“West Africa’s Orisha and Astrology”

                                  By Soyinka I Ogunbusola (posted by Chief Awodele Ifayemi)





                                                                “Orisha Rulers of the Zodiac”

                                                                    By “The Gnostic Dread”




                                                           "Astrological Geomancy In Africa,"

                                                             by Prof. J.A. Abayomi Cole (1898)

                                                          Publ. by Kali Sichen-Andoh, Northscale Inst. San Francisco, 1989


Before we begin, let me say what the issue is here! The core question is "do we find any evidence

whatsoever that "astrology" is a generic part of the religion of Orisha/ Ifa?" The answer is resound- ing no. Those who assert or imply that it is are misleading their readers and video viewers . And those that say that Orisha/Ifa has correspondences or can be likened to astrology are also mislead-

ing. I researched the history of astrology in Yorubaland and found the earliest book written on this

purported correspondence to be "Astrological Geomancy In Africa," by Prof. J.A. Abayomi Cole in

1898. I am one of the few who has this book because it was published in California by the great

Akan botanist Kali Sichen-Andoh (whom I met) in 1989.  Prof. Cole was initiated as an Ifa priest, but 

whether or not he was actually a babalawo is a mystery to me. (And, there is some reason to doubt

his thoroughness in Ifa in view of a few egregious errors that he made in his very cursory descrip- tion of one of the most important "Olodu" in the Ifa corpus because Mr. Andoh had to apologet- tically explain away the error that the professor made in straining to depict the Olodu "Obara" as "the 8 house (sic)" of the Zodaical astrological scheme. I will comment further on this book at the end of this essay.


Astrology  is not astronomy (the science of celestial bodies); it is not cosmology (the science of celestial functionality), nor is it cultural cosmology (the cultural mythology of the origins and con- figurations of the "world" or universe). Astrology is a religion, the God of which is "the cosmos," that attributes the causes of earthly affairs (especially human affairs, personalities and personal destinies) to projected heavenly patterns and movements of stars and planets).   


In contemporary times, however, we find a recent author, Soyinka I Ogunbusola, an African-Amer- ican science fiction writer, and a member of the American Federation of Astrologers, who is one that definitively asserts—not simply who likens Orisha/Ifa religion to KMT astrology--but who also asserts that astrology is a part of Orisha/Ifa religion. I  respectfully dissent from that view as something, regardless of how sincere and helpful she may view her public contributions on this subject to be, that is unwarranted and probably misrepresents the religion as well. For example, she writes:


                                                          [All comments in parentheses are mine]


“…The various planets influence the actions of man since time immemorial and has been recogn- ized, as such, by all indigenous cultures around the globe under its numerous names.” (Not true;

not "all" cultures are "astrological").


“…The foundation of a  culture’s spiritual  system is  influenced by  the celestial bodies and  their movement in the heavens  inspired  them  to erect  monuments that  marked  the solstices  and  equinoxes as well as the transits of the planets…” (Or the religionists of astrology so believe)  


“…It’s the descendants of (ancient Egypt) who  migrated  from the  Nile Valley and the Great Lakes region over period  of  generations  became known  as the Yoruba  of Southwest  Nigeria.” (Ques- tionable: From upper Nubia and the south Sudan, yes, but what is the evidence that the “descend- ants of ancient Egypt”—whomever they were--migrated to Yorubaland? The legend of Oduduwa does not claim that he came from Egypt).


“…They practiced a religion that acknowledged “the creator through the forces of nature...” (True)


 “…Within  the  elements  of “earth, wind, water and fire…there  exists  an  entire  pantheon  of  deities known as Orisha…”(Here she introduces a Hermetic terrestrial cliché: “earth, wind, air and fire,” but this reductionist  formulation  of  the world’s  physical nature, and of  the  orishas, in her view, is not Yoruba religion. True, some orishas  are so associated  with  physical nature, but there are hundreds more that are not; starting with orisha Ela and Orunmila, but include many more).


“…The Orishas’ characters are based on the characteristic nature of the planets; their movements, such as oppositions, trines, sextiles, and conjunctions in a astrology and astronomy. (Says who? This is simply not true).


