Misconception Number 5. I am entitled to learn and be trained.
Let us analyze one of the definitions of the Merriam-Webster dictionary for the word entitlement, it is the “belief that one is deserving o
f or entitled to certain privileges”.
If you are new to the African Traditional Religions, in this case to Orisha or Santería, I want you to do yourself a favor. Repeat after me: “I am not entitled to learn anything; I have to earn the privilege to be taught and trained and to be accepted into the house by both my godparents as well as by the Orisha that rules the house.”
I am absolutely flabbergasted to see so many newcomers so big for their breeches and so full of this delusional and irreverent attitudes that makes them think that elders of the religion need to open up all their libretas (notebooks) and place them at their feet on top of a red carpet and absolutely commit to share every secret of the religion because they deserve it. Yes, I have had people tell me that there should be no secrets and that all knowledge should readily be made available to them because they are worthy. When lobsters sing, cows fly and snakes walk!
There are some that come in brandishing big titles from neo-pagan systems, or even daring to say that they are self-initiated priests of Shangó— or whatever orisha suits their fancy— and they need to be advanced ahead of those who are diligently and patiently working their way up the ladder in the Ilé. To those I say, tough luck finding who will nurse their inflated ego. However, they should take heart, for there will always be someone who will accommodate their delusions and fleece their wallet.
The entitlement mentality is one of the largest and meanest hurdles to overcome for any newcomer to an Ilé Orisha.
Seriously, there are secrets and they exist for a reason: To protect a legacy of powerful knowledge. This body of spiritual wisdom did not survive the slave’s middle passage easily. It took blood, sweat and tears to keep it alive. Many died preserving it. They struggled to preserve their beliefs and had to endure the humiliation of hiding it behind another religion to survive. Why would this knowledge be handed down to just anyone? As my godfather used to tell me many times before I became an olosha, “if you want to learn, sacrifice. Be willing to knock at the door of Igbodú (initiatory room) and lay your head on the mat with a humble heart and mind”.
Entitlement to knowledge comes by stages. Those who respect tradition know to refrain from chewing on every other book and reading everything they can from all sort of sources and learn as they should: From their godparents. Yes, it is important to make an educated and informed choice about coming to ATRs, so you can discern the authentic from what scam artists want to sell you. But there is a big difference between that and being greedy for knowlege that quite frankly will not do you a bit of good. You can know a lot, but only until you initiate will that knowlege truly flourish within you.
The West Africans say “Little by little we eat the head of the rat.” My godchildren are required to learn very basic information as they prepare to receive the Elekes. Once they have that, they learn yet another set of concepts. With receiving the Warriors and other initiations, larger responsibilities and materials to learn are placed in their hands. They need to show mastery of those before they take any further steps, unless of course, there is a valid circumstance that dictates otherwise. However, haste, capriciousness, availability of funds are not valid reasons to advance in my ilé.
There are additional reasons why learning should be done in stages. I have seen case after case of godparents pouring their heart and soul into godchildren who are ungrateful and who challenge their godparents at every step of the way. Eventually a breakup happens and both are left unhappy and bitter. It is healthy to ask things properly, it is unwise to think yourself above your teachers. Ask yourself this, if you know or think you know so much more than your godparent, why are you with him/her?
If you want to be taught, allow yourself to find a proper teacher, find someone you admire (refer to the article: How to find Outstanding Godparents) and help them understand what is your preferred method of learning. Some of my godchildren like to learn by doing. Some others prefer the Socratic Method; I particularly enjoy that one myself. But some others have a quiet disposition and like to observe and ask only what they can’t figure out on their own. If you learn to express your needs properly and respectfully, you will find a receptive teacher willing to nurture your spirit and mind. In any case the teacher/student relationship has to be one of mutual respect and admiration.
Ask yourself this: If you are seriously considering initiating into Orisha, “Am I willing to accept the responsibility of applying wisely the knowledge I am handed? Will I be willing to give my life to defend the legacy of Orisha? Will I be willing to share what I learn in time with others? Or will I come like a locust just to eat and plunder and make a business out of my titles?”
To those who are still seeking for a teacher: Make sure your godparents to-be like and are willing to teach. Likewise, be discerning in your choice, not every olosha has a background in education, a college degree or the years of experience in Orisha to train someone, which is what matters and ultimately, compensates for a formal education. The level of formal education does not determine the wisdom and spiritual depth of an olosha or his/her ability to teach, but it could enhance it.
To those who have godchildren: The kind of teacher you are will likely attract the quality of students that come to learn from you. If you take on godchildren, do not leave them to learn on their own devices and then criticize what they have learned on their own outside your supervision. Do not hoard your knowledge away to keep them co-dependent or below you, a wise godson is but a reflection of his/her teachers. Be generous with those who entrust their spiritual learning in your hands.
Omimelli Oní Yemayá Achagbá
4 Responses to “Part 5: 10 Assumptions that New Comers to ATRs should not make”
Ayodele says:September 18, 2010 at 7:39 pmYou say the truth! For some, it will be difficult to swallow. There are thousands of Ifa Orphans in America alone. They are usually young men who are invited to pay the ten thousand dollars for an initiation, and are given long flowing names, a set of ikin, a prettily carved divining tray, some beads around their neck and call themselves Awos. They know not the first thing about the culture from whence their belief system comes, they could not identify an Odu if it were sitting on the tray in front of them, and even less able to discuss a single principle of any one of the Odus. They think that consecration with blood is their ticket to then go and charge ten thousand dollars to have the local yokel Babalawo come to town to perform the same egregious act on other unsuspecting young men in our society. Those who have a strong urge to learn are often faced with the lack of knowledgeable resources. I have found that my learning of the ancient mysteries of ATR is much like a cork screw, or a ramp in a parking garage…how it curves up over itself. The beginning level for me was to get to know the names and configurations of the Odu, as they were presented to me – I have noticed that different paradigms have different names for the same concepts – anyway, once I have a solid relationship with the names and configurations of the Odus, then I add to my knowledge of each one as it presents itself to me. For example, I understand that when Irosun Meji comes up, I had better be paying attention to my ancestors – they want my attention, and I can focus my meditation on their messages. Very simple things at first. Each time any one of the 256 Odus comes to me, I build upon my knowledge. Now granted, that would be a lot more efficient if I had an elder to learn from, especially one who could also teach me rudimentary Yoruba – to help with pronunciation of morning prayers, and praise names for Esu, Iba se Esu Odara! Oba en la Katu… Ifa does provide the guidance to learning, and has provided me with beginning, rudimentary sources of knowledge – upon this I can build, and for the remainder of my life, none can take it from me. Ire ooooo Ayodele
Omimelli says:September 25, 2010 at 12:45 pmAyodele, You bring up a very real point, the orphans of the religion. Some are lucky to find where to belong, but then there are others who out of lack for guidance or desire to obtain further guidance do not reach their full potential as they should. However, the worst case scenario is those who continue on and replicate with incomplete knowledge and thus create confusion and quite honestly cheat the newcomers that have relied upon them out of proper development. Omimelli Oní Yemayá Achagbá Reply