Ifá: A Forest of Mystery

Ifá: A Forest of Mystery

from 20.00

Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold

Fine edition

Limited to 64 copies; bound in rust handgrained morocco blocked in gold, custom Victoria Hall paste endpapers, all edges gilt, finished with a silk ribbon and presented in a slipcase.
– Sold out

Standard hardback edition

Limited to 736 copies; bound in vibrant red cloth, palm leaf stamped in green, embossed bitter chocolate endpapers.
– £45

Bibliothèque Rouge edition

Unlimited paperback; isbn978-0-9931200-0-8
– £20

8vo (240 × 170 mm)
400 pp
18 original pen and ink illustrations by Childerico

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Ifá: A Forest of Mystery by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold is a major study on the cosmology, metaphysics, philosophy and divination system of Ifá, written by a tradition holder and member of the council of elders, known as the Ogboni society, of Abeokuta, Nigeria.

Ifá – an alternative name for its prophet Òrúnmìlà – is a religion, a wisdom tradition and a system of divination encoding the rich and complex oral and material culture of the Yoruba people. The Yoruba culture is grounded in memory, an ancestral repository of wisdom, that generates good counsel, advises appropriate ebo (sacrifice) and opens the way to develop a good character on our journey through life and in our interactions with the visible and invisible worlds.

The work is a presentation of the first sixteen odù of the Ifá corpus of divination verses explained in stories, allegories and proverbs reflecting the practical wisdom of Ifá. The work is both a presentation of Ifá for those with little knowledge of it, and a dynamic presentation of the wealth of its wisdom for those already familiar with Ifá. The deities and key concepts of Ifá metaphysics are discussed, including: Obàtálá, Ònilé, Sàngó, Ògún, Oya, Òsányìn, Yemoja, Èsù, àse (power), egúngún (ancestry), ìwà (character), and orí (head/consciousness/daimon). Notably, Dr Frisvold has created a work which celebrates the Yoruba wisdom tradition and makes a bridge with the Western world. It is of value for the light that it casts on the origins and mysteries of Èsù and òrìsà, and an important source for those practicing Quimbanda, Palo, Santeria, Vodou and the African Diaspora religions. Yet its lessons are universal, for it is the art of developing character, of attracting good fortune and accruing wisdom in life.

Ifá is a philosophy, a theogony, theology and cosmology rooted in a particular metaphysic that concerns itself with the real and the ideal, the world and its beginning. It is rooted in the constitution of man and the purpose of life and the nature of fate. Ifá is a philosophy of character. The philosophy of Ifá lies at the root of any religious cult or organization involving the veneration of òrìsà. […] Through stories and legends, divinatory verses and proverbs, this philosophy will be revealed piece by piece until the landscape has been laid open before you.

– Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold


Part I · A Philosophy of Character

The Timeless Wisdom of Ifá
Òrúnmìlà and the Secret Structure of Odù
The Art of Divination
The Cosmology of Ifá

Part II · A Forest of Mystery

Èjì Ogbè · The moist air of consciousness
Òyèkú méjì · The mother of the spirit of death
Ìwòrì méjì · Celestial agriculture in the land of transformation
Òdí méjì · The house of deep comfort
Ìrosùn méjì · The rivers of consciousness
Òwónrín méjì · The sweet and bitter track
Òbárá méjì · The fork in the road
Òkànrán méjì · The crossroad the heart gave
Ògúndá méjì · The relentless pathmaker
Òsá méjì · The mysteries of the birds of night
Ìká méjì · The wicked cobra of fire
Òtúrúpòn méjì · The secret path of truth
Òtúrá méjì · Love’s gentle harmony
Ìretè méjì · The author of fate
Òsé méjì · The sweetness of mystery
Òfún méjì · The calabash of character
Òsétúrá · Èsù & the design of the world


Ọ̀bàtálá: The Source of Consciousness (The Timeless Wisdom of Ifá)

