Last Friday night, towards the end of my Ifá oracle session conducted by my Oluwo (godfather), the Orisha Orunmila declared that in order to remove the ibi (negativity) associated with the signs uncovered in my reading, I needed to take a series of spiritual cleansing baths. Many religions advocate the removal of spiritual pollution (what the ancient Greeks called miasma) through a variety of methods; in Ifá, as in related African Diaspora Religions (ADRs) like Vodoun and Santería, ritual baths comprised of sacred herbs and other organic ingredients are commonly prescribed for the removal of negative energy from one’s head (the locus of personal destiny) and home environment. While some baths are for initiates only, meaning they are comprised of blessed ingredients arduously prepared–under the benevolent auspices of the Orisha Òsanyìn, Lord of the Forest and Master of Plants and Herbal Medicine–over a span of days by one’s godparents and other trained clergy in the religion, the ones the Orisha prescribed for me last Friday were ones I was meant to prepare myself, and ones anyone could easily do, whether they adhere to any of the ADRs or not. Since they’re easily adaptable to any religious tradition and made of readily available ingredients (i.e., they’re probably already in your kitchen pantry), I thought I’d share with you how you go about preparing for the series of ritual cleansings known as “sour” and “sweet” baths.
First Sour, Then Sweet
The baths are three total: one “sour”, two “sweet.” They are meant to be taken every other day, so if you start your sour bath on a Saturday, for example, then the first sweet bath would take place on Monday and the second sweet bath on a Wednesday. The time of day is important, as are other ritual gestures, which I’ll describe in a moment: the sour bath ideally starts just after sunset, as the forces of darkness gain strength. The two sweet baths, by contrast, should be taken at sunrise, honoring the powers of light and new beginnings.
The purpose of the sour bath is to acknowledge that your life experiences are currently bitter ones, for a variety of reasons: illness, losses, grief, financial hardship, relationship problems, legal issues, psychic attack, or even just a feeling of “stuckness.” Your energy levels are low; you feel depleted and defeated. The emphasis, aptly enough, is on having bitter herbs included in your bath. As you immerse yourself in the waters of the sour bath, you pay the forces of negativity culpable for your distress their due. You recognize that they’ve brought you to this state, but the tide will imminently turn in your favor. This is what you’ll need for the sour bath:
- a pair of tea light candles, which will be lit and positioned on the sides of the tub
- flowers with red or purple petals (I used the entire heads of red chrysanthemums)
- Fresh, dried, or powdered bitter herbs, such as stinging nettle, dandelion, horehound, wormwood, yarrow
- A half cup of vinegar (whether white, red, or apple cider makes no difference)
- Seven drops of ammonia (seven being the number of evil in Ifá)
- An empty cup
Procedure: Conventionally clean out your bathtub beforehand. As sunset commences, fill up the tub with hot water, as hot as you can stand it. Light the tea light candles and turn off all electric lights in your vicinity. Toss in all of the ingredients cited above. If you don’t want to run the risk of clogging up your drain with the herbs and flower petals, it’s okay to have them tied in separate tea bags or one large organza bag and then immersed in the hot water. When you’re ready to enter the tub, do so through the “gateway” of the two lit candles placed on opposing sides of your tub. You will exit by standing up and stepping out from between those candles also.
As you’re in the tub, inhaling the scent of the bitter herbs and the ammonia and vinegar, think of the difficulties you’re experiencing in your life and how badly you want them to change. As you sit and meditate and/or pray to your Powers to help you, make sure that you dunk yourself below the water’s surface–completely covering your head–for a total of seven times in the course of your bath. You basically want to stay in it until the water begins to cool off. When it does so and you’re ready to exit, again, step out of the tub through the “gateway” of the lit candles as when you entered. As the water drains, reach for your empty cup and scoop up some of the bath water to the rim of the cup–this is for an important follow-up step once you’re dry.
I have to stress that you are not supposed to towel dry after taking any kind of spiritual bath in Ifá–let your hair and skin air dry. It’s time-consuming, yes, and for us ladies the effect is sure to be one of a bad hair day, but the plant medicine is supposed to be given the chance to literally get soaked up by your body, so you can internalize the effects.
Once you’re dry, put on your bathrobe or some dark-colored clothes and grab that cup of sour bath water with some of the ingredients. You’re going to go outdoors and face west. Holding your cup over your head, say words to the following effect (substituting your Deity or Deities of choice if the Yoruban tradition isn’t what you practice):
“Ifá, My Father in Heaven Who knows and sees all, I have given the Ajogun (collective name for the forces of darkness in Ifá, literally witches said to sit at the left hand of the Creator) Their due. I declare Their hold on me broken! As I cast this water into the west, so too do I cast out of my head and life all of my problems. Ashé, ashé, ashé! (Ashé is Yoruban for “May it be so!”)”
