When you come into the Orisha traditions, you will hear that these traditions revere their elders, and that you must always show respect no matter what. I find that this terminology of ‘Elders’ is a bit open to interpretation for some, and I wish to clarify based on what I’ve seen and learned the past 26 years.
When I got serious about these tradtitions (early 20’s), I couldn’t understand certain things… but I will post here what I understood on the topic of Elders and how this belief has changed my outlook on the value of elders and what it means to me.
Here I am… with my jeans underneath my white skirt, and a white shirt on top, with my head covered. I see a string of people lining up to drop to the ground to what I later found out that they were doing was ‘saluting their elders’. It seems like people were on the ground for about 12 – 20 people almost in a row. I thought, ‘well, this is what this is about…’, and took it as such. Later on after attending more events and asking questions (being that I had no godparent I was what I still call a free agent), that you are supposed to drop to the ground whenever any person is older than you in initiation. I remember thinking … ‘OMG, heck no! What if I have a nice outfit and there 100 people at that event! I am going to be nice and dirt filled by the time I get to dance my first song’ LOL’ (Oh before you judge me, remember that I was brand spanking new…) I would watch the men and women do different types of ground saluting, and I thought… oh well, I guess that you pick your own style from those two and go for it. (I didn’t realize then that this had to do with them knowing certain things as part of their journeys’.
Okay… fast forward to now — 26 years in and counting these are a few things that I’ve learned about Elders within our faith. (Remember that some of these thoughts are based on Lukumi and some on Yoruba). Here we go:
Elders are definitely revered in the traditions due to their roles within the community.
- Elders in Yoruba as well as many Latino cultures were seen as the ‘Last Word’. They were the folks that would discuss community issues, and you would bring your queries to them and they would be the advisers. For the Yoruba, these elder societies held a lot of power, and did their best to put their heads together to search through the best possible solution to (place name of problem here). In many Latino societies the Elders were not seen as these frail old people ready to kick the bucket…. nope… they were energetic, opinionated and had a vast amount of wisdom to deal with issues, from cheating husbands, infertility, bad neighbors and runaway roosters. From what I understand the Yoruba still maintain some of these traditions, but the political and socio-economic situation in Nigeria has created some problems for these traditions of Elders there.
- In the Lukumi traditions — the elders became iconic as they were the first to go through rites when it was not the cool thing to go and get initiated and be dressed in white for a year. It was a true sacrifice to come up with all things necessary to be initiated. They worked initiations, became godparents, ajubonas, and assisted in many ceremonies…. therefore these people observe and basically say ‘yay or nay’ based on their lineage.
- Elders in our traditions no matter what it is… refers to the elderly… as they have come before us and have (or at least should have) some wisdom to give….. Now… here is where it gets tricky….
The Elder Status
Mostly in Lukumi and now I’m seeing it more in western Traditional Yoruba houses that elder status is based on the sum of the years that you are initiated. If you make ocha today then next year, the new iyawos have to throw themselves to you. If you have 10 years in Ocha, you are considered an elder already. Now me? I’m a baby in ocha since I am still in the single digits. The way that I look at it though, is that I will be a baby for quite a bit… probably my whole life. Why? Because it might take me a whole lifetime to achieve this status.
Who should carry the Elder Status?
- A person leading a good life (now I didn’t say perfect, but good) – What does this mean? A person who strives to be better than he/she was the day before. A person who leads a life with high moral and ethical values.
- A person who is humble – A person who is not pointing at themselves with the me, me, me is very well on the way for high honors in this life and as an Ancestor.
- A person who practices their craft – A priest who knows his/her stuff is a pride to his spiritual house, and his lineage. A priest who is always practicing on how to be a better priest, casting, odus, eboes, ceremony, and other things that make up a phenomenal priest/ess.
- An example of the community – A priest should carry himself/herself as though Olodumare himself is watching with a lens. Your neighbors watch how one conducts themselves… how they speak, how they dress, how they respond to situations and how they represent their faith to the world.
- A leader in the community – A priest who is helpful to improving their community, one that is involved in making their community better. One who helps others within the community (whether it be in a one on one situation or through volunteer work) – and gets involved in community matters.
- A person who for years conducts him or herself like a priest at all times….
What an elder is not… no matter how many years initiated or alive
- Priests who are promiscuous, have babies with their godchildren, and beat their partners (physical violence is a NO NO!)
- Priests who lie, interpret an odu in a way that benefits the priest only to make an extra buck, & steals money.
