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A Festival of Bones: Celebrating the Ancestors

By The Elders Council of Ile Orunmila Oshun

edited by Iyalorisa Ayodele

Our primary goal is to encourage Ancestor Reverence and other sacred practices. We trust that you will gain a feel for and understanding of the ancestral practices so that you may capably attend to your shrine and to your relationship with your Ancestors. Please use this information respectfully.

All Rights Reserved Orkre Publications January 2005, February 2006, March 2007, October 2008

Table Of Contents
Luisah Teish

5 6 7 8 13 16 19 29 39 45 49 53


Awo Fanira

Luisah Teish


Ishe Fa'lona Oshun Iya Oshogbo
Luisah Teish

Ishe Fa'lona Oshun Iya Oshogbo

Xochipala Maes Valdez


Baba Esuwemimo


Iyalorisha Osunwemimo


Luisah Teish

Luisah Teish


Kindred Spirits Call

Luisah Teish The wind blows leaves across the parking lot as women, children, and men enter the meeting room downstairs, the theater upstairs, or the lobby on the ground floor. They are smudged at the door, meet and greet each other, receive stones, candles and flowers, then sit on pillows, chairs, and parents' laps. The small talk ceases as the primal heartbeat of humanity, the African drum, calls the village together. We sing ourselves into community. Caressed by the undulating beat, we sway and swoon until the drum and the house lights fade. From the warm dark silence comes the sound of the Shofar, blown by a towering figure of a woman, a daughter of the Shekinah. Her horn announces, "Let the ritual begin." A Black Muslim sister, wrapped in her choice of veils recites a prayer for peace. We are transported to the Tower overlooking the rising sun. A manila-colored woman from the Philippines recites a prayer in Tagalog on behalf of the hungry, the homeless and the disabled. Lava flows and sizzles as Madame Pele dances across the floor to an ancient Hawaiian chant. The scent of her flowers, the flow of her hair and her skirt transports us to an imaginary beach as we bask in the noonday sun. Dressed in beads and feathers, a Native American elder calls the Thunderbird, the Wolf, and the Salmon as our people did long before Columbus came and the Buffalo went away. The ancestors are called to the circle in perfect Yoruba by a priestess of Mayan descent. Every Fall in late October, Ile Orunmila Oshun conducts The Festival of Bones, a multi-cultural celebration of the world's ancestors. The Festival combines the elements of ritual from the African Masquerade, Egungun, the Mexican Day of the Dead, the Asian celebration of Mooncakes and

Honor Those Who Came Before: Building an Ancestor Shrine

Ishe Fa'lona Oshun Iya Oshogbo As you become closer to your Ancestors, you may be drawn to build an Ancestor shrine where you can honor, communicate and work with your Ancestors with the challenges in your everyday life. The Ancestors have lived through myriad experiences for which they hold information that can help you now. The Ancestors know how to have successful marriages, friendships and businesses or even how to heal maladies about which we "modern" descendents have lost information. Building your Ancestor shrine can provide a channel for becoming better acquainted with the living as well. In building my first Ancestor shrine my mother was valuable with her knowledge of the members of her mother's family. In consulting her I discovered Ancestors of whom I had no previous knowledge. My mother had stories about these Ancestors and poetry written by some of them. The process of uncovering these Ancestors brought my mother and me closer. In seeking other Ancestor information, I was told to consult one of my great aunts. Although my great uncle had passed on, this great aunt held the last of that family's history. Here was another chance to become closer with a family member. Before constructing your Ancestor shrine, make a list of your maternal and paternal Ancestors. This is where hours spent talking with your relatives bear fruit. Knowing the names of your Ancestors will help you connect with them and call them in ceremony. I was surprised to find a female Ancestor named Oakareeda and to learn that that there was a Napoleon Bonaparte in my family tree.

Igi Egun: Making the Egun Staff

Ishe Fa'lona Oshun Iya Oshogbo Through Ancestor reverence a spirit is both honored and elevated. Homage is given at one of three places-Of' oro'r (ancestral graves), Ile 'run (the family shrine) or Igbl (the community grove). Through pouring libations, reciting prayers, making offerings and sacrifices, and performing ceremonies to honor them, the living, implore the departed to help us make our lives better. We believe that those who have lived before know what it means to be human, including the challenges that confront us. With this experience, the Ancestor has the ability to help his or her descendants. So that we continue to recognize them, the Ancestors return to us through our dreams, and by other means. They deliver messages that guide our communities in matters of justice, honor and respect. It is said, "What is remembered lives." During ceremonies for the Ancestors a staff may be used to awaken the Ancestors and call them to rituals that seek their presence. The Egun staff is a representation of the male and female energies necessary to conceive a human being. To connect more deeply with your Ancestors you can construct your own Egun staff. Constructing Your Staff 1. Purchase nine different pieces of fruit and a straw plate. 2. Dress in white clothes.


