In the Beginning, Olodumare (God) gave the Orisa Orunmila a flawless method of communication between himself and the Orisa called Ifa. Ifa is linked to destiny through the symbolism of the number sixteen. Sixteen is the number of cosmos; it represents the primal order that issued from the unity of Olodumare. (Sixteen is also a significant number in the world of computers.) When the world was first created, it spread out from an original palm tree that stood at the center of the world at Ile-Ife. The palm tree had sixteen branches, which formed the four cardinal points and the sixteen original quarters of Ile-Ife. In political terms, Odudua, the first oni of Ife, fathered sixteen sons who founded the sixteen original kingdoms of the Yoruba. On a deeper level still, Orunmila taught the art of divination to his sixteen sons; they, in turn, passed it down to the Babalawos who practice it today.
Through the linked concepts of order, creation, and destiny, the number sixteen represents the variables of the human condition, the sixteen possible situations of human life. For the Yoruba, the sixteen principle signs are called Odu or Olodu, from each of which are drawn sixteen subordinate signs (omo-Odu, "children of the odu" or Odus). These represent the sixteen essential life situations with sixteen possible variations each. This means 256 possible combinations (Odu's) or two to the eighth power. Each Odu is a recital of a set of poems called ese, that provide clues for the resolution of the problem during a divination session. There are at least, and by far not the most, 16 different ese's for each of the 256 Odu. This adds up to at least 4096 different scenarios. The goal of the Babalawo is to arrive at the appropiate Odu for the situation of his "querent".
Each of the 256 Odu reveals an archetypal situation that was resolved in the mythic past through sacrifice to an Orisa. In the thousands of Ifa poems, the Orisa are organized into a community of spirits whose ase (power) can can be brought to bear on the problems of individual men and women in need. In this way, Ifa and the Babalawo priesthood are responsible for directing the adherents of all the Orisa's by leading querents to them. Nearly all the sacrifice/ebo of Ifa/Yoruba religion are offered to the Orisa's as a result of divination. Ifa structures Orisa worship; the randomness of the system ensures that all the Orisa's are duly venerated. Through Ifa, the balance of the sacrificial relationship between heaven and earth is maintained, for Ifa, through Odu (word of God), provides human beings with information about their place in the world, their destiny, and what the God's require of them. Ifa and the ceremonial life that it generates constitute the organizing principle of the traditional Yoruba religious vision. It is a view that finds human destiny "rooted in the breath of God Almighty". Nothing happens by chance. There is a reason for everything, and it is the duty of human beings to recognize this mystery. Within the Odu lay the hidden messages of the unseen influences. These messages are best interpreted by a well trained Babalawo during a divination session.
This high system of virtue held by hundreds of thousands of Yoruba men and women survived the middle passage to the America's where they (we) were taken as slaves. The deep-rooted virtues, expressed in each Odu, sustained the African through one of history's darkest hours. Continue this cyber journey if you must, as we shed light on the virtues and power (Ase) of theOdu.
Inserts taken from Santeria an African Religion in
America, by Joseph M. Murphy
This is an insert from the holy Odu Irete-Ogbe. Let this page shed some light on the Orisa called Odu.
You trample upon the brush. I trample upon the brush.
We trample the brush down together.
Ifa was consulted for Odu by these Awos.
They said, Odu is going from heaven to earth.
Whenever she arrive on earth.
They said, thee Odu, this is your beginning.
Olodumare gave her a bird.
She took this bird with her to earth.
Aragamago is the named that Olodumare gave this bird.
Aragamago is the name that Odu's bird carried.
He said, "You Odu, any undertaking upon which you send this bird, it will do.
He said, "Any place that it pleases you to send this bird, it will go.
He said, "If it is to do bad or good."
He said, Anything that it pleases you to tell it to do, it will do.
Odu brought this bird to earth.
Odu has said that no other person will be able to look upon it.
She said that it must not be looked upon.
If any enemy of Odu looks upon it,
She will shatter his eyes,
With the power of this bird, she will blind the eyes.
If another of her enemies peers into the calabash of this bird.
This bird Aragamago, will shatter their eyes.
She used this bird thusly.
She used it even to get to the house of Orunmila.
Orunmila went to consult his Awos.
The Oracle said, "If we teach intelligence to someone, his intelligence will be intelligent.
If we teach stupidity to someone, his stupidity will be stupid."
The Babalawos of the house of Orunmila consulted Ifa in order to know the day that he would take Odu as his wife.
In this manner Orunmila would take Odu for his wife.
The Awos of Orunmila said "Hee."
They said, Odu that you wish to take for your wife.
A power is in her hands.
They said, because of this power Orunmila must make an offering to the earth.
In the interest of all of his people.
They said, so that with this power, she will not kill and eat him.
Orunmila made the offering.
When Orunmila had made the offering, they consulted Ifa for him.
Orunmila carried the offering outside.
At the arrival of Odu, she found the offering in the street.
Hee! Who has made this offering to the earth?
Ha! Esu said, "Orunmila has made this offering to the earth."
Because he wishes to marry you Odu.
Odu said, not bad.
All the things that Odu carried behind her, these are the bad things.
She told them to eat.
Odu opened the calabash of Aragamago, her bird, to the ground.
She told it to eat.
Odu entered the house.
When she had entered the house, Odu called Orunmila.
She said, "Orunmila, she had arrived."
She said, her powers are numerous.
She said, but she did not wish that they should fight with him.
She said, she did not want to fight with Orunmila.
She said, even if someone asked her help, asked her help to fight him, she would not fight him.
Because if Odu did not wish that Orunmila suffers.
Otherwise, if they wished to make Orunmila suffer. Odu, with the power and with the power of the bird, would fight the people.
When Odu finished speaking thusly.
Orunmila said, not bad.
The time came, Odu said, Thou Orunmila, You are going to learn my taboo.
She said, she wish to tell him her taboo.
She said, she did not want his other wives to see her face.
She said, that he should tell all of his other wives that they should not look at her face.
Whoever looked into her face, she would fight.
She said, she did not want anyone to look at her appearance.
Orunmila said, "Fine!"
He then called all of his wives.
He prevailed upon them.
The wives of Orunmila would not look at Odu's face.
Odu told Orunmila that.
She said, with him she would make his burdens good.
She said, she would heal all things.
She said, anything that he causes to go wrong, she would repair it.
She said, if he observed his taboo.
She said, all things that she completed would be good.
Anyone who would disturb them, she would in turn disturb them.
If Oso (sorcerer) wished to destroy.
She said, she would leave him nothing.
Then he himself would be destroyed.
All his children, who are Awo.
He will implore them that they should never dare to trifle with Odu.
Because Odu is the power of Awo.
He said, if the Awo possesses Ifa, he will also have Odu.
The power that Odu gives him says that.
No woman must look upon her form.
From this day no Babalawo is complete without possessing this Odu.
One who does not have Odu will not be able to consult Ifa.
The day that one comes into possession of Odu,
On that day will he become a person that Odu will not allow to suffer.