How are free will and fate counterbalanced in Odinala? Does a person have free will in Igbo spirituality? How does Akaraka (fate) relate to free will in ancestral thought?
For a several years now I have followed a Canadian man named Stefan James on youtube. His brand is Projec Life Mastery. I have watched him go from average Joe to internet millionaire by dedicating his life to self improvement. Early in his life transformation, he came up with a morning ritual that he practiced every day.
He changes his morning ritual sometimes to suit his life circumstances, but a morning ritual has always been a part of his day since he went from living on his friend’s couch to making thousands to millions on the internet. Here is one of his first morning ritual videos:
Stefan is just one of many success gurus online who promote the use of morning rituals for success. They call them different things, like morning affirmations, setting the intentions for the day, visualizing or scripting. Many of these people’s focus is on setting a goal, and using the “Law of Attraction” to bring it towards you by focusing on achieving it. This often involves reciting the goals you have set for yourself, expressing gratitude by thanking spiritual forces (like the Universe) for giving you what you need and helping you achieve past goals). Getting into an emotional state of positivity is another important part of many of these Western rituals. What is important is that the practitioners of these often center these rituals around a goal or some goals they have for their life. While the traditional Igbo practice of Igụ ọfọ ụtụtụ is not exactly like positive affirmations or setting the intentions of the day, I can’t help but note some similarities.
The ọfọ in Igbo culture is like a contract, the symbolic manifestation being a staff/rod passed down a family lineage. The staff (sometimes called the “staff of justice”) represents the rights of the holder which they often inherit from previous generations. It may be called upon during disputes (much like a written contract which, in Western cultures, is analyzed line by line to see the agreed upon terms and conditions and decide who should be awarded the rights during a trial). Igụ ọfọ ụtụtụ (a morning prayer in traditional Igbo land) calls upon ancestors and spiritual guardians to participate in the day’s activities of the the Igbo.
The Igbo’s “goals” (as the Westerners would say), are determined by those of his forebearers. In a way, certain members (especially the oldest son, or Ọkpara) are tasked with taking up the duties where their parents left off. So, they can not set a goal without taking into account that which he currently holds in his hand as a duty.
Often times, Westerners set seemingly arbitrary goals. “I want to be a millionaire,” or “I want to lose weight.” These goals are often not tied to any divine purpose rather than vain desires and selfish ambitions. The makers of the goals, most times have nothing driving them to achieve the goal, and it is noted that 90% of people do not achieve their “new years resolution” (which is a common goal-setting time in the Western world). However, since Igbo goals are often tied to a greater calling, often one passed down from their ancestors, or parents. The duty of achievement is more integral to their very way of life.
“Destiny urges me to a goal of which I am ignorant. Until that goal is attained I am invulnerable, unassailable. When Destiny has accomplished her purpose in me, a fly may suffice to destroy me.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
Welcome back to the 13 Steps. As a recap, in Step 1, you learned how remembrance is the basis for all of the other steps. In Step 2, you recalled when your Chi na Eke were in harmony with one another, and began to make plans on how to get them back in sync. In Step 3, you learned what an Ikenga was, and how to make one that works for you. In Step 4, you learned that you’re always receiving spiritual messages in your dreams and you must learn how to recall, and eventually direct them.
Today, we will discuss a topic has crossed all of our minds at some point of time. Each and everyone of us has thought about our future. As a child you had likely had a list of the things you wanted to be when you grew up. And as you got older, you had an ever growing list of things you wanted to do and places you wanted to go. Perhaps you’ve achieved a fair amount of it by now. Or maybe you haven’t. Regardless, when it comes to one’s future, one can say that there’s a tug of war between what some folks will call “free will”, and one called destiny or fate. For this topic, we will deal with the second half of the equation.
What is destiny?
The word for destiny in Igbo is akaraka. And one of the literal translations is “hand in hand.” It comes from the idea that your future was written in your palms.
For the purpose of this step, let us say that your palms are like a map. If you read a map, you will notice multiple paths to get to your destination, your destiny. There will be some paths that will be smoother and some that will be more rocky. Some paths that will be quicker and some longer. However you choose to get there, the end destination remains the same.
What is your personal destiny?