- Priests who behave in a deplorable way in or outside their homes, fighting in public, creating scenes, curses all day long (Now, I still love my sailor friends; however when Orisha comes out and says… stop cursing…. grrr one has to check themselves. It may not have come out for you and you are lucky lol.) … The point is that the world is watching, and we want to put our best foot forward out there in the world…. I mean we get bad press as it is. We don’t want to give them more ammunition against us.
- Priests who collect years… but no experience as a priest – meaning that they have 15 years, 20 years+ in ocha… and still can’t throw the oracles for themselves. You might be — shocked… (insert shocked and outraged face here)… but let’s think about this outside of the religion.
- For example: Here I am… and decide that I am going to be a heart surgeon, because both of my parents are heart surgeons, or because someone in the street or at an event told me that this is what I must do because Egun told them. I then enroll in Medical School… does this mean that after my first year I can start performing heart surgeries? No, of course not! So… now I’ve completed the 4 years of Medical School… can I start performing heart surgeries? Nope… not yet… After Medical school, I have to do a specialized program…. can I start performing surgeries now? No, because I haven’t observed enough, and I need to learn some more…. then I have to go do my internship… which I found out that for surgery begins at around 5 years…. we have now about 6 years in school and 5 for practice….. before I can even begin to start practicing on my own (and probably will not do it due to much liability). Can I now go to a Heart Surgery convention, dressed in my best doctor outfit and say… ‘hey…. I’ve been a graduate doctor for 10 years so you must give me preference and respect?’ NOOOOO… I have to have been practicing for all of those years in order to receive the respect of my colleagues and my patients. Same goes here….
- Priests who demand that others bow down to them – this is not an elder…. This just sounds like ego playing a huge role disguised as spirituality. The head of our spiritual egbe always says…. that no one is going to give you a skip at the supermarket because you have 35 years in ocha. You still have to wait in line like everyone else.
- A priest who is always pointing out how enlightened, lifted, knowledgeable he or she is, and how much iwa pele has been achieved.
- A priest who gossips about others and does it either in private or out there at events, or in front of the community.
- A priest who does illegal drugs or sells illegal drugs or accepts this as an ‘okay’ practice from a godchild in order to collect more ch-ching.
- A priest who gets drunk and behaves in a deplorable way. No one says that a person cannot drink (unless this is your taboo), but you can drink without getting drunk and being a fool.
The Elders should lift you and provide blessings. My question is… how can a priest who is doing any of the section above lift anyone?
This is a big one for all in the traditions whether they are brand spanking new to the traditions or have been around for a long time. Be observant of those who call themselves elders. Are they living the type of life one should aspire to live? Is there an ire that their actions could bestow upon you? For our egbe this is what defines who to ‘throw yourself down for’. One fully should give this respect to the godparent who has taken the responsibility to teach you, and to guide you through your spiritual journey… absolutely… How about the head priest of YOUR house… Definitely… What about the Mother of the house (elder woman priestess of the house)… Of course… Now… should you give this same full prostration to all of the elders of all the houses that you meet? This is where it again gets tricky. Some spiritual houses will have that as a policy, and you should be aware of this prior to committing yourself to this house, if this does not resonate with you. Other houses will still cross their hands, or touch the ground as a sign of respect without going to a full ‘bale’ – hitting the ground and still providing that respect.
So? Fully drop to the ground for anyone who is slightly older than you? Just because everyone in a room drops to the ground? Perhaps one should think that any elder who wishes to have this title… should be:
A true servant of the community. An elder’s role isn’t a role for personal ego – for … ‘well he better come and salute me because I’m older’… It should always be ‘How can I better serve my community?’ ‘What can I do to improve someone’s life?’ ‘What can I do better myself so that I be of service to my brothers and sisters?’ ‘How can I better connect with my spiritual guides, eguns and Orishas?‘ What I’ve found after observing, participating and really measuring your values and an elder is someone that I wish to strive to be like… or aspects of their growth. No one is perfect and one cannot expect perfection from any human being (that would be unreasonable). However an elder can and should always strive to be the best human being and that is one that deserves this respect and us as the community should only give the respect to those who have earned it…
How do YOU feel about the Elders title?
Comment below on your thoughts of what an elder means to you. Have you ever had an experience with someone you know is not living a life with high moral character and they expect all those to drop down when they walk into a room because they have (x) amount of years with a crowned Orisha? What message do you think that this gives to the new generation coming into our faith?
Thanks for reading this far (I know that this was a long one) — If you liked this post…. share it! Adupe pupo!