Ork Egn
Xochipala Maes Valdez (Iyanifa Fakayode) Praise to the mediums of the Ancestors. Ancestors who have preserved the mystery of featherless flight. You who create the words of reverence and power. The drums of the Ancestors announce the arrival of the Ancestors. On the strong mat you spread your power, the Ancestors are here. May it be so. The prayer above is part of an ork translated from Yoruba. This ork praises Egngn, the mediums of the Ancestors. Creating and reciting ork are central tools we use to honor and call our ancestors. Ork can awaken memory, reunite us with our lineages, place us properly and honorably in the totality of who we are and where we have come from. Reciting ork is a technology we use to summons those who have gone before us, to be with us, to help us, to lend us their expertise, to guide us and to revitalize us. What is Ork An ork is a praise poem, a prayer, a chant, a song used to call forth and honor humans, Ancestors and deities. Ork are words of power. An ork speaks to the essence of an entity, be it human, plant, animal, stone or spirit. Ork are to be spoken, chanted, and sung; employed to call forth the essence of the highest manifestation of whom the ork is about. In Yoruba ori means head. More specifically ori refers to the destiny we chose before birth. Ki means to stuff, to load, to fill and compress. Ork functions to swell the head, to stuff it with the


Feasting the Spirit

Baba Eshumwemimo Honoring ones Ancestors and the concept of reincarnation through ones family line are strongly held beliefs in Yoruba culture. Praising the Ancestors with songs, prayers, and food are universal indigenous practices. On the surface, the ritual of feeding the Ancestors appears to be absent in United States, however, the ritual is alive and well if you know where to look. For example, in some Christian faiths the baking of hot cross buns is popular at Easter.4 Hot Cross buns are eaten by the pious especially on Good Friday. This act brings images of The Christ's death and resurrection and his ultimate status as a deified Ancestor. The Day of the Dead is an important event in Mexico where feeding ones Ancestors is central. A common offering to the Ancestors in Mexico is bread, especially sweet bread called Pan Muerto.5 In Eastern Orthodox Christianity it is traditional to dye eggs red at Easter to symbolize the redeeming blood of Christ, a deified Ancestor.6 Harvest times are intimately connected to reverence of our Ancestors just as we harvest the generations of knowledge acquired by those that have walked the earth before us. We are who we are due to the contributions of our forbearers. Food is important in African-based and other traditions because the style of cooking, ingredients, and preparation methods have been passed from one generation to the next. Food is closely connected to the seasons; the focused act of cooking for ceremonial purposes is an act of prayer. Cooking is an extrovert meditation that envelops and enlivens the senses, giving the cook the ability to transform hunger into satiation. Your Ancestors, having walked the earth,

4 5 6

A History of Hot Cross Buns ; Internet 2002-2004 Indigenous People wouldn't let 'Day of the Dead' die Internet 2004 Red-Dyed Easter Eggs Internet 2004



Ancestor Reverence: An Adoptee's Journey

Iyalorisha Osunwemimo I start by saying Iba se (homage) to my blood Ancestors: William Haluk, Karen Buxton, to all the unknown Ancestors on my mother's side, and all the unknown Ancestors on my father's side, my Russian Ancestors, my German Ancestors and my Irish Ancestors. Iba se to my Adoptive Ancestor, Jane Lloyd and Iba Se to my Affinity Ancestors: Queen Nanny and Kevyn Aucoin. Welcome to you on this exciting journey of getting to know your Ancestors. Ancestor reverence is an integral part of the Ifa tradition and of other traditions and cultures. When first coming to the tradition, work with ones Ancestors is often the first work that you'll do. Having Ancestors is the common thread that binds us all together. For those of us who are adopted, Ancestor reverence can take on special significance and be the most challenging, and yet the most rewarding work. When I first came to the tradition I struggled with this. My struggle came from two issues. First, not knowing the names of my Ancestors made me feel disconnected from them. Second, when I encountered those around me who did know their Ancestors I felt isolated and alone. I want to encourage anyone that might be in a similar situation to continue the work, keeping in mind that this is not work accomplished overnight. However, if you persevere in building relationship with your Ancestors you will find it to be rewarding beyond your imagination. In all my reading about Ancestor reverence I have never seen anything written from the point of view of an Orisha priest or practitioner who was adopted. Thus, I want to briefly share my story in the hope that fellow adoptees, in the process of starting Ancestor work, will have someone to relate to.


The Nine Layers of the Soul

Luisah Teish African people speak of the soul as being multilayered. I am indebted to the many elders throughout the Diaspora who have helped me comprehend and relate to the layers of the Soul. Please keep these layers in mind when setting glasses of water and lights on your Ancestral shrine. In numerology nine is regarded as the completion of a cycle. The ancient Maya believed that the underworld was divided into nine layers, and, most significantly, "Iyansa," the praise name for the Goddess Oya, the Boss Lady of the Cemetery means "the Mother of Nine." Offerings are given to Her in cycles of nine. There are nine heads on Her necklace, and Her initiates require an additional nine days of purification. The Universal Soul The first layer is the Universal Soul. It is that connection with Cosmic Force that unites humans with all animate and inanimate energy in the Universe. This layer is born from the "Big Bang" that set the creation of the Universe in motion. Through the Universal Soul we gaze at the heavens and know that we too are made of stardust like the rocks, the trees, and the animals. We are humbled by the magnitude of Creation. We are awestruck by Eternity. The Human Soul The Human Soul connects us with the manifestation of the Cosmic energy in Homo sapiens form. It reminds us that as humans, we chose this form with its gifts and limitations. This choice becomes a condition of Fate. We share the total human experience from conception to death. Recognizing this should assure our humanity in each other's presence.

