuts begin during the
session is to find the two odus that are most influential, consequential, and informative for the client
at that time and in that geographic location. (At that very early stage of the session, what the client’s
view of his or her issues or questions are, is not dealt with. These odus express what the orishas or an-
cestral spirits want the diviner and the client to know first. After that, the client will get the chance to ask (out loud or covertly) the questions of interest to him or her that they brought to the session in the
I I I I I
I I I I
I I I I
I I I I
A single line da’fa mark is called But The diviner will always cast a second
“one leg of Ifa.” In Ifa, this odu’s time (or use a method that allows the
name is “Owonrin.” two odus to be revealed together on
one throw of the tools) in order to get
the second “leg of Ifa.” When read right
to left this odu (called an omo’du since it contains“two legs of Ifa”) is here called “Ofun-Ogunda.”A diviner using the Afro-
Cuban method of cowrie shell divination
called dilogun would simply write down
the right-hand odu on the left side first
(but it’s still the same, "Ofun-Ogunda ”).
Most often, however,they will write down
the odus’ number labels; its "letras" (its
"letters") for identification, not comput-
tional) reasons.In this example the letter
would be “10-3” in the Afro-Cuban Yor- uba dilogun system.
And, finally, when the diviner has cast the divination tools to determine which are the relevant odu’s af-
fecting a client’s present circumstances, he or she will give the client a brief interpretative summary of
what has appeared on the mat. Then, after the diviner’s turn, the client’s turn for asking specific ques- tions of the oracle arises in order to get “yes” or “no” answers to the questions they came with. The ques tions like “Should I do this or that?” or “Is this offering sufficient to appease the orishas or ancestors so
that they will aid me?). The diviner will cast the shells or nuts many times in order to obtain the oracles
answers and advice. The names of the odus (or their assigned numeral labels) may or may not be written down in this part of the session. The answers to the questions are what matters to the client.
That is, the only thing that the client needs to know is whether the answer was “yes” or “no” to partic- ular question--perhaps in a series of follow-up questions as well. This process of asking specific ques- tions of the oracle is where knowing the seniority rank (usually, but not necessarily a “numeral”) of a given odu comes into play. Knowing the seniority of the odu when compared to possible junior ones is an important matter in the area of questioning because the client is active in participating in how the question will be answered “yes” or “no” by certain choices his or her “hands and “ori” or “head”) make. (But this is too detailed to go into here). What is important to know, however, is that these seniority ranks, labeled as numerals, never get involved in arithmetic operations, calculations, nor computations with each other.
Hence, again and again, even though numerals may be involved in the divination procedures, they are not mathematically relevant to anything in the process. One could just as well learn the “seniority rules” among the odus by using their Yoruba names alone. For example, “Eji Ogbe” is senior to “Oshe” but not care the “Eji Ogbe’s “number” (in African Ifa) is“1” and is senior to, say,“Oshe’s”“number,” ranked at “15.”(In Cuban dilogun, “Eji Ogbe‘s” number is “8” and is still senior to “Oche’” whose number happens to be “5” or to “Osa,” labeled “9,” or “Owani,” whose number is “11”). You see, the magnitude of the odus numeral label is not connected to that odu’s seniority rank in Afro-Cuban dilogun. In Nigerian Ifa it is. But, even so, neither are related to the mathematical operations of calculation or computation (and could be dispensed with if one simply wanted to remember them in the ordered sequence of their names alone).
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Third: The Ifa Problem With “Mathematizers” And “Digitilizers”
As I alluded to earlier, there are those who when the see qualitative polarity symbols like an ( I ) and a
( II ) automatically think (in this digital age!) of binary “1’s“ and “0’s”—numerical digits or “numerals."
They then rush to conclude that these simple Orisha/Ifa “da’fa” markings are merely “binary” numbers in essence and can, therefore, be re-expressed as binary numbers as commonly written. You will recall the example I gave on page 3, above:
I (light) Which, they think, should be written
I (light) “in binary” as the following number
I I (dark) sequence: →→→→ 1 1 0 1
“Irete” (in Nigerian Ifa)
“Irete” (in Afro-Cuban dilogun)
Here is what the problem with digitalizing otherwise purely qualitative da’fa marks. The best negative example of this can be found in an otherwise exquisite book on African mathematics entitled: “Supreme Mathematic: African Ma’at Magic: by the “African Creation Energy: (by Clarence 13x). In that book he writes out the binary equivalents of the Orisha/Ifa “da’fa” figures such that each odu would have a dig-ital binary numerals written beside it in the fashion as illustrated immediately above. Thus, at (p.95), his first table gives the binaries for all 16 olodus where he uses the Nigerian names (e.g., “Irete” in the figure above) and lists them in the standard Ifa order. However, on the next page (at p.96), he also provides a second chart that lists the odus’ relative seniority in the order or sequence that his digital binary num- bers would dictate. ( Thus his version of odu seniority rankings is unknown in the world.) (Please see Ap- pendix C for a full critique).
This is a notable error in my view which I will review in Appendix B as I discuss this book and his YouTube video entitled "Ifá Mathematics and Quantum Computing – YouTube."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Actual Roles of Numerals and Their Sequences in Orisha/Ifa Religion: Its Orishas and Its Div-
ination (Where Not One of Them Involves the Mathematical Operations of Calculation, Let Alone “Binary Digital Computation”).
Ceremonial Numbers Associated With Orishas (Afro-Cuba Santeria/ Lucumi)
I am not certain if the number-tags associated with the various orishas differ in Nigeria from what they are in the diaspora, but in the Afro-Cuban Santeria/ Lucumi, with which I am familiar, most are ceremon-
ial numbers. For example, the ceremonial number(s) for Elegua are 1, 3, and 21, yet he speaks in all odus. Yemoja’s is “7” (and the main odu in which she speaks is “Odi” which has an ordinal or labeling number of “7” as well). Ogun’s number is “3” (and so he has the 3rd odu in which he speaks up mostly —Ogunda). Oshoosi’s number is “7” (even though the odus in which he stands up most are Oyeku (“2”) and Irosun (“4”), while Shango’s is “6”; because he is prominent in the odu Obara (“6th in the ordinal list of dilogun odus). Next, is Obatala whose number is “8” in respect of the odu that he claims before others, Eji Ogbe (or Unle) which is 8th in the order of odu’s nominal numbers.
Of course, we cannot forget Oya. Her number is “9” (in recognition of the fact that she is first prominent in the odu Osa—the 9th in ordinal list of odus the “caracoles” or Lucumi dilogun cowrie shells. Indeed, she is often referred to by her alias “Iya’nsan” which means “mother of 9.” In her case, her number is not only ceremonial but is also one of a symbolic identity as well since she is, at once, the Niger River which, in Rivers State, Nigeria, has nine tributaries running to the sea (running to “that very last moment” bef- ore dissolution”). Her “9” also refers to the nine colors of the egbe (lodge society) of Egungun—one of the ancestral cults whose masqueraders wear very colorful full-body disguises made of 9 multi-colors. Nor can we forget Oshun--“Iyalode,” “head woman in charge of affairs” (also affectionately know as “Ms Thang"--smile. Her ceremonial number is “5” and so it is the case that her main odu “Oche” is 5th in the ordinal sequence of Lucumi odus.
And so, on it goes. The ceremonial aspects of these numbers is mostly enacted in the determination of the number of items that are typically given to an orisha to please them. (For example, we might give
five peacock feathers to Oshun, or six cigars tied with six red ribbons attached to a bunch of six green
bananas to Shango. In a sense, I suppose, we are feeding them their odus in order to please them (but I do not know this for sure).
The key thing is that these numbers, like all of the other kinds of number herein described—e.g., the nominal and ordinal numbers for the main 16 odus (the “Olodus”)—are not used in calculations or com- putations. In no event will you find a priest or babalawo adding, subtracting, multiplying nor dividing any of these numbers with any others. That is, no one is going to multiply (nor add, subtract, or divide Os- hun's “5” times Shango’s “6” in order to move a ceremony along. These numbers are not a part of any mathematical operations. They are only used to designate things.
Numerals in Their Ordinal Sequence for The Odus’ Octogonal Figures in Nigerian (Ile Ife) and Cuban Ifa For Purposes of Numerically “Labelling” Them.
1.(Ogbe) 2.(Oyeku) 3.(Iwori) 4.(Odi) 5.(Irosun) 6.(Owonrin) 7.(Obara) 8.(Okanran) 9.(Ogunda) 10.(Osa) 11.(Ika) 12.(Oturapon) 13.(Otura) 14.(Irete) 15.(Oshe) 16.(Ofun). Their octagonal odu figures may be
viewed on page 13, above.
Numerals in Their Ordinal Sequence for The Odus’ Octogonal Figures in Nigerian (Ile Ife) and Cuban Ifa For Purposes of Knowing and Viewing Their Relative Seniority (the same as above).
1.(Ogbe) 2.(Oyeku) 3.(Iwori) 4.(Odi) 5.(Irosun) 6.(Owonrin) 7.(Obara) 8.(Okanran) 9.(Ogunda)
10.(Osa) 11.(Ika) 12.(Oturapon) 13.(Otura) 14.(Irete) 15.(Oshe) 16.(Ofun). The octagonal odu figures
may be viewed in this section, above.
Numerals in Their Ordinal Sequence for The Odus’ Octogonal Figures in Nigerian (Benin-Edo) Ifa for the Purposes of Numerically “Labelling” Them.
1.(Ogbe) 2.(Oyeku) 3.(Iwori) 4.(Odi) 5.(Obara) 6.(Okanran) 7.(Irosun) 8.(Owanrin) 9.(Ogunda) 10.(Osa) 11.(Etura) 12.(Irete) 13.(Eka) 14 (Ologbon) 15.(Oshe) 16.(Ofun). The octagonal odu figures may be
viewed in this section, above.
Numerals in Their Ordinal Sequence for The Odus’ Octogonal Figures in Afro-Cuban Lucumi Dilogun Divination For Purposes of Numerically “Labelling” Them.
1.(Okanran) 2.(Oyeku) 3.(Ogunda) 4.(Irosun) 5.(Oche) 6.(Obara) 7.(Odi/Edi) 8. (Eji Ogbe/ Unle)
9.(Osa) 10.(Ofun Mafun), 11.(Owani) 12.(Ejila Sebora) 13.(Metanla) 14.(Merinla) 15. (Marunla or
Ofun Kanran) 16. (Merindilogun) 17. (Opira—no cowries speaking).
There are several variations of the names (aliases) in Cuba, but the odu octagon or da’fa figures remain the same, and the ordinal order is the same across the country. During the divination sessions the odus are always referred to by name though in the course of the session itself---simply for “shorthand” pur-
poses—the odus' numbers are jotted down--yet the final recording note pad will contain both the odus’ names and their “numbers.”
Also the last 4 odus are usually not interpreted (the client is sent to (Cuban) Ifa babalawos because these odus have a much greater chance of “our Holy Mothers” standing up in them (i.e., red, white, or black “Iyamis”) which requires Ifa babalawos to root out their angst and “ebbo” or address it (though Obatala may temporarily appease them on the client’s behalf). Though skilled readers in the Santeria/ Lucumi system (oba oriates, obasas, italeros) can read, interpret, and ebbo the last four odus: Metanla, Merinla, Marunla and Merindilogun (these are the last four in the Afro-Cuban dilogun system of Ifa), or- dinary olorishas (priest/esses)—who, ipso facto, have the right to read--if they know how to--the dilogun odus with cowrie shells (“caracoles” in Spanish), really avoid doing so—and consistently ignore them even for purposes of seniority rules of decision-making.
