2013 and the Letter of the Year: Part One

Every year by January 5th, the owner of folkcuba.com, Dr. David Brown, Ph.D., publishes a document titled Ifá Predictions for the Year [http://folkcuba.com/aa_la_letra_2013.htm], a document written by the coordinators of the Organizing Commission in Cuba. These Cuban olorishas and babalawos continue the work of Miguel Febles Padron, Odí Ka, a well respected awo (ibaé) who continued the work begun in 1899 by Remigio Herrera with five of his own Ifá disciples: Mark Garcia, Eulogio Rodriguez, Jose Carmen Batiste, Salvador Montalvo, and Bernadine Rojo. When the first letter of the year was divined on December 31, 1899, Remigio’s youngest babalawo cast Ifá; Obara Meji opened. For them, it was an omen that the orishas were pleased with the reestablished rituals. Oral history tells us that in 1906, Remigio Herrera died, and Bernadine Rojo assumed responsibility for organizing the New Year’s Ifá ceremony with Eulogio Rodriguez guiding him. When Bernadine Rojo died on May 9, 1959, Miguel Febles assumed ownership of the rituals, and today’s Organizing Commission is the spiritual legacy these great men bequeathed to the world.

In the document published by Dr. Brown this year, it opens with these words: “Following a 26-year tradition, the Organizing Commission of the Sign of the Year gathered in the “House-Temple” located on 1509 Avenue 10 of October between Josefina y Gertrudis, Víbora, Municipality 10th of October, City of Habana, Cuba on 31 December 2012. The ceremony was presided over by priest of Ifá David Cedrón Otura Sá with the support of the Ifá priests of all the “families” of Cuba and their descendants throughout the world. The sign was taken out by the youngest priest.” This is how the document from the Organizing Commission begins; it is a document identifying the letter of the year (Ifá) as Ogbe Otura (interesting in itself because the Ifá ceremony for opening the year is born in this odu).

When released to the public the document went viral; aborishas, olorishas, and babalawos spread the six pages (three in the original Spanish and three translated into English) with the clicks of a few keys, and within days elder priests in the United States were offering their own comments and interpretations. Many, myself included, waited for the elders to speak on this odu and its prophecies. We listened to broadcasts on both public radio and blog talk radio, and we read commentaries in blogs and newsgroups. I listened and read hoping for reassurance – positive feedback teaching us how to make right what is wrong in the world. Unfortunately there was no positive feedback; there was no corrective path offered. For the odu Ogbe Otura came with osogbo; and each interpreter of the sign deepened the woes predicted by the odu. One public commentator reminded me of the last sermon I attended in Southern Baptist church as a teenager; his analysis was hellfire and brimstone cloaked in Lucumí symbolism.

I remember a conversation I had late one night with my godfather, an oriaté, regarding divination and osogbo. We were speaking about Ikú, death, and he told me, “We think of death as something final, the end, the annihilation of life, and while that is true, Ikú (the spirit of death) is not an evil creature. It is the nature of all living things to die. The only misfortune is to die before one’s time.” I remember him going silent, listening, waiting for me to respond. I didn’t. “My point,” he said, “is that until someone is in the actual grip of Ikú, and until it is truly their time to go, there is always something a diviner can do to save that person, to extend that person’s life. You just have to trust your knowledge, your ashé, and the orishas.”

The babalawo who cast Ifá did not bring ikú with Ogbe Otura; instead, he brought the osogbo tragedy. And as my godfather taught me years ago, unless someone is in Ikú’s grip and it is his time to die, there is always something that can be done to make things better. Our world is a dangerous place to live; and the news is filled with reports of murder, arson, rape, theft, abuse, and horrible tribulations that make my blood run cold. Still, even with global warming, life goes on – and the world, an organic creature in its own way, continues to support life. Our environment might not be healthy, but it is not dead and only our arrogance makes us think that it will die before we do. Know that at its core, the ritual of divination has one major purpose – to determine if things are in balance, and if they’re not in balance, it tells us where imbalance exists. It names our misfortune, the osogbo afflicting us, and once the osogbo is known, the odu opened points us to proper action. It teaches us how to evolve and how to overcome. Ogbe Otura has its ashé; it has its own image for how the world can be and should be, and if we study it deeply (remembering this is not a minor divination but a global one) we can find transformative keys – keys to unlock our potential and change the world we live in. True: at the moment Ogbe Otura was cast this world was locked in osogbo and it still is; however, while the osogbos are creatures of misfortune they are catalysts for change and evolution.

The olodu Ofún teaches us about the fight between Iré (the spirit of blessings) and Osogbo (the spirit of misfortunes); and to settle the fight Olófin demanded ebó from the two brothers. Only Osogbo made ebó. Because of his obedience, Olófin decreed that Osogbo was the greater of the two brothers, but as he made his decree he also acknowledged that Osogbo had a special ashé (grace) in creation. Olófin told him, “. . . although you think all you bring to the world is evil, with your misfortunes will come much good. For it is human nature to seek out blessings, to grow and evolve into something greater. Because of you civilizations will grow and flourish as they try to banish you back into the shadows; great books will be written and art will be created. The weak will be destroyed, and the strong will become stronger. Each generation will grow into something greater and more powerful because tragedy encourages human nature to grow and persevere, while undeserved blessings make the heart grow weak and lazy. You will be both the catalyst and motivation for my creations to achieve great things.”

Ogbe Otura is a powerful odu, and osogbo is a robust catalyst for change. When taken in its context, a divination on the state of the world for 2013, the potentials set in motion are huge.

But . . . what are these changes that we need to make? We need to look deeper into the odu Ogbe Otura to discover its spiritual and metaphysical principles; and then, because the context of divination was global, we need to apply its meanings on a global scale. I’m not a babalawo; I’m an olorisha, and to discover the core of this letter I’ll be looking at it through the eyes of an olorisha. I’ll unravel it through the principles of a Lucumí diloggún diviner, and I’ll work through its layers first by the system of tonti, and then by its nature as a composite odu.

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Part two can be found HERE

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