Determining the Guardian Angel or Tutelary Orisha


This is a complex subject that in all fairness requires more than a simple article to properly lay it out with all its pros and cons. However, the purpose of this post is to provide a quick set of references for those out there searching for guidance because they do not understand the process of determining the orí. I have recently gotten quite a few emails from folks who have faced this situation and rather than responding to many emails, I am laying out some no-nonsense parameters to help them find their way and determine what is best for them.


I will be very clear about one important fact, determining the guardian orí is not a game. This is a crucial step in the life of a person that is preparing seriously to be a priest. This is not done lightly just to find out which orisha claims your head and to go about boasting that you are an omó this or omó that orisha. This is not about belonging to a club. If a person does not have the need to become an olosha, then this person has no business going out to seek who rules or not their head as it is a waste of time and resources.


That said, history tells us that there is a way in which things are done in Yorubaland and there is also evolution in our practices in the New World, but then again we are a hybrid as Lukumí, thus we must be careful to stride the fence between Old World traditions and the legacy of our elders in the Americas.


The common practice in Yorubaland was to have initiates done through the “Head and Feet” method. What is that? This is the practice of having the initiate receive the Warriors (Elegua, Ogun, Ochosi and Osun) along with their head or tutelary orisha whichever it may be. This is described by Nicolás Angarica in his works and it was the way things were done in the early days in Cuba. The modern initiation evolved some say out of the need to give the initiate additional strength and support and to make the initiate a repository of the mysteries of additional orishas considered as pillars. These pillars are Yemayá, Obatalá, Oshún and Shangó. Thus, a person could have whichever the tutelary orisha, plus the warriors and then the 4 pillars (in many instances one of those pillars happened to be the head orisha as well). Only one orisha is mounted to the head, the other ones are presented to the shoulders as support.


The common practice for the Lukumí is to do the larger version of the initiation, however, as of the last two decades we have seen a resurgence of the head and foot method as it is less expensive and a reflection of the desire some people have to “seek out original practices.” Is there a need to re-work our current and functional practices? Do we need to re-store or retrofit our practices? That is something that requires additional and careful debate. From my point of view, there is no such need but I am always open to a good conversation on that subject under a separate article.


There are two schools of thinking when it comes to determining the head orisha for a person. One of those spouses solely the use of Ifá and the Table of Orunmila to do so. The other one spouses the use of the dilogún. I am not here to debate which is wright or wrong. The fact is that they are both correct. However, because of politics, the desire of influence and power some Ifá folks have, and, quite frankly the lack of humility in many practitioners who can’t abide by the principle that knowledge is indeed shared, there will be always debate around this subject.


I will speak from both personal experience and supported by scholar research.


1. Determining the Head Orí through Dilogún

The mouthpiece of the orisha is the dilogún, therefore it is through the dilogún of the tutelary orisha of the godparent- to- be that the head of the future initiate is determined. This is a matter of logic. If you do not trust the dilogún to guide this key step, why trust it to determine your itá or other decisions through the life of an initiate? Think about it carefully.

The first thing one requires to proceed to determine the orí is to have clear indication through a pattern of readings that a person indeed is destined to become an olosha. Patterns are crucial as they show progression and evolution. Think about the words of Aristotle, “One swallow does not summer make…” We need to make absolutely sure as godparents-to-be that a person selected will come in with full commitment and knowing that what they are about to do is for the rest of their lives. This is not a simple step; it is a commitment for life.


The dilogún of the future godparent’s tutelary orisha is the one to be used. Some people say that the shells of Elegua of the godparent-to-be are the ones that should be consulted. I always say this is a religion of logic. Thus, what is their logic behind always using Eleguá’s dilogún? If the iyawó is to be born from the orí of the godparent then it is that orisha that needs to be consulted. If it happens to be that godparent has Eleguá crowned, great, those shells are then consulted; otherwise the orisha taking the brunt of the responsibility for the future olosha is the one that should assume the responsibility of speaking on behalf of that orí. Arguments can be made in favor of either, but logic should prevail.