In Afro-Cuban dilogun practices, ordinal rankings (rendered numeric only for memory convenience) that
denote seniority look like this: All seven “major” odus are, by definition, senior to the five minor ones
(and the last four are ignored altogether for seniority determination purposes). The “majors” never con- tend with each other for seniority (because when a "major" appears, no second casting is done) but, for the purposes of thoroughness, here they are in their seniority order:
The “Majors” Odus
8.(Ogbe) 10.(Ofun Mafun) 4.(Irosun) 3.(Ogunda) 2. (Oyeku) 1.(Okana) and 12 (Ejila Sebora).
The “Minors” Odus
11.(Owani) 9.(Osa) 7(Odi) 6. (Obara) 5.(Oche). Caveat: Any omo’du (i.e., any combination that contains
8.(Obge) in it, even if it is afterward combined with a “minor” odu will be treated as a “major” for the pur- pose of the “hand/ori” choice-making that goes on in a divination setting(again the reason for the impor- tance of knowing the seniority ranking of the various odus is too complex for this paper). The same is true for either combination of “6” and “9,” Obara and Osa, respectively, because they cannot be allow- ed to fight with each other for dominance. (Frankly, I think my “mother” in O’cha, Oya, would win; sorry Kabiesi. Smile folks; just kidding).
As usual, one can simply remember which odus, by name, are senior to others because the numbers, as labels of convenience, are simply not needed. They do not involve mathematical measurements, calcula-tions nor computations.
In Santeria/ Lucumi's Afro-Cuban version of Ifa (dilogun) there are roughly 143 opportunities for the need to consider the "seniority" of an odu during a reading. This inquiry is initiated when a "minor" odu
falls to the mat in response to a question that the client may have (either spoken aloud to the diviner or
silently prayed into the hands holding the diloguns (the shells). There are five "minors" can be matched with any one of seven "majors" that come up on the second casting. This leads to 35 possibilities. Then the minor may find that it is followed by another "minor" which, then, adds 25 more combinations. So this makes a total of 50 random outcomes of "minor-major" or "minor-minor" double castings. Now, since
either minor may come up first, we have to add the number of additional 25 cases where a reverse com- bination may occur. Now, finally, we must add the 8 cases where a minor is followed by the "major" one
called "Eji Ogbe." There are an additional five opportunities for that to happen; this latter odus will al-
ways be "read" as saying "choose the strong hand" (ignore what this means for now; just know that it is
just another instance of "Eji Ogbe" assertings it seniority).
By my count, in any given reading (on each and every casting) there are aboiut 130 possible outcomes that--using a seniority rule--a choice of which hand will be tapped by the diviner to determine the hand's (and ori's or"head's") choices. That is 50 + 50 +25+5+ 8 = 143 possibilities. This is why knowing how to determine "seniority" is important. However, just because I added up the number of ways that a deter- mination of seniority could come up and be addressed for each question asked by a client does not mean not mean that this kind of counting or "odds" determinations go on during a reading. It does not. Still, in actually, no counting, calculations nor computations are done during the determination of seniority mat- ters. Indeed, the same seniority rules apply if a diviner were simply to remember the names of the odus and ignore their "nominal" number "label."
The “Mother” of The Olodus (The Basic 16) Is Odu Herself
But There Is Intra-Odu Birthing As Well That Also Has Nothing to Do With Numerals
1. Okanran is born from Ofun Mafun 9. Osa is born from Odi
2. Oyeku is born from Eji Ogbe 10. Ofun Mafun is born from Osa
3. Ogunda is born from Odi 11. Owanrin is born from Oshe
4. Irosun is born from Owonrin 12. Ejila Sebora is born from Ogunda
5. Oshe is born from Eji Ogbe 13. Ika (Metanla) is born from Oshe and Ofun Mafun
6. Obara is born from Iwori 14. Oturopon (Merinla) is born from Eji Oko and Obara
7. Odi is born from Okanran 15. Ofun Kanran (Merunla) is born from Eji Ogbe and Osa
8. Eji Ogbe is born from Irete 16. Merindilogun is born from Irete.
What’s Objectionable About “Binary Digital” Depictions of the “Math” That Some Propose
Is Inherent In Ifa Divination?
Just above a drawing of the deity of Ifa divination, Orunmila (Orunmila, incidently, does not have the shape of a human being!), Mr. Clarence 13x provides a chart of the “Binary Order” of odus that is com-
pelled by his insistence that they can be written down as “binary code digits” (at p.96, op cit.).
0000 (Oyeku) 0001 (Okanran) 0010 (Oturapon) 0011 (Owonrin) 0100 (Ika) 0101 (Ofun)
0110 (Iwori) 0111 (Osa) 1000 (Obara) 1001 (Odi) 1010 (Oshe) 1011 (Otura) 1100 (Irosun)
1101 (Irete) 1110 (Ogunda) 1111 (Ogbe)
Problem #1 A Violation of Orò (Traditional Custom)
The people of the greater Nigerian area have been divining odus directly, or via their predecessors (Nok,
Nupe, Igbo) for millenia. To my knowledge, no one has ever heard of a nominal nor seniority order of the
odus like this. Can you imagine Eji Ogbe being ranked last? Compare this to the wholly representative
listings I provide in sections A, B, C, and D above. The importation of Grecian, Hermetic,and Arabic cul- tural obsessions with “transcendent mathematics that is implicitly embedded in thereligion of nature (Ifa), even as the author wisely disclaims that mathematics is embedded in nature itself (see pp. 6-7, op. cit.), leaves one wondering what is the point of this foray into sophistry?
Problem #2 An Irremedial Violation of Seniority Algorithms
One cannot perform African nor Afro-Cuban Ifa divination, nor African merindilogun or Cuban dilogun, without authentic seniority determination algorithms. None exists here.
Problem #3 Inventing Things
Inventing things, or importing them from non-sub-Saharan cultural sources just because one can con-
ceive of doing so (or simply because math is “one's thang”) has not yet made its way into the Yoruba div- ination system. Truth comes from two things in this religion: the substantive content and wisdom as rec-
ited (and, now, read) from the odus themselves. Or it comes from the verbal pronouncements of spirit- ual beings that—from time-to-time—possess individuals. It does not come from enterprising invention.
This well-meaning, I am sure, individual goes even further beyond using computing metaphors to aug-
ment Ifa, he actually introduces quantum computing into stew as well. (Please see my critique of his book and YouTube video in Appendix B, below).
A Sample Client and Ifa Divination Session Vingette
[THIS IS EXCEEDINGLY SIMPLIFIED]
This part will be short. It appears here only as an illustration of how a Yoruba divination session might work in “pulling down” odus so that the client can learn from the diviner what the odus and the orishas and honored ancestors speaking with them might have to say about the problem or questions that the client has brought to the divination session.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“Mary Smith has received a proposal for marriage from a person who is sincere. Mary has already been
married thirteen times, so she thinks it wise—for the first time—to consult a Yoruba Orisha/Ifa diviner using the Afro-Cuban dilogun method of cowrie shells (caracoles) to see “what the lay of the land is” with this fourteenth prospect.
When she sat down at the foot of the mat, the diviner casted the divination tools (cowrie shells in this
example) to begin the session. She had not told the diviner what her specific questions are thus far. The diviner said opening prayers, gave salutations and incantations to the Ifa (dilogun) oracle.Then when the shells announced to the client which odus were speaking (six shells speaking the first time , followed by eight shells speaking in the second cast). With that, he gave her information about her current state of
affairs, why she has arrived at her present station in life and, what the future was likely to hold. These insights had not anything to do with Mary’s questions nor her perceptions of her “issues.” They would get addressed in the second half of the session. Let’s say her odus, for this session (written down in the Afro-Cuban dilogun style) by her divination priest/ess were as follows:
Obara-Eji Ogbe (6-8)
I I I
I I I
I I I
Osogbo (comes with “Ibi”= ‘contraction’ or ‘negative luck’ is at hand)—In the nature of “Ano” (a covert
present sickness exists with the client)
The Problem Scenario Here Is for Her’s (Not a Relative’s)
Lariche Ebbo: Advisements and Remedies from Shango, Oshun & Obatala Shall Prove Helpful
Shango Speaking Here (“Kawo Kabiesi!” “Stand-up and Shout-out for Shango!”)
Shango says that this is a resourceful, but headstrong
person. She often does not respect elders nor the exper-
tise of others. In shunning good advice, she appears to
others as vain and, at times, abusive. She should take heed
and wear white a lot to off-set her hot temper. The diviner
says something about ‘only jack-asses having ears above
their heads.’ Because she is inherently smart, she can re-
form her character, but first she must know that she is
prone to illnesses that come from internal inflammation,
that correspond to her external volatility. Shango adds
that eventually, after going to Ifa for a further reading,
that she is a candidate for deep initiation into Orisha/Ifa
religion. If she listens well (for Shango only speaks once!)
she will offer him six green bananas with a red string tying
six good quality cigars to be tied to the highest ceiling in
her house for six days and then left at the foot of a palm
tree far away from her house. She will also offer Oshun
five peacock feathers on the throne of an Oshun priest-
tess, and ask permission to take “white baths” in this
priest’s or priestesses’ home in the mornings for six con-
secutive days. She should pay for these services. After the
cleansing, she should avoid all hot spices and brown liq-
quids going forward and go to the doctor to have her body
examined for “hot spot” signs of inflammation and high
cortisol levels. Obtain a red/black neckless of peonia seeds
because it will help her with resolve to reform herself with-
out ambivalence. She also needs ebbo’leri (a rogation) to
“feed her Head, her Ori) for spiritual alignment (by analogy
like aligning her “chakras”).
If she heeds this advice and makes the offerimgs necessary,
her negative situation (“osogbo”) will turn into a positive sit-
uation (“ire”) very quickly in accord with the odus that this
reading closes with.
"Ebbo Da!" (The Reading Is Ready to Close)
Her Session’s Closing Odus: “Odi-Obara” (with ire--"good prospects")
I I I I
I I I I
I I I
Mary’s reading closed with this odus. When the diviner explained to her that it forecast much goodness,
emotional contentment and good fortune foreseen for her (since Yemoja, especially, blesses marriages
in this omo’du (where the institution of marriage was born), she was so happy that she did not feel the
need to ask any further questions. In view of her previous unconscientious conduct which could have prevented her odus coming at this time with “gbogbo ibi” (bad luck everywhere), the diviner left her with the following blessings or proverbs (owe) from Obatala for her to remember:
“It is the Head that carries the body!”
“We heard the call and made the sacrifice.
It will not be long, It is not far away.
Orisha will make it come true like a Dream”
My dear readers, as you will notice, this—“Mary’s”—reading did not involve any arithmetic calculations nor computations at all. No addition, subtraction, multiplication, nor division, no algebra, ” no “sets,” no “Boolean algebra of sets,” no “universal sets,” no “empty sets,” no “symbolic logic,” no “binary coding,” no numeric “measurements,” no “numerology,” no “rational, irrational, imaginary nor complex numbers, no “geometry,” no “calculus,” no “axioms,” no “proofs,” no “theorems,” no “statistical tests,” no “recipro- cals” (there are light-dark patterns of mirror reflection of da’fa marks, but no “numeric reciprocals”) and no “probability calculations” involved.
In other words, mathematics is not inherently “embedded” in Orisha/Ifa religion and its divinatory prac-
tices. The only numerals that ever show up are simply nominal (at most) or ordinal in nature and, even then, however convenient they may be, they can be done away entirely with consequence because they do not play any roles in calculations nor computations with natural numbers. They can be dispensed with—though somewhat impractical to do (which is why I do not advocate changing our methods)—by simply using the names of the odus and remembering which are “senior” (or “junior”) to others similarly situat- ed in the Ifa corpus of stories. I am simply trying to make the point that math is not indispensable to the
acquisition of natural knowledge using the Orisha/Ifa methods.