“…The celestial events are interpreted from the Yoruba’s own cultural perspective.” (What is the evidence that traditional Yorubas paid any attention to "astrological celestial events” as phen- omena or worshiped the moon or the sun as anthropomorphic personalities or animals; that is, as "astrological" entities? As an astronomical matter, except for recognizing the radiant power of the sun and the gravitational power of the moon, there are precious few devotional or prayer practices in Yoruba involving either, nor addressing or praising the one genderless God Almighty (Olodum- are) for that matter. The concept "Olorun" embraces the whole firmament (sometimes called "Ot- unowa" or the "heavenly world above"; including the sun). And there is, as far as I know, only one ritual and one  song  that evokes  the  blessings  of  Olorun; also including  the  sun  (though I have heard  several songs to "Olodumare"--almost treating "God" as a monotheist would--but they seem to be sung by Christianized Yorubas who still refer to God  this way; but seem not to mention any

other "polytheistic" orishas. It is called "Nanga (i)re ...ooo" and is rarely practiced; and has Islamic cultural roots, to boot. Actually, "Olorun" is the God of "pre-creation" (if I may coin a term). "Ela" is all of Creation, and "Odu" is the totality of all experiences that can occur, and the things that can be, within the Universe of Creation. Together, Ela and Odu gave birth to Orunmila, the first witness to, and the formless son of, Creation).                                                                               


Further, all astrological systems depend on the culture having possessed and regularly used a type of mathematical legacy or acumen necessary for yearly calendar construction and predictions of the orbits of planets and stars on a calendared basis (These two things are necessary to construct ephemerides tables that are fundamental to all astrology).   That "Olorun"--the god of the heavenly firmament "above"--is sometimes associated with the sun, or that Yemoja, with the moon (both Yoruba deities) is a religious matter; not an "astrological" one. These heavenly bodies do not them- selves affect human destinies. 


In fact, once more, as is the case with our genderless  God Almighty there are precious few songs and prayers referencing Olorun. Again, the "Nanga (i)re-ooo" ritual and song. And this devotional act is the simplest and shortest in the entire religion. By contrast, the orishas do affect human nat- ure and have the agency (will power) to affect individual human destinies and , accordingly, are thus regarded as "gods." That the sun heats the earth or the moon affects tides are astronomical phenomena, not astrological ones (and are operative for all bodies with mass and radiant energy all over the observable universe).


…“The  twelve  houses  of  the  natal  chart  (in KMT,  Grecian and  Hermetic  astrology--M.O.) are areas of life governed by a particular planet...in  regards  to  traditional  Yoruba’s cultural perspect- ive…(and) “one’s existence these houses would be ruled by a particular essence  in nature or  Oris- ha. (This sentence is gobbledygook; what does “would be ruled” mean? Is she admitting the ob-

vious here—i.e., she is simply drawing  on  Grecian-Egyptian  astrology of  the 13th  through 3rd  turies BCE, and  carried on  by the Mediterranean-rim Hermeticists thereafter, that she then graphs onto traditional Yoruba  in order to make  it appear that  these sub-Saharan Africans actually bel- ieved in and practiced astrology).


Going  on,  speaking  of  the  twelve customary  astrological  Houses  she  says, that  “the varying  Orishas ruled them in the following ways.” (No sources are cited—authoritative or otherwise--of course. In reality, I believe that she has projected into Yoruba religion the Egyptian astrologers' typology of their gods as rulers of various “Houses” or, in western astrology, the planets as rulers of the same, as well).


In her view, the  listing  of the “houses” that  the various  orishas  occupy  and  rule  go  as follows: First House (Ogun), Second House (Oshun), Third House (Ibeji), Fourth House (Yemoja), Fifth House (Osiris), Sixth House (Eshu), Seventh House (Oshun), Eighth House (Oya), Ninth  House (Obatala), Tenth  House (Babaluaiye), Eleventh  House (Shango, Ogun and Oya), and  the Twelfth House (Olok- un).” (Where in traditional Yoruba religion did she come up with this? In the ese poetry of Ifa? In the odus? In the itan(s) or "patakin(s)" of Ifa? If so, recited when, where, and by whom).


