Ikenga is the philosophy of the ‘right hand’. In this video I explain what that means, and how use ikenga to unlock your latent potential, drive and spiritual power. This video also gives insight into the individualism, personal agency, and numerology in Odinani.
“Ikenga m kwalu otu, njee mge ona mmuo”
(As long as my Ikenga is active I can wrestle in the land of the spirits)
Welcome back to the 13 steps. In Step one, you learned how ncheta (remembrance) is the basis for all the other steps. In Step two, you learned on the power of your potential & kinetic energies (Chi na Eke) and how important it is to make sure they are kept in harmony with one another. Now we will again return to a common experience that nearly all humans share. Unlike the first 2 steps, you should have quite a few memories of this one.
Do you recall the various things you wanted to be as a child? If you were anything like me, that list included alot of things through various ages. And do you remember what you did once you decided to be something? Well, you began in what is now called “make believe.” Without being coached or trained, you and your various playmates could pretend to be whatever you wanted and engage in any activity your minds could muster. You likely pretended to fight battles or engage in space exploration. Maybe you pretended to be a director and used dolls and toys as actors. The key takeaway here my brothers and sisters, is that you used the power of your imagination to create the reality you desired, even if it was a temporary thing.
Now today, if you happened to stumble upon the “self help” section in any bookstore, or undergo any form of coaching or training, you will likely be told about something called “creative visualization.” A very simple definition of it would be utilizing the power of your imagination as an aide to getting better results in your life. Countless people have used it to beat addictions, overcome their fears, as well as acquire new skills. Sound familiar? It’s once again a reminder of how you need to remember things as an adult that you did naturally as a child, isn’t it?
Now remembering the lessons from “Step Two” and Eke have been with you as long as you’ve been on this planet, even if you’re not as in sync with them as you once were. And as I said in that lesson, Igbo culture (along with many others) left a number of reminders for you of the various things you came into the world knowing. The one reminder we will cover today is the one that goes by the name “Ikenga.”
This figure is shared amongst the Urhobo, Edo, and Igala, but the Igbo version is the most well known. Just like Chi na Eke, an entire series of books would be needed to properly expound upon Ikenga. One popular definition of Ikenga is “place of strength.” However, for the purpose of this step, we will say that Ikenga is a symbol of achievement, especially through the use of your right hand. On a sidenote, it goes without saying that for most human beings, their right hand is their dominant one. For the 10% of you for which that’s not the case, just apply this same rationale to the hand that is your dominant one for this step.
The first aspect of Ikenga we will discuss is its appearance. They come in various shapes and sizes, but one key aspect is horns, typically that of a ram, which is prizes for its aggressiveness. Just like the ram, Igbos believe that one must plunge into a venture in order to succeed. Contrary to misinformation by Igbo Christians, Ikenga, much like other sacred objects, was not an item of worship but a visible representation of things that were invisible. In this case, Ikenga represents your divine self image. In other words, a self image based on your Chi (your unlimited potential), working in unison with your Eke (your limited kinetic energy). Ikenga is thus said to be a gift or symbol of one’s Chi. Anyone who has either achieved consistent success or studied/coached those who have, is aware of how critical having a healthy self image actually is. With an unhealthy self image, your numerous self doubts will usually defeat you before you even get started. Even if you do happen to achieve success despite a negative self image, you will likely be the victim of your own self-sabotage.
“Ebune jị isi éjé ogụ” (The ram goes into a fight head first)
Ikengas were not limited to individuals, but communities could also have them (sometimes called Ikeoha). These communal Ikengas were representations of the achievements and ideals of a community. The Ikenga of the United States of America holds a torch in her right hand, and stands tall in Liberty Island in New York Harbor.
The second aspect of Ikenga we will discuss would be its adaptability, meaning its ability to change. Young men would typically get an Ikenga carved when they began their various vocations. In some ways, you could say it would be very similar to receiving a diploma in today’s world. However, an Ikenga was not permanent, and it could evolve as the owner’s roles changed. A young man whose main task was defending his village would receive a warrior’s Ikenga holding a sword, whereas when that same man became a more accomplished elder, he would now have a title holder’s Ikenga holding a sacred staff. Alternatively, if a man chose a profession that didn’t bring him much success, he could throw away the Ikenga (self image) that was not helping him and choose a new Ikenga (and possibly a new profession) that did.
