It’s All in Your Head: Orí as Indwelling Divinity, Locus of Consciousness, and Roadmap to Destiny in Ifá

Wednesday’s felicitous news that the U.S. will begin normalizing relations with Cuba has me hopeful that 2015 will be the year I accompany my oluwo in Ifá to the island so that I can finally become fully initiated in my guardian Orisha’s mysteries–in Cuban Lukumí/Santeria terms, I would be undergoing asiento, “making the saint.” Not only has that been a longstanding dream of mine, it’s part of my destiny. That is what Ifá, also known as the Orisha Orunmila, revealed to me in 2008 when I received my Warriors–Los Guerreros.

Alafia! The odu that has come up says that you’ve got a beautiful destiny awaiting you,” my oluwo-as-babalawo said to me upon casting the ikin to reveal the prophecy of Ifá. “Your Orí is to become a priestess of Eshu once you’re initiated, and your specialty will be divination with diloggún; you will have a steady stream of clientele, Ifá says. People will be beating down your door to ask you to consult the diloggún for them. This is your Orí, Ana. You’ve got a beautiful destiny waiting for you, so keep on doing what you’re doing. Heaven sees what you’re doing. Your ancestors see what you’re doing. Your own Orí  and the other Orisha see what you’re doing, and Eshu rewards those who keep their promises and make sacrifices. Ashé! Iré o!”

“Ashé!” echoed the team of four additional babalawo who facilitated the granting of my Warriors to me that day.

“Ashé!” I replied, while weeping tears of joy into my hands.

But what is this concept of Orí  so central to Yoruba religious cosmology as expressed in Ifá? As with the Hindu concept of the Atmān within being equivalent to Brahma without, it is one’s indwelling connection to or microcosmic representation of the Supreme Being/Ultimate Reality/the Source of All That Is. Of course, other cultures have expressions for this indwelling Divine also: According to Plato, Socrates routinely credited his inner daimon with his philosophical epiphanies; for the ancient Romans, the Divine Within became known as the genius of a person.

But the concept goes further in Ifá. Aside from representing indwelling Divinity, one’s Orí, which is literally seated in one’s head/physical cranium, also is that person’s consciousness, character, and destiny. The closest parallel in modern magickal terms would be the Thelemic concept of one’s True Will as discovered when establishing a connection with one’s Holy Guardian Angel, which is, of course, understood to be one’s Highest Self. The Yoruba cosmology as expressed in Ifá teaches that, prior to any of us incarnating, we knelt before the throne of the Almighty and decreed the kinds of moral character, situations, people, and destinies we wished to have in our earthly experiences. Our desires/destinies were amalgamated into our Orí and literally handed to us by the Supreme Being in a calabash bowl, which would transform into our actual own heads upon incarnating/being born through our mothers. In order to determine whether or not we’re living in accordance with our own Orí and fulfilling our ends of the bargains we’ve made to the Creator before our earthly journeys began, we need to consult Ifá, as it’s thought the 256 possible odu or binary code-based divinatory outcomes in  Ifá serve as clear roadmaps for the turns our Orí  wish us to make in order to keep functioning for our Highest Good and cultivating iwa pele, or moral character, which is the whole telos for Ifá as a religion. Iwa pele is the only thing that we can take with us to the grave.

Yoruba Ori shrine dated from 19th-20th cent., Nigeria. Made of cowrie shells (symbols of wealth and well-being), cotton, and leather. Talismanic/devotional objects personifying one's Ori are housed in the shrine. In Ifa, this is a form of worship of one's Higher Self. Image courtesy of

Yoruba Ori shrine dated from 19th-20th cent., Nigeria. Made of cowrie shells (symbols of wealth and well-being), cotton, and leather. Talismanic/devotional objects personifying one’s Ori are housed in the shrine. In Ifa, this is a form of worship of one’s Higher Self. Image courtesy of

Each of the 256 named odu are identified with specific Orisha and are expressed through Yoruban proverbs, didactic tales, and remedies for solving problems. Usually involving some form of sacrifice (ebo), including, yes, the blood of animals (in extreme, usually life-threatening situations), these spiritual prescriptions are to be followed to the letter if the devotee/divination querent hopes to attain the best possible outcome for a troubling situation.