When compared, KMT astrology’s “houses” were  ruled  by 12 of their 2,000 deities: Her  emulation of KMT astrology-- from  the  period of 1,300 BCE to  the  time of Christ thereafter (in Ptolemaic and Hermetic terms) projects onto Orisha/Ifa an analogue to the following scheme: First House (Nile), Second House (Amun-Ra), Third House (Mut), Fourth  House (Geb), Fifth House (Osiris), Six  House (Isis), Seven House (Thoth), Eighth House (Horus), Ninth House (Anubis), Tenth House (Seth), Eleventh House (Bastet), and the Twelfth House (Sekhmet). And, as mentioned, in modern west- ern astrology, these deities are replaced by Zodiacal signs and planets.


                *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *

Here, I offer a gentle reminder—using just one of her twelve examples—that should issue to peo- ple who believe as does this author: By contrast, for example, Oshun’s children sing “Iya mi ile odo. Gbogbo ashe. Obi ni sala maa wo e…”This  means “My  mother’s house  is  the river. All  goodness  and  power  comes (from  there). Women  who  seek  safety  frequently  visit  her (there)." Oshun, “iyalode”—"top woman  in charge”—is  symbolically  and  theologically our “cosmic  seamstress” ; though not literally (Olodumare is!). She, by  tradition, used her five needles and “sewed  together the  fabric of the Universe.” But  neither  in the odus nor in  orin orisha,i.e., the holy oral libraries of wisdom and songs of  Yoruba  religion, respectively) do we  find  Oshun saying  that  her  home is  in  the “second Zodiacal House” nor does she trouble herself with  references to “celestial  planet- ary  movements  such  as oppositions,  trines,  sextiles,  and  conjunctions”  as  having  anything whatsoever  to do with "eniyan" (humanity) nor "aiye" (the world), as this author would have it). 


Again, in contradistinction  to  her view, our  religion of Orisha/Ifa, teaches  us the our ori inu (our true selves)  while  in  Heaven, was  crafted  by  Ajala and  then  allowed to choose  an  Earthly des- tiny. And this, in turn, allowed us to choose anew  our general “story-line” or life plot, and our im- mutable  characteristics (e.g., one’s  biologic  gender, or  one’s current epoch)  and,  finally, our in- telligence level for that incarnation. These things are re-born  in us  in  each earthly  incarnation as we  are  accompanied,  once  again, to Earth  by  our ori inu.  All  of  these  features  of  one’s  Ori (one’s “Head”), when  put together, determine  the  fulfillment (or not)  of  one’s destiny; not  the  positions  and movements  of stars and planets! Instead, in ceremonies given  to girl  babies at  sev- en  days of age, to  twins  at  eight  days  of age, or to boys at nine days of age, their destinies  are “read” in Ifa’s imori ceremony, followed by  the essent’ayie ceremony where the baby’s feet are al- lowed to touch the ipon tray of the babalawo before it is allowed to  have  its feet  touch the earth. (The New  World  equivalent  of  this  destiny reading—which occurs as a  part  of  a  person’s  deep  initiation   regardless  of  age—occurs  in  the  "ita" ceremony. This  word  comes  from  itan  which means a “story" --perhaps in book--in this case, a book of one’s life). 


Astrology is now, and always has been, a de facto pseudo-science religion for whom “the Cos- mos” is God! Astrology, therefore, as applied to sub-Saharan Africa, is neither authentic, reliable, valid, nor useful (as it does not enhance one’s priestly ashe one iota. And, in my view, indeed, dim- inishes it). I irrevocably deny to it any validity at all. But this analysis is simply my view.


But to live is to make choices: Thus, a second word of advice that I may humbly offer to our friends and  fellow travelors  is  that  they  would do  better to follow  the  path of tradition  and  not  con- fuse  it  with astrotheology or  the religion  of astrology. Astrotheology  is  laden with  Eurocentric  (i.e., Grecian  and  medieval) Hermeticism. But a  person is  free to indulge in, or even to undergo additional religious initiations or certifications, even in astrology (which I definitely  believe  to  be a  religion without a single iota of  truth  regarding  its  predictive properties). Yet  a serious  down- ward pressure should be exerted or self-imposed on our tendencies to syncretize belief systems that are not a part of orò  (i.e. not a part of our established tradition).


