Ifá is a divination system originating among the Yoruba people of West Africa. It plays an important role in Yoruba religion and certain African diasporic religions deriving from it, such as Cuban Santería.

A divination tray on which cowrie shells rests, as are used for Ifá divination
Sixteen Principal Odu
Name 1 2 3 4
Ogbè I I I I
Ọ̀yẹ̀kú II II II II
Ìwòrì II I I II
Ìrosùn I I II II
Ọ̀wọ́nrín II II I I
Ọ̀bàrà I II II II
Ọ̀kànràn II II II I
Ògúndá I I I II
Ọ̀ṣá II I I I
Òtúúrúpọ̀n II II I II
Òtúrá I II I I
Ìrẹ̀tẹ̀ I I II I
Ọ̀ṣẹ́ I II I II
Òfún (Ọ̀ràngún) II I II I

Sixteen Principal Afa-du
(Yeveh Vodou)
Name 1 2 3 4
Eji-Ogbe I I I I
Ọyeku-Meji II II II II
Iwori-Meji II I I II
Odi-Meji I II II I
Irosun-Meji I I II II
Ọwanrin-Meji II II I I
Ọbara-Meji I II II II
Ọkanran-Meji II II II I
Ogunda-Meji I I I II
Ọsa-Meji II I I I
Ika-Meji II I II II
Oturupon-Meji II II I II
Otura-Meji I II I I
Irete-Maji I I II I
Ọse-Meji I II I II
Ofun meji II I II I

According to traditional belief, Ifá is associated with Orunmila, who is one of the orisha spirits central to Yoruba religion. Its oracular literary body is made up of 256 volumes (signs) that are divided into two categories, the first called Ojú Odù or main Odù that consists of 16 chapters. The second category is composed of 240 chapters called Amúlù Odù (omoluos), these are composed through the combination of the main Odù.

The system of divination used in Ifá is a code to access a literary corpus, the Odù Ifá. Orunmila is identified as the Grand Priest, as he revealed the foundational divinity and prophecy (the first 16 Odu) to the world. Babaláwos or Ìyánífás are usually called Ifa priests, but really, they are scholars; the equivalent of professors in classical university systems. They use either the divining chain known as Ọ̀pẹ̀lẹ̀, or the sacred palm (Elaeis guineensis) or kola nuts called Ikin, on the wooden divination tray called Ọpọ́n Ifá to mathematically calculate which Odu to use for what problem.



The 16-principle system has its earliest history in West Africa. Each Niger–Congo-speaking ethnic group that practices it has its own myths of origin; Yoruba religion suggests that it was founded by Orunmila in Ilé-Ifẹ̀ when he initiated himself and then he initiated his students, Akoda and Aseda. According to the book The History of the Yorubas from the Earliest of Times to the British Protectorate (1921) by Nigerian historian Samuel Johnson and Obadiah Johnson, it was Arugba, the mother of Onibogi, the 8th Alaafin of Oyo, who introduced Oyo to Ifá in the late 1400s. She initiated the Alado of Ato and conferred on him the right to initiate others. The Alado, in turn, initiated the priests of Oyo and that was how Ifá came to be in the Oyo empire.[1]

Orunmila came to establish an oral literary corpus incorporating stories and experiences of priests and their clients along with the results. This Odu corpus emerges as the leading documentation on the Ifá tradition to become a historical legacy.

Yoruba tradition


In Yorubaland, divination gives priests unreserved access to the teachings of Orunmila.[2] Eshu is the one said to lend ashe to the oracle during provision of direction and/or clarification of counsel. Eshu is also the one that holds the keys to one's ire (fortune or blessing)[3] and thus acts as Oluwinni (one's Creditor): he can grant ire or remove it.[4] Ifá divination rites provide an avenue of communication to the spiritual realm and the intent of one's destiny.[5]

Odù Ifá


There are sixteen major books in the Odu Ifá[6] literary corpus. When combined, there are a total of 256 Odu (a collection of sixteen, each of which has sixteen alternatives ⇔ 162, or 44) that are believed to reference all situations, circumstances, actions and consequences in life based on the uncountable ese (or "poetic tutorials") relative to the 256 Odu coding. These form the basis of traditional Yoruba spiritual knowledge and are the foundation of all Yoruba divination systems. Ifá proverbs, stories, and poetry are not written down. Rather, they are passed down orally from one babalawo to another. Yoruba people consult Ifá for divine intervention and spiritual guidance.[7]

The Messenger sign of Ifá


In addition to the sixteen fundamental signs, Ifá divination includes a major sign, which is the combination of Ọse and Otura, from right to left (Ọse-Tura).


That sign must be written each time a ritual is performed: Ọse-Tura is the messenger and the carrier of the sacrifice. It is closely associated with the god Èṣù in the system of Ifá. That Messenger sign was known in Arab and Latin medieval geomancy as the Morning Star,[8] that is as the planet Venus. In other words, Ọse-Tura is a remainder of ancient astrology in Ifá divination.[2]

The Church of Ifá (Nigeria, Benin)


According to William Bascom,[9] "an indication of the importance of Ifá to the [Yoruba] religious system as a whole is the fact that the most striking religious syncretisms resulting from European contact are to be found in a church established in Lagos in 1934, the Ijọ Ọ̀rúnmila Adulawọ, which was founded on the premise that the teachings of Ifa constitute the Yoruba Bible." It was also set up in Porto-Novo (Benin) the same year.