Go back indoors and if you live with another person or people, announce that you need some alone time. Be sure to drink lots of room-temperature water to replenish your body; you’ve sweated out a lot of toxins in the course of that hot bath. Do calming things that promote self-care as the evening wears on and you prepare for bed: avoid the TV/news, take time to write in a journal, do some stretches, give thanks to the Power or Powers you serve at your altar. Hopefully, you will feel supremely relaxed and ready to transition into a night of restful sleep.
How Sweet It is!
Whereas the first of the three baths, the sour bath, is intended to take place at sunset, the two baths that round out this series of spiritual cleansings are sweet baths intended to take place at sunrise. Remember, you’re spacing the baths every other day. When it’s the morning of your first sweet bath, gather together the following:
- a pair of tea light candles, which will be lit and positioned on the sides of the tub
- flowers with all-white petals (the heads of daisies, lilies, roses, or white chrysanthemums are all good choices)
- Fresh, dried, or powdered healing herbs, five in number: I used allspice, angelica, comfrey, hyssop, and rue
- a small bottle or jar of honey (the teddy bear-shaped ones are ideal)
- three cups of milk
- powdered cinnamon and nutmeg and whole nutmegs, if available
- one raw egg, having the yolk is critical
- Drops of your favorite perfume or cologne
- An empty cup
- Optional: Holy Water
- Optional: cocoa butter or shea butter
Procedure: Again, if you don’t want to risk clogging your drain, enclose the flower petals, herbs, and whole nutmeg in separate tea bags or a large organza or cotton bag to steep them in. Make sure your tub is spotlessly clean before you begin running the hot water to fill the tub–as before, make it as hot as you can withstand. Light the tea light candles and turn off all electric lights in your vicinity. Crack the egg first and toss it in before any of the other ingredients–my water was so hot the egg actually cooked! Throw in the flowers and herbs, the powdered cinnamon and nutmeg (they will make the tub smell so gooooood!), and then the milk and honey. Save your favorite perfume or cologne as a finishing touch. As before, enter the tub through the “gateway” of the lit candles.
This is the joyous part. As you sit in the hot water, smelling the sweet ingredients, think of the ways that all the sweet things in life are already on their way to you, thanks to the grace of the Divine and your own destiny. Be open to receiving these blessings. Immerse yourself underwater a total of five times–five being the number of the Orisha Oshun, a powerful Orisha of rivers (there is a river in Nigeria’s Osogbo state named after Her; Her sacred grove on its banks is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Whose ashé ensures that into our lives flow abundance in all its forms, beauty, pleasure, and lap-it-up, honey-sweet sexual healing–the good things of life, indeed!
When the water has sufficiently cooled, it’s time to exit the tub by stepping out between the lit candles. Once again, as the water drains, take your empty cup and scoop up some of the bath water with the array of ingredients, especially the flower petals and whole nutmeg. Let yourself air dry as before. Once you’re dry, put on white or light-colored clothes; Oshun is fond of gold and orange, but light green is also a good choice (the combination of green and gold happen to be the Orisha Ifá’s signature colors).
Take your cup of bath water and go outdoors, but this time you’re going to face east. As you behold the beauty of a new day dawning and its promise of possibilities, hold your cup aloft and say words such as:
“Ifá, My Father in Heaven Who knows and sees all, I welcome with open arms all of the sweet things in life that are on their way to me now! As I cast this water into the east, may it serve as an invitation for my own Orí and Mother Oshun to bless me with health, prosperity, love, and happiness! Ashé, ashé, ashé!”
Toss out the water and blissfully welcome those blessings you’ve invoked!
This process is to be repeated two mornings hence–remember, you’re taking two sweet baths to make the total of cleansing baths three in number (one sour, two sweet). I guarantee you that on the morning of your third and final bath, as my final in the series of three was this morning, you’ll be feeling uplifted, energized, hopeful, and excited about receiving the blessings that are on their way to you!
It’s definitely worth the trade-off of having a bad hair day! But hey, egg is good protein for your hair follicles. 😉
I really do encourage you to give these spiritual baths a try the next time you’re having a case of the “ickies”–let me know how they work out for you!
May the Orisha and your own Orí–the Destiny you signed up for before the Throne of the Creator when you consented to incarnate–always help you walk the path of power through purity! Ashé, ashé, ashé!