1. Spiritual and Religious Studies: The study of the religion needs to be a daily practice, no matter how long you have been in the faith. You will need to learn customs, practices, and protocols. You will need to learn how to pray. You will need to learn Lucumí, the liturgical language. You will need to learn how to move in the religious world, following customs and dictates that may seem archaic and, at times, unfair. All this study requires work; and, no, I’m not talking about hours poring over books, manuscripts, and internet forums. The simple truth is: If you want to learn this religion, you need to learn it from the ground up. The work is hard, laborious, and back breaking. It might seem thankless; it might seem pointless; it might seem like slave labor. Some of the rules might seem overbearing. But we all had to do the work; we all had to follow the rules. Work is worship, and worship is hard, physical work. If you’re not visiting your godparent’s house regularly doing something (cleaning the orisha room, polishing tools, helping set up and clean up before and after religious services, etc) you’re not going to learn anything. Period.
2. Divination and Ebó: The Lucumí life has always been one of divination and ebó. Divination is hard work; every diviner spends thousands of hours studying the mechanics, patakís, proverbs, meanings, and ebós that accompany the odu. There are 256 odu, 192 which every Lucumí diviner not an oriaté has access to. Consider each odu a book; your diviner must study, memorize, learn, and assimilate the knowledge of 192 books before he can begin divining for you. If it’s an oriaté, he has to study, memorize, learn, and assimilate the knowledge of 256 books. The average person reads a book a year after high school, and maybe 1 1/2 books after receiving a college degree. If you are an average college graduate, between the age of 21 (when many receive their degrees) and 85 (the average human life span) you will read only 64 books in your lifetime. This is why diviners charge derechos; it is work to learn divination, and it took us a lot of private time to acquire the skills needed. It’s not an intuitive act where we make it up on the fly; it’s a discipline that requires dedication.
Every time you have divination performed, you will end up with one or more ebós to do. Some of these are to solve problems; some of them are to regain and maintain health; some of them are to benefit your friends and family; and, some of them are just because the orishas want them from you in your worship. Some olorishas charge a derecho to perform ebó (since it does require an amount of their time, knowledge, and ashé) while some won’t. Still, materials for ebó always cost money. Try asking a grocery store to give you a basket of fruits or a bouquet of flowers for free — it won’t happen.
3. Worship- Religion, prayer, kind thoughts, kind words, spirituality, meditation — it’s all free. It costs you nothing to identify yourself as Lucumí. It costs nothing to pray to an orisha, especially an orisha you’ve received. Anyone can think kind thoughts; anyone can speak kind words. To meditate, all you have to do it take the time to relax and open up to the ashé Olorún pours over the earth. And it costs you nothing to be spiritual. But ceremonies cost money. There are soperas to buy, tools to buy, herbs to buy, animals to buy, igbodu supplies to buy, and other things we can’t speak to aleyos about. People have to take time off from work or give up their day off to come perform what most would consider “grunt” or thankless labor. Either we lose a day’s pay or we give up our day of rest to come together to work for your benefit. Sometimes it’s both — and several of them. It would be nice if all this time and labor could be given for free. It would be nice if I could walk into a botanica and walk out with beautiful, necessary items without paying for them. It would be nice to drive 40 or 50 miles to the nearest farm and walk away with beautiful, healthy animals without having to pay for gas or the animals. But it’s not happening.
If you can’t afford to receive an orisha, just go to your godparent’s house on a regular basis to visit, worship, and make ebó. If you can’t afford to do ocha, don’t make it a huge issue for your godparent or other priests to resolve. Quietly save as best as you can, and realize that your godparent’s orishas (from whose yours will be born anyway) are there for you when you need them. And if you don’t believe receiving an orisha should cost you a dime, then try to find a utopian society where everything is free. I don’t think that exists.
Of course there are times that the orishas will demand an ile come together and crown someone for free. But this is based on divination; there is only one odu that calls for this, and the chances for that to be the solution to your problems are very slim, indeed. If you want ocha made, prepare to finance it yourself.
4. Service- Everything you’ve read in the Migene Gonzalez-Wippler books is wrong. Ocha is not about power. Ocha is about service. And the orishas, not you, get to pick the life of service that an olorisha lives. Some of you will make ocha and grow up to be the godmothers and godfathers to thousands. Some of you might crown one head in your lifetime. Some of you might be the ojigbona but never the godparent. A very tiny number might grow into the ashé to be an oriaté. Some of you will be destined to be the personal caretakers of your orishas and will never serve another aleyo or olorisha in the religion, not ever. Some of you will be closed in ocha, never allowed to work the religion for anyone.
And here’s one more secret very few will tell you: some of you are meant to be no more than aleyos; and that, my friends, is why the road to igbodu seems so impossible. One more secret no one speaks about: there are odu that say . . . this religion is not for you.
It’s not up to you. It’s up to Olódumare and the orishas.
5. Godparents- It’s a term that comes from Catholic syncretism. Truly, we are olorishas. We are priests and priestesses. Don’t confuse us with your flesh and blood parents. Don’t expect us to do anything for you that another priest from another tradition would not do. Do expect us to teach you what is required of you should you decide to be a part of this religion; and, if along the way you decide you don’t want to follow these rules, don’t blame us if we ignore you. If we have to follow the rules, so do you. And we have no time for those who are willful.