This article was originally published Dec. 2014. If you are new here, you can click here to learn all about my year-long initiation process of wearing white in the Ifa/Lucumi faith.
Iyalosa (Ee-yah-low-sha, or Babalosa for men), is the Nigerian Yoruba title for an initiated priest, literally meaning mother/father of the orisha. This is not to be confused as saying that the orisha are my children, but rather represents the caring relationship of my spiritual commitment – consider the “Mother Mary’s” and “Father Thomas’s” in the Catholic church.
My first year as an initiate has been vastly different from my year as a iyawo/spiritual baby (rightfully so). Here are the Top 11 Things Learned Since Committing to the Path of a Priest —
1) You have become an ordained spiritual leader…fa real.
The first few dobales (action where an orisha devotee kneels at your feet in respect of your position, and to receive the blessing of your orisha) will freak you out; you will feel awkward, and likely not worthy. Leading others through rituals feels strange, especially when you were once the one learning the same rituals! It’ll be weird when an omorisha/olorisha (name for a non-initiated devotee; “member of the church”) makes your first plate of food, or gives up their seat for you. Just remember that the novice and non-intiated devotee isn’t bowing to you, but to the Orisha you carry. And not just honoring you, but the commitment you have made to lead in a righteous way.
2) Teachers become allies.
Your actions during your iyawo will mark you throughout your priesthood, and determine how you are received by the elders. Play your cards right as a iyawo (and before), and you will gain the support and camaraderie of those who have come before you with love and education all the days of your life.
3) Sometimes colors just feel weird.
In my closet to this day, I keep all whites on one side, and colors on the other. Some people will be so ready to jump back into their pre-ocha wardrobe, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself disinterested in your old clothes and have developed new tastes by the end of the iyawo year. White still maintains its holy and calming influence into your priesthood.
4) Life goes on.
Before becoming a priest, you “make bread, and fetch water”. After you become a priest, you “make bread, and fetch water”. I don’t stir my coffee from across the room like in Bewitched. Life goes on (or in some cases goes back to normal), even for the enlightened. But you are still special, even if attending to the seemingly mundane. I missed being a iyawo for a while – so much so that I understood why newborn babies cry so much.
5) Being a priest isn’t all about money drawing rituals.
Sometimes Olivia Pope wears black. After initiation, the orisha will begin to send work and people your way, and sometimes you just have to get spiritually down and dirty. Just as there are universal energies that support us, there are also energies designed to bring us down. And just as people love us, others despise us. Sometimes a person will cry out for help, and sometimes the Universe will determine that YOU and your ashe (innate spiritual power/essence) are their answer.
6) Call in the reinforcements!
You are new at this priest thing, and not expected to know everything. When in doubt, call in the reinforcements! Call your godparent, your ajubona (2nd godparent), or other elders or priests in your ile/temple/house. Build a library of reference books and spiritual journals. And when all else fails….
7) When in doubt, ask Eshu.
Yooo, he sits in the midst of the crossroads for a reason! There will be times when you are in a pickle and can’t reach an elder. But you are an initiate now – you stand on your own foundation. Communicate with your orisha. Practice divination. If you don’t know how yet, make it a priority and meditate in front of your Elegba or your shrine. Ocha tuned your spiritual frequency…dial in at any time!!
8) Charge for your work, or it won’t work.
A strange woman once showed up at my apartment door, blubbering –
“I heard you help people! Are you Caribbean?”
I panicked inside. WHAT IN THE H***! WHO LET THE CAT OUT OF THE BAG?! But I made one huge mistake in agreeing to help her (and learned quite the lesson) – I didn’t ask for any payment, and the woman never offered. Now, payment doesn’t mean $1000. Sometimes payment is simply a sincere offering from the heart. Sometimes payment is labor, or time. Was your initiation free?! The work we do as spiritual people is real work. It can wear you out. Don’t throw your pearls away. And don’t ever let someone try to make you believe that existing as a spiritual being makes you a perpetual volunteer. Just because some spiritual crooks swindle people out of thousands of dollars doesn’t mean that the good workers do so for free.
9) A crowned ego is a pitiful thing to witness.
It seems as if some people wait their whole lives for a justification of their foolishness. Sometimes, an initiate will become a flesh balloon inflated with ego and self-celebration. Pompous. Degrading of others. Quick to correct, but slow to learn and listen. An elder told me once of egotistical priests – “It’s like a light bulb saying ‘I know more now, because I’m on.” Understanding ego has never been my job. The moment I peep the game, I give them an ol’ Olivia —
10) Silence is still golden.
Ocha teaches the iyawo to watch, observe, and absorb. Don’t spend your iyawo year preparing for your moment to speak out. Yes, you know a little bit. Yes, you can still teach some things. Ok, so you read a book by Karade and memorized the each orisha’s chakra and catholic saint. But, you will continue to learn more by being quiet and attentive, asking choice and calculated questions when needed.
11) Sometimes you will feel spiritually overwhelmed.
You will think “Did I really do this ish?!” You may not want the responsibility of clientele, godchildren, and prayer requests. You may try to live your life in a pre-initiation way. Your blood family may still find you crazy. Dates may be stuck on stupid when you say “I’m not Christian” and further, “I’m a priest.” You may feel unworthy of your own crown altogether…..
You will come across your Ita and remember the unique and personal promises of your Orisha – promises made to you and no one else. And you will remember what they and your ancestors have done. And each time a prayer or ritual made a situation budge in your favor.
And you will own the light and power of God in you, remembering that you stopped being ordinary a long time ago. Because, really darling……………
And you’ll readjust your crown – or white hat – and keep on being powerful, like the Universe intended you to be.