“Ikenga adighi ile, azilaa ya nku” (An Ikenga that is ineffective, cut it for firewood)
The third aspect is persistence. Once an Ikenga was established, a routine was established to straighten it. Regular offerings of kolanut, alligator pepper, and libations were made to it, often during the igo ofu ututu (traditional morning prayer). To the uninitiated, it would appear that the Ikenga itself is being worshipped, but I want to reveal a secret to you: If one makes a prayer, whether spoken out loud or silently, your mind cannot help but create a mental picture of whatever choice of words you use. For example, if I mention a pink elephant, you can’t help but imagine one. The same applies to things like positive thinking, affirmations, proverbs, etc. What would happen if you constantly reminded yourself of your goals? Regularly repeated words of encouragement and positivity? And returning back to your childhood, how powerful could your imagination be when if it focused on a long term goal? And even more so when you also dedicate yourself to constant practice and honing of your skills?
“Ikenga chim nyelum, taa oji” (Ikenga, gift of my chi, participate in the offering)
So in summary, an Ikenga is a divinely based self image, that changes as needed, and is fed/reinforced by persistence and dedication. And here’s a final thought my brothers and sisters. One thing about dedication is that you must accept that you’re typically not going to be very good at most things at the beginning. In fact, you’re very likely to be quite bad. However if you stick with it and learn from your mistakes, not only will you improve, you will likely become quite good.
At some point you did not have the ability to read these words at all, but through repetition and practice over time, you gained that ability didn’t you? The same applies to just about everything you now have the ability to do (walk, talk, drive, write, etc). So instead of saying that you cannot do something, you should say you haven’t done it yet. The former may or may not be true, but the later definitely is. With a harmonized Chi na Eke (as well as working in conjunction with others), the only real limit in this universe you probably have is time. So if that’s the case, why are you limiting yourself?
Step 3: I choose a divinely based self image that helps me creates the results I want and can change it when it no longer does so.
Action item: Create an Ikenga. You can draw it, or just write a description of it. Make sure to mention it in your daily prayer from step 2. Include the type of life you want to create as well as some of the goals you want to achieve. And stay tuned for step 4, which is coming out on the next new moon, November 15. Yagazie (It shall be well with you).
This video shows the four spiritual elements that make the human soul according to Igbo spirituality. These are Chi, Eke, Mmuo and Onyeuwa. This is important to understand if you’re building a foundation in Odinani (Igbo Cosmology/Spirituality), and to add insight on the nature of the human soul. This video also touches on how to determine your destiny, predestination, how reincarnation works in the Igbo world view, and how these parts work together to make you who you are.
“Otu nne na-amu mana obughi otu chi na eke”
One mother can beget many children but all the children will their own Chi and Eke
Welcome back to the 13 steps. You are now ready to begin step 2. In the first step, you learned the importance of ncheta, which is remembrance. You will see why this is indeed the foundation of all other steps. For this step, we will again return to a common experience that all humans share. You’re not going to remember it but we have this reminder on our bodies. In the months that you were being carried in your mother’s womb, you were literally connected to her, and dependent on her for your sustenance. However, there came a time when you had to leave that place and begin a new type of existence. And so you emerged from her womb, but were still physically connected to her.
However, for you to ever be a fully functional human being, that connection had to be severed. And in doing so, the physical connection to your mother was cut. You are reminded of it every time you look at your stomach and see your belly button. An Igbo custom (ili alo), which was also shared amongst our neighbors, was the burial of a newborn’s umbilical cord & placenta, usually near a newly germinated tree.
This tree, which would be known as nkwu alo, was a child’s tree of life, and had significance for a child’s future. One belief was that the nkwu alo would become fruitful in proportion to the fame of the child’s subsequent achievements as an adult. And during the obi umuaka (hearts of children) rite, the tree is used as a location for teenagers to be reminded of their relationship to Ala (the earth mother), their ancestors and their community.
Well similar to the severing of the physical connection to your mother, another, more traumatic severing happened, but this was not a physical severing, but a mental one. And the question that’s likely running through your mind right now is who or what was that mental separation from? Well the answer to that question is what Igbo people called “Chi na Eke” (Chi and Eke).