Illustrious Ancestors
By Luisah Teish The Old Folks Say What's yo' name now chile? Whitley did you say? Are you any kin to ... ? Did yo' people come from down round Texas way? Say yo' grandpa worked the railroad? How they call his name? Was he a tall man with big eyes? Was his wife called ... Auntie Mame? Did yo' grandma have 'leven chillun? Nine boys and two gals with buck teeth. Was yo' Uncle Joe a cattle man Or did Joe herd up sheep? You sho walk a lot like my sister Hips justa swaying to & fro. Girl ya might be my second cousin With colored folk, ya just never know.


Yeyeworo Luisah Teish is the Founding Mother of Ile Orunmila Oshun and the School of Ancient Mysteries/Sacred Arts Center in Oakland, California. She is the author of several books, notably Jambalaya: The Natural Woman's Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals. Teish is internationally known for her performance of African folklore and feminist mythology. She designed the rites of passage program for the Institute of Noetic Sciences and conducts multitraditional rituals including weddings, birthdays, naming ceremonies, eldering celebration and memorial services. She also teaches online classes (, conducts workshops and delivers keynote addresses on a variety of subjects. Teish offers editorial and directional assistance to writers and performers and serves as an Eco-nest Artistic Advisor to those interested in green decorating, edible landscapes and art from recycled materials. You can reach Teish at; Fax: 1-866-597-1298; L. Teish 5111 Telegraph Avenue, PMB #305, Oakland, CA 94609. Ishe Fa'lona Oshun Iya Oshogbo (Uzuri Amini) is an initiated priest of Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of love, art, sensuality, fertility and creativity. Initiated by the Oshun Society in Oshogbo, Nigeria in the spring of 1989, Oshogbo is also a ceremonialist, creative artist, spiritual counselor and word warrior published in the anthologies Earthwalking Skydancers and A Waist is a Terrible Thing to Mind. A 21st century Renaissance woman, Ms. Amini travels around the country and the world developing and facilitating workshops about sacred sexuality, the Ifa tradition of West Africa and how to put "power" in your writing. The creator of Z Spirit dolls, Ms. Amini also designs "Flowers of the Goddess"-representations of the sacred portal. As the East Bay representative of the International Women's Writing Guild she regularly presents new and established writers to the


community. Ms. Amini is also a faculty member of the School of Ancient Mysteries/Sacred Arts Center in Oakland, California. Awo Fanira (Vance Williams) Awo Fanira is a priest of Ifa and has been a member of Ile Orunmila Oshun since 1989. As head priest of Ifa, Fanira's responsibility is to divine for and to enhance the health, wealth and collective wisdom of the community. For the last fifteen years, in his capacity as a juvenile dependency attorney, Awo Fanira has advocated for the legal rights of abused and neglected children and for the healing of their troubled families. Awo Fanira also provides the following: hand analysis, mediation and conflict resolution, working with Spirit Guides, and Ancestor reverence. Iyanifa Fakayode Efunyemi Fatumise (Xochipala Maes Valdez) is a priest of Ifa and of btl. Fakayode's work centers on divination and counseling. She counsels individuals and couples and uses sacred herbaology and healing baths as part of her repertoire. Fakayode designs personal and communal rituals and ceremonies, including rites of passage. She teaches on the theology, philosophy, and practical application of Ifa and Orisa worship and on comparative Indigenous sciences. Iyalorisha Ayodele (Sauda Burch) is a priest of Oshun, and the head of the Ancestor Society of Ile Orunmila Oshun. She also is the lead singer (Akpon) for the Ile. Ayodele is a non-profit organizational development consultant, writer and editor. Iyalorisha Ayokunle (Lulit Taka) is a priest of Oshun. For the last fifteen years Ayokunle has received training and has practiced architecture. Ayokunle has taken her experience as an art restorer, her training as an artist and her devotion to spirit and has combined them in her creation of Sacred Objects for use in rituals and spiritual practice. These objects include consecrated vessels for the storage of herbs, water, and alcohol, and altar fabric and staffs. She is the creator of the artwork on pages 2 and 12.

Iyalorisha Osunwemimo (Peggy Sturman) is a priest of Oshun and has been a member of Ile Orunmila Oshun since 1995. She provides counseling and guidance to help women reclaim the sacred warrior. She develops Sacred Bath Products and individual programs for Extreme Self Care. She also focuses on integrating dreamwork as an integral part of Orisha worship. Babalorisha Esuwemimo (Donald Sturman) is a priest of Esu. Esuwemimo helps men and women transition to realize their full potential within the context of the Ifa religion to include, but not limited to: rites of passage, integrating the spiritual man with the working man, defining and discovering the warrior, male roles and responsibilities in building spiritual community, ethics in the 21st century, sacred food for healing and nutrition, and developing business models that preserve the spiritual self.