Here is the process through dilogún. An oriaté or the house elder feeds Elegua a rooster and two other birds to the guardian angel of the godparent-to-be. The orisha is allowed to rest and on the following day the shells of that orisha are consulted for the future olosha. The future olosha, the godparent, the future oyugbonakán and at least two other witnesses should be present.


For the sake of clarity let me illustrate this. In my case, since my tutelary orisha is Yemayá, first we feed a rooster to Elegua and then Yemayá is fed two roosters, which are her birds of choice. If my guardian angel was Oshún, it would be a rooster to Elegua and two yellow hens to Oshún. Get the picture?


I have yet to see this method fail. I have though, seen it failed when an olosha simply consults the shells of Eleguá to determine an orí (be it that Elegua is the guardian angel or not, of the god-parent-to be) and no sacrifice is made beforehand. The act of feeding the orisha has its purpose, it is propitiatory and thus opens the way to communication with that orisha while at the same time bonds the future initiate to the house. I can’t overstate the importance of establishing that bond.


If we think about the way things were in Cuba, which is my set of reference as the Lukumí is a diasporic religion, the first oriatés were women. Therefore there was no other way of determining the orí but through shells. With the arrival of awós to Cuba other means of divination become part of the practices. There is even a Pataki to sustain the neutrality of Ifá in the process of determining a guardian angel.



2. Determining the Head Orí through Ifá

Patakís are a wonderful thing as they allow oloshas and awós to explain their points of view and establish them as, well almost gospel. There is a Pataki that speaks of the greed of Obatalá who was being consulted to determine the head orisha of future initiates, but to the dismay of all orishas the only orí coming down the mat for future iyawó after future iyawó was Obatalá. Thus, the orisha protested to Olofi and he determined that since Orunmila is neutral for he is not crowned, it should be him to determine the guardian orí since had nothing to gain from the process.


Like I stated before, this article is not geared to pit Ifá versus Orisha in the determination of the orí. They both have their space. Setting aside the patakís as mnemonic devices and as a means to even justify some processes, let’s see why Ifá/Orunmila is also a logical choice to determine an orí.


(A) Orunmila as stated in the pataki I paraphrased was brought in as an arbiter. That is in many cases his role to set agreements and cool down the Irunmole/Orisha.

(B) Orunmila is also the witness of Creation, Elerí Ipín. He was there when each orí choses their faith/path at the foot of Olodumare.


(C) Orunmila is knowleable of present, past and future. This is an advantage point that most awós claim as superiority over dilogún. However, my logical question is, if the system is so superior why are the shells used to determine itá during a kariosha and not the Opón Ifá? Of course, I know the mechanics behind when to use Opon Ifá and it would not fit within the ritual parameters of the kariosha, but all the same, the question is still there. One can’t argue supreme knowledge and domain of one system over the other. The reality is that they both have their space and a person who would claim absolute domain is simply blind to the fact that we all have a variety of tools given by Olodumare for particular reasons. If Olodumare would deem that only Ifá is needed why allow other systems to be created and granted to the irunmoles?


In conclusion, Ifá can determine the orí during the process of granting awofaka (for males) and ikofá (for females). It is crucial to have at least three awós present during the process of consulting the Opón Ifá for the purposes of determining the orí. Not everyone needs to receive awofaka or ikofá, thus in theory not everyone would need to consult Ifá to determine their orí.


Once again, it is up to the godparent (in communication with the future initiate) to select the method of determining the head orí according to the practices of their house. Notice I am mentioning the communication aspect. No one should have his or her head determined without fully understanding the process and the logic behind it. It is after all their head and their spiritual future and if there is not be open communication and respect from the start, then why bother to initiate in the house?


I hope this article clears some of the questions I have received and it steers folks into having interesting conversations with their elders as I consider them healthy and conducing to growth and appreciation of the beauty of our religious traditions.

Omimelli Oní Yemayá Achagbá

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