It Takes a Village
One of the most integral aspects of Lukumi and other African-diasporic religions is that they are based around community. It takes a village to make a priest. One of the unfortunate aspects of the religions gaining popularity among anglophones in the last quarter of the 20th century has been the sudden creation of a market for books that purport to teach you everything you need to know to start making ebo to the Orisha or ride with the Lwa all on your own.
Orisha religion’s deepest metaphors revolve around family. Our temple-communities are called ilés, and everyone within them is considered family — referred to as godfamily in english. We learn at the feet of our Godparents, studying through apprenticeship. The importance of this African style of learning is such that elders are notorious for clamming up if you take out a pen and try to write anything down. It is reinforced over and over that we must learn by observing and by doing under the guidance of our elders. This is a familial responsibility.
The family bond of the ilé is such that no sexual affairs are permitted between members of the ilé, most especially between Godparent and Godchild. This would be incest and is absolutely taboo. Furthermore, ilés function to take care of each other as families do. If someone in the ilé is sick or suffers tragedy, the ilé comes together to support that person with whatever they need that we can help with. That may be prayers, it may be ceremonies, it may be taking someone to the hospital.
The family metaphor extends beyond the ilé itself and into the cosmology of the Yoruba universe. Our Orisha are our mothers (iya) and fathers (baba) and we are their children (omo). The Orisha work with us became we are introduced to them and made a part of their family through initiation.
The vast majority of our important ceremonies cannot be conducted alone. They require many priests, who not only bring their ashé (sacred power/life-force) but also fulfill important ritual functions. A bembe (drumming ceremony)? Well, you’re going to need sacred drummers, possession mounts, an akpón (ritual singer), cooks.. The list goes on.
West African cultures place the community before the individual. We work together to insure our survival and to insure that our traditions are passed on in the correct manner. There is no such thing as a “solitary practitioner” in African-Diasporic religions. This idea is antithetical to the way of thinking of West African peoples (and also to most Creole peoples for that matter).
This is how it was taught to me by my elders, as it was taught to them by their elders, and so on back to Yorubaland and back in time to the dawn of these cultures.
I am forever grateful to all of the priests and aleyos who have lifted me up and taught me (most especially my Godmothers Sarah and Vajra and my first Godfather Shloma, iba’ye), and to those who will continue to lift me up and teach me. Moforibale! (I put my head to the ground.)
Modupe gbogbo iworo kale ilé!
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