Yes, there is a tremendous about of “queer” -phobia in Ifa circles both on, and off, line. This month we’re going to explore why hating queer people is so prevalent in some Ifa lineages.
Ifa was an oral tradition until the arrival of the Catholic missionaries. There is not, nor has there ever been an “Ifa bible”. The first written accounts happened when the missionaries arrived. They are hardly a reliable source for understanding an ancient religion. They equated Esu with Satan, after all.
Because there were no texts there has always been great diversity in Ifa. This is true of most shamanic systems. Practice differed by region. Even some of the Orisa appear in some areas and not others. In many ways, it is one of its great advantages. Ifa was designed to adapt to the culture in which it is practiced. My Ifa is deeply rooted in a Western, rational, scientific perspective. I’m not pretending that spiritual systems can be explained by science. But, science and spirituality are not incompatible. My practice is also informed by my experience with shamanism, Magick, and mysticism.
Foreign values systems have had a deep impact on Africa. Catholicism, Islam, and Christian Fundamentalism have all played a role. In keeping with its flexible nature, the Ifa practiced by many in Africa has been strongly influenced by these values.
As a result of the slave trade Ifa traveled to the New World creating more issues. The slavers did not take the wise old men and women of Yorubaland. The vast majority of people taken would have been lay practitioners not initiated priests with “sacred” knowledge. They were forced to take on the religions of their masters. The values they adopted are reflected in traditions like Santeria/Lukumi which arose in Cuba.
In traditional Yoruba society, there were women initiates acting as equals to their male counterparts. In may Cuban houses women are denied access to initiation and other ceremonies. As is so often the case, misogyny and homophobia go hand in hand. We see that in play in many Santeria houses today.
In Ifa the only basis on which we can judge a person is their good character. Character, from an Ifa perspective, is about doing the right thing for the rights reasons, considering the well-being of the whole and the long-term implications of our actions. Judging people based on inborn traits like sexuality, gender, and race are not part of that evaluation.
The African head of our lineage, Dr. Afolabi Epega, who passed away in 2006, agrees. We know that sexuality is an inborn trait that cannot be changed or denied. As such it must be an integral part of a person’s destiny, just as their race or the family they were born into would be. I am certain given our awakening understanding that he would feel the same way about gender identity, as do I.
There are many in the tradition who disagree. They have a right to their opinions. But, the parading around of supposed holy books and esoteric documents, purported to be part of Ifa is an attempt to create an Ifa interpreted through a distorted lens. Diversity is the true hallmark of Olodumare’s creation. All people are free to practice and benefit from Ifa regardless of any inborn trait. They are equally able to learn, grow, develop their character, and find the path to their destinies. Anyone who claims otherwise is not working within Ifa’s most fundamental principles.