Ọ̀bàtálá is often referred to as the king of òrìṣàs. His spiritual force was the bridge that brought consciousness and form to creation. As such, Ọ̀bàtálá is equated with consciousness itself, specifically a calm and cool consciousness. Ọ̀bàtálá is an extension of the spiritual power known as sùúrù, patience, and sòtito, truthfulness and faithfulness. Ọ̀bàtálá has a deep resonance with early life forms; examples include reptiles, snakes, elephants and in particular the snail. The snail not only carries around a house shaped by the golden section in honour of cosmic perfection and wisdom, it is composed of mucus and muscle and represents the stage of creation prior to the forging of the skeleton. The snail prefigures the original form, with its primeval quadripartite brain and serpentine mucus muscle that shapes its body. The white blood of the snail has calmative properties, and the Ifá corpus tells us that it was the blood of snails which Ọ̀bàtálá used to calm forces that threatened to wreak catastrophe upon the earth. The snail is also sacred to the ìmọ́lẹ̀ in its condition of perfect calm, that called upon the skeleton and spine to transform the dweller of peace into a determined warrior through the power of Ògún. It is when we gained a spine and skeleton that the human journey began from its peaceful and patient original state. Ọ̀bàtálá appears both as a male and a female spirit in the stories of Ifá, depending on the traditions preserved in the different Yorùbá districts. More frequently, Ọ̀bàtálá is seen as the husband of Yemòwó, a spirit of purity attributed to white clay and creativity, she who sculpts the world together with him. Some stories tell that Yẹmọja was born from this primordial union, while other traditions say that Ọ̀bàtálá never had a child of his own; his capacity is the force that made the mystery of ovum and sperm merge, and as such he is the father of all, not of anyone in particular. This is a further reference to Ọ̀bàtálá being the spirit who brought consciousness to the world in all its 256 different forms, as expressed in the Ifá corpus of Odù. Since Ọ̀bàtálá is the sum of consciousness, we are all, in this sense, his children.

What might appear as a contradiction in the many stories is how the energy of Ọ̀bàtálá works in our world. Ọ̀bàtálá belongs to a class of spirits known as funfun, which is usually translated as ‘the whiteness of white,’ or ‘splendour.’ All these spiritual forces are related to ideas of purity, moderation, stability, creativity, and creation, whether in terms of bringing forth ensouled beings or forming a harmonious community. It follows that all the funfun spirits that came to earth became rulers over cities and districts, due to their extraordinary capacities for understanding the fundamental principles of creation and cosmic organisation. Funfun is a reference to what is concealed and mysterious; hence the divergent, and at times contradictory, stories and myths about Ọ̀bàtálá. The whiteness of the funfun spirits is a field of tranquil peace that is contrasted with dúdú, or blackness. Dúdú refers to what is concealed, and it is this that the funfun spirits reveal in the form of a mystery. As such, we can understand funfun to be a force that reveals itself little by little, and thus carries the admonition that stability and peacefulness are necessary preconditions to make positive use of the revelation of the mystery. Glimpsed here are the metaphysical dimensions that bring forth day from night and a child from the womb. In addition to funfun and dúdú is awon pupa, the mystery of redness. Awon pupa represents spiritual forces of fire and fierceness and is related to the blood, to the passions, and is the principle that actively infuses any form of germination with power.

In Ifá metaphysics the universe is a result of the power of expansion and of contraction. This cosmic pulse is frequently referred to as òrìṣàko, male spirits of whiteness, and òrìṣàbo, female spirits of darkness, a reference to the interplay between imo (light) and aimoyé (the darkness needed for manifestation).

Ọ̀bàtálá represents our journey through a world of paradox and mystery, to experience goodness and arrive at the harbour of tranquility. This is made possible by the accumulation of wisdom and understanding, as we cultivate our character and gradually increase our awareness, not only of ourselves, but of how we are connected to everything in this web of wonders.

Àdúrá Ọ̀bàtálá

Ọ̀bàtálá yemi Ni mo se da funfun Ọ̀bàtálá yemi Ni mo se da funfun Sebi aso iyi Ohun le um sode i gbele Àṣẹ igben Ohun le um sode i gbele Alagbada elewu etù Esama sotito Òrìsá mi gbemi o

Ọ̀bàtálá, look upon me with favour It is because of this you dress in white Ọ̀bàtálá, look upon me with favour It is because of this you dress in white It is because of this he/she is renowned It is what you use to start the festivities Costly garment It was he/she you would use to start the festivities Owner of the dress of the guinea fowl They do only good My òrìṣà looks upon me with favour