Well my brothers and sisters, to your surprise, I will be able to give you two answers to this question. As a warning, the first answer is tough to hear, but its one that you cannot afford to ignore. The first answer is that you are destined to die. For those of us that have a day of birth, an accompanying day of death is one of the few things in life that is guaranteed to occur. So whatever you decide to do in life (or not do), keep in mind you don’t have all the time in the world to do it. With that being said, the second answer is that happens between the day you arrived in this world and the day you depart is actually in your hands, up to and including when and how you die. However, that is a lesson that will have to come in the future.
“Onwu si, ‘Cheta kwam mgbe nile’ (Death says, “Always remember me”)
What is the source of your destiny?
Well it would be the Chi na Eke of Step 2. If you recall, Chi can be described as your potential energy, and Eke as your kinetic energy. On the map, the destination is supplied by the Chi. Your direction and velocity (speed) are fueled by your Eke. And the vehicle that you will be driving in this journey is your Ikenga.
How do you find this destiny?
I cannot emphasize this enough. There is likely no easier place to experience the divine than in the dreamscape. Stories abound in various mythologies whereby aspects of one’s destiny or fate were revealed in dreams. However other practices used in Igbo culture include divination near the time of birth (before or after), palmistry as mentioned before (known as amμmμ banyere akaraka), as well as observations of certain things that one has a natural inclination, talent and/or passion for. There are many real life examples of people whose talent was discovered at a very young age.
Can you control this destiny?
If one is in a vehicle, the control of it is a steering wheel. Let’s call this the wheel of fortune. And this wheel of fortune has a driver. When you are born, your driver is your parents (and the co-driver would be “society”). However, over time, as one grows stronger and wiser, you will have the opportunity to get out of the passenger chair, and get behind the wheel. If you make that choice, you have now truly passed step 3.
Can you change your destiny?
Igbos believe that destiny can be renegotiated. If you are indeed behind the wheel of the vehicle (Ikenga), you have options like making a U-turn, choosing where to turn at a crossroads, and plotting a new course altogether. Likewise, even if you’ve gone down a particular path that you know realize is a wrong one, you can indeed start heading in a new direction, right here, right now. You are not handcuffed to your past. Even if you were on a course that was driven by your parents and the parents of your parents (also known as your ancestors), you are by no means handcuffed to that destination, and can change course at any time. You are not handcuffed to the past of your parents or their parents (ancestors). Furthermore, you can also at any time change your Ikenga to suit your needs. The tank-like Ikenga that carried you through a very rough and turbulent road may not be the best vehicle for the smooth and narrow road that may be ahead of you.
Can others influence your destiny?
Yes. Along the way towards our destination, we will cross paths with others. Quite a few of them will distract us, slowing us down during our main journey. However, we can encounter those who will not only share our destiny, but those also accelerate it. For this reason, be careful when one selects your friends as well as life partners. And also be extra mindful in your dealings with strangers. A chance encounter could help make or break you.
Can your destiny be taken from you?
Contrary to what some Nigerian pastors and prophets may have told you, your destiny cannot be taken or stolen from you. You can however surrender control of the wheel to others (i.e societal pressure). And most of you probably don’t have any type of “ancestral curse.” You’re likely simply refusing to take control of the wheel and switch course from the negative one that your ancestors set.
How do you know the best way to reach your destiny?
The same way that most of us find the best route to our location: We use a GPS. Yes, you read that right. You do indeed have a GPS system for your destiny. But you will have to wait until step 6 to learn how to access it.
Step 5: I declare that my destiny is in my hands. I am not handcuffed to my past or that of my ancestors, nor am I cursed. I am welcome to change course at any time. No one can steal my destiny, but they can distract me from it.
Make an honest assessment of where you think your life is headed and compare that to where you would like it to go.
Recall the things that you were naturally good at as a child, as well as what you had alot of passion about.
If you’ve made an Ikenga, think about whether its the right type at this moment to get you the results you’re looking for in life.
Take a look at your dream journal and see if you notice any patterns or prominent symbols.
Take an inventory of those who have the biggest influence on you (friends and family). Are they assisting you be the best version of yourself or hindering you?
Mark your calendars for step 6, which is coming out Jan 13 of next year. Yagazie!