"The Mathematics of IFÁ—Part 1 by Tundé ADÉGBỌLÁ - YouTube",
"The Mathematics of IFÁ 2 by Tundé ADÉGBỌLÁ - Boulean algebra is based on Ifá. - YouTube",
This gentleman takes as his starting point professor Sophie Oluwole’s theses that “Ifa is not a religion, but contains religion.” “Ifa is not philosophy, but contains philosophy.” And, “Ifa is not science, but con- tains science.” He then extrapolates from these points to urge that ‘Ifa is not mathematics, but it con- tains mathematics.’
The “mathematics” that he perceives in Ifa are implied by the 256 octagrams of the Ifa odus (i.e. the 16 “olodus” and the 240 “omodus” or the “sons of Odu”). The symbol component of each of the eight parts of the octagram is either a ( I ) or a (I I) mark. He then construes these two marks as being polarities (they are). But he then steps into the same path that most “mathematizers” and “digitalizers” in modern society do. He automatically assumes that they are numbers or, two binary numerical “bits.” But they are not: they are qualitative symbols of “lightness” and “darkness” that, in themselves, do not necessarily have anything to do with quantitative numbers, numerals, nor computational “bits.”
From there he, and many others, elect to do an unnecessary thing. They designate a single “leg” of the “octagram” (containing four of the “binary code bits”) to be a digital binary number—“within” Ifa divin- ation. For example: the “leg” of the olodu Okanran is normally cast and marked as:
I I But he informs us that it can be written “in binary” as 1110 ("bits"/numbers)
I I as they would be if written in “base-2.”
To his credit, he also writes Okanran as “Bbbf” (meaning “back side,” “back side,” “back side”, and then “front side”) indicative of the four cowrie or opele shells that lie on one side of the opele chain when it is first cast to the mat--with "front side" meaning "light" or "speaking," and vice versa. This will produce “one leg” of Ifa. ( It is standard that the other side of the opele chain’s strung-together cowries will produce the second series of cowries or opele shells that will also randomly show a combination of “fronts” and “backs” as well—i.e. create the second “leg of Ifa. This is because interpret- ation of the or- acle will involve considering both “legs.” In referring to the results, in the Afro-Cubans version of Yoruba religion (Santeria-Lucumi) they call the odus' final "numbers" "letras" or "letters" to insure that people to do not think of them as "numbers" since it is obvious that there are no numerals contemplated here. That is, there is nothing “mathematical” about this way of depicting this “leg” of Ifa in writing or as scrat- ched in sand or in the powder on a divination tray. Similarly, just as is the case here, there is nothing “mathematical” about the way Ifa diviners traditionally used ( I )(light) or ( II )(dark) symbols to describe a single, or both, “legs of Ifa” in a divination session.
Construing these marks, ( I )(light) or ( II )(dark), as “digital binary numbers or “bits” is a purely elective choice. There is nothing “in Ifa” that requires it or recognizes the idea that the odus are “binary code”
phenomena. And if it is not required, and was not ever conceived of this way (until the modern computer revolution by modern programmers), then it can safely be said that there are no obligatory numbers and, therefore, no mathematical calculations nor computations “in Ifa.” Which is another way of saying that “there is no math (inherently) in Orisha/Ifa religion!”( Further, as will be dealt with in the Appendix B, below, a critique of Mr. Clarence 13x’s book and YouTube video, neither he nor his mathematical fellow travelers seem to contemplate the destruction wrought on Ifa’s concept of odu’s seniority ranks (and, therefore, the proper interpretation of Ifa’s odus for a client), when the odus are re-ranked for seniority along the ordinal scale dictated by binary digital representations of them—as they propose must be done since numerical “binaries” are at the core of Ifa (as they would have it). I have already addressed the essentials of this issue on page 18, above.
Now how Boolean's "algebra of sets" discovered in Europe around 1850 was learned from Ifa priests is a mystery to me. Our learned brother, in taking light-dark polarity signs (I) vs. (II) as mathematical in nat- ure simply because the are polarities, again, engages in arbitrary conjecture. The signs could just as well have been (!'s) and (?'s). So long as a convention designated one to represent "light" and the other "dark," the Ifa oracle would continue to work perfectly well.
He then engages in a "grandiose" logical error wherein he claims that if 'Boole had not come up with Boolean algebra (in the 1850's) the world would have been denied (robbed of) the brilliance o f Ifa divination because of its use of polarity signs.' (I am paraphasing him, but I invite the reader to listen to his words about six minutes into his seven minute presentation). All I can say is "what?" (Later, in Appen- dix C, below, in the section on misattributed causality in the thinking of many of us, I describe our child- ish tendency to claim that either "we got this brilliant thing from some 'august' them" or "they stole such-and-such a brilliant thing from us" even when there is not the slightest historical evidence of such a connection! Why is it so hard to simply accept that our people were capable (as were other people) of coming up with some rather clever ideas on our own--where such is the case? Just because different groups of people come up with similar things, does not mean that they are historically connected with each other. "Mathematizing" Ifa in order to compare or attribute it to Western mathematical ideas does not, in my view, further legitimize Ifa. (Some scholars of the Revealed Religions of Judaism, Christianity,
and al-Islam believe, in the spirit of gemantria, that their religions contain direct mathematical codes;
see End Note 14).
Unfortunately, for these mathematically-minded intellectuals in our religion, the “old Yoruba adage rings true: “When you’re working only with a (mathematical) hammer, everything around you starts looking like a (mathematical) nail.
A Critique of Eclecticism and Sophistry In Yoruba Orisha/Ifa Discussions
“Mathematizers” and “Digitalizers”
“Supreme Mathematic: African Ma’at Magic”: by the “African Creation Energy: (by Clarence 13x).
"Ifá Mathematics and Quantum Computing - YouTube",
As I wrote in the critique of baba Shangodare’s lecture (see Appendix C,¸below), in Mr. Clarence 13x’s
book “Supreme Mathematic: African Ma’at Magic”:
“He writes out the binary equivalents of the Orisha/Ifa “da’fa” figures such that each odu would have a digital binary numerals written beside it in the fashion as illustrated immediately above. Thus, this first table gives the binaries for all 16 Olodus (p.95) where he uses the Nigerian names (e.g., “Irete” in the figure above) and lists them in the standard Ifa order (see page 12, above). However, on the next page, (p.96), he also provides a second chart that lists the odus’ seniority order in the order or sequence that their digital binary numbers would dictate (as his version of seniority rankings).”
I summarized his chart on page (p.18) above, but I will copy it here as well:
0000 (Oyeku) 0001 (Okanran) 0010 (Oturapon) 0011 (Owonrin) 0100 (Ika) 0101 (Ofun)
0110 (Iwori) 0111 (Osa) 1000 (Obara) 1001 (Odi) 1010 (Oshe) 1011 (Otura) 1100 (Irosun)
1101 (Irete) 1110 (Ogunda) 1111 (Ogbe)
Wow! Anyone with the requisite knowledge of Yoruba divination anywhere on the planet would know that one cannot do this. In his “binary” order, the senior-most odus, for example, start with “Oyeku” and “Okanran” in the 1st and 2nd place of seniority. And “Ogunda” and “Ogbe” are in the last two spots (15th and 16th, respectively. All of the other seniority ranks are equally disordered in his version of “binary” Ifa as well. No Ifa nor Orisha priest in the USA, Nigeria, Brasil, Cuba, nor anywhere else would have ever heard of an odu ordering and ranking system like his. Attempts to use such a system by introducing “bin- ary” into Ifa would result in methodological and interpretive chaos. This violates tradition as it irrepar- ably nullifies the orderly methods of divination, and it constitutes an invention.
All of this noise about Ifa divination being “binary digital,” reflecting “base 2” computation, is just that—noise. There is no point to it because in the divination process of Ifa no numerals are calculated or com- puted. All “numerals,” such as they exist, are merely for “odu” designation (or labelling) and seniority-ranking and, as among them, there are never any mathematic operations of arithmetic like addition, sub- traction, multiplication, nor division.
Some fetishize mathematical application, description and modeling so much that they declare it to be
an intrinsic and essential part of nature and the Universe—irrespective of humanity. Fortunately, Mr. Clarence 13x is also aware that this is not true. He knows that math is a human-system of thought, lan- guage and mental analysis (see his book at pp. 6 and 7). And he is also aware, apparently unlike an aut- hor, Mr. Shangodare Fagbemi, whose lecture I critique in Appendix C of this paper, whose view is that Yoruba (Ifa) numeric culture is ‘as with all Africans’ “base 2” mathematics. It is not. Such was the math- ematical canon of North African Arabs. The mathematics of the western rain-forest cultures, which in- clude Yoruba, is “base-20” or “vigesimal” in nature (see p.43).
[ An aside: This is why the more original Ifa divination system in Yorubaland was 16-cowrie shell divin- ation called “merindilogun.” The term—as mentioned elsewhere—means the “20-4 system” or “16 cow- rie shell method” of divination owned by the orisha Oshun. Although Oshun rarely gets credit for it, as she is often seen as a fickle consort of the wise and settled master of Ifa’s Orunmila, who by dint of nob- lese oblige alone, capitulated to the insistence of Oshun, and taught her how to do 16-cowrie shell mer- indilogun. ]
However in “Ifa Mathematics and Quantum Computing (African Creation Energy.com), he again informs
us that “the Ifa divination system, which originated in West Africa, utilizes a system of binary mathem- atics to retrieve answers to life’s questions and solutions to life’s problems... Performing Ifa divination is done by a “priest”/Mathematician called Babalawo (why is “priest” in quotation marks and mathematic- ian is not. Is this a subtle dig at babalawos)? The system of binary mathematics is used by the babalawo to select one of the odus of Ifa occurs in this fashion... The eight cowrie shells on the opele chain are used as an '8 bit “random "number" generator.'(italics are mine)
(Please note: a “random generator” can randomly generate anything including letters, black and white ping-pong balls bunched in a container, “light” and “dark” sides of the pieces of coconut shells, or the “speaking” vs. “not-speaking” sides of cowry shells in a collection or on an opele chain. What gets “ran- domly generated” does not have to be “numbers.” (This, therefore, is mathematician's projection, I
believe, to further install the idea in our heads that mathematics is in Orisha/Ifa divination in a found- ational way). “In computer science, eight bits, or binary digits is called a Byte...The open (speaking) side of the cowrie shell on the opele chain corresponds to binary digit of 1, and the closed (not speaking) side of a cowry shell on the Opele chain corresponds to a binary digit of 0,” says he.
He then goes on to expound on the same rhetorical strategy as do all of the other mathematizers and
digitalizers of Ifa do, to wit: claim that each “bit” when inscribed as a series of 1’s and 0’s is the digital language of the odus. For exactly the reason stated above, this characterization is entirely elective and not a generic part of Orisha/Ifa divination. He sees divination, therefore, as synonymous with modern computer operations and computations. And then it goes downhill from there as he gives the viewer a synopsis of quantum computing but which, alas, has absolutely nothing to do with Ifa divination nor, for that matter, with human (let alone a bablawo’s) comprehension or mentation either. And he does not even claim that it does. So why go off onto that foray?
OIDSI Class: The Esoterical Meaning of Odu and How It Comes Into Existence - YouTube"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7l9F4rAX8M featuring Shangodare Fagbemi, [This
video is sponsored by the “Obafemi Institute for the Divine Study of Ifa,” under the tuta-
lege of the African-American Ifa priest of Yoruba, Chief Oluwo Obafemi Fayemi Epega.
