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      WombanAuset's Avatar
      WombanAuset is offline Sacred Militant Womb-Man

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      Thumbs up Ancestor Reverence: Building an Ancestor Shrine


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      Ancestor Reverence: Building an Ancestor Shrine
      by Awo Fa'lokun Fatunmbi
      Ifa teaches that the power to effectively invoke Spirits comes as a result of initiation and the training that is sanctioned by initiation. The exception to this rule is egun (ancestor spirits). In Ifa there are ancestor initiations (egungun, isegun, ato), but everyone is believed to have the power and the ability to communicate with the spirit of those blood relatives who have passed beyond this life. Communication with your own ancestors is a birthright. At times this communication can simply involve remembering a revered ancestor and making use of the memory as a basis for making life decisions. In many ways ancestor communication is an extension of the training and wisdom we receive from our parents. Ifa says you cannot know who you are if you cannot call the names of your ancestors going back seven generations. Remembering names is more than reciting a genealogy, it is preserving the history of a family lineage and the memory of those good deeds that allowed to the family to survive and create a home for the continued cycle of reincarnation (atunwa).

      In Yoruba culture it is common for the uninitiated to make direct contract with ancestor spirits. The most prevalent process of communication is through dreams. Communication also occurs during participation in annual ancestor festivals. Because such festivals are not common in this country, Ifa worshipers in the West have created several viable alternatives. Using these alternative methods, the first step in the process of honoring the ancestors is the construction of an ancestor shrine used as a focal point for prayer and meditation.

      There are a number of traditional African methods for building an ancestor shrine, some of which are very complex and require personal training. For example it is common in traditional Yoruba culture to bury revered ancestors under the floors of the family home. The tomb of the ancestor is the foundation of the ancestral shrine. For those who do not have access to lineage elders, I recommend the ancestor alter be constructed with minimal elements (in some lineages in the Diaspora there is a standardized method for building a shrine, these methods vary from family to family and should be followed according to lineage tradition). Once the basic elements are in place, the ancestors can be contracted directly for guidance on further additions to the shrine. In other words once you are in communication with the ancestors they will tell you if they want specific items brought to the shrine.

      Preparing Sacred Space
      Before a shrine to the ancestors can be assembled, several preliminary steps need to occur. First the room should be clean and neat. After the alter is built it should stay as clean as possible. Ifa teaches that dirt and disorder can attract unwanted spiritual forces. This may seem simplistic, but in my experience it is a very important consideration. Our external environment reflects our internal state of being and either supports resistance to change or growth. Ifa teaches the idea that if you are confused about anything, remove the clutter and disorder from your home and clarity will surface from the newly transformed physical environment.

      After the room is prepared, it needs to be smudged. Smudging is a process of spiritual cleansing using the smoke from burning leaves. The method I recommend has been barrowed from Native American tradition. The methods used in Ifa in Africa are complex and involve the use of materials that are not easily obtainable in the United States.

      It is common practice in Native America Religion to smudge by placing leaves in either a large seashell or clay pot. After the leaves are lit, the smoke is fanned with a feather. Any small container that will safely hold a small fire without getting to hot to hold can be used effectively. The container selected for this purpose should be kept near the altar and only used to smudge. Simply moving the container and fanning it with your hand can circulate the smoke.

      Almost any type of leaf can be used, however cedar and sage are considere
      d sacred by the traditional people who first settled this continent. Honoring their preference is a way of showing appreciation for their association with and knowledge of the land we live on. Cedar and sage have a strong aroma affecting the quality of the cleansing. It is possible to add incense to the mixture as a way of enhancing the cleansing. Most botanicas and occult stores sell various types of incense that are specifically made to cleanse a room that is to be used for meditation and prayer. Smoke will disperse any spirit presence in the room. The purpose of the smoke is to create a clean slate for the invocation of those spirits you want to call upon.

      Start by placing the leaves and or incense in a small mound in the center of your container. Say a prayer over the ingredients explaining what is being done. The religion of Ifa makes extensive use of very formal prayers, with clearly defined structures. The prayer may be in Yoruba, in your ancestral language, English or a combination of all three. Most Ifa prayers start by addressing a particular Spirit, followed by an identification of the person who is making the prayer as follows:

      Iba se Egun
      I pay homage to the spirit of the ancestors.
      Emi (your name) Omo (list your lineage starting with your
      Parents and working backwards)
      I am (your name) child of (lineage)

      This opening portion of the prayer is followed by a blessing of the leaves as follows.