If you’re of Igbo descent you may have heard the shortened form “Chineke”, and been told that it means “God the creator.” Unfortunately, this definition came from the Igbos who were among the first to convert to Christianity, who by the way, were usually the people who literally knew and understood the least about Igbo customs and metaphysics. To be honest with you, a series of books would need to be written to do justice to what Chi na Eke are, but for the purposes of this 13 step program, we will define each as the following: Chi is your potential energy, and Eke is your kinetic energy.
“Eke na chi wo otu mana eke siri na chi bia”
“Eke and Chi are one, but Eke came from Chi“
If you recall from your science classes, energy is neither created nor destroyed, but simply changes forms. And two of the major forms that energy can take would be at rest (potential) or in motion (kinetic). According to Igbo belief, it is your Chi that created your physical body, and it remains with you all your life. As a newborn, your connection to both Chi and Eke were still fresh, but as time passed, and without reminders, you began to get out of sync. This explains why as I reminded you in “Step 1”, that as a child you seemed to be more confident and full of life than you probably are now. However, and I cannot stress this enough, this loss of connection was ONLY in your mind.
Unfortunately due to you being born in this time and place, various physical memorials were not setup to remind you of your connection to your Chi na Eke. You likely didn’t have the rite of ili alo done, nor do you have an nkwu alo to perform the obi umuaka rite with. That’s the bad news. However the good news is that you can create your own reminders that suit you. And even better news is that just as you happen to have a Chi na Eke, every other human being you encounter also has one.
What does this mean for you? Well If you have ever played a musical instrument of any kind, you know that something magical happens when multiple instruments are played in harmony. What would happen if you not only got your Chi na Eke in tune with one another, but also found other people who did the same thing? What kind of reality could you create?
Step 2: I recognize that Chi na Eke, the greater power that can help me overcome my negative feelings, resides in myself and in others. I can create my own reality and can do anything within reason, but cannot do it by myself or at the same time.
Action item: Start to write your own personal prayer that says something similar in your own words. Choose a time and place to say it on a daily basis. And stay tuned for step 3, which is coming out on the next new moon, October 16.
Igbo uses the word OBI to describe different things:
Makes you think. Igbos are quite similar to the Greeks. According to the Stoic theory in Ancient Greece, there are eight parts of the soul, the ‘commanding faculty’ [hêgemonikon] or mind, the five senses, voice and (certain aspects of) reproduction. The mind, which is located at the HEART, is a center that controls the other soul-parts as well as the body, and that receives and processes information supplied by the subordinate parts.
So, Igbos similarly see the heart as being the nucleus or control center that directs the soul. Today, popular culture puts a lot of emphasis on the brain and its “fruit”. But we know from science that the brain actually predominantly creates and responds to perception. But what we call soul is a thing more mysterious. It understands and responds to things outside of our knowledge of understanding. Many think it lives on after we (and our brain) die, and carries with it data about who we truly are.
Makes you think… What do you think the soul is?
Ndu bu ahia. Ahia ka anyi biakwuru iz n’elu uwa nke a
“Life is a marketplace. We have come into this great wide world to buy and sell”
Nnọọ (welcome) to the 13 steps. Each step is designed to help you rediscover yourself and remember what you came to offer to the world. A journal is strongly encouraged for you to keep track of your progress through each step.
Step 1: Ncheta
Do you remember what it was like to successfully make your first step as a baby? Well if you do not, let me take you on a trip down memory lane. After being carried in your mother’s womb for 9 moons, you arrived into this world and spent a lot of time being carried in the arms of other people or on the back of your mother.
When you were not being carried, you were crawling on all fours. Despite your situation, you knew intuitively that you had the ability to do more. As you attempted to go from crawling to walking, you fell hundreds of times.Yet, you did not let that deter you. You did not give up. One day, you finally did it…you stood upright and made your first step, and then another, and then another. Soon afterwards, walking was second nature, followed by running.
Flashing forward to today, despite being far more capable, you likely are full of more doubt than when you were a baby. You’ve probably felt crippled by fear, frequently finding yourself frustrated, and wondering what your life purpose is. You’re less likely to step outside of your comfort zone and when you do try new things, you probably quit if you don’t get immediate results. What happened to you? How did you get this way? And most importantly, what can you do to make a change for the better?