I have much skepticism about many of the “connections” to Ifa seen in this video; hence a long review.
Here I review a YouTube video featuring a Yoruba Ifa priest, Shangodare Fagbemi who, among other things, has acumen in the field of mathematics. His was a guest lecture in a series of YouTube instruct- tional videos on the religion sponsored by the “Obafemi Institute for the Divine Study of Ifa,” under the tuteage of the African-American Yoruba Ifa priest named Chief Oluwo Obafemi Fayemi Epega, from the American state of Texas.
First, in respect of the series of videos on Ifa presented by Oluwo Obafemi, I cannot stress how valuable I found them to be. I have watched all of them (several more than once) to see what he could add to my knowledge of Orisha/Ifa religion.And I found that his contributions were notable. Additionally, he per- sonally has a very folksy and accessible presentation style. I recommend his YouTube videos without res- ervation to all who wish to study Orisha/Ifa religion.
Before embarking on this critique, I also wish to stress the several positive things that I have concluded
about baba Shangodare’s guest lecture. First, all sincere contributions to our theology are to be welcom-
ed. Next, he is apparently a learned man, so his contributions are especially welcomed. He only had less than an hour to present these topics—although addressing so many threads was his choice (an unfortun- ate choice, in my view), so due accord has to obtain in tolerating some of the eclecticism, non-sequitors, and tangentialities in his presentation. By contrast, I had the advantage of many hours to review this video and, indeed, have had many years beforehand to cogitate on these topics—first writing about them in 1996 in my book of that year “African Spirituality vs. The African-American” (available only through my website at Oshoosi .com). So, it would not be fair nor brotherly to be too harsh in a critique of his video lecture in light of these circumstances. Additionally, he does offer on-line courses where he may have written or taught more thorough and better reasoned opinions. I do not know.
And, finally, I actually enjoyed his presentation as a bit of intellectual entertainment. At times I found myself, in the spirit of camaraderie, chiming in with a few “oohs, and ah-ha’s, and ashes, and “deeee- eeep!” sub-vocalizations of my own to go along with his audience members’ enthusiasm. As my abures —my junior brothers--in this religion, I can say with confidence that their oluwo Afolabi Epega whom, (though not a part of his personal life), I knew him as a fellow-travelor, would be exceedingly proud of what his omos—i.e., his spiritual godchildren--have accomplished. Iba--ee, iba-ee, iba-ee! Egun wa ire… ooo; sun (i)re…ooo! (Praise to our Ancestors, They Come With Good Fortune. May They Sleep Well).
* * * * * * * * * *
In this case, baba Obafemi invited Shangodare Fagbemi to speak on the topic of the “esoterics” in Ifa theology, some of its history, and his (putative) sourcing of Ifa religion from a wide range of concepts and practices on everything from Arabic geomancy divination (‘the scratching of divination signs into the sand’ with a combination of four or eight vertical line or circular markings), the adoption of binary cod- ing in Europe (“based on African teachings”) that these marks remind him of, to Hebrew numeralogy and gematria (i.e., writing where the letters that make up words and sentences also add up to numerals that have their own independent and, most often, arcane and cryptic meanings). But this is only the begin- ning. (See End Note 11)
In this sophistic tour de force (sophistry means: "I am wise… (the) wise-ist, one who does wisdom”), his rhetorical strategy also proceeded to weave into Ifa religion concepts he believes came from the Hindu religion, arithmetic (“reciprocals and inversions”) and mathematical numbers theory (phi ratios, Fibon- acci sequences, etc.), commentary on the religious personages in Orisha/Ifa religion (like Olodumare and Osumare), Among other things, he believes that some Orisha/Ifa concepts and deities, like Oshun, orig- inate in the Hindu religion (in her case from a similar goddess like Tripora) who is to be likened to Oshun, in his view. All of this in 45 minutes as he engages in conjectural etymology, alchemy and Indian lunar astrology.
But all of these are disparate ideas, inductively reasoned, led, more often than not, to unsupported in- ferences being drawn owing to his use of specious connections, speculative linguistic associations, and speculative causal and historically attenuated linkages. Worse yet, he repeatedly shows his appetite for confirmation biases—(i.e., paying attention only to “evidence” that supports his inferences while making no attempts to test his generalizations against other possibilities or contrary evidence. Aside from that--especially in view of the copious “oohs,” and “ahs” and “wows” and “ashes!” (Yoruba for “right on!”) from his enthralled audience--his was very valuable piece of intellectual entertainment.
Critique: 'Ifa’ Came From North African Arabic Astrological Geomancy (Oracles) a Thousand Years Ago.’
The way that the 256 odus octograms are marked or signed into the sand (or on a tray of rust-colored powder-- irosu or white clay powder--efun) during an Orisha/Ifa divination session is based on 9th and 10th century Arabic geomancy practices of North Africa. (He does not say how these Arabic-speaking North Africans ever came to the deep rainforests of West and Central Africa, so how this convention got there remained unaddressed). However, other authors, including myself, have accepted this historical account. (See my essay entitled: “Conceptions of Ifa: Old World vs. New World” in the appendix of my 1996 book, op cit. at p.388 et seq.). In my view, he does a very good job in depicting how this Arabic as- trological geomancy got into Europe as a methodology for recording their divination results as well as
fostering mathematics there.
The only problem with his history, and it is a big one, is that he fails to distinguish between Ifa’s history as a divination methodology (particularly as method of recording or writing down its oracular results), on the one hand, from Ifa’s history as a corpus of substantive content of oral poems and stories and cul- tural wisdom, sui generis to Yorubas (or their immediate sub-Saharan cousins), on the other. And, then, after omitting this, he also goes further to omit distinguishing either of these two (“Ifa’s” method of not- ating odus as octograms vs. addressing Ifa as regards its substance: its “chapters and verses”),on the one hand, from addressing Ifa as an incarnation of “odu deities”, in their own rights. This latter phenomenon or concept is one that is uniquely sourced to Yorubas alone (and certainly not to Islamic Arabs, that is for sure as they tend to see as a practitioners of witchcraft). Because of his failures to address either of the two latter conceptions of what Ifa “is” (content and deified odus) he chose to focus only on the writing down or “marking” of the divination figures as octograms—a minor methodological convention matter, standing alone, at most.
Thus, his over-generalization—the “Ifa” came from these north-African Arabs, stands weakly on its legs, as stated or implied.Therefore, by stressing so much the similarities of the “marked” figures--as between ween between Arabic and Yoruba conventions—he, therefore, lamentably left unaddressed how he sees the substantive contents of Yoruba odus matching up with (or failing to match) with the contents of any of his other proffered ‘sources’ of Ifa’s substantive theological sources, e.g, its putative origins in Arabic or Indian cultural folkways.
Here is what I think actually happened a thousand (or less) years ago. First, Yorubas and their cultural forebearers among the Igbo, the Nupe, the Nok and others always had their divination practices and their odus. Their methods and tools originally were cowrie shells and obi abata (nuts) or other implem- ents--perhaps including palm nuts (ikin) as well. The exact history has never been explained to me, but they must have had some kind of notational method—even if transiently used during a divination ses- sion--which may now have been lost to antiquity. But…in adopting these Arabic geomancy and astrolog- ical figures and marking conventions for their Yoruba odus, what our spiritual forefathers in Ifa did—by crude analogy—to go from a local “DOS platform” to an Arabic “Windows” or “Apple” platform of geo- mancy octagoms) in order to re-organize their Ifa “oral libraries” into a more efficient file storage and retrieval system.
I reason that this cultural appropriation must have happened, but I do not know exactly when or how. (But I am sure that they did not first learn about the concept of divination itself from Arabs merely one thousand years ago, when they putatively adopted these current geomantic ways of marking odus!) And just as the Windows system (as compared to the old DOS system) was designed to provide for the new computers of the 1990’s newer methodologies, procedures, and decisional algorithms to store and ret- rieve information, nevertheless neither operating system had anything to do with the qualitative con- tents of the “documents, pictures, stories, poems, ebbos, or legends contained in their files, libraries or installed “software.”(In fact--speaking figuratively--I’d bet that our Ifa priests of yore even had "anti-mal- ware" and "anti-virus" programs to help protect the integrity of their classical oral corpus—that body of wisdom that we now know as the contents of the Yoruba odus, specifically, and the Niger-Benue con- fluence of cultures, generally, from Arabic content. It is this body of ideas, religious practices and social folkways that are at the heart of the Yoruba Orisha/Ifa cultural world (once tribal, but now national and international). And this world had nothing to do with Arabs or Arabic cultures nor, for that matter, much to do with the cultural world of Kemet 6,000 years ago either.
Critique: Shangodare’s “Mathematizing” Orisha/Ifa Religion Is Not Instructive—It Is Eurocentric!
Before getting into his penchant for “mathematizing” Ifa divination, it is necessary to carry on just a bit further with how he characterizes—in his view—the Arabic astrological divination “octagons,” “signs,” ”signatures” or whatever one wants to call them (we call them da’fa marks: da=to give or render, fa= Ifa). He appears to have made a slight error in how he illustrated theArabic-Islamic North African astrologers' writing out of these figures. At ‘39:”45 minutes into the video he illustrates a sample of one of their “binary code” markings this way:
This was probably the video equivalent of a “typo.” Obviously, this is not a binary coded figure of any- thing. First, his “O,” if it were used in a digital binary code, would have to be accompanied by a “I” some- where; otherwise you would not have a polarity of “light” vs. “dark” nor any other kind What I suspect he probably meant to write (save for the “typo” on his board) as a sample of Arabic geomantic marking was:
However, in the world of geomancy--especially in Orisha/Ifa religion, which most likely did incorporate odu octograms similar to this--these markings do not represent numerals. Instead, they represent light vs. dark poles or positive vs. negative charges or valences. No numeric calculations nor computations is- sue from them. They are merely visual symbols for various categories or “chapters” of—in our parlance —“odus” that actually have names. (Please see Parts VI and VII of this essay). But, what is really most important is that he gives us no clue as to what are the names for these Arabic figures not to mention their substantive contents--“astrological” or otherwise--as “containers” each of “knowledge.” (By Arabic cultural I am disposed to imagine “knowledge”that is astrological in nature This, would have been, in- deed, very interestingly since, as I understand it, al-Islam, like the other two main Revealed Religions, is hostile to astrology. So addressing the presumed cultural content of these Arabic astrological diviners so that we might eventually compare them to our odus’ substantive contents—octagon for octagon (realistically, only a few examples would have been sufficient). If nothing else, what is of importance about odus are their names and the substantive content of the teachings. Of only secondarily import- ance is which “figure,” “sign,” “signature,””mark” or “numeral” has—by way of local convention—has been assigned to it.
The odus are the stuff of qualitative substance expressed as poems, nature stories and allegories (pat- akins), proverbs (owe), legends (orikis), creation myth explanations of where all things of importance to humanity and religion come from, anecdotes of the lives and times of the ancestors or the orishas, ritual instructions, prayers, incantations, and their recommended offerings and sacrifices (ebbos)to be made to the deities to obtain their interventions and help, and so on. It is these things that are the true sub- stances of the odus in Orisha/Ifa religion--regardless of what their “signature” or da’fa figure markings are.
