Ifá not only is the deepest form of divination in the religion, it is the highest expression of La Regalia Lucumí.
Contained within Ifá is the sum total of the knowledge and wisdom of the ancients, the sum total of existence, as well as the divine wisdom of Olodumare and the Orishas. And every event in the universe and in our lives that has happened, is happening or will happen is contained within its scope. Orunmila, as the deity of Ifá, is most commonly known as the secretary of Olodumare.
Therefore the words of Ifá carry the full weight of Olodumare in person. Orunmila is the Orisha of wisdom and his priests, called Babalawos or "Father of Secrets" they are the highest priests in the religion. Orunmila is even privy to the secret of the creation of the universe as Olodumare allowed him to be a witness to creation, hence his title of Eleri Ipin or "Witness to Destiny in its Creation". He also bears witness every time one of us goes to the feet of Olodumare to choose the destiny that we will follow on earth.
The Babalawo has two sets of tools to practice this divination: the Opele or Ocuele and the Opón Ifá or Table of Ifá proper. The Opele is a chain separated by 8 small disks. Of these two, the Opele is most commonly used for seeing people with Ifá, the Table of Ifá usually being reserved for truly big things such as finding out a person's guardian Orisha, the itá during the initiations of abo faca and kofá or when a person is in a situation beyond the facility of the Opele.
When a person is seen with Ifá, one of 256 Odus or signs will be seen to be accompanying the person. Each of these 256 odu has its own patakís or ancient histories, its own suyeres or prayers and 16 paths, which these Odu can take. This adds up to a staggering 4,096 Odus and paths that a Babalawo must learn and memorize. Of course, no Babalawo can learn it all as no Babalawo can know as much as Orunmila himself, but all Babalawos must devote themselves to learning prodigious amounts of knowledge pertaining to these Odus. This is one of the reasons there are so few Babalawos.
In Ifá there are two initiations: receiving kofá for women and abo faca for men, and making Ifá, the initiation where a person becomes initiated as a Babalawo. Though the initiations of abo faca and kofá are similar, there are differences between the two that cannot be gone into here. However essentially women are the seniors in Ifá until the man makes Ifá, if that is their calling. Only men can make Ifá, and they cannot have ever been ridden or possessed by eggun, or by an Orisha.
Gays are also not able to follow this particular path. Actually very few people are called to Ifá and of those very few actually become initiated as Babalawos. One reason is the responsibilities and intensive learning involved, as there is no such thing as a dilettante or part-time Babalawo. Also, the initiation is very expensive and is a much harder one to pass through than that of making Ocha and even includes several severe beatings with sticks, which is the only part of the initiation that is public.
From Diodorus, Herodotus and Clement of Alexandria, we learn that there were six Orders of Egyptian Priests and that each Order had to master certain number of the books of Hermes. Clement has described a procession of the Priests, calling them by their Order and stating their qualifications, as follows:
First comes the Singer Odus, bearing an instrument of music. He has to know by heart two of the books of Hermes, one containing the hymns of the Gods, and the other, the allotment of the king's life. Next comes the Horoscopus, carrying in his hand a Horologium or sundial, and a palm branch, symbols of Astronomy. He has to know four of the books Hermes, which deal with Astronomy. Next, comes the Hierogrammat, with feathers on his head, a book in his hand, a rectangular case with writing materials i.e., the writing ink and the reed.
He has to know hieroglyphics, cosmography, geography, astronomy, the topography of Egypt, the sacred utensils and measures, as well as the temple furniture and the lands.
The Stolistes carrying the cubit of justice and liberation vessels. He has to know the books of Hermes that deal with the slaughter of animals. The Prophetes carrying the vessel of water, followed by those carrying the loaves. The Prophetes is the President of the temple and has to know ten books, which are called hieratic.
They contain the law and doctrine concerning the Gods (secret-theology) as well as the whole education of the priests. 36 out of the 42 books of Hermes must be known by the Orders, which precede and contain the whole philosophy of the Egyptians.
The remaining six books must be known by the Order of Pastophori. These are medical books and deal with physiology, male and female diseases, anatomy, drugs and instruments. The books of Hermes were well known to the ancient world and were known to Clement of Alexandria, who lived at the beginning of the third century A. D.
