No, we are not talking here about an AA (Alcoholic Anomymous) like program. What I call the Twelve Steps Process is more like a spiritual tune up every iyawó should have throughout their year in white. The process consists of twelve obo orí eledás or Head Feedings also known as Prayers over the Head. Although simple, the ritual is of great importance as it provides not only an opportunity to balance the head of the iyawó with the growing energies of the orisha that has just been seated, cool and cleansed the iyawó from any negativities attracted, but also, it provides for a time for communication and learning between the initiate and initiators.
About the Head Feeding:
Ideally the ceremony should be done every month on the same date that the Kariosha happened, thus if someone got initiated on the 12th of the month, every month thereafter the iyawó should meet with the godparent on the same day or within 7 days following that date. The duty of performing the ceremony every month falls upon the oyugbonakán or the main godparent, depending on how the godparent wants to do this. For this ritual the iyawó needs to bring the following items:
1. Two candles (itana melli) 2. Two coconuts (obi melli) 3. A $21 fee 4. Cotton (ou) 5. Cascarilla (efún) 6. Cocoa butter (orí) 7. Honey (oyín o oñí) 8. Smoked fish and Jutía (ecú eyá)–optional in some houses 9. A white large handkerchief (ashó fun fun) 10. Two white plates
This is how the process goes, the iyawó presents these materials to the godparent and the godparent will take care of preparing the coconuts which will broken down on two sets of Obí for divination and the rest will be peeled (no black rind) and grated. The godparent will then prepare the mixture and set the altar space for the iyawó.
The process in itself is a great opportunity for the iyawó to learn the mechanics of one of the most basic ceremonies that any olosha should know by heart. Thus, a wise godparent will take care to explain the steps and show the iyawó how things are organized. The process will be learned by repetition as there are 12 opportunities for the iyawó to observe, ask questions and memorize.
I have seen many iyaloshas and babaloshas ask of their iyawós to bring the coconuts already segmented into two sets of obí and already grated. Shame on you for being so lazy! Part of the ashé of the godparent is to do this process with their very own hands (they are also charging a fee, then it is not right to ask others to do the work). It shows sincere care and allows for the transference of energies from the hands of the godparent to the head of the godchild. Besides it is a waste of a great teaching opportunity face-to-face.
I remember many interesting conversations about the importance of this ritual, and the impact of the ritual on me as months rolled by, all of these shared with my elders while they prepared the materials. Granted, some people do not like to talk during the preparation for a ritual, but this is an exception they could make to create a learning environment for the iyawó.
After the Head Feeding:
Iyawós, your relationship with your godparents will be developed not only by what they dictate onto you, but also based on the actions you take. Thus, if you ask your godparents to spend at least half an hour talking with you after the Head Feeding is done, you will develop a healthy routine of communications and a time and space where you can share your developments, concerns and questions with your elders.
There are some houses where the iyawó learns nothing during their first year. I see no reason to keep a godchild from learning for a year. The time shared during this ritual is indeed an opportunity to instruct the iyawó on basic materials to memorize. The iyawó should also be tested during subsequent conversations to ensure that the initiate is indeed taking time to reinforce lessons learned on the prior month.
What to teach the iyawó during their first year? That is a question that each babá and iyá should pose themselves before they do kariosha to an individual and not one I will address in this short essay as it is more geared to the iyawó. Needless to say those godparents must to be ready not only for the spiritual birth, but also, to rear their children and to use the time of the year in white wisely and efficiently.
Learn iyawó, keep up the steps prescribed for your year in white, use opportunities to learn wisely and always keep communications going with your godparents. Oh, and every time you meet with them, have a notebook and pen in hand so you can take notes and review them later.
Omimelli Oní Yemayá Achagbá