I I (dark)
I I (dark)
Since astrology (Arab or otherwise) plays no notable role in Ifa theology, and since Yoruba animism could not gain much purchase in an Arabic cultural setting either, I doubt that the “odus” of each (or whatever the Arabs called their divinatory or astrologic caterories), I doubt that there could be any meaningful
overlap of religious substance and content. That said, if that was his aim was simple to show that we share similar recording conventions--then let us take this as historical information—interesting on its face—but of little importance. But no sooner than he leaves us with this ambiguity, he enters into other erudite and, in this case, “mathematically-tinged” propositions which are exemplified by his next discus- sion: a tangent on to the arithmetic topics of numerical “reciprocals” and “inversions.” For example, he informs us that the some of examples reciprocals might be:
2 = 2 2 = -1/2 The idea here was for him to I I I I
2 -2 show us that a "reciprocal," I I I I
2 = 4 2 = -1/4 in the realm of odu signs, are I I I I
3 -3 a sort of "twins." The numerals I I I I
2 = 8 2 = -1/8 on the left, though converse
4 -4 (as they go into negative num-
2 = 16 2 = -1/16 bers), are still numeric "reci-
procals. The da'fa octogram on
right are clearly "twins" (or
The Source Domain: Math The Target Domain: Da’fa Mark
What is the point of showing us that “the reciprocal” of “Oyeku” is its twin--“Oyeku?”
Next, let’s look at Shangodare’s point about mathematical “reciprocals” and “inversions” because, as
“math-talk,” it can get really interesting (but likely of very minor importance in Ifa interpretation) when it comes to da’fa marks. Numeric “inversions” in math, he labors to tell us, mean “the opposite.” He does not give any examples, of them but I shall, using the following rule: “In mathematics, a multiplicative in- verse or reciprocal for (the) number x, denoted by 1/x or x−1, is a number which when multiplied by x yields the multiplicative identity, 1. The multiplicative inverse of a fraction a/b is b/a. For the multiplicat- ive inverse of a real number, divide 1 by the number. When depicted in Ifa’s da’fa marks or “signatures,” this might be an example:
¼ x 4 or x 4 = 4 I I I
I I I
1/7 = 7/1 vs. I I I
I I I
“Inversions” In The Source Domain “Inversions” In The Target Domain
Math Da’fa Marks
Well, that’s cute. But so what? If you cannot show that “Odi” and “Iwori” as visual opposites or “inver- sions” of each other are the opposites of each other in regard to their substantive contents--and, by the same token, are also not the opposites of any of the other 14 olodus in regard to their substantive con-tents (this is the issue of ignoring discriminant validation)--and certainly, the content of “Odi” is not the mirror opposite of the content of “Iwori”--then this “analogue” is meaningless and teaches us nothing about Orisha/Ifa religion and its divination practices. So what’s the point?
This is my concern: If his point is that Yoruba’s Ifa, at some point a millennium or so ago, started using Arabic geomantic “signatures” to conveniently mark or visually-label the 16 main odus (the “Olodus”) and replaced the methods that they had previously been using for one to several thousand years bef- orehand, then so be it.
Critique: Adding Numerology to the Religion: The Fibonacci Sequence Determines Orishas' Num- bers?
He also said that the Fibonacci sequence of numbers is determined by simply adding a number to the last number in the seq- uence in order to get the next number: 1 + 2=3, then 3+2=5, then 5 + 3 =8, then 8 + 5 =13, then13 + 8 = 21, and then 21 + 13 = 34 and so on. Therefore, the sequence is 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34… The video lecturer, Mr. Fagbemi, then declares that because the orisha Oshun’s (an Orisha/ Ifa deity’s) ceremonial number is “5” and because the orisha Obatala’s number is “8,” then this proves that Oshun’s and Obatala’s place in the orisha pantheon (there are 401 orishas in Yoruba religion) is based on math- ematics because their numbers are also in the Fibonacci sequence. This, of course, is preposterous. (The (orishas Yemoja and Oshoosi share the “number” 7. Did God forget to ordain them with a number that was not in the Fibon- acci sequence? How about Oya, whose number is “9,” did our "mathematical God of nature" forget her)?
Critique: The Practice of “Visualized” Interpretations of Orisha/Ifa’s Odu Octagrams or Signatures
But what I think he is trying to slip into the minds of his audience by referencing the mathematical terms “reciprocals” and “inversions”—since it is obvious that he is not dealing with any of the substantive con- tents of the figures--is the notion that the very physical appearance of the “odu” figures themselves serves, among other things, an mathematically interpretive role in ferreting out the wisdom that the client would benefit by knowing. For example, for justification, he said that the top half of this figure being the same as the bottom half illustrates the Hermetic “law of correspondence" (“As Above, So Below”). (See Endnote 7). An illustration:
The same two lines at the top the octagram are repeated in its bottom half. So why do we need a Greek
“Hermetic law” (originating in ancient Kemet or not) to explain that which is visually patently obvious? Was Hermes Trismesgistus, the Greek Mediterranean-rim author who is credited with formulating the “Seven Universal Laws of the Universe” (of which “As Above, So Below” is but one) an Ifa babalawo on a
sojourn in Greece from Yorubaland? Further, speaking subtantively, what is there about the substance of Ofun that illustrates this “Hermetic principle”at all? Why seek to import Hermeticism’s “laws” into Ifa at all? Indeed query: Which Orisha/Ifa odus instructs an Orisha/Ifa diviner to import any other philosophic- al system or religion into the Ifa corpus that is not already there? I suggest that doing so is the stuff of pure sophistry.(7)
(Speaking editorially for a moment: It seems to me that many African-Americans possess an attitude toward Orisha/Ifa religion—that one can syncretize or import anything one wants into it—as a pecul- iar habit, in my experience, of those who have backgrounds in the romantization of Kemetic theology and Hermetic (Greek) theosophy. You never see Afro-Cubans, Brasilian Candomble practitioners, Puerto Ric- ans, Mexican-American Orisha/Ifa taking such eclectic and syncretizing liberties with our religion. Only us! Why? It betrays —likely unknown to them—their tacit Platonic idealism, Pythagorean “mathemat- icism,” and Aristotelian ideas about logic and causation that they are so fond of portraying as so much “deeeeeep knowledge….” And this reflects their cultural inferiority complex whereby they seek to leg- itimize Orisha/Ifa religion by introjecting stuff from all kinds of other sources. By contrast, I do not bel- ieve that Orisha/Ifa religion is enhanced one iota by importing these Mediteranean-rim (and, usually, medieval European or Arabic) concepts —like latter-day Hermeticism, astrology, “mathematicism,” num- merology, alchemy, Kundalini chakras, and so on, into it. Thank you very much (but no thank you)!
Now, back on point: We also see the habit among some to interpret odu da’fa markings directly from their visual appearances in other ways. For example, they will suggest that there is a phenomenon or property within them of internal (vertically downward) “movement”—from one level of the figure downward to the next lower position—as indicative of how one’s fate (once under the power of an odu) progresses, or even how one odu changes successively into another, i.e., how one odu “gives birth,” res- olves or “modulates” (to use a term from music) from one to the next one in regard to visual patterning and, implicitly, into the ever evolving life of the client itself. This is an example of how some believe that the “energy” or “circumstance” of a person can be discovered by discerning the “energy movement” downward “inside” an odu (for lack of a better term) that, at any given time, is influencing him or her.
Well, this is correct, but since we are dealing with “weak force energy” ashe (my use of the term "weak force" is merely an analogy from physics offered for illustration purposes only), the interpretative im- portant is very minor in any real case. I will set forth now what I think baba Shangodare was trying to get at in his video in regard to the visual interpretation of odu octagons.
Fraternal Om’odu Octagrams Resolve Their Affinities In Other Odus:
This Is a Legitimate Option for Helping To Interpret The Lives of Odus
Fraternal octograms are regarded as “fraternal twins” (because, though “twins,” they are not exactly the same). They are twins who resolve their ashe to one of four settled odus (Ogbe, Oyeku, Ejila Sebora or Odi. There are basically four types of “fraternal” configurations for these special twelve omo’dus: (1) Those omodus’ that are complete opposites of each other (I suppose this is what the lecturer meant by “inversions”), (2) those that mejis, (3) those that are mirror reflections of each other (even if one is stan- ding upside down), and (4) an “internal” reversal” when compared to its fraternal twin. Examples:
I I beside I I beside I I I beside I I I beside I I
I I I I I I I I I I I I I
I ashe I I I ashe I I ashe I I I ashe I I
I I ↔ I I I ↔ I I I I ↔ I I I ↔ I I
Iwori Edi Oshe Oshe Oturupon Ika OTURA IKA
Visual Opposites Mejis Mirror Reflections Internal Reversal
These odu octograms have “life” in them in the sense that they contain both sensitivity and moving “ashe” (“energy”)! They are, after all, considered living deities as well. I imagine the amount of the ener- gy to be in the nature of a relatively “weak force” analogous (just an analogy here!) to the “weak force” that binds electrons to an atom’s nucleus. (It, like gravity, is pretty weak, as things go—when contrasted lighting bolt power of electro-magnetism or the strong force that binds sub-atomic particles whose bonds, when broken, release nuclear reactions). This movement of ashe “energy” within and the omo'
’du octagrams is nicely addressed in the book “The Holy Odus,” by Fategbe Fatunbi Fasola, 2014, at pages (pp. 9-11).
There is a simple algorithm that determines how they combine to “resolve to” either Ogbe (for the Vis- ual Opposites), to Oyeku (for the Meji’s), to Odi (for the Mirror Reflections) or to Oshe (in the case of "In- ternal Reversals). “Resolve” means (again, by way of analogy!) that they go to a higher state of natural entropy.
I believe that baba Shangodare was getting at this kind of idea when he was speaking about “reciproc- als” and “inversions” (using mathematical images and the aura of certainty that math gives one a sense of). My point is that all questions regarding odus’ interactions with each other—inter-sensitivities, “bir- thing” each other, morphing into successive odus when left to the own devices, so to speak, are fundam- entally matters of a qualitative nature not of a numerical, nor a digital, nor (for God’s sake!) not some “quantum computing” relationship as Clarence 13x would venture (whatever, in Heavens name, that could possibly mean in Ifa)? (Please see Appendix B, above, for a critique of that idea).
Although baba Shangodare did not go into the idea of a vertical ashe (“energy” flow) downward in an
odu such that its top “line” mark sort of pushes downward such that its bottom level gets displaced to the top and become a new odu (like Ogunda beoming Osa) ,or then person subject to the effects of the
odus feels and experiences a similar “movement” downward and vertically through the light and dark levels of the odus as she or he passes through it)
An example of interpreting “movement within an odu sign might be this (see Baba Obafemi’s YouTube
video on the odu Irosun).
I (light) Where this person sees clearly their way (sees the light)
I (light) starting out, but then descends into the darkness of Irosun’s
I I (dark) traps as he or she proceeds downward while under its in-
I I (dark) fluence; eventually to emerge more mature and better in-
formed (that is, once he or she has gone back to the top).
Irosun I have my doubts that the visual patterns of the figures play
a substantive interpretive role like this.
Also, an example of how some interpret the putative downward movement of an odu’s da’fa markings as explaining how an odu changes (“births”) from one to the next (and forecasts how a client’s fortunes will change from one state to the next, accordingly).
