¶ Agbo ato, I recently received a review copy of Ifa: A Forest of Mystery by Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold. When I first started studying Ifa thirty years ago there were only a half dozen books on the subject all written by anthropologists. As part of my interest in Ifa I have always encouraged my peers and my students to share their experience of participation in our faith. Anthropology is not theology and it is through the discipline of theology that we gain a deeper understanding of who we are and what we believe.
Theology is a complex academic subject with a number of subgroups depending on the focus of the theologian. My training as a theologian was from my mentor Paul Tillich who was a linguistic theologian. A linguistic theologian emphasizes the definition of liturgical language. The word liturgical refers to words used by the clergy of a given faith to express the fundamental concepts of a particular religion. Linguistic theology is often used as the basis for a second type of theological discourse called hermeneutics.
The word hermeneutics which means study of the word is a theological discipline that is based on the study of religious scripture. In Ifa, hermeneutics is the explanation of the meaning of Odu Ifa. Hermeneutics is in my opinion an important aspect of theology because it defines the transcendent message of a particular spiritual tradition and applies the message to contemporary circumstances.
In his new book on Ifa Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold takes both a linguistic and a hermeneutical approach to the subject of Ifa. In the first section of the book he does a brilliant job of defining fundamental words that explain our faith. He then uses the vocabulary as the basis for describing a variety of forces in Nature described in Odu Ifa as Orisa. From this foundation he defines the metaphysical principles that are expressed in the first seventeen verses of Odu Ifa and shows how these principles can be used to elevate the human spirit.
Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold is a psychologist and well known authority on occult topics who moved from Scandinavia to Brazil where he is active in the Ifa Orisa community. He was initiated into Ifa in Cuba and has studied extensively with traditional Yoruba elders. His wide range of experience gives him a broad perspective that informs and supports his theological expertise.
His efforts are characterized by the very last paragraph of his books which is a quote from the Holy Odu Eji Ogbe: “I lift up my arms and walk in joyful satisfaction. This was the teaching of Ifa for Orunmila. They said Baba would not be able to carry out his responsibilities to the end of his life. But I will carry out my responsibilities to the end of my Life and so lift up my arms and walk with dignity and measured movement.” These immortal words are a relevant message to all of us who use Ifa as a spiritual discipline in the process of elevating human consciousness. We are blessed to be guided in our understanding of this process by the theological efforts of Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold. I highly recommend this book and I suspect the release of this books means the Immortals are dancing in Orun.