                                                                     “Orisha Rulers of the Zodiac”

                                                                        By “The Gnostic Dread”


                                                          [All comments in parentheses are mine]


This website openly proclaims Hermeticism and unabashedly declares that each orisha is to be equated with  the 12 signs  of the Zodiac. The  good  thing here  is that these authors are--by their own terms—openly speculating in conjecture about the similarities between Orisha/Ifa religion and Greco-Egyptian Hermeticism, as they do not claim—unlike the rather naïve claims of Soyinka I Ogunbusola described above--'astrology is a part of Orisha/Ifa religion.' They, quite responsibly,  say that the Zodiac houses’ essences may be equated with the differing types of ashe that are un- ique to the varying orishas (even though this is not true even regarding comparisons).


Nevertheles, comparisons  to other de jure religions (or  to a de facto  religion  like  astrology)  may  be simple a heuristic device for illustrative uses. That is acceptable, even  if their  hypotheses are  wrong. But that is where it should stop because comparisons should not be morphed into histor- ically false and incompetent direct attributions. Such is the stuff of the cultural imperialism of the Eurocentric world-- and it does not matter who—whether Africans or North Americans--adopt or countenance it. We should be wary of the Hermeticism that some seek to syncretize into African traditional religion through this route.


In this case, in exactly the same way that aburo ire mi (my religious sister of good fortune) Soyinka Ogunbosula does, the authors  say that  the Zodiacal signs (“houses”) are associated with the oris- has in the following ways: First House/Sign “home  of  the Ascendant” (Ogun), Second House/Sign “Taurus” (Oshun), Third House/ Sign “Gemini” (Ibejis),  Fourth House/Sign “Cancer” (Yemoja),  House /Sign “Leo” (Orunmila), Six House/ Sign  “Virgo”  (Eshu--this  formulation  is  really  nonsense!), Sev- en  House/Sign “Libra” (Obba),  Eighth House/Sign “Scorpio” (Oya), Ninth House/Sign  “Sagittarius” (Obatala),  Tenth House/Sign  “Capricorn” (Babaluaiye), Eleventh  House/ Sign “Aquarius” (Shango)  and  the 12th House/ Sign “Pisces” (Olokun).


Neither the sources nor the justifications of these propositions are addressed. Indeed, these com- parisons  or  “equations” are  simplistic  to the point  of  banality. The  nature, for example, of the Ibejis, has not a thing to do with the stereotypes of “Geminis” beyond them both being twins. Nor again, for example, do  the distinctive  characteristics of Oshun have anything to do with the per- sonalities or destinies of  those stereotypically  born  under  the  sign of Taurus. That  they  might is,  more likely than not, speculative poppycock. And, finally, nowhere in the odus  do we find Yem- oja uttering words asserting her authority specifically over the children of “Cancer.”She is the mot- her of the “fish children” whose domain is in the rivers and seas (Yemoja = “mother of the fish child- ren”= "yeye omo eja").  


                                                                "Astrological Geomancy In Africa,"

                                                               by Prof. J.A. Abayomi Cole (1898)

                                             Publ. by Kali Sichen-Andoh, Northscale Inst. San Francisco, 1989


As mentioned in the introduction to this essay, more than a century ago, prof. Cole wrote that Ifa's

corpus "corresponded" to the Babylonia, KMT, Hellenistic, Roman and Arabic astrology.  At most,

the term "corresponded" to horoscopic (Zodiacal) astrology's "houses" was a bit strained. He men- tioned that Ifa's 16 major odus ("Olodus" or chapters and verses) corresponded in the following way:


              "This accounts for the sixteen palm nuts used in Yoruba divination--all corresponding

                to the twelve houses of the heavens + the two Geomantic witnesses + one Geoman-

                tic judge + one Grand judge, the fifteenth figure of the first house, all equal to six-

                teen figures."


Says who in Ifa? No one. Not a single odus of the 256 total ones, recites anything about astrological houses and judges. Next,  he opines:


               "The eight house is called Obara, or Ile Iku, that is, the house of death. It is also called

                 Akala, or vulture, the name of the bird of prey, which symbolizes death and destruc-

                 tion, corresponding to the Egyptian name Almankushu, i.e., the Demolisher."