“Mmuo na mmadu na-azu afia, mana ofeke amaroo”
(Spirit and human beings are in constant communication, but the uninitiated does not know)
Welcome back to the 13 steps. If you’re still here, I will applaud you for getting this far and not allowing yourself to be discouraged or distracted. Today I will tell you something that will blow your mind (maybe even literally).
What if I told you how to access a place where you could directly commune directly with your Chi na Eke? What if I explained that this place is not bound by the laws of physics or by those of time, and that you may even be able to visit events in the past and even get glimpses about the future. You’re feeling excited now aren’t you?
Well before I tell you how to access this place, I want to talk about a universal human activity that we do at night (or during the day if you work night shifts). If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m referring to sleeping. Besides the fact that most of us don’t get enough sleep, there is something else that most of us are being deprived of. And to find out what, you should answer the following question: When was the last time you had a dream?
Some of you will respond by saying it was the last time you slept. Others will say its been weeks, months if not years. Whatever your answer, the truth is that we all have several dreams every single night, but the difference is that most of us don’t remember our dreams. Amazing to learn isn’t it? And what’s even more amazing is that the place I told you about in the beginning is a place you go to nearly everytime you go to sleep.
If you haven’t made the connection, I’m talking about the dreamscape. Whether or not you’re remembering it, you’re constantly interacting with various spirits, as well as exploring your own subconscious mind in your dreams. The Igbo word for dream is nrọ, and that is the also the name of this step. Ndi Igbo, like most people around the world, placed a very large significance to dreams. In fact, an argument could be made that the dreamland (ala nrọ) is the primary place for spiritual experiences, whether its while one is asleep or while awake (i.e a vision, known in Igbo as ihu ọhụụ).
In Igbo culture, it was not uncommon for people to receive a significant “calling” in their dreams. If for instance, a person who had occupied a particular office/title in life, such a traditional priest/priestess, passed away, it wasn’t uncommon for them to appear in the dreams of the person who they wanted to be their successor. I myself started this website after a visit from a spiritual being, as I described in this post.
Not only that, having literal or figurative dreams about the future is another universal human experience, and likely the way the majority of authentic prophecy happens. It’s my opinion that what most people describe as deja vu as well as premonitions are usually when something in real life that triggers a recall of a precognitive dream. And it goes without saying that bad things can be averted if warnings in from a dream are heeded. I myself have received warnings in dreams about my personal life which have proven disastrous when not acted upon.
Ala nrọ is also a source of answers, including those that come from prayer as well as questions you have yet to ask. Throughout history, there are countless accounts of people who made a discovery, invention or came up with an idea from a dream. Many of these people went on to make radical changes in their respective fields or communities as well as attain fame and fortune. More advanced dreamers have also reported being able to overcome their fears through reoccurring dreams or attain new skills by the use of lucid ones, in which they become aware that they are dreaming.
I would like to point out that most people’s ability to recall their dreams gets worse as they go from child to adulthood, for a number of reasons. Besides the fact that a fair amount of us are indeed sleep deprived, I think it is another example of us getting out of harmony with our Chi na Eke as we get older.
Now my brothers and sisters, consider the following questions. How many answers are you missing out on simply by not being able to remember your dreams? What do you think could change if you simply remembered more of your dreams than you are currently doing? How would your world change if you could consciously control what happens in your dreams?
Well the good news is that there are many tools available to help you not only remember your dreams, but also decode and even direct them. One of the first things that you can do to help is to start a dream journal. In doing so, you will begin to see patterns in the dreams you’re having as well as recognize things that were prophetic that you weren’t aware of at the time. I would also suggest getting a dream dictionary, but over time, you should able to create your own personalized one, which of course will take precedence over anyone that you purchase.
You also have at your disposal an abundance of literature, websites and videos that discuss various techniques, practices, herbs, teas and elixirs that will help you recall your dreams, make them more vivid, and even become a lucid dreamer. I would suggest trying different things and seeing what works for you.
Step 4: I recognize that I’m already in constant communication with spirit, in both the waking world and the dream one. And I must learn how to recall, decode and direct my own dreams.
Action item: Create a journal of your dreams and visions and explore various tools to expand your dream experiences. And stay tuned for step 5, which is coming out on the next new moon, December 14. Yagazie (It shall be well with you).
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?