This mark moves down → ↘ I (light) I I (dark) This is how some suggest
(pushing all of the ones I (light) I (light) that one odu becomes the
below downward too. I I (dark) ↑ like this: I (light) the next. But I seriously
While this mark is forced I I (dark) I I (light) doubt the wisdom of this
to return to the top of the → ↑ as applied to individuals.
stack. Thus, changing the IROSUN IWORI In life, only Ifa, through
stack in this illustration through a reading's closing
from “Irosun” to “Iwori,” cast, on a case-by-case bas-
is--knows which odu is
likely to come next for
that person at the readings
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
In my book, op cit. I took pains to point out that when talking about “Ifa” in scholarly writing one must
specify if you are talking about (1) Ifa ritual methodology, (2) Ifa’s stories, proverbs, ebbos, anecdotes,
morality lessons, etc. as a matter of cultural contents and ideas, or (3) if you are talking about “Ifa’s” ”Orunmila,” analogous to Kemet’s Thoth or Tehuti, who--for us--is a shapeless and formless deity that is primordial and exceedingly wise in getting us out of problems. (But follow the guidance of Obatala and Yemoja, and you won’t have the problems in the first place!) Baba Shangodare failed to do this utterly in so far as the You Tube video is concerned.
The subtext here, I suspect, is that oluwo (Ifa priest) Shangodare’s mathematics acumen, as with so many people, has lead him to want to “mathematize” Ifa as part and parcel of sophomoric tendencies toward eclectic pronouncements, perhaps religious syncretism, and a felt need to further legitimize Ifa by con- flating it with historically foreign religions, philosophical orientations (especially Platonism’s obsession with man-transcending “essences” and perfectly pure “forms” of everything in the universe. And one may add to this the more recent Arabic-Islamic mathematicians who, for their parts, and building on
Grecian and Indian sources, gave us ‘perfectly abstract algebraic’ language (and techniques) to capture the universally-embedded mathematics “of it all”. I suggest that we should resist this impulse.
Ifa is a perfectly competent qualitative and substantive system in its own right. It does not need any scientific nor mathematic validation (though we should always be open, indeed enthusiastic, about what mathematics and science has to offer humanity within their proper scopes). The fact that it uses geo- mantic da’fa marks to conveniently categorize and denote the 256 possibilities does not change that. This adoption, I suspect was merely to upgrade Ifa’s “file storage system” to “Ifa 2.0” a thousand years ago.
Critique: More On Baba Shangodare’s Video Lecture Ideas: Da’fa Octagram As “Binary Code.”
Following Mr. Clarence 13x’s lead (see the critique in Appendix B, above), he informs us that “Ifa” is a 1,000 year old north-African Arabic geomantic and astrological divination practice. The evidence is that they use four level figures with polarities marked as ( I ) and ( O ), or ( O ) and ( X ) or ( I ) and ( II ). He does not tell us the names of their odus nor what are their “astrological” contents. Unfortunately, he does not point out that these “signatures” or figures are merely the methodology for inscribing the “odus” or divination categories that their diviners “pulled down.”And though, it is in quite plausible that our Ifa priests of yore did adopt that “operating system’s” method of notation, it is wrong to called the notation system “Ifa.” Ifa is the Yoruba culture’s religious (mostly oral) literature that substantively con- tained those peoples’ tribal and nation heritage (something that had nothing to do with Arabs nor their cultural folkways). (11)
Next, he informed us that the binary nature of these markings also was religiously interpretable (as well
as being the reason Europeans learned--from the Islamic Arabs--“binary” computation and calculus). Even so, that possibility is irrelevant to students of Ifa. But next he then turns to the “Laws of (Grecian) Her- meticism” (“The law of opposites” and “As above, so below,” among others) to assert that in the visual in- spection of these four-part divination signs or signatures one could discern something about the (their) “odus” content natures: To the skilled eye, movement and meaning in the polarities could be discerned.
For example, if the top two “lines” were the same as the bottom two, then this meant that the whole
sign (the odu ) exemplified the Hermetic law of “As above, so below” or “universality”--evidence of the isomorphism between Heaven and Earth (which is really what this “law” is implying). (See Endnote 7).
As fully explained on pp. 25 and in Appendix B, above, I have abiding doubt that one can project inter- pretive “binary”--the alphabet of modern computer programming. And, he adds that “binary” “came from Africa”—something that, as stated, is misleading. (It came from Arabic North Africa is simply irrel-evant trivia having not much of anything to do with Orisha/Ifa religion or divination. (11)
This tendency to wish to add rigor to Ifa by “mathematizing” it or by alluding to various and sundry other
cultures’ similar ideas to propose and demonstrate its august sourcing and company (among the other world-class cultures of antiquity) that Ifa enjoys is folly. Reifying mathematics into something that is the
substrate of the Universe (or, nearer to home) the substrate of peoples’ qualitative folk cultures here on
Earth reflects unadulterated Eurocentrism, to wit: Grecian philosophy and its extensions into Arabic-Is- lamic mathematics and science, as well as even into Christianity. (Many African Ifa priests have, unwit- tingly I suppose, allowed it—and even Grecian Christianity--to seep into Ifa, from earlier in the mid-20th century, when some of Nigeria’s doctoral students of divinity were writing their seminal theses and books, for the first time, on the subject of Ifa while studying in the United Kingdom. However, upon sob- er reflection in this post-colonial world, Ifa does not need European nor Mediterranean-rim—including Kemetic--comparisons to add legitimizations. Their similarities should only be passing points of interest.
The Importation of More Grecian and Medieval Hermeticism (Lunar Astrology
and the "Seven Laws" ) Into Ifa Is Surplusage and Syncreticism
Third, finally we arrive at a few of baba Shangodare’s other speculations—all uttered toward the same end. Now, as we near the conclusion, we must note that we also learned from him that:
“Africans learned about the (Hermetic) “laws of opposites” from observing “the
16 phases” of the moon.” And somehow the existence of 16 odus which were
created by the Yoruba orisha Oshun, he says is related to this. Problem: The sun-
light reflected by the moon is a continuum. Thus, technically, the moon does have
any specific number of “phases.” Nevertheless, in African and Western astronomy
the phases—such as they can be said to exist at all--number eight (8): the New
Moon, the Waxing Cresent, the First Quarter, the Waxing Gibbons, the Full Moon,
the Waning Gibbons, the Last Quarter, and the Waning Cresent. Shangodare sup-
ports this proposition by pointing out that the in Hindu religion the moon has 16
phases (the kalas) corresponding to the 16 Nitya goddesses, generally, and the
progenitor of the orisha Oshun (he says) named “Tripora” whose number just hap-
pen to be 16 and who is reputed to have 16 desires—chief among them being ho-
ney. The evidence that our Yoruba ancestors knew the first thing about “Tripora”
is not provided. It is in the nature of sophistry to turn similarities into causation.
The “Mathematization” of Nature, the Universe and Religion
Next, our intrepid lecturer serves up for us a tangential foray into simple math in
order to convince us that mathematics is a priori embedded in the universe. He
starts with the well-known Fibonacci sequence of numbers that is constructed
such that a given number in a series is the sum of the two numbers that preceded
it: 1+2= 3, then 3+2=5 and then 5+3=8 and so on. So, an extended sample would
look like this 1, 2,3,5,8, 13,21, 34 and so on ad infinitum. The importance of this,
so far is nothing. But, as Johannes Kepler discovered a few hundred years ago, if
one divides any given number in this sequence by the number immediately prec-
eding it, one will come up with a constant number (1.61904…)—e.g.34/21= 1.619…
This sequence can be extended indefinitely.
What he also discovered is that if one were to graph these sequences geometrically,
the resulting curve would look like a spiral (if graphed 2-dimensionally) or a cone (if
graphed 3-dimensional) as a never ending “clone” of itself. That is, it would look like
a “cyclone” (an endless cycle cloning itself. In three dimensions this would look like
the pattern of a snail shell, a vortex (like a hurricane viewed from above, water drain-
ing out of a bath tub, the proliferation of cells growing in a plant or in animal tissue,
or the magnetic vortex of spiral galaxies). In nature, one can observe this ratio being
played out he opines. He then goes on to suggest—in “mathematizing” nature—that
without this phi ratio (a numerical constant in nature—where, moreover, the very lan-
guage of God is this mathematical constant) that “there would be no Buddhism, no
religion, and no Ifa. His indoctrination and commitment to the “mathematization”
“digitalization” of Ifa is complete (as absolutely useless as is the enterprise).
* * * * * * * * * * *
Problem: Mathematicians have projected mathematical constants (which are prod-
of mathematical reasoning) onto nature in dozens of illustrations to describe the
otherwise non-numerical repetitive patterns that are observable in numeric terms.
(In nature, nobody is counting—not even “God” Olodumare. No odus depicting Yor-
uba creation myths refer to “God” as dealing with numbers except for the simple en-
umeration of items, but never for purposes of calculation or computation covertly
embracing numeric codes or arithmetic operations. The discovery of mathematical
constants is man’s doing, not “God’s.” One of the primordial orishas--Oshumare (or
Osumare)—is the god of the rainbow, signifying that Heaven and Earth have an agree-
ment that one shall reflect the other in the phenomenon of “cycles,” periodic renew-
als (after the completion of repetitive cycles and patterns). But that is where it stops.
In the religion, no mathematical measurements nor operations attach to the cycles.
The numerical measurements of natural phenomena—producing mathematical “
constants” such as those well-known to physics, is man’s alone—albeit a very use-
ful art indeed. And as for the primordial conical snail (snail shell) that God gave to
Obatala to help create the world-- though an interesting idea—the notion that the
snail was a mathematician has not yet made it into the canons of the odus corpus.
The “language of mathematics” has no more of independent existence in “the Uni-
verse”—a priori to or transcendent above the mentation of Humanity than do the
languages of English, Yoruba, Aleut or ki-Swahili.
The well-known African Sankofa bird that, in embarking on a flight from one tree,
to the next, briefly returns to the tree it was in prior to arriving at its present stat-
ion. Thus, in moving onward, its flight patterns take on the appearance of sequential
loops. Is this bird flying out a Fibonacci numerical sequence? Did anyone tell the
bird that? What, if on occasion, the bird is required to depart from its usual flight
pattern (e.g. if a predator climbs the preceding tree)? If the bird’s flying pattern in
nature is arithmetically determined (because math is “100%” deterministic) did God
give the bird a “hall pass” to depart from what the numbers, otherwise, dictate?
EUROCENTRIC RHETORIC AND THE WAGES OF HERMETIC SOPHISTRY IN HIS LECTURE
The Exaggeration Habit
I used the lecture of baba Shangodare Fagbemi as an example of what adherents to Orisha/Ifa religion want to be skeptical about.
The Reification and Abstraction Habit
We saw in the video the unenviable habit of him reifying, (i.e., making something concrete that is, in reality, a process or an abstracttion (like algebra) into an intrinsic “law of the universe or nature.” Math- ematicians, in their projections, can go so far as to declare that “the universe is, when reduced to its es- sence, a mathematical equation.” This kind of thinking is the stuff of Pythagorean and Platonic philos- ophy (championed in subsequent centuries in Arabic culture). This is where the idea that math was al- ways “embedded in the universe came from. ”In reality, mathematics, as a socially-shared “language” was embedded in society by peoples’ experiences with the need to handle large collections of items for pur- poses of counting, accounting, trade, navigation and astronomy, money and coinage!(which is where
the need for complex math arose for Pythagoras), as well as fo rconstruction and mechanics, and the maintenance of class hierarchies.
In regard to the source of mathematics that is embedded in the minds of individuals within a society, the embedding lies in the astounding complexity of the brain’s 100 billion synapses (each with a few to 20,000 synaptic connections to other neurons; the total permutations of which—in every human cran- ium—outnumber the total number of stars in our Milky Way galaxy by an order of 100! (That is, even if each neuron had only 100 synapses, the total number of synaptic connections in each human brain would exceed 10 trillion connections. Talk about a computer!).