First, the Olodu "Obara" is not the 8th olodu in any system of Ifa. Nor is Obara the "house of death

(iku) in any system of Ifa (it is virtually the opposite conceptually).  This was so much at variance

from the Ifa  that the editor, Mr. Andoh, had to apologetically explain this away as a 'bad transla- tion" of prof. Cole's writing (p. 53 of the epilogue to the book). Additionally, prof. Cole revealed

the influence of Christianity and Medterranean-rim theosophy by saying "On a certain day, Ifa 

(Orunmila) returned from the sea hungry and exhausted, having caught no fish. He thereupon con-

sulted the god Elegba (the devil) what to do." [Emphasis added]. Elegba is not "the devil." This

choice of words occurs from time-to-time in writings by Ifa priests--especially in the old days, be-

cause they were incorporating Christian indoctrinations into their Doctor of Divinity treatises on Ifa in UK and French universities. (Please see my essay "Conceptions of Ifa: Old World and New," in the appendix of my 1996 book African Spirituality vs. The African-American--available on this web- site--for descriptions of how and why earlyAfrican Ifa scholars frequently incoporated Christian concepts into the expositions on Ifa in order to try to further "legitimize" it as a world-class religion to an English-reading international audience). 


Then we have the glaring inconsistency in prof. Cole's efforts to liken Ifa's odus  to astrology's horoscopic or Zodiacal  12 houses that depicts the "eight house" (8th house) as showing the Olodu Oshe (Merunla in Cuba) not Obara.


Unfortunately, in the total of 61 pages in this booklet, there is not another word  about Ifa (save Andoh's preface). The entirety of the rest of the book is about various Mediterranean-rim cultures'

views about astrology. Even Mr. Andoh's preface to the book concedes that the only Africans that

had any cultural legacy of astrology were north (Arabized) Africans who, given their locations,

could actually study the night sky on a consistent basis. These manifestly do not include the sub-

Saharan Africans the likes of whom practiced Ifa.  In professor Cole's case, after writing about Ifa

parables methods wrote exactly one sentence in the book about astrology being in Ifa:  Again:


                        "....This accounts [this story about how Elegua taught the first babalawo divin-

                          ation] for the sixteen palm nuts used in Yoruba divination corresponding to 

                          the twelve houses of the heavens + two geomantic witnesses + one geoman-

                          tic judge obtained by the permutation of the judge, the fifteenth figure, with

                          the figure of the first house, all equal to sixteen figures."


But, again, there is only one problem here. Not a single odu  (nor any other source) is cited to authorize this conjecture.  And so it goes with the astrotheologists who--downhill from there-- would seek to import into Ifa these Medeterranean-rim philosophies and religions in order to seek legitization as a world class religion in the eyes of Europeans and their unwitting progeny--includ- ing Pan-African Spiritualists among the African Americans.


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                                                                              The Religion of Astrology Described      


For my purposes, I assert that, in its essence, astrology is still a religion and has never ceased to be one. It is a belief system that ascribes to its God (a God called “Cosmos”) the role of creating and setting into motion heavenly bodies such  as planets  and stars  that, for their parts have agency,  have temperaments (and, thus, personalities) which emanate “energy” (light, if nothing else) cap- able of affecting and governing  the terrestrial, social, and personal fates of events and human destinies on Earth. Its religious rituals are in the nature of astrological chart constructions, and its ceremonies consists of conventions in which  its  adherents enjoy pontification about each others' canons and conventions of belief (or debate them). This is it; pure and simple--religion.


A quick review of its history—insofar as the Western astrological legacy is concerned—is in order. But this is only done to comment on the typical cultural, socio-economic and ecological elements and prerequisites that a culture would have to  have in  place  before  its  rudimentary astronomy could evolve into a belief system like that which we call astrology.


All credible authorities, as mentioned, date astrology’s advent to the Babylonians in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) no earlier than the 22nd to 24th century BCE. At that time, sufficient mathem- atical skill had evolved to create calendars that recorded the annual appearances of fixed stars and illusory projections utilizing  them  called  constellations as well as  the  movements  of  the plan- ets  (which originally  meant celestial “moving objects” that  included the moon) against  the back- drop  of  the  nightly star canopy. Annual  periodic  events on  earth such as seasonal changes, the flooding of rivers or droughts, the migrations and availability of animals, fishes, and vegetation at certain times, the acts of cultivating and irrigating fields or the sowing and harvesting of crops, and changes  in sea  conditions (for cultures involving seafaring) were  all  facilitated  by  that  culture's mastery of astronomy.