But, as the odu called Ogunda Meji informs us, your own head or Orí determines whether or not you’ll receive any of the blessings/spiritual force (ashé) the remedy is intended to provide. You know that idiomatic expression we have in English about “getting in your own way”? That you are the source of your own obstacles? Well, the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria who bequeathed us with Ifá as both a religion and a system of divination would understand that all too well: If your Orí isn’t on board with something happening, it’s not going to happen, folks. It could be something you greatly desire or equate with future happiness. It could be something you rightfully deserve. But if your Orí hasn’t been asked if that’s what is aligned with your Highest Good, you will either be doomed to failure/not receiving the experience or thing you’ve asked for OR your Orí will orchestrate sabotage in some way so that the suffering that ensues finally hits you with the cosmic clue-by-four that this wasn’t meant for you after all:

Bí mo bá lówó lówó

Orí ni n ó rò fún

Orí mi, iwo ni.

Bí mo bá bímo layé

Orí ni n ó rò fún

Orí mi, iwo ni.

Ire gbogbo ti mo á ni layé

Orí ni n ó rò fún

Orí mi, iwo ni.

Orí pele

Atete niran

Atete gbe’ni k’oosa

Ko sossa ti i da’ni I gbe leyin Orí eni


If I have money,

It is Orí whom I will praise.

My Orí, it is you.

If I have children on earth,

It is Orí whom I will praise,

My Orí, it is you.

All good things that I have on earth,

It is Orí whom I will praise,

My Orí, it is you.

Orí, I salute you.

You do not forget your devotees

You bless before the other Orisha

No Orisha blesses

Without the consent of Orí


The last two lines are what really resonate with me: “No Orisha blesses without the consent of Orí.” I recently experienced this firsthand. The month of November was not a good one for me in terms of my physical health. I’d been plagued with horrible gastrointestinal issues culminating in heavy blood loss from internal bleeding that had me hospitalized the week before Thanksgiving. The night that I was released from the hospital, I consulted with my oluwo. Yes, there was a spiritual component to my physical unwellness and that had to be addressed in order to effect physical healing. Ifá revealed the remedy: a high-octane cleansing ceremony that would culminate in a mock death/funeral (mine) to confuse the evil spirits that exacerbated my sickness and precluded the staunching of my internal bleeding. The good news was that I had powerful allies in my own guardian Orisha (Eshu) and Ifá (a.k.a. Orunmíla) Himself.

The ceremony took place the night of November 29 and my oluwo was assisted by his wife, a powerful iyalorisha (Ifá priestess, in her case of the Orisha Oyá) in her own right. Upon the completion of all the sacrifices being offered (all I will attest was that much blood was spilled that night), the biawe (special coconut husk pieces also used for divination) were thrown to quickly see if Eshu, Ifá, and, lastly, my own Orí had accepted them. Eshu was quite pleased with the sacrificial offerings. Ifá was golden. But my own Orí, to my utter surprise, gave a resounding NO and temporarily held up the proceedings–declaring, through divination, that additional steps had to be taken before the affair could REALLY be settled and I would accept my own healing!  Thus it didn’t matter that my own Guardian Orisha and the Orisha of Divination were happy and ready to say I was on my way to healing; my own destiny, my own consciousness, held up a “time out” sign first. “No Orisha blesses without the consent of Orí.”

The concept of Orí is one that brings me comfort, especially when I’m having discussions with other Pagans or people of a shamanic persuasion and they confide to me their anxieties or doubts that their Gods or Spirits aren’t “real”–that whatever communication they think is happening between them and these Powers, that “it’s all in their heads.”

At that point, I can’t help but smile. Then I invariably pull out my paperback copy of Lon Milo DuQuette’s awesome book Low Magick, the subtitle of which reads, It’s All in Your Head…You Just Have No Idea How Big Your Head Is.


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