In addition to the education contained in the 42 Books of Hermes, the Priests gained considerable knowledge from the selection and examination of sacrificial victims and the strict bodily purity, which their priestly office imposed. In addition to the Hierogrammat and Horoscopus, who were skilled in theology and hieroglyphics, a Priest was also a judge and an interpreter of the law. This led to a select tribunal, which made the Egyptian Priest the custodian of every kind of literature. We are also told that the Science of Statistics was cultivated to the greatest perfection among the Egyptian Priests.
The Education of the Egyptian
Priests consisted of, Seven Liberal Arts, Secret Systems of Languages and Mathematical Symbolism, as well as Magic. The education of the Egyptian Priests in the Seven Liberal Arts:
The Egyptian Mysteries System was the centre of organized culture and the recognized source of education in the ancient world. Neophytes were graded according to their moral efficiency and intellectual competence, including submission for many years to tests and ordeals, so that their eligibility for advancement can be determined. Their education included the Seven Liberal Arts, and the virtues. The virtues were not mere abstractions or ethical sentiments, but positive valour and the virility of the soul. Beyond these, the Priests may embark on a specialization course.
Secondly the education of the Egyptian Priests also consisted of the specialization in secret systems of language and mathematical Symbolism. It would appear that there were two forms of writing used among the Egyptians. The demotic, believed to have been introduced by Pharaoh Psammitichus, for trade and commercial purposes. The hieroglyphics of which there were two forms, the hieroglyphics proper and the hieratic, a linear form, both of which were used only priests, in order to conceal the secret and mystical meaning of their doctrines.
We are also informed that the mystery system of Egypt used modes of spoken language, which could only be understood by those initiated. These consisted not only of myths and parables, as well as a secret language called Senzar. Ancient Mysteries: C. H. Vail, p. 23). We also understand, that the Egyptians attached numerical values to letters of their words and geometrical figures, including their hieroglyphics. The intention of the Egyptian was to conceal their teachings via secret codes. Egyptians, numerical and geometrical symbolism was in the 42 books of Hermes, which was the oldest and most repository of mathematical symbolism. (Ancient Mysteries: C. H. Vail, p. 22-23; Clement of Alexandria: Stromata Book V, c. 7 and 9).
The education of the
Egyptian Priests also consisted of the specialization in magic.
According to Herodotus, the Egyptian Priests possessed supernatural powers, for they had been trained in the esoteric philosophy of the Greater Mysteries, and were experts in Magic.
They had the power of controlling the minds of men (hypnosis), the power of predicting the future (prophecy) and the power over nature, (i.e., the power of Gods) by giving commands in the name of the Divinity and accomplishing great deeds.
Herodotus also tells us that the most celebrated Oracles of the ancient world were located in Egypt: Hercules at Canopis, Apollo at Apollinopolis Magna; Minerva at Sais; Diana at Bubastis; Mars at Papremis, Jupiter at Thebes and Ammonium. The Greek Oracles were Egyptian imitations.
Here it might be well to mention that the Egyptian Priests were the first genuine priests of history, who exercised control over the laws of nature. It should also be mentioned that the Egyptian Book of the Dead is a book of magical formulae and instructions, intended to direct the fate of departed souls.
It was the prayer book of the Mystery System of Egypt, and the Egyptian priest received training in post mortem conditions as well as the methods of their Corpse verification. It must also be noted that Magic was applied religion, or primitive scientific method.
(Diodorus I, 80; Clement of Alexandria; Stromata 6, 4, p. 756; John Kendrick's Ancient Egypt Bk. I, p. 378-379; Bk. II p. 85-87; Aelian, Var. Hist. 14, 34;
Clement of Alexandria Stromata 6, 4, p. 758: John Kendrick's Ancient Egypt Bk. II, p. 3I-33).
(Clement of Alexandria: Stromata Bk. V. c. 4 p. 657; Plutarch,
De Iside et Osiride Bk. II p. 374 John Kendrick; Ancient Egypt, Bk. II, p. 84,
Ancient Mysteries: C. H. Vail, p. 23). (Ancient Mysteries: C. H. Vail, p. 22-23; Clement of Alexandria: Stromata Book V, c. 7 and 9).