The answers to most of these questions can only be answered by you. However, for the last question, I can be of some assistance. If you’ve gotten this far, you’re ready to make another first step. And that entails that recognizing that your negative feelings of powerlessness, of limitation, of self doubt, of aimlessness, etc, are due to beliefs that are not based on reality.
Your false beliefs about yourself are due to your own forgetfulness; due to you not remembering the very things you knew when you came into this world. Maybe you forgot while trying to “fit in”, or maybe you were forced to forget due to religious and educational indoctrination. Regardless of the how or why, the key thing is that you did indeed forget what was real, and as a substitute, took on beliefs that were not. By doing so, you decided to outsource the control of your life to others.
Well today, you can take another first step, which we will call ncheta, which means remembering in Igbo language.
Step 1: I admit that my negative thoughts, feelings & actions have mostly been due to false beliefs about myself, and I aspire to remember the things I already came into this world knowing.
Action item: Seek out people, places or things that trigger some of the happy memories from your childhood. Recall your sense of imagination, your curiosity, and your intuitive confidence. Remember the things you were good at, what brought you joy, as well as some of the things that both scared but intrigued you at the same time. Take the first step and get ready for step two on the next new moon, September 17. Stay blessed.
This month marks the 10 year anniversary since I began this blog, and to celebrate, I’d like to take you on a journey through time, highlighting the past, the present and giving you a glimpse of the future.
A decade ago, I was sitting in class, halfway paying attention to my thermodynamics professor, and halfway counting down until the end of the lecture. All of a sudden something triggered a portion of a dream I had the night before, and things haven’t been the same for me since.
In my dream from the previous night, I had a conversation with a goddess. The figure was tall and very majestic looking. Her face was covered in white and she wore a regal hairstyle. I recognized her as Ala, the earth goddess, and the most important spirit to Igbo people.
In our conversation, I remembered her explaining to me that her symbol was a lozenge. I was surprised by this revelation. I had surmised that the symbol of the Earth mother would have been a circle engulfing a cross. I went home and found out that the lozenge was indeed the symbol of not just Ani…but of the Mother goddess in other parts of the planet.
After that revelation, other symbols began to make sense to me almost intuitively. I was understanding so much so soon that I felt like I’d go crazy if I didn’t share it all. Hence, that was the genesis of Igbocybershrine.
In the time since that first dream, I’ve had several other inspirations, and even managed to inspire others to write down their insights too. When the site first launched, there weren’t many resources for finding authentic information about Igbo culture or spirituality. However, now there are countless videos and articles that are related to these topics, including quite a few that directly or indirectly reference this site.
However, my friends, I must confess that there was a time when I was feeling unmotivated and nearly walked away from it all, but what brought me back was getting a few emails from readers asking me where I was, and letting me know how important this site had been for them. I’ve realized that in the past 10 years, a community has been growing full of over 1000 subscribers and a couple of content creators. The site gets hundreds of views a day and we get messages from people all over the world. This cyber shrine has become the center of a digital village.
One challenge I’ve faced over the years has been presenting practical information that would be relevant to people today, especially those who live outside of a village environment. Most of what I was learning had to do with the beliefs and practices of people who lived in a time and environment that no longer exists. But I would constantly ask how many of the lessons could be applied to the issues of today, and how they could prepare us for tomorrow.
After taking alot of time to reflect, I came up with a framework that I feel can be very beneficial for people today. I decided to base it off the “12 step” programs that I had seen many people utilize to transform their lives for the better. I took time and utilized Igbo principles as well as some of my own spiritual experiences to map out each step. And to keep it in line with Igbo culture, I added an additional step, bringing the total to 13, which is the number of months in the Igbo lunar calendar.
So umu nnem (brothers and sisters), I’d like to invite you to join me as I spend the next lunar year delving into each step, and detailing how you can apply the lessons in your life right here and now. The first step will be covered during the next new moon, which will fall on the 18th of August. Stay tuned and stay blessed!
Who is Oshimmiri? (Nne Mmiri)
This video explains the Arushi of the Waters. What her powers are in the physical and spiritual world, and how to determine if you are a water element.
“First principles is…boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.” -Elon Musk
But this concept has been in IGBO from the times of our ancestors. In the book After God is Dibia, it is explained that: