Initiation into spiritual systems has always held a fascinating space in my imagination since my reading of Malidoma’s seminal account of his in the book ‘Of Water and Spirit’. This interest was piqued even more so by Carlos Castaneda’s ‘The teachings of Don Juan’. His experiences with teaching plants, the merging of realms and encounters therein with spirit guardians and animals piqued my interest even further.

Malidoma’s works had a familiarity mainly because of the experiences with his Ancestors as my journey into spirituality, when it became conscious to myself, started with personal encounters with my maternal grandmother as a teenager, so it did not seem so far removed. The main difference was, mine had not taken place in the context of a traditional community that supported its growth through requisite cultural training, otherwise known as initiation systems. What Malidoma and Castaneda’s accounts made me wonder particularly was what else I could be missing out on due to the absence of plant medicines and a teacher or elders from the community who would guide me along such a journey.

My first introduction to Baba Lanre Okeyiwumina of OLA IFA house was in 2011 through an Ifa initiate by the name of Ifaleke, a renown jazz musician based in London, who ‘coincidentally’ was interviewed for our first film ‘Ancestral Voices: Esoteric African Knowledge’. Ifaleke had serendipitously met my wife, Verona, on the streets in West London whilst she was returning from filming for the film and in overhearing his conversation with his friend and its relevance to our film, she made the decision there and then to approach him, introduce herself and then subsequently interview him.

We went to Baba Lanre’s house in South-East London where I obtained my first IFA reading to identify which Orisha ‘held my head’, as they say, meaning which Elemental force is most prevalent in one’s character and personality – it was Ogun, superficially known as the ‘God of War’. Over time and with more study, the significance of the reading would be reflected in many other areas of my life. It would even shed further light on my own Akan name and why one of my birth names, Nyarko, translates as one who likes to fight/argue/debate etc.

After this reading, the decision was made to provide me with the first half of my initiation, as a full initiation could not be conducted in England as it involves many parts, many of which could not be facilitated abroad. He was going to provide me with the ‘Ase’ of Ogun to work with in the interim until such time when a full initiation could be performed back in Nigeria.

Even that ‘small’ ceremony in the kitchen in Nigeria blew my mind. There was Baba, myself and a chicken. There was no knife, there was no killing, there was no blood, only a verbal conversation between a human being (my Baba) and this animal and right before my eyes the spirit of the animal acquiesced to the transfer its Asé for use in our intended ceremony. I was in bewilderment for days after. The experience contravened all Western scientific concepts I was aware of, this was beyond the empirical scientific viewpoint. According to that corpus, what I experienced in the kitchen should be impossible according to the Laws of Physics and Biology.

Over the years many an attempt would be made to get to Nigeria to complete the initiation but responsibilities of raising a young family, managing an Educational Initiative that was facing ridicule at every turn and a general lack of support made it impossible, each time Baba would say ‘it is just not the right time, that time will come. Don’t rush.

In 2020 that time nearly came but then also came Corona and that was that, all the best laid plans, just another obstacle.

In 2021 we identified a short window, the initiation into Ogun lasts for about 4 to 5 days so we took it. Had I remembered some of Malidoma’s wise words that initiations are not to be taken lightly, maybe I would have been more circumspect in my eagerness.
However, the promise both authors have expressed in their works of the self-realisations and growth that results as an outcome of their initiations superseded any of my other concerns, as far as I was concerned, I was born ready!
The fantasies that living in the West can engender in our imaginations eh? We are so full of ourselves and our entitlements! Well, that was before the process started…

It was then I would realise the naivety of my own expectations and how the absence of an elder to provide contextual information about the experience beforehand would have been useful and necessary, even then I still very much doubt it can fully prepare any individual for what is to be experienced in the ceremonies. In later conversations with friends who had been initiated already, particularly from the US, where inter-generational links between the Diaspora and Yorubaland had been formed over decades, they revealed how better prepared physically they had been from having the wise counsel of initiated elders/initiates before they underwent initiation. In my case I had no choice but to undergo initiation by fire!

And fire it was, one that would provide the greatest discomfort I have yet known whilst simultaneously providing the passion, strength and creativity to endure its trials and overcome its challenges in order to learn from the process!

By the morning of the third day, I was beyond weary. I had not managed to sleep a wink the whole night as we had started the main ceremony the evening before, what is symbolically and psychically enacted as the ‘death-night’, to start the process of being ‘re-born’. The last two days had been spent clearing with Orunmila if the ceremony could carry on and under what conditions.

That third morning, I was feeling totally vulnerable, floating between states of panic and calm, a bit disorientated and in mental conversations with what seemed like hundreds of voices, some of them my own and even they were not exactly me, they rather felt like other versions of me. All this dialogue were seemingly happening in the same moments, at the same time! 

The ecstatic drumming at the ceremony had invoked a journey through space and time that brought in many previous memories. I would find myself in two places at the same time; one being in the middle of a circle in Lagos and also present in Bahia, Brazil, in 2014 whilst filming for the sequel ‘Ancestral Voices: Spirit is Eternal’. We had had an interesting experience then with a pack of dogs on the streets of Perulniho that also became evident and present in the ceremony. 

The presence of the dogs reminded me how far I had come with my guiding Orisha, Ogun, as his companion in the Yoruba corpus was a loyal and obedient dog.

Due to all these unravellings in the ceremony, my mind had become a turbulent storm of instances and memories and I had not managed to sleep at all that night.

Sleeping on a hard wooden mat made for burying the dead in a sacred grove open to the elements only produces pain in the joints and body and the sharp, stabbing pains all over my head and face from little cuts inflicted during the process of shaving my bodily-hairs was no consolation either, it merely added to the distress. 

That distress was further amplified with the first bath I had to take that dawn, with cold water and I hate nothing more than cold water!
The manner in which I shivered I was certain I would be getting a cold before the initiation would even end. These types of negative thoughts would slip in and out of my consciousness at various points during the initiation and it became clear over the days my role was to confront them honestly and neutralise them positively. If I could not maintain my power of will, it was clear I would not be able to complete the initiation.

After the bath I was taken back to the sacred grove where the first set of a series of body paintings would begin. As it was the first, the paintings were restricted to my head and would later spread across the entire body, enveloping it much like a cocoon. 

I was entrusted into the care of four women. The lead assistant must have been able to see how I felt in my face because after the painting she said ‘Oya, make you sleep now’

Ecstatic to hear those words, I willingly obliged and spread myself out to get much needed rest and calm my mind.

I was having a lovely dream in a forest with some friends from my childhood. Suddenly, the voice of the main assistant interrupted me asking me what I was doing. I was very irritated because I had been rudely interrupted from the blissful sleep I had been denied for about 12 hours! I then turned over to face away from her and in a huff, muttered abruptly ‘I day sleep’. I was very annoyed she had woken me this way, what I didn’t perceive then was how I had turned over and gone back to sleep on the mat when at the time of her interruption I was meant to be standing in a forest?! Two different locations, two different postures all seamlessly interwoven such that I did not even notice the difference in that moment.

Next minute I was being rocked gently to wake up for the second bath of the day and wash off the body markings. I groggily woke up, I asked why she woke me from my dream earlier. She looked bewildered and remarked ‘I no talk anything’ . She turned around to the other assistants who nodded in agreement. She indicated that I had been asleep the entire period and had not spoken to nor interacted with anyone. I remembered then that in the dream I had only heard what sounded like her voice, I had not actually seen her physical presence at all. Yet it all felt so real,, how could that be part of the dream?

I was totally puzzled, but it was then I noticed she was staring at me with a bizarre expression. She pointed towards my neck and asked ‘Wetin be that?’

I shrugged my shoulders and reached up towards my neck and felt a string around it. It was one of the fibres from the natural sponge used in spiritual bathing, exactly like the one I had used for my first bath earlier.
The main issue was I had only used it in my bath and when I had returned to the grove for the markings to be drawn, it definitely was not there. It was also not there when I had gone to sleep briefly. There was/were only five of us in the grove and none of us had put it there.

It was moreso the reaction of the assistants that gave me most concern as they seemed to start to panic based on their facial expressions. They muttered hurriedly to each other with some sense of urgency and kept repeating the words ‘Baba’, ‘Baba’, in reference to my spiritual father. One of them rushed outside and I could hear her speaking to those outside in an urgent tone. Then could hear more rushing around, then all of a sudden there was a sea of images peering through the windows and the mesh in the front door to the shrine.

By this point my heart was pounding as I had no clue what the whole excitement was about. I was feeling uneasy, a bit like a freak show in a circus as each person came to get a glimpse – of what exactly, I wasn’t sure, but I did not like the attention at all.

What made the formation of this ‘necklace’ so perturbing for me was that it symbolically referenced my actual birth. I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped so tightly around my neck, my face was blue, according to my late mother. In Yoruba Cosmology, children born this way are known as Ojo children. After repeated attempts to try to get me to breathe or even show signs of life the doctor had given up and lifted me up to drop into the bucket. It was at that stage that I cried and the doctor proceeded to instead give me to my mother to hold, rather than condemned in the bucket.

My Babalawo then entered the room and he also did not seem particularly happy. He proceeded to touch the necklace very tentatively with a frown on his face…

*This is an abridged account of my initiation into Ogun. The full story will be available in the book to be released on the first anniversary to commemorate my rebirth as Dalian ‘Ajala Ogundipe’ Nana Yaw Nyarko Adofo on the 27th of October 2022.*

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