Adebanjo Olorunfunmi OṢIGA founded the Church of Ọ̀rúnmila for the Black People (Ijọ Ọ̀rúnmila Adulawọ) in order to create a religious institution comparable to the Protestant churches, but grounded on Yoruba culture and mythology. He wrotes rules and regulations for the Church of Ifá, and ordained pastors of Ifá. His teachings include sixteen commandments and a liturgy inspired from the reading of the Book of Common Prayer and of the mythology of Ifá. Ọ̀rúnmila, the first diviner, is considered to be the prophet of the church, along with Ela (Jesus). The history of the Ifa Church is a unique example of the moral, ritual and institutional process of religious acculturation between Africa and Europe.

According to Erwan Dianteill,[10] the Church of Ifá is still active in 2024, in Nigeria and Benin, with around 2000 followers in Lagos, Porto-Novo and Cotonou.

International recognition


The Ifá divination system was added in 2005 by UNESCO to its list of the "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity".[11]

Ifá and the African diaspora


Ifá in Santería


Ifá is used in the Afro-Cuban religion of Santería;[12] it is the most complex and prestigious divinatory system used in the religion.[13] The two are closely linked, sharing the same mythology and conception of the universe,[14] although Ifá also has a separate existence from Santería.[15] High priests of Ifá are known as babalawos and although their presence is not essential to Santería ceremonies, they often attend in their capacity as diviners.[16] Many santeros are also babalawos,[17] although it is not uncommon for babalawos to perceive themselves as being superior to most santeros.[18] Traditionally, only heterosexual men are allowed to become babalawos,[19] although homosexual male babalawos now exist due to the more open policy for Santería initiates. [20] Women are typically prohibited from taking on this role,[21] a restriction explained through the story that the òrìṣà (pronounced "orisha" or "oricha" in Spanish) Orula was furious that Yemayá, his wife, had used his tabla divining board and subsequently decided to ban women from ever touching it again.[22] In spite of this legend, by the early 21st century, a small number of women have since been initiated as babalawos.[23] Initiation as a babalawo requires a payment to the initiator and is typically regarded as highly expensive.[24]

The òrìṣà of Ifá, Orula or Ọ̀rúnmila, also has a prominent place within Santería.[15] He is believed to oversee divination; once an individual is initiated as a babalawo they are given a pot containing various items, including palm nuts, which is believed to be the literal embodiment of Orula.[25] Babalawos provide offerings to Orula, including animal sacrifices and gifts of money.[26] In Cuba, Ifá typically involves the casting of consecrated palm nuts to answer a question. The babalawo then interprets the message of the nuts depending on how they have fallen; there are 256 possible configurations in the Ifá system, which the babalawo is expected to have memorised.[27] Individuals approach the babalawo seeking guidance, often on financial matters, at which the diviner will consult Orula through the established divinatory method.[28] In turn, those visiting the babalawos pay them for their services.[29]

Female practitioners have also been reported in Mexico.[30]

Ifá in Brazil


Although surviving in Cuban Santería, Ifá did not remain part of a Brazilian religion that owed much to Yoruba traditions, Candomblé.[31] In Candomblé, dilogun instead forms the primary method of divination employed by its initiates.[32] One of the earliest practitioners of Ifá in Brazil was the French ethnographer Pierre Verger, who had become a babalawo in West Africa and who was also involved in Candomblé.[33]

As a result of growing links between Brazil and Nigeria, in the 1970s various educational efforts to promote understandings of Yoruba culture were established in Brazilian cities. This included the Yoruba Culture Research and Study Centre, founded in 1977 by Fernandes Portugal, and which brought in Nigerian teachers to run a course teaching Ifá.[34] The closing ceremony took place in January 1978, attended by 14 students who were granted the status of omo (son of) Ifá.[35] One of these pupils, a Candomblé initiate named José Nilton Vianna Reis (Torodê de Ogun), later went on to become a babalawo nine years later, before setting out his own Ifá teaching course in 1984.[36]