      Iba se Ori ewe.
      I pay homage to the Spirit of the Leaves.

      After the leaves have been blessed, ask them to perform a specific task.

      Ire alafia,
      The good fortune of peace,
      Ire'lera,
      the good fortune of a stable home,
      Ire ori're.
      the good fortune of wisdom.

      The prayer concludes with a statement of thanks.

      Ewe, mo dupe, ase.
      Leaves, I thank you, so be it.

      The prayer in phonetic Yoruba is as follows.

      E bah shay A-goon
      A-mi (your name)
      Oh-mow (your lineage)
      E-bah shay a-way
      E-ray ala-fee-ya
      E-ray lear-rah
      E-ray oh-re ray
      A-way mo dew-pa-we ah-shay

      This prayer should be spoken directly on to the smudge. Those who are initiated in either Ifa or Orisa should breath on the smudge and say the word "to". The phonetic pronunciation of to is "tow". It means enough. When an initiated priest or priestess places the breath of "to" on a sacred object they are consecrating for the purpose expressed in the prayer. This is known as placing your ase on the prayer. The word to functions as a seal locking the prayer on to the object that is being blessed. The word also indicates an end to the invocation, so that words spoken after the end of the prayer are not heard by Spirit as part of the prayer.

      The purpose of the smudge is to clean away any distracting influences that might block clear communications with the ancestors. Ifa teaches that emotions have mass that can linger in a particular place. Emotions such as anger, hate, disappointment and jealously can attract ancestor spirits who feed off these emotions. Such spirits can be a hindrance in the process of spiritual transformation.

      Following the prayer, light the smudge with a match, and then wait until the flame has diminished, leaving a cloud of smoke. Move through the room making sure the smoke gets in every corner and along every wall. Concentrate on the content of your prayer and the purpose of the cleansing as you move through the room. If possible, continue the smudging through the rest of the house or apartment. Stay focused on what it is you are doing. Your ability to maintain your conscious intention will affect the quality of the cleansing. If your mind starts to wander, the emotions associated with your random thoughts can defeat your purpose. When smudging is done with strong intent, intuition can arise guiding your hand to linger in areas needing special attention.

      After the space is cleaned with the smoke, use the smudge to cleanse yourself. Start with the front of your body moving from your feet to the top of your head and down your back. Each pass should be in the same direction. Do not move the smudge from back to front because that would be returning those influences already removed.

      In Ifa rituals once an area is clean it is tradition to seal it with herbs and water. Ifa makes use of a wide range of seals for the purpose of locking in the positive effect of prayer and invocation. The simplest seal for the uninitiated is clear water. Take a bowl of water and add a small amount of either perfume or cologne. Make sure your choice of fragrance is something you periodically wear. In addition, add a small amount of body fluid, either saliva or urine to the water. By doing this you are placing your own essence in the seal. This becomes a statement to the ancestor spirits that you are in control of any attempts at communication.

      A prayer should be made to the water similar in structure to the prayer made to the smudge.

      Iba se omi tutu.
      I pay homage to the spirit of the ancestors.
      Emi (your name) Omo (list your lineage starting with your
      Parents and working backwards)
      I am (your name) child of (lineage)

      This opening portion of the prayer is followed by a blessing of the water as follows:

      Iba se omi tutu.
      I pay homage to the Spirit of cool water.
      Ire alafia,
      The good fortune of peace,
      Ire'lera,
      the good fortune of a stable home,
      Ire ori're.
      the good fortune of wisdom,
      Ire ori tutu
      the good fortune of calmness.
      Mo dupe gbogbo ire, omi tutu, ase.
      Thank you for the many blessings of water,
      May it be so.

      The prayer in phonetic Yoruba is as follows.

      E bah shay oh-me two-two
      A-mi (your name)
      Oh-mow (your lineage)
      E-bah shay oh-me two-two
      E-ray ala-fee-ya
      E-ray lear-rah
      E-ray oh-re ray
      E-ray oh-re two-two
      Mo dew-pa-we ga-bow-ga-bow e-ray oh-me two-two ah-shay

      Again, the prayer should be spoken directly into the water and the initiated should follow the word ase with a breath and the word "to". After the water is blessed, take your left hand and sprinkle the water throughout the area cleaned by the smudge. Conscious attention should be placed on the matter of claiming the area as sacred space. Most of us have some ancestors who would not be welcome at the altar because of a lack of character development. It is necessary to exclude these ancestors and to make it clear that no communication with them is desired. Before sealing the space with water, call the names of those who are to be excluded from participation and firmly express your reasons for not making them welcome.

      There are those who do not know their ancestors. Do not let this hinder the process. Simply identify the types of problems you will not allow within you altar space. This same instruction applies to those who know their lineage. In particular you want to exclude those spirits who have suffered from substance abuse, those who have caused physical and sexual abuse, those who have died a traumatic death and those who have committed suicide. At some future date you may want to do a ritual to assist the elevation of the troubled ancestors you are excluding from your altar. For those who are new to the process of communication with ancestors, start by protecting yourself from unwanted influences. If disruptive ancestor spirits intrude after sealing the area, the problem should be taken to an elder. If an elder is not available simply use the shrine as a place of remembrance and do no invocations until the problem is eliminated.

      Construction of the Ancestor Shrine
      When the cleansing process is completed, you are ready to construct your altar. The purpose of the altar is to serve as a place of remembrance for those ancestors whose wisdom and understanding has improved the quality of your life. Again, for those who do not know their lineage, do not let this inhibit the process. The altar may be used to communicate with known relatives, and it may be used to communicate with historical figures who have provided you with inspiration and possibly deceased mentors who have no direct ancestral connection. Ifa teaches that if we trace our ancestry back far enough we are all related.

      Place a box or table in the spot selected for the construction of an ancestor shrine. Cover it with a white cloth, and then place a fresh glass of water and a white candle on the surface. Photographs and drawings of relatives and historical figures may be placed either on or near the altar. Ancestor reverence is practiced to that we may benefit from the wisdom of those who have come before us. Simply seeing the image of inspired ancestors can serve as a subliminal reminder of the contributions they have made. Respect for the ancestors is a part of most earth-centered religions. Many of us come from mixed ancestry, and within our lineage there likely to be a wide range of religious belief and practice. In Ifa there is recognition of the diverse spiritual influences that have made positive contributions to the quality of human life. I have seen ancestor shrines in Africa with pictures of Buddhist, Islamic and Christian prophets. There is no need to limit the spiritual influences that are represented. All that is required is a grasp of the universal principles that have been expressed in a wide range of cultural and historical forms. If you have pictures of ancestors place them on the altar. If your ancestors were devout Muslims place a copy of the Koran on the altar, if they were Christians place a copy of the Bible on the altar, if they were Buddhist place a statue of the Buddha on the altar.

      When the shrine is in place, stand in front of it and light a candle. The first statement that should be made to the ancestors at your altar is a commitment to regular use of the shrine for mediation and prayer. I call this type of agreement self-regulated discipline. It does not matter how often you agree to make use of the shrine, what is important is that you live up to your agreement. It is better to commit to one day a week and keep the commitment than to commit to every day and break the agreement. You are establishing a connection with the ancestors, telling them when you will be available for communication enhances the connections. The white cloth, candle, water and pictures can be thought of as an electron magnet that draws ancestor spirits to the altar. The current that drives the magnet is the prayers directed towards the altar. If you only turn to your shrine in moments of crisis, the current will be weak. If you charge the batteries on a regular basis, the spiritual connection will be strong, making communication clear and accessible.

      At this point you may spend some time remembering those relatives and those role models who have influenced the way you see yourself and the world. Begin to examine influences from the past you want to reinforce and influences from the past you want to diminish. Start to identify the positive character traits with specific ancestors. The qualities of courage, honesty reliability and creativity can all be strengthened through inspiration from those who have demonstrated these qualities in their lives. As you develop this connection with the ancestors, you will be able to call on them in the course of a day when the need for those desired qualities arises. Simply remembering how a particular ancestor would have handled a particular problem is a very effective form of ancestor communication. In Yoruba culture remembering is everything.

      As the end of your first session in front of the ancestor altar end you meditation by saying,

      Mo dupe Ori Egun, ase.
      I give thanks for the wisdom of the ancestors,
      May it be so.

      Mo dew-peway or-re a-goon, ah-shay.
      Ahoofe ntua ka, suban pa na hia- physical beauty does not count much, it is good character that counts.
      See a black man dead, from a white man's powder
      See a white man scared, from a black man's power~Timbaland

    2. #2
      Nubian's Avatar
      Nubian is offline Warrior

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      0 Not allowed! Not allowed!
      thanks for this info!I have constructed an ancestral altar/shrine..and I enjoy info such as this..its very needful.

    3. #3
      John P.'s Avatar
      John P. is offline Warrior

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      0 Not allowed! Not allowed!
      good look on this info, i was thinking bout contructed a shrine as soon I get my own place...1


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