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The Ancestors

The importance of Ancestor Worship lies in the knowledge it provides us that our current existence is not "all there is."

Ifa''s worldview can be thought of as the spiritual representation of Einstein''s theory of relativity. our belief in, and practices of, ancestor worship bridges the time gap that Einstein believed must exist between the past, present, and future. In Ifa, we understand that the invisible world of our deceased ancestors combines with the visible world of nature and human culture to form a single organic truth. Through ritual we bridge the relationship between the past and the present and in the process improve the future. The ritual process of ancestor worship can provide us with profound, quantifiable changes in our everyday lives. But the concept often meets with resistance.

For example, several years ago I saw a client who was in her early forties and had received her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago. She was both academically and personally interested in nontraditional forms of divination. Her personal "project" was a book on astrology from an academician''s viewpoint. She was immediately attracted to the beauty and power of Ifa and within just a few short months had received her warriors (Esu, Ososi, Ogun, and Osun) and had undergone several other small initiation rites. Time and again she marveled at the connection she felt that she told me she wished to become a priestess of Yemonja/Olukun, her guardian Orisa.

During this period she came for divination frequently. With a single exception she followed all the prescribed sacrifices and offerings. The one exception was that she would not offer prayers and food to the spirit of her dead father. The first time she was called upon to do it she made no mention of her inner conflicts. But Ifa simply won''t let you slide, so the necessity of ancestor worship - and of dealing with her departed father in particular - began to appear in every reading.

Finally, she exploded: "Phil, he was a no-good so-and-so; he berated me my whole life. Most of my problems have been a direct result of his unfeeling and uncaring behavior. I''ll be damned if I''ll offer him my love now!" I wasn''t particularly shocked. Many of us have had trouble with relatives now deceased, but I did want her to understand the imperative of following the readings.

"First," I replied, "there is no point in fighting with the dead. Second, no matter what kind of an SOB your father was when he was alive, there are two facts you have to understand: first, you wouldn''t be here without him, and second, whatever he was he isn''t anymore! That trip is over, those experiences simply a small addition to the experiences of previous lifetimes. now, instead of carrying all the negative energy, which impedes your growth and progress, instead of continuing to deny the love you were never allowed to express, you can make up and go forward with your live. And the way to do that is to finally tell him how much love you had for him and how much love you needed. I know it will be difficult, probably cathartic, but Ifa is saying that unless you disperse the negative energy you''ll remain blocked and unfulfilled. The only way to get through that pain is by expressing the love that caused it. If you hadn''t cared, hadn''t loved your father, hadn''t needed to be loved in return, you wouldn''t feel all this rage and pain. When he died, you probably thought it was over. It isn''t! You probably felt it was too late for anything to be done. It isn''t! It''s time to do it and get on with your life. It''s time to be loved by him in return."

Three days later, on a Sunday morning, she called to tell me that she was opting out. I explained that you couldn''t opt out of life, you could only choose to live it fully or not. But the choice was hers. Regardless of her decision, she had our love and compassion. Her experience, while extreme, is not atypical of the difficulty many of us have in coming to grips with our ancestors.

My good friend and teacher Afolabi Epega, like the woman above, also has his Ph.D. His is in chemistry. Afolabi is also a fifth-generation babalawo whose grandfather was perhaps the most famous babalawo in written history. The first time we discussed ancestor worship, Afolabi simply told me the following story.

I was in the midst of preparing a paper on some of the histories that comprise the sacred Odu, when I suddenly could not remember one particular story. The paper was due in just three days. In your country you might pick up the phone and call someone to find the information, but in truth, these facts were known only by my father, who lived in Lagos, and my deceased grandfather. At the time Nigeria still did not have phones in many individual homes, so contacting my father prior to presentation of my paper would be impossible. Unless I restructured my entire lecture I would have to find the missing history. So, I "called" my grandfather in our way. I used our ritual of ancestor worship to convey to him that I needed his help. The next night I awakened from a sound sleep to see my grandfather sitting on the edge of my bed. "What is the problem Falo?" he asked. I explained my situation, and he instructed me to get a pencil and paper that I keep near my nightstand. he proceeded to give the information I had forgotten. When he was finished I expressed my love and gratitude to him, and he expressed his to me. I fell back into a deep sleep. The next morning I awoke with vague memories of the night before, but they seemed more dreamlike than real until I glanced at my nightstand and saw the writing there. Then I remembered my grandfather''s visit. I was able to quickly complete my paper and give a thorough presentation to the class.

For almost 96 percent of the world''s population, ritual offerings and prayers to deceased blood relatives are an integral part of everyday life. People of Eastern cultures such as the Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Japanese, and Tibetans, along with great segments of the populations of South America, Mexico, Cuba, Bali, Indonesia, Polynesia, Mongolia, the Eastern Baltics, Iceland, and New Guinea offer respect to and seek guidance from their ancestors. yet because most of us in the Western world were raised in the Jewish and Christian traditions, which proscribe ancestor worship, Western newcomers to Ifa tend to be skeptical of it. Ancestor worship fits perfectly into the Ifa devotee''s integrated view of the physical and spiritual worlds.

You would imagine that everyone would be thrilled to have "proof," or a way to authenticate knowledge, of an afterlife. If you were to ask one hundred "average" Americans if they believe in life after death, one of two might say yes. Five or ten will say absolutely not. But about ninety percent will tell you, "well, I''d like to, but I really don''t know." Yet when Ifa offers them a way to "know," they still resist.

Author: Phil Neimark.

Quoted from the Ifa Foundation.


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