Specifically, the areas of the brain that sub-serve mathematical ideas are the supra-marginal and angular gyri in the parietal lobes of both of its hemispheres in the posterior brain in coordination with the anter- ior brain’s pre-frontal cortex and its memory portions of the brains limbic system. Mathematical ideas rise upon, and parallel exactly, the natural spoken languages of human beings and drawn on our every- day empirical experiences with collections of items often arrayed before us, with distances that we have to travel along paths (numbers as point along lines), containers of things (“sets’), and spatial experiences (“up,”“below,”“near,”“on,”“underlying,” etc.) that, by way of “mapping” or metaphorical mapping on to numbers and symbols of numbers the arts of mathematical calculation, computation, geometric draw- ing, digital language coding and computer modeling. Mathematics is not embedded in nature per se, nor in anyone’s religion (except the religion of Grecian idealists and those who cannot examine their own
The Nullification of Logic Problem
The modern-day sophists cannot think critically and rely solely on “convergent validation” (i.e., they can
only pay attention to those highly sought-out facts that support their ideas. For example, imaging this
“I was thinking about ‘aunt Sally’ just yesterday and, lo and behold,
she called me this morning. I must be clairvoyant!"
“Well, not so fast my friend: Before you arrive at that conclusion did you consider all of the times you also thought about ‘aunt Sally’ and she did not call you? How about the number of times when she called you when you had not been thinking about her beforehand? And how about all of the possible times she
called you, and you were not at home to know about the call? What would this information (this discrim-
inant information) due to your confidence in your clairvoyance?”
Our sophist friend would be forced to be a little more modest about possessing “esoteric” knowledge or supernatural powers because he or she would have to acknowledge that discriminant validation (paying attention to alternate or contrary facts) is every bit as important as convergent validation. Sophistry lies in selling an audience—because of proffered ‘superior knowledge’ on a line of specious and illogical re-
asoning (and false causal relationships) through the use of a rhetorical strategy designed to “wow” an audience with a parade of “ah-ha” moments. But this is entertainment no less so than that of a magician who is skilled in making the audience keep their eyes on his right hand instead of on what the left hand is doing to create the magic illusion. Other versions of corrupted logic can be exemplified this way:
“All tables have four legs. That thing over there in the corner definitely
has four legs. Therefore, that thing must be a dog!”
“Well not so fast my friend. I have it on good authority that the “thing” in the corner over there to which you refer is a dog.”
The Casual Causal-Connection Illusion
We believe that we can see causal chains or linkages when we discover interesting similarities in the “mental” ideas, concepts and artifacts as we go from one classical culture to another (ore to our own culture). In baba Shangodare’s case, let’s use the connection between the Yoruba deity “Oshun,” on the one hand, and the Hindu goddess “Tripora,” on the other. Is there a connection? Says who? What was the mechanism of this cultural transplantation? And in what time period?
Unfortunately, we very paranoid Africans and African Americans—whose self-images and need for ex- ternal validation is inexhaustible owing to our histories of European-American slavery and colonialism
--are quick indeed to make specious causal connections to anything that might make us feels redeemed or even superior by identification with someone’s else’s classical cultures; whether it be Kemetic, Indian,
or Moorish cultural achievements (or whatever). Implicit in this defensive grandiosity on our parts is the
tacit belief that cultural ideas are linear or even lineal. The idea that the same idea might arise indepen-
dently in numerous cultures that share similar stages of development and ambient conditions is one that they cannot afford to entertain. But there is another way of looking at this which is just as plausible.
Let’s considered common numeral symbolism first. Almost all cultures will, independent of each other, fetishize the number “3” (trinities),“5” (reaching thresholds and renewals), “4” (subtizing), “7” (civilities), “10” (authority), “12” (hours and divinities) or “16”(the impulse to “subtize the act of subtizing the num- ber “4” itself will produce a fetish for the number 16 that groups of people can easily agree on and rem- ember as noteworthy collection of ideas or rules. So, when we discover something of cultural importan- ce that is associated with any of these numbers, it simply may be that this is merely an expression of an inherently common idea or image (like one of Jung’s archetypes writ “numerical”) that many cultures share in common. (Mr. Clarence 13x gives wholly different “archetype” numbers for the common prac- tice of numerology in cultures that developed relatively independent of each other. No problem). My only point here is that similar archetypes of numbers, symbols, deities, and so on, exist world-wide from antiquity in cultures that were more often than not independent of each other in geography and in time.
And my goodness, just how many cultures can it be said that do not have some deity maiden who is clev- er, sweet, harmonious, sexy in her essence and who likes babies and honey? But though we may encoun- ter records of some people in antiquity—of various cultures-- who have such a maiden does not mean that we (or our version of the maiden) is descended from them. Nor does it mean that if we find this ar- chetype among several other rather contemporary cultures and nationalities that it means we “got her from them” ‘over there’ or that those in the other culture who “stole her from us.” This is an example
of silly causal connections illogic that sophists eat for breakfast on a daily basis. I can assure you that au-
thentic linguistic and conceptual connections across time and distances requires careful, not casual, anal-
The "they stole it from us" (sometimes a paranoid cultural delusion of persecution) and "we got it from them--the prior great thinkers" (sometimes a paranoid cultural delusion of grandiosity) are the kinds of
claims that need to be examined closely for their validity.
I hope that brother Shangodare Fagbemi, whose lecture I have taken to task (respectful task, I hope) by exemplifying its eclecticism and syncretization as something to be avoided, and those who are under- standably impressed with sophistry this kind ( I say again, even I admit that it is entertaining), will at least consider the validity of my forensics here and, in good faith and a kindly spirit, think deeply about the world-views I have drawn out here. Indeed, I am concerned that many folk—African and African-Amer- ican alike (especially those with prior commitments to romanticizing Kemetic studies, its mystery relig- ions (and the unrecognized Grecian and medieval European pseudo-Egyptian Hermeticism that flows in its wake!) are seeking to come to Yoruba’s Orisha/Ifa religion for a genuine experience of authenticity, validity, reliability and a useful immersion into a tradition (West and Central African and Atlantic dias- poran) that is actually the stuff of their true West or Central African ancestry. Hopefully, they will benef-
it from the adage: “I never learned anything while I was talking.” These religions are not for everyone. And aiding each other in bi-culturalism is the right thing to do—starting with a willingness to examine
and cull much in the way of our fundamental assumptions about how the world of psychology and cul-
culture actually work (including how they have worked historically).
Shangodare has made a strong point is relating Ifa’s Odus figures, the octagrams, to North African Arab- ic-Moorish astrolocical sources. (Some have even suggested the very word Ifa comes from the Arabic word f’al meaning “omen.” But, for all we know, it is just as likely than if the Arabic word f’al came from the Yoruba word Ifa).
Next, he goes to great pains to “mathematize” Ifa divination. Ifa can explain itself on its own terms; its
own sub-Saharan cultural terms! It does not need legitimization and “sourcing” (as far as the substantive
content of the religion and culture go) from Grecian Europe, from Grecian influenced Christians, Arabs,
Jews, medieval Hermeticists nor mathematicians. Mathematics is good for descriptions and predictions (we’d be lost in this world without) but, with Orish/Ifa religion mathematics has very little to describe that words and quality ideas have not done a more than adequate job for eons all along. Going into hy-
permodern forays about “digital, binary computations” and odus to try to add further “scientific-sound- ing” jargon and ideas to it, seems hardly worth the effort in my view. And it does not have the added benefit of being the truth, in any event.
This essay has been directed to enlightening (actually, I prefer “enblackening” you) our fellow-travelors –if I can--with the opinion that mathematics reflects the metaphors of actual daily living and human ac- tivity, and models it, but by no means suffuses it. Mathematics, devoid of addition, subtraction, multi- plication or division—as it is in Orisha/Ifa religion is a hungry critter indeed. And it is an orphan. It is not inherently embedded in the Universe, transcendent and a priori to the minds of Humanity, and it is not inherently embedded in the religion of all of nature: Orisha/Ifa. The better view is to use it and to res- pect it, but not to fetishize it.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
When, many years ago, my padrino, the gifted Anya bi Osun (iba…eee!), brought me into our ile (i.e., our
congregation and rama (our Afro-Cuban Lucumi Yoruba lineage that goes directly back into west Africa), as our ile’s “consigliere”or counselor, he told me that there were but two rules in our house:
Rule # 1 “Don’t Make 'Stuff' Up”
Rule # 2 “Don’t Forget Rule #1”
Footnotes/ End Notes
1. “Where Mathematics Comes From,”Lakoff, (How The Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics Into Being), George and Nunez, Rafael, Perseus Books,2002,
“Where Mathematics Comes From: How The Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics Into Being,” (Reviewed) Madden, James J., The American Mathematical Monthly, August, 2002.
The theses here powerfully demonstrate, based on current findings in cognitive and neuropsychology ,that math ematical operations are solely based on humanity’s empirical experiences in life with “paths” and “lines,”” directionality,” “locations,” “collections of objects,” and “con- tainers” etc., give rise the use of metaphors mapped into the terrain of mathematics to give us arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, geometry, Boolean algebra, sets, calculus, and symbolic logic. There are no a priori , perfectly abstract, and transcendent numbers nor mathematical operations “in the Universe” aside from humanity’s cogit- ation on the same; no more than any otherform of semantic language exists in the Universe independent of humanity.
2. No books on Orisha/Ifa religion that I read in preparation for this article express the view that the divination practices of Orisha/Ifa religion utilize numerical calculations or binary computations: The titles list that follows only includes books and articles directly dealing with divination:
--The World Atlas of Divination, Matthews, John, Bulfinch Press, 1992, pp.101-108
--The Dilogun, Ocha’ni Lele, Destiny Books, 2003,
--The Secrets of Afro-Cuban Divination, Ocha’ni Lele, Destiny Books, 2000
--Ifism: The Complete Work of Orunmila, Ibie, C. Osamaro, Efehi Ltd, Lagos, 1986
--The Odu of Lucumi, Kulevich, James, Ile Orunmila Comm., San Bernadino, 2003
--Ifa Divination, Bascom, Wm.,Indiana Uni. Press, 1969
--Sixteen Cowries, Bascom, Wm., Indiana Univ. Press, Bloomington, 1980
--Fundamentals of the Yoruba Religion,” FAMA, Chief, Ile Orunmila Comm, 1993
--The Osha, Cortez, Julio Garcia, Athelia Press Inc., New York, 2000
--The Holy Odu, Fasola, F. F., and Soto, Stuart, B, Publ.?, 2014, (calls the Ifa da’fa
marks “binary oracles” at p.3. only. No “mathematizing” of Ifa exists in
the book save this one-time use of this term).
--Ifa: An Exposition of Literary Corpus, Abimbola, W, Oxford Univ Press, 1976.
--African Divination Systems…Peek, P.M., Indiana Univ. Press, 1991
--African Worlds: Studies in the Cosmological Ideas and Social Values of African
Peoples,” International African Inst., Oxford Univ. Press, 1954. and
-- The Basis of Yoruba Religion, and “What Is Ifa?, Rev. Epega, Daniel, Ijamido
Printers, Nigeria, 1973
--“La Geomancie a l’accienne Cote des Esclaves,” Mercier, P., at pp 210-234
--Short Catechism for Ifa Children, and “Orunmilism, The Basis of Jesusism,
Beyioko, Fagbenro, Dr. O.A., 1943.
--African Spirituality vs The African American, Oshoosi, Alashe Michael, IKO Publ,
1996 (a collector’s item available only through “Oshoosi.com”
3. --Supreme Mathematic: African Ma’at Magic, African Creation Energy, Pub. and "Ifá
Mathematics and Quantum Computing,” "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVz6g1rqiuQ"
by Clarence 13x), 2010.
4. End Note: The mechanism by which the seniority rankings of minor odus relative to each
other, or of odus to each other (generally) is too much information for this article.
Knowledge of these obligatory techniques must be taught to them by the godparents
of a deeply initiated olorishas (priests/esses or awos—the students of babalawos).
5. End Note: The odu that, when using the merindilogun (erindilogun, dilogun, caracoles by
alternative names), is called “Opira” occurs when the Orisha Elegua is not present for the
cast. Small, but obligatory responses by the diviner, are necessary when such a “letter”
falls to the mat—espcially if the divination is occurring in the ceremonial context of a
neophyte’s initiation during the “Ita” (do not confuse with Ifa) destiny reading of his or
6. End Note: Merindilogun is the formal name for cowrie shell divination method of Ifa in
Africa, but is most often called “dilogiun” or “caracoles” in the Santeria/Lucumi version
of Yoruba religion in Afro-Cuba. There are minor differences in the way it is carried out
as between the two places. In both cases, certain rules are followed to ensure that the
random generation of possible outcomes is not biased and so that neither the diviner
nor the client can “stack the decks” during the reading.
7. End Note: End Note: Hermeticism is a loosely congealed perspective on wisdom that
is (or was) regarded as Egyptian in source--going back to at least the 18th dynasty
with the deity Thoth or Tehuti (similar to Ifa's Orunmila) as the custodian of knowledge--
all knowledge. In reality, it comes from books--mostly gone--that combined "Egyptian
lore" as formulated by Macedonians and Greeks as they constituted the ruling class of
Egypt from the 3rd cen. BCE. With the consolidation of books and all Mesopotamian
(Babylonian), Assyrian, and Persian "knowledge" (including the astrologies from these
Mediterranean-rim cultures) at the time, along with with Egyptian religiosity, it passed
down the ages to influence Greek and Alxeandrian Christianity toward the end of foster-
ing Christian and Jewish Gnosticism. It served as a basis for "Gnostic religious science" (a
heretical alternative to organized religions of all types) and the practice of the Isis cult
of "Egyptian religion during the Roman-dominated period. From there it flourished as
a European world view that eventually gave rise to Rosicrutianism, various versions of
European astrology, and philosophy (until the reassertion of Platonism and neo-Plat-
onism in Europe during the age of Enlightenment). And from there we find it in the
Gnostic flavor of Freemasony. This route is how we ended up with "Egyptian" religion
lying at the heart of Freemsonry and latter-day Rosicrutionism and being claimed by
white people as a safe and sanitized European heritage or "cradle of civilization."
The core of Hermeticism was its distillation of its famed "Seven Laws of the Universe:"
1. The law of mentalism.
2. The law of correspondence ("as above, so below")
3. The law of vibration.
4. The law of polarity (opposites exist everywhere)
5. The law of rhythms (ebbs and flows)
6. The law of causation (all things have causes and effects)
7. The law of gender.
Thus far, I have never heard of an orisha speaking of any of these "laws" in an odu. One
can always project or interpret any story or account as exemplifying "opposites" or
"gender" and so on, but I am yet unaware of the systematic formulation of any Univ-
ersal "laws" (except, perhaps "the law of Eshu!"--i.e., "stuff" happens). It is not unlikely
that our ancients never felt the need to learn philosophy from the Greeks pretending
to be Egyptians. So why do we? Is it in our nature to learn wisdom through "codes,"
i.e., through 'lawful codifications?' Why do some of us think and teach Hermetic for-
mulations as enhancing our understanding of Orisha/Ifa or aiding us to channel ashe?
(When, indeed, it adds nothing, except more Eurocentrism to our already heavy bur-
dens). Please be referred my series of articles entitled “What Ain’t in Ifa” to be found at
my website “Oshoosi.com.”
Please be referred my series of articles entitled “What Ain’t in Ifa” to be found at my
website “Oshoosi.com” for other commentaries on how to weed out (but only so that
they may be identified) Eurocentric ideas in our African-American and even educated
(in Eurocentric schools) African kindred.
8. End Note: Traditionally, a Yoruba specialist in divination is called either a babalawo (a
male “owner” of the mysteries of Ifa) or, if female, she is called an iyan’ifa (a mother of
Ifa). The training went on for at least 20 years, starting in childhood. They not only hand
to learn to recite odu stories and poetry a plenty for each of the 256 omo’dus (odu com-
binations) through echolalic recitation, but they had to learn numerous ceremonial and
ritual tasks. (Iyanifas are not recognized in Afro-Cuban Yoruba, but those roles may play-
ed by an obasa (who is the female version of an oba oriate—a ritual master-of-cermon-
ies) who is an accomplished italera/o (an accomplished diviner in their own rights).
9. End Note: Arguably, there are more "New World" practitioners of Yoruba's traditional
Orisha/Ifa religion (or a variant of it, like Vodu) than in Nigeria. That country has 190 mil-
lion people in it. About 60 million are Yoruba's proper (Africa's largest ethnic group), but
only one third of them practice the traditional religion, whereas the other two-thirds are
Christians and Muslims. By contrast, there are more than 20 million Candomble/ Macum-
ba practitioners in Brasil alone; not to mention Cuba, Puerto Rico, the United States and
Mexico added in.
10 End Note: When I speak of African traditional religion I use two--admittedly arbitrary
dates (though reasonable). What do we imagine of know of how the religion was prac-
ticed around 1500 C.E. (before any culturally signficiant European contact at all) and,
again, around 1885 C.E. (before the advent of formal colonization). After that, and es-
pecially from the 1930's onward, colonial education and churches affected the way that
all colonial subjects who had been brought up on a steady diet of Western philosophy
and Christian theology (no less than what we were exposed to in the "New World," it
it is no wonder than many a babalawo (i.e., those who were formally exposed to Western
educations, also have allowed Mediterranean worldview ideas (especially Christianity)
to seep into Ifa as well (though not much of it). Please see my "African Spirituality vs. The
African American" 1996 book's Appendix on "Ifa." (Available only through "Oshoosi. com.)"
11. The earliest recorded Arabic-speaking individual, at the time of the advent of al-Islam
(pronounced ‘az-Islam’) was named ‘Nawbakht the Persian (born in 679) and was the court
astrologer to Caliph al-Mansur until 775.’ The names of the Jewish astrologer, Masha’allah ,
one of Nawbakht’s assistants, another Arabic-speaking astrologer, is also mentioned in his-
tory because his son, in turn, inherited his role until 815, and then his grandsons followed
suit until, six generations later, until 940. The Arabs studied in great detail the books on Grec-
ian, Baby lonian, and Persian astrology.’ During this period, of course, Arabic-speakers, riding
the crest of the wave of Islamic religion prosyletization, took Arabic culture into the north
Africa (the southern coast of what I have referred as the “Mediterranean-rim.” I have para-
phrased this brief history from “A History of Horoscopic Astrology…,” James Herschel Hol-
den, American Federation of Astrology, 1996. There is no information on how their divinat-
ion methods categorized the thousands of “omens” or “f’al” (from which some have said
that the word "Ifa" comes from) of concerned to them nor how their reputed octograms
may have worked their way into the sub-Saharan world of Africa’s Ifa.
In a post on the Internet, an unattributed author with the Astrological Society of the Unit-
ed States wrote, in essence, the following account of how the art of “sand cutting” came in-
to being as a part of Arabic culture. He then suggests that this practice of cutting octagons
in the sand (or some figures) was then related, by them, to Arabic astrology by a certain
Ibn Khaldoun sometime before 1406, when he died. This author believed that the Arabs
(at that time) did not have sufficient mathematical acumen to carry out astrological calcul-
ations. So, instead, they created a sand cutting technique whereby using a stick, a hazi
(a diviner) would draw as many lines as quickly as he could (almost trance-like) into the
sand, and the allowing the wind to blow new sand onto the existing lines. As the erasures oc-
curred—down to a certain number of the remaining lines—this would then constitute an inter-
pretable figure. The diviner could also wipe some of the lines out in groups of two. Eventually,
either one line or two would necessarily be left. If one line was left then the omen was “good
fortune” but if two were left, then the omen was considered negative.
The author wrote this in his essay relating Arabic geomancy techniques to Orisha/Ifa divination
recording techniques. And this approach to obtaining a divinatory figure, and the answers to
polarity questions (“good” or “bad” outcomes predicted) is very mindful of the methods by
which Ifa divination (especially with Ikin—palm nuts) works. However, he did not say that the
content of the figures the Arabic diviners adduced had anything to do with the content of the
Olodus of Orisha /Ifa. Moreover, he points out that the Arabic astrologers rejected the idea
that the geomantic figures had any substantive content at all (something, of course, that is
diametrically opposed to the way that Orisha/Ifa diviners regard our Olodus—that not only
have serious differentiated to the meanings, but are deities in their own rights)! Finally, the
Astrological Society author explains that the Arabs had conflicting views about the relation-
ship of geomancy to their versions of astrology (with substantive contents)—eventually rej-
ecting any connection. But that need not concern us because Orisha/Ifa divination had and
has nothing to do with astrology in the first place (Please see my essay in this series entitled
“What Ain’t in Ifa?—Astrology”, and for this society’s account see:
12. END NOTE "The House of Oduduwa."is a public relations video which features the new Ooni
of Ile Ife: his history and his august mission destiny. It may be found at:
If you are a Yoruba (Orisha/Ifa) practitioner, this YouTube video will make you feel especially
proud. First, it details the Yoruba’s view of the history of Humanity as starting in the town of
Ile Ife, in present-day Nigeria, and then spreading eastward across the rain-forest belt and the
savannah in the direction of the Sudan and southwest Ethiopia. Later, says the narrator did
cultural influences also its way back toward the western parts of Africa from those areas (this
is the story of Oduduwa’s flight from the east toward Ile Ife when he was reincarnated as a
living being. He, after found the seven sub-nationalities of the Yoruba, died and his spirit en-
tered the Earth at Ile Ife as he was again deified (and also gave rise to the major social control
institution of Ogboni).
Next, it showcases the numerous cultural achievements of the Yoruba (and related) peoples.
And it culminates, after listing all of the previous Ooni of Ile Ife and their roles as kingmakers
and overseers of the religious institutions found in Yorubaland. It also depicts the world-wide
spread of Yoruba culture.
Finally, it describes the august and current mission-destiny of the newly installed Ooni of Ile
Ife HRH Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi. This 45 year-old gentleman’s bearing shows all that one needs
to know about Yoruba dignity and those of us who seek to emulate it.
13. There is an area of mathematics called “mathematical biology.” It is mainly about the application
of mathematical equations or computer coding that mimics the observable rates of biological
events (e.g., the number of times a certain cell type divides under certain conditions) or geomet--
ric patterns of the flow of energy in biological tissue or organelles (e.g., the patterns of innerva-
tion among neurons). Once the models are constructed, then different values can be plugged
into them that represent biological parameters. The computer program can then predict how changes in any of these variables will affect the others or the affect the entity (cell, tissue, organ-
elle, or organ) as a whole. There is a priori no math “in” the biological material itself; it’s just that the entities properties can be mathematically modeled and experimented with.
14. It has been written that in the Old Testament, the Christian Holy Bible, and the Holy Ko’ran have
gematric (or mathematical) codes and ciphers embedded in their words and sentences. This is
very close to saying that mathematics is “in” these religions. Interestingly, if these books contain
not only the words of the Most High but, in the case of al-Islam (where the words in Arabic are
Allah himself), this means that God was, among other things, a mathematician. No such concep-
tion exists in traditional sub-Saharan African religions and world views. No poetry or parables in
the Olodus suggest that Olodumare was a mathematics major in college as s/he blew emi (the
breath of Life) into Humankind.