Notable followers


See also





  1. ^ Johnson, Samuel (1921). History of the Yorubas from the Earliest of Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate. Nigeria Bookshops.
  2. ^ Lijadu, E. M. Ifá: ImọLe Rẹ Ti I Ṣe Ipile Isin Ni Ilẹ Yoruba. Ado-Ekiti: Omolayo Standard Press, 1898. 1972.
  3. ^ "Ase Ire :: What is Ase Ire?".
  4. ^ [1] Archived September 25, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Adéẹ̀kọ́, Adélékè. "'Writing' and 'Reference' in Ifá Divination Chants." Oral Tradition 25, no. 2 (2010).
  6. ^ Sixteen major 'books in Odù Ifá Archived July 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Karade, Baba I. (2020). The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts. Red Wheel/Weiser. ISBN 9781578636679 – via Google Scholar.
  8. ^ Dianteill, E. (2022). Venus, Issa, and the Moon Dog, International Journal of Divination and Prognostication, 3(2), 125-170. doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/25899201-12340025
  9. ^ Bascom, William (1969). Ifa - Communication between Gods and Men in West Africa. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-253-32890-8.
  10. ^ Dianteill, Erwan (2024). "L'Oracle et le Temple - De la géomancie médiévale à l'Église d'Ifa (Nigeria, Bénin)". Les éditions Labor & Fides (in French). Retrieved 2024-02-28.
  11. ^ "Ifa Divination System". Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  12. ^ Hagedorn 2001, p. 104; Holbraad 2012, p. 90.
  13. ^ Fernández Olmos & Paravisini-Gebert 2011, p. 70.
  14. ^ Holbraad 2005, p. 233; Holbraad 2012, p. 90.
  15. ^ a b Hagedorn 2001, p. 104.
  16. ^ Hagedorn 2001, pp. 104–105; Holbraad 2012, p. 90.
  17. ^ Hagedorn 2001, p. 105; Wirtz 2007, p. ix.
  18. ^ Holbraad 2005, pp. 233–234.
  19. ^ Holbraad 2005, p. 234; Holbraad 2012, p. 90.
  20. ^ Pérez y Mena 1998, p. 20.
  21. ^ Wedel 2004, p. 157; Fernández Olmos & Paravisini-Gebert 2011, p. 61.
  22. ^ Fernández Olmos & Paravisini-Gebert 2011, pp. 52–53.
  23. ^ Clark 2005, p. 63.
  24. ^ Holbraad 2005, pp. 235–236.
  25. ^ Holbraad 2012, pp. 90–91.
  26. ^ Holbraad 2005, p. 237–238.
  27. ^ Wedel 2004, p. 92; Holbraad 2012, p. 91.
  28. ^ Holbraad 2005, p. 234.
  29. ^ Holbraad 2005, pp. 234–235.
  30. ^ Papenfuss 2023, p. 390.
  31. ^ Hayes 2007, p. 303; Capone 2010, p. 43.
  32. ^ Capone 2010, p. 43.
  33. ^ Hayes 2007, p. 303.
  34. ^ Capone 2010, pp. 239–240.
  35. ^ Capone 2010, p. 240.
  36. ^ Capone 2010, pp. 240–241.
  37. ^ "Faculty Database - Koshikawa Yoshiaki".
  38. ^ "運命は自分で切り開くもの! 精霊(オリチャ)から欲しいエネルギーを得て、2019年を良い年に!".
  39. ^ "The Role of Spirit in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement: A Conversation with Activist and Artist Patrisse Cullors". 24 June 2015.
  41. ^ "A Cobra Kai actor practices a religion that predicts the future". Market Research Telecast. 2022-01-03. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  42. ^ "Baba Wande Abimbola - Parliament of the World's Religions". parliamentofreligions.org. Retrieved 2023-09-21.


  • Capone, Stefania (2010). Searching for Africa in Brazil: Power and Tradition in Candomblé. Translated by Lucy Lyall Grant. Durham and London: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-4636-4.
  • Clark, Mary Ann (2005). Where Men Are Wives And Mothers Rule: Santería Ritual Practices and their Gender Implications. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. ISBN 978-0813028347.
  • Fernández Olmos, Margarite; Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth (2011). Creole Religions of the Caribbean: An Introduction from Vodou and Santería to Obeah and Espiritismo (second ed.). New York and London: New York University Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-6228-8.
  • Hagedorn, Katherine J. (2001). Divine Utterances: The Performance of Afro-Cuban Santería. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books. ISBN 978-1560989479.
  • Hayes, Kelly E. (2007). "Black Magic and the Academy: Macumba and Afro-Brazilian "Orthodoxies"". History of Religions. 46 (4): 283–31. JSTOR 10.1086/518811.
  • Holbraad, Martin (2005). "Expending Multiplicity: Money in Cuban Ifá Cults". The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 11 (2): 231–254. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9655.2005.00234.x. JSTOR 3804208.
  • Holbraad, Martin (2012). "Truth Beyond Doubt: Ifá Oracles in Havana". HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory. 2 (1): 81–109. doi:10.14318/hau2.1.006. S2CID 143785826.
  • Papenfuss, Maria (2023). "Santería in Catemaco, Mexico: Hybrid (Re)Configurations of Religious Meaning and Practice". Interdisciplinary Journal for Religion and Transformation in Contemporary Society. 9: 375–94. doi:10.30965/23642807-bja10044.
  • Pérez y Mena, Andrés I. (1998). "Cuban Santería, Haitian Vodun, Puerto Rican Spiritualism: A Multiculturalist Inquiry into Syncretism". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 37 (1): 15–27. doi:10.2307/1388026. JSTOR 1388026.
  • Wedel, Johan (2004). Santería Healing: A Journey into the Afro-Cuban World of Divinities, Spirits, and Sorcery. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. ISBN 978-0-8130-2694-7.
  • Wirtz, Kristina (2007). Ritual, Discourse, and Community in Cuban Santería: Speaking a Sacred World. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. ISBN 978-0-8130-3064-7.

Further reading