And  astronomy,  of course, required  a  certain  development of mathematics and geometry that could then be used to correlate and  predict in time  celestial and earthly changing conditions. At first, the relationship was one of correlation, and  not of causation. The causes of terrestrial chan- ges were attributed to God— a grand spiritual or, sometimes, metaphysical force. It was not a far step then to conclude that a few celestial events were so powerfully correlated—like phases of the moon being  correlated  with the tides, or seasonal  sunlight  being correlated with crop growth or desertification—that  the relationship  between the celestial  objects and  earth must be causal in nature. And,  following  from  that, therefore, other  celestial bodies  like planets must  also have causal  influences  on  earth. By  comparison  to  astro-physics today, little was actually known about the physics of cosmology in ancient times. 


For example, there was no knowledge of how large or how  far away  was the sun, nor  the  moon. The natures of various types of radiant  energies  were also unknown. And  it was not  distinguish- ed from reflective energy (e.g., neither the moon nor the planets emanate radiant energy; they merely reflect the sun’s radiant energy-- which  is  why, unlike stars, they never “blink” in the night sky). And it was certainly not known that the most powerful forces and determinants in cosmology

were electrical-magnetic and plasmic in nature; not gravitational.


The truly ancient Egyptians of the early dynastic periods were able to mathematically calculate the circumference of the earth and to determine relative earthly latitudes, but not longitudes. They, indeed, had sufficient numerical and geometric skills to do so. They also had projections onto the night sky—sky charts-- of the fixed stars that constituted many constellations. (Actually, there are no “constellations” in the cosmos. What we call “constellations” are merely human projections and conventional labels, as seen from Earth, regarding what to call these certain configurations of stars).    


The practical uses of astronomy, and the needs for the same, in order to make efficient—through astrological divination—the tasks of the decision-makers in charge of agriculture, construction, and long  distance  travel and trade  across  highly  undifferentiated  deserts,  mountain  ranges,  flood plains and seas fostered the development of mathematics and more accurate predictions and cal- endars. Each of these factors was present in the cultures of Mesopotamia as well as Egypt, though the transition into extensive astrology lagged behind.  Additionally,  personal revelations  based  on  an  individual’s  birthdate could issue which would help them determine what their lucky  num- bers were, whom they might be compatible with, the best days to treat a medical illness, or what their lucky days might be to inaugurate or cease a particular activity, and so on.  By contrast, the physical environments and cultural legacies of sub-Saharan Africans was notably different from those of the Mediterranean-rim cultures from which arose astrology and Hermetcism (please see the works of Cheick Anton Diop or the excellent “African Religions and Philosophy” by the renown- ed John Mbiti for clarifications on the differences). 

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                                                                                In Conclusion


The esteemed Dr. Wande Abimbola, the awise (pronounced ‘a-we-shay’) of Ifa religion based in Ile Ife) is the 5th ranked babalawo in the world. He is a master of knowledge and diplomacy whom I liken to the Dalai Lama as  one  of  my favorite  theologicans to  have  ever lived. He has stated that there is no significant history  of astrological  arts  among our religious ancestors. Please be refer- red to “Ifa Will Mend This Broken World,” an interview by Ivor Miller for the following quot-


                         Asks Mr. Miller:

                         “(A) Cuban babalawo tell(s) me that they study the movement of the planets,

                           positions of the stars before conducting important ceremonies (?)” 


                         Dr. Abimbola responded:*


                         “This was never an important part of our own religion in Africa. They may have

                         imbibed that from some other African groups in Cuba, or from some other sour-

                         ces. We live in the dense forested areas, where we cannot see the sky well. People

                         who can see the sky live in the grasslands areas, and are pastoral people who fol-

                         low cattle and sheep. Anything relating Ifa to star gazing was developed in the 

                         Diaspora. To be sure we have some rudimentary ideas about the stars and the 

                         moon, but they are not an important part of our belief and divination system.”



 "ASTROLOGY v. ABIMBOLA VS Yoruba Traditions and African American Religious Nationalism - Tracey E. Hucks - Google Books",




Respectfully submitted to my egbon ati aburo ire mi, y a mis mayores y minores,


Alashe Michael omo’Oshoosi,