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The Year in White: Setting Goals for Iyawós

White shawl
The traditional white shawls for female iyawós

Becoming an iyawó is a great ordeal for many people. To start, it is hard to save money in this economy to do kariosha (to have the orisha seated in one’s head/body), it is also painstaking to find good godparents who are willing to teach and train a new initiate properly, and finally, it is a process of profound change and adaptation like no other, which is not to be undertaken lightly.

Therefore, if a person has to go through a lot of steps to get to kariosha, it makes all the sense in the world to truly manifest this commitment by not only following all the rules of the iyawó year but also, by setting up goals to help bring about blessings and ashé during the year.

The goals do not have to be lofty, there is a lot of pressure iyawós will face as it is with keeping up with their taboos, wearing white clothes in public, avoiding being touched, taking things directly from other people’s hands, keeping up with possible food restrictions and much more.

During my iyawó year in 1998, I did set some goals and this was done on my own, no one told me to do so, it was in my nature to structure this time because to me it was crucial to establish the best possible relationship with my orisha. I had heard many elders talk about the importance of discipline, respect, and devotion to the commitments contracted and how this year would set the tone to a life of spiritual grace or else depending on the choices the iyawó made. I was determined that there was only one path for me: To do things right.

Why are having goals important during this first year? Well, there is a variety of reasons. I can give you three reasons that are powerful enough for me: Respect, discipline, and devotion.

Discipline can take any shape you want, but mainly it has to do with living with the choices that as iyawó we make. Making kariosha is just one step; the process of growth through the first year is another kind of initiation in itself, a personal one where we discover the changes that unfold from inside out in our beings. In order to understand these deep-seated changes, it is important to fully shed old patterns and to embrace the purity of changes, one way to do this is to live by the rules. Let me illustrate with a few rules and how I applied them to myself.

My first goal as iyawó was to stay out of trouble. I wanted to avoid fights, gossips, situations that would overheat my head. Staying out of trouble directly correlates with a rule which is to avoid crowds, going out after dark, and other things outlined under the article “Iyawó Basic Rules”. Therefore iyawó year motto became: Stay cool at all cost. Thus, I started to shed old patterns, to avoid gossipmongers, and to simply stay away from people who seemed to attract drama like moths to a flame.

My second goal was to wear whites and keep them white. The line of work I did when I got initiated demanded that I would wear regular clothes during the day. I hated that with a passion, but contractual obligations as a news anchor were binding. The best part of my day was rushing home and shedding all those mundane clothes and immediately purifying myself by wearing my full white regalia. Only then I felt right. The choice was not simple, I needed the job to feed my family, the orisha understood this as it was asked during itá and I got blessings to adapt to these special circumstances.

However, I have to say that wearing white filled me with dread at first because I was going to stick out everywhere I went. This slowly became easier, I wore my whites with a humble heart, I learned to stay clean, to overlook other people’s ignorant remarks, to smile at those who recognized my state as new initiates and sent me blessings by crossing their arms or waving at a respectful distance. But most of all, I learned that the color that separated me also protected me.

Once I was done with work obligations, under no circumstance I went out without all my whites, never walked barefooted like I see so many do today. Can’t they understand the importance of protecting the body from sources of contamination both spiritual and physical? So many iyawós want to cheat themselves nowadays and find ways to bend rules, why even bother to swear yourself to an orisha if you can’t stick to basics? What sort of future olosha is developing under a person who lacks discipline and fortitude?

My third goal was setting daily time for the orishas. This for me meant eating on the mat with them every possible meal I could. I also found that it was quite refreshing to take an occasional nap on the mat as it invariably lead me to interesting ideas that would come to me in dreams.

My fourth goal for the year was not part of following any set of rules; it was more of a personal challenge. I wanted to find something to keep my hands occupied and be able to contribute to the ilé. Sewing was my outlet. I started to work on patterns for initiatory orisha clothes and that kept me occupied for months while allowing me time to meditate and pray while I designed or sew ashó orisha.

Music is another interest I have, thus I started to research and compile a good collection of Orisha music and painstakingly I started to copy some of the lyrics, compare them from singer to singer, and to compile them into a notebook.

Finally, as my fifth goal, I wanted to learn how to do a rogación de Cabeza (head feeding), be proficient at obí divination, and to start studying how to do dilogún. I managed to do all of those although not to the full extent I had originally intended during that year, not that I did not become proficient at these, I found that one year goes by so very quickly.

When the year was done, I took some time to look back at the growth I had done as well as my shortcomings. I wanted to do more, I wanted to contribute to my ilé, but most of all, I wanted to share with other iyawós that the process is one to be cherished and enjoyed, that there is nothing comparable to these twelve months, and that they ought to be enjoyed.


Oní Yemayá Achagbá

Author’s note: This article was originally published on August of 2011.

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