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What is the Odu Ifa?

Odu Ifa

Ifa is a Yoruba religion. Yoruba religions are a group of systematized beliefs and practices that originated in West Africa and were brought to the New World by enslaved people who further developed and adapted them to their situation, including some influences from Christianity. (Other more well-known Yoruba religions include Haitian Vodou and Santeria.) Yoruba religions today are concentrated in Nigeria, Togo, and Benin in West Africa and in Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Guyanas, Jamaica, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts, and St. Vincent in the New World. There are some practitioners in the United States as well.

“The word Ifa refers to the mystical figure Ifa or Orunmila, regarded by the Yoruba as the deity of wisdom and intellectual development” (, accessed 12/19/20). Odu Ifa is the religious text of that religion. “Ifa is a philosophical corpus related to the myths of origin, ethical ideas, and cosmological understandings. Contained in 256 odus, the Ifa can be used . . . to give insight into the ethical decisions that one makes in ordinary life” (“Alafin of Oyo” by Molefi Kete Asante in Sage Encyclopedia of African Religion, Vol. 2, Sage Publications, Inc., 2008, , p. 35). The texts of Odu Ifa are used in conjunction with divination. These sayings were passed down orally for centuries but first written down in the twentieth century.

In a divination session, the person (or community) seeking help or guidance will come to the diviner, a priest, and think of the question silently. The priest will pray to Ifa for guidance and then will “throw” (drop) the divination chain. The chain is made up of eight sacred palm nuts. Each one of them can land face up or face down. In all, there are 256 possible arrangements (signatures) of the chain. Based on the way the chain falls, the priest will know which of the 256 odus should be consulted. Each odu has 800 or more ese (verses), and more are being added all the time. The priest will begin to recite/chant from memory the ese in the designated odu until the questioner finds something that he or she thinks will apply to the issue at hand and finds help or comfort in it. Thus, the final message and application of the divination is really up to the questioner.

Unfortunately, many people use the Bible in much the same way. People will often take a verse out of context and apply it to their situation and assume that the Lord is speaking to them directly. Some will ignore the plain teaching of a Bible verse and instead rely on “what it means to me.” Others will even open the Bible and put their finger on a verse at random, thinking that God will communicate to them in this way. These methods of “Bible study” fail to heed the command to handle the word of truth “rightly” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV).

The Christian’s wisdom comes from God (James 1:5), not from pagan religions and superstitions such as Odu Ifa. The Bible warns against divination in any form. We should avoid any practice related to divination, whether it’s by palm nuts, palm readings, tarot cards, or tea leaves. The spirit world is real, and there are many spirits who seek to lead people astray.

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What is the Odu Ifa (the Odus of Ifa)?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022