An Introduction To Odinani


By Chimdi Nobim

What is Odinani?

Odinani (also called Odinala in some dialects) is the ancestral spiritual science of the Igbo people of Nigeria. Literally translated it means “It is in the Earth/land”, referencing the traditional Igbo belief that Ani/Ala the Earth Mother Goddess is central to our very existence and to progress in all endeavors. Odinani/Odinala should not be confused with Omenani/Omenala, which are the social elements(customs and traditions) of Igbo people, although there are obvious links between the two, as spirituality is often the basis for all other cultural elements.

Symbol of Ala, the Earth Mother, among the Eda Igbo, present-day Abia or Ebonyi State. P. A. Talbot, c. 1920s.
Symbol of Ala, the Earth Mother, among the Eda Igbo, present-day Abia or Ebonyi State. P. A. Talbot, c. 1920s.

What are the basic tenets of Odinani?

In Odinani it is believed that everyone is a spiritual being(mmuo) born into a physical body(mmadu) to accomplish a destiny on Earth, or to acquire experience. At the center of our being is Chi, the divine spark that is our true self and that guides us from within, and is our link to the Supreme Being And Source of All Life known as Chineke, which has a masculine part called Chi Ukwu(Great Soul) and a feminine part called Eke. While Chi Ukwu is the source/collective of all Chi, Eke is Creation herself and sustains and nurtures all life within the universes contained in her Cosmic Womb. The Earth, Ani/Ala, is therefore an extension of the Divine Mother Eke.

Playing with Time and Memory. A series of four acrylic on canvas paintings, each 101x101cm, by Chuu Krydz Ikwuemesi, 2020

The Divine Mother extends herself into forces of nature that regulate life as we know it, and these forces are personalised as deities(called Agbara, Alushi or Arushi depending on dialect). Some common examples of these deities are:

Ihejioku/Ifejioku – deity of Agriculture
Omumu – deity of fertility
Ekwensu – deity of warfare
Amadioha – deity of justice
Onwa – deity of the moon
Anyanwu – deity of the sun
Nnemmiri/Oshimmiri/Idemili – deity of the waters
Arobinagu – deity of herbs
Agwu – deity of wisdom, knowledge and divination

This list is in no way conclusive as the number and functions of deities vary from community to community. Practitioners of Odinani invoke these deities on matters considered to be under their respective jurisdictions. Reincarnation is a central belief of Odinani, as it is asserted that a person incarnates repeatedly, usually within a family, until certain tasks are successfully accomplished. Once accomplished, the individual takes his place amongst other ascended ancestors to guide and watch over descendants, provided said descendants are receptive to their guidance.

When a person incarnates, his previous incarnation is called onyeuwa, and it’s believed that the onyeuwa can be accessed and invoked to assist the individual in achieving the task that brought him/her back. In Odinani it is also believed that humans are not alone in this world, neither is this world the only one. Surrounding us are subtle realms not accessible to our physical senses, which are populated by sentient beings. Actually many of us on Earth as humans today lived in those worlds before our birth into this one, and we have friends and families there. These beings are called mmuo in Igbo, also known as fairies/jinns/elementals/wee folk in other languages.

As we are all children of the Divine Mother whose worlds interface, our primordial ancestors established relationships with these spirit beings, much like treaties are established between nations, for mutually beneficial cohabitation, and just like treaties are inherited by successive governments and people of a nation, so also do we inherit these covenants made with other worlds from our ancestors. Some of these spirits serve as guardians for clans and communities, and in return we are expected to honor or repay them in several ways which depend on the initial ancestral agreement.

Is worship part of Odinani?

In worship one is expected to give of oneself to another being on the assumption that this being has a right to demand it of us, no questions asked. Also in worship one is expected to beg or grovel before another in hopes that the latter will answer our requests based on their own whim.

Masquerades from different cultural regions of the Igbo area photographed by G. I. Jones in the 1930s.

However, in Odinani, we seek only to align with our true nature, Chi, and be receptive to its guidance. We do not believe Chineke our Supreme Being or any other force requires worship, how do you give anything to The One that is the Source of Everything? We also do not believe that Chineke is a vain and insecure entity that needs to be placated, cajoled or flattered.

While a casual onlooker might conclude that we “worship” the deities subordinate to the Supreme Being,.as well as spirits we interact with, we do not. We relate with deities and other spirits on a transactional and not devotional level. Life is balance, we give to receive, we provide value in order to get value, and this is true for all relationships where needs must be met. This is the essence of sacrifices and offerings in Odinani, which will be covered in more detail later. The offerings and sacrifices provide energies with which our spirit allies are equipped and compensated for their work, they are not materials for worship.

What are some misconceptions about Odinani?

  • Odinani involves devil worship or pacts with demons: This is misinformation begun by European missionaries and propagated till today by those who accepted and follow their religion. The demonization of our ancestral ways was a politically motivated effort to undermine the Igbo traditional structure and thus reestablish a new colonial power base centered on foreign ideologies that served the interest of the Europeans. It is unfortunate that the agenda continues with those descended from the early Igbo converts to Christianity maintaining the castigation of the systems their pre-colonial ancestors put in place. However, we are glad to note that more and more are awakening to the light and challenging the narrative, embracing the ways of their ancestors in the process.
  • Odinani involves human sacrifice: No civilisation, race or tribe can deny their involvement in practices that we would call unsavory today, and Igbo people are no exception. While it is true that humans may once have been sacrificed in some parts of Igboland, it is not the case today. Let us also bear in mind that even foreign religions cannot boast of clean hands in their past either, as their own history almost literally drips with blood. The point is that systems are meant to evolve for the better, and Odinani is no exception.
  • Odinani supports criminal activity: Sadly due to the present economic state in Nigeria, some practitioners have turned to misuse of their knowledge to seek shortcuts to material success. This however is not the true way of Odinani and should not be used as a lens through which to view all who practice it. Anyone who engages in acts that bring harm or loss to others will face Divine Justice eventually and will suffer dearly for their misdeeds. Efforts are being made continuously by sincere practitioners to educate their wayward colleagues on the proper, harmonious, and generally beneficial ways to practice science. It should be noted at this time that the purpose of Odinani is to align you with your destiny and the forces that can help you achieve it, not to make you rich or give you the power to harm others or destroy enemies. Whatever is needed to ensure your personal fulfillment, be it wealth, power or protection, then follows provided you are well aligned and you maintain it.
Okoroshi masquerade 

Getting Started in Odinani

  • Go to your ancestral Igbo community: this is based on the assumption that one is of Igbo descent and has access to their ancestral homes, elders and practitioners of Odinani there. While the basic tenets of Odinani are general amongst Igbo people, some practices and spirit alliances are unique to families and communities, and as such it is best to familiarise oneself with ones own ancestral spiritual structure.
  • Go for Afa(divination): in Igboland, we have certain persons known as Dibias who are specialists in various fields related to the spirit world. One, in particular, is called a Dibia Afa and he/she can access the spirit realm and give you information about yourself and your relationships with the other side, to guide you on what you should do to align with your Chi, ancestral spirits and other spirit allies.
  • Begin to practice Igo Ofo: This is probably the most important step you can take in beginning your journey. Igo ofo is the traditional Igbo way of communicating with your allied spirit forces and should be done daily or at least regularly. As you acknowledge your spirit allies they begin to work with and guide you on the right path to fulfilling your destiny. No matter what rituals or divination you do and if you do not personally seek to establish and maintain intimate relationships with the spirits that follow you, it will be a waste.


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