by Shloma Rosenberg

The role of divination in our religion has been greatly misunderstood, by priests as well as aleyos. Due to the proliferation of "psychics" in the popular culture, from store-front Tarot readers to the instant gratification of psychic hotlines, people have grown accustomed to visiting diviners for entertainment, curiosity, and as a quick-fix problem solving mechanism. This attitude, formerly limited to those who were not on a well defined spiritual path, has been adopted by many priests and worshippers of the Orishas. The number of diviners in the Yoruba tradition (as well as the number of those who consult them) who share in this misguided attitude grows daily.

As always, the problem is rooted in a lack of training and information. I have all too many times seen a diviner consult one of our oracles for someone seeking advice, only to have them produce a store-bought treatise from which they read the interpretation. To see a priest of an ancient oral tradition refer to a book that wasn't even written by an initiate is a depressing thing indeed. The only way one can learn to divine within the context of the religion is to be taught by a trusted elder with a thorough knowledge of the oracle and to observe as they divine for others. The few books that do contain solid information can be used only to supplement one's knowledge. Even then, if the information cannot be verified by an elder, my advice is to set it aside until further notice.

As dangerous as a poorly-trained diviner is an individual with a casual attitude toward receiving divination. There are many practitioners of our faith, priests and non-priests alike, who go from diviner to diviner hoping to be told what they want to hear. What is ironic is that these same people are the least likely to follow through with the advice they receive.

The cult of personality has crept its way into the religion as well. I sat in disbelief listening to a roomful of priests(!) planning a trip to consult a well-known diviner from Africa who was in town on a lecture tour. My mind reeled with questions; Didn't these people have elders to whom they went for such things? Why on earth would someone go see a priest who was unrelated to their spiritual house if they were supposedly satisfied with their godparents? Did they honestly believe that just because someone had written a book or lectured at a university that the Orishas made them privy to wisdom inaccessible to the non-famous priest? I came to understand their attitude toward receiving divination a little better as I listened to them upon their return. They discounted everything he had told them (most of which was the ugly truth which, as we all know, can be very hard to take) just as they did with every other diviner they visited. Interestingly enough, these same people will go to spiritual masses and seances every other night and slavishly follow every prescription the (often questionable) mediums give them.

I have my own theory as to why this is so. When you consult one of the oracles of the Yoruba faith, it is no picnic. As often as you are given a ritual remedy for your problems, you are called on the carpet for the negative behavior patterns into which you have fallen. The Orishas rarely leave room for denial.

A priestess of my acquaintance has been repeatedly chastised for allowing her adult children to live with her, as it is draining her resources. The children are healthy and able to work, they are simply lazy. In addition, their endless interpersonal tribulations (which they leave entirely to her to fix) exhaust her emotional energy. She is constantly broke and at wit's end and has no glimmer of hope in sight. But, rather than follow the advice of the Orishas, she attends seance after seance, meticulously recording rituals to cure her of her financial woes. On the rare occasion she does receive divination from an Olosha, the Orishas will speak to her of nothing but her children as the cause of her distress. But, as with so many others, burning hundreds of candles and making never ending petitions to this, that and the other spirit, whether or not it works, is much easier than altering self-destructive behavior.

It must be understood that when you consult one of our religious oracles, GOD is speaking! It is not the psychic interpretation of a carnival gypsy, it is a divine force informing you of the energy pattern in which you are involved, and what you need to do or not do to maintain a good situation or better a bad one. Tarot cards, runes, psychometry and other oracles which rely on psychic abilities and interpretation of vague symbolism (which is inevitably colored by the biases of the interpreter) do not begin to approach the miraculously truthful, sometimes brutally honest voice of the divine.

I am well aware that my words, in many cases, will fall on deaf ears, as there are those who will go to their grave believing all divination to be communication with the "higher self". But for those who make the effort and are fortunate enough to arrive at the feet of the Orishas and in the hands of a competent diviner, you will discover that there is an aspect of the divine which exists independently from the self, higher or otherwise. It is approachable only with respect and humility, and it is not subject to the arrogance of those who wish to relegate the gods to the class of archetypes and symbols which exist only in relation to them. The Divine force that speaks to us through the voices of the Orishas is infinite in its holiness and perfection, and therefore beyond our comprehension. We must be aware of the magnitude of the blessing that exists in our ability to listen, even in part, to its wisdom. IF we are aware of this and IF we listen, we will evolve.