Biagué oracle: coconut toss


Within Santeria or the Rule of Oshá-Ifá, a syncretic religion between the African Yoruba and Christianity, whose identification of deities and saints earned it its nickname, there are multiple religious rituals, many of which are esoteric in nature, following the current foundations of these spiritual and magical related practices. The oracles largely govern the life of the practitioner or even the profane, to whom they can indicate their path within Santeria. The Biagué oracle is one of the simplest oracular practices. It takes its name from the awo (priest-fortune teller) Biagué, who according to the patakin (tradition or legend), was the first priest who understood and openly exposed the use of this oracle through pieces of coconut to consult, from the simplest to the most complex, the orishas, ​​divinities of the Yoruba pantheon, a system that earned his son Adiatoto to demonstrate that he was his true heir. Both are often invoked and thanked among all the other orishas when this oracle is to be used. Reading the Ifá treatises, the orisha Orula was the first who obtained this divination system validly, which makes it a tool as divine as any other, despite its simple appearance.

The Biagué oracle, due to its method of contrasting polarities and its Afro-Asian heritage - specifically Nigerian -, is often included as a geomantic practice. Although it may not seem very obvious on the surface, it makes sense if we take into account that the best known geomancy, the Arabic geomancy of points in sand or on an Almadel board, is also based on odd and even polarity and that such practice spread and continues in force in much of the African continent. This type of divination can be performed by both priests and santeros and aleyos (those uninitiated but interested, who are considered "guests"). The aleyos, always with the consecration or protection of some saint or having an amulet or shelter duly prepared and ritualized by someone with greater knowledge, will be able to ask simpler questions than the previous ones, due to the complexity of the interpretation, although the development of This oracle may seem simple. The answers obtained can be direct to the questions asked, or a message of acceptance or rejection of the deities of an offering that has been made for a specific purpose. This Biagué oracle is considered a conversation between the divinity and the consultant.

For this we will need four pieces of coconut (obbi), specifically that they are its halves or quarters or pieces of the pulp, keeping a light part and a dark part, being in this case carved to obtain a triangular or circular shape, since these two forms geometric evoke sacred issues such as the trinity as a perfect set, or life cycles. It must be dry and it must be broken by hitting it with a stone or other blunt object, but never by throwing it on the ground, since Obbi is also a divinity itself, so by damaging him, he could turn against the one who did it. Obbi's patakin tells that this deity was pure of heart, so his flesh is white, but he was so vain that Olofi, the orisha "supervisor" of all the others, made him dark on the outside and fall from above so that get dirty However, he would be useful to men, showing them the hidden. On the other hand, it is a moral of how a santero must always be humble.

Before starting a consultation, it is necessary to carry out a mogyuba or previous rite, consisting of libations of water on the ground, and sometimes tearing of the remaining pulp of the coconut, together with a series of prayers and thanks for the use of the oracle. Then the divination process can begin, throwing the four pieces.

When making the tosses, its way of falling, face up or face down, as well as his position on the ground, will be indicated by the orisha's response to the querent. Although it can be done individually, it is normally a ceremony where the person who presides is the interpreter and the consultant is the one who throws the pieces. Due to this possible personal use, many categorize this practice as an oracular subsystem and not an oracle within the official Yoruba religious canon.

There are five "basic" positions for interpretation, based on the black-white polarity of the coconut pieces. These positions, also called odu, or simply letters, are what make up an Obbi oracle, namely a coconut toss, the simplest oracle of all, since they only say Yes or No (three affirmative and two negative spins). When more than one throw is made and more complex answers are sought, then it is when it receives the name of Oracle of Biagué. The Odu, (with the guide of O as white face and X as dark face) are the following:

-Alafia: (OOOO) This is the casting in which the four pieces of coconut fall showing their white face. It is interpreted as a "yes", although some santeros assume that this must be confirmed by a second toss of affirmative response. It is a toss considered consecrated to the divinities Obbatalá, Shangó and Orula, principals of the Yoruba pantheon, so if the query or offering has been made to these same ones, it is a clear confirmation not only of the request but of the attention to the prayer.

-Itawa or Ottawa: (XOOO) is the name given to the toss in which three pieces of coconut fall showing their white part and one its dark part. It is an affirmative answer that also usually repeats the roll to confirm. This confirmation is called Itawa Meyi and is considered the most judgmental and positive of all. It indicates that the orisha being consulted is answering the call, but also that other main divinities confirm the answer. It is a toss through which Shangó, holy warrior, indicates the path to follow, or even the path to be a santero, in the event that the consultant is not. Likewise, it predicts violent but brave attitudes of both the consultant and the person for whom it has been possible to consult, as well as contradictory situations. It is also a message that a litmus test is approaching, very important for personal and spiritual development, which must transcend in a positive way.

-Eyeite: (XXOO) It is the toss where the results are balanced, showing two white and two dark views. It is the definitive confirmation, the "yes" in which there are no doubts. Elllegwuá, Obbatalá, Shango, Ochosi, Osun and Oggun reaffirm it. However, Ellegwuá is in charge of supervising the consultant in the search for the objective for which the doors have been opened: any disrespectful act towards gods or mortals, as well as the breaking of certain religious and social taboos can lead to a delay in the fulfillment of the objective or even the impossibility of achieving it in the case of a very serious affront, as a punishment given by the orisha. For this reason, patience is recommended, because before achieving success, there will be different stages that must be overcome.

-Okana: (XXXO) This is the toss in which three pieces of the obbi fall showing its dark side and one its light side. It is a negative response, all the more so if it appears on the first print run, warning of upcoming difficulties. In other cases, it implies the need to repeat the question in a clearer way, along with the superstition of cooling the coconut by dipping the pieces in water and cocoa butter, or pulling your ears and opening your eyes wide when making the query. It is an uneasy message, it predicts problematic and tragic situations, unsettling situations on a mental level. It can also indicate that the consultant's guardian angel, an orisha or a dead person may be dissatisfied with him/her, and they should appease them through offerings. But it can also be indicative of the opposite, that he should start as a santero.

-Oyekun: (XXXX) Contrary to Alafia, all the coconut pieces fall showing their dark part. It is absolute denial, in fact it can often even presage the death of someone close to you or of oneself, even if this is due to a recently deceased relative who did not leave the house and wants to drag his loved ones away. It is generally a bad omen that misfortunes are approaching such as accidents, loss of work or money. On leaving this result, a second toss can be made to find out if it is the dead who are speaking: if so, he must make a libation with water and make masses for the dead, to dedicate candles to them... if it is not a question of the deceased, then it is Shangó who speaks, and what is hindering the consulted desire must be located, at a personal and community level, at a physical and mental level, at the level of people, animals and objects, being able to carry out purifications and other rituals that unlock the roads. To make a third toss asking what to do or who are the dead or orishas involved, it is recommended to previously refresh the obbi pieces with water and cocoa butter.

When an answer is affirmative, it is customary to pronounce the formula: Maferefun Obbatalá, which translates to: Pray/Praise Obbatalá.

These positions are the easiest way to start a conversation with the orishas or the spirit world to find out the outcome of the issues that concern us. However, as it has been seen, the answers are limited, as well as the very closed possibilities. So there is, despite the fact that its use is extended rather in esoteric circles than among santeros and babalawos priests, the so-called Apere-ti system. It consists of the interpretation of the five positions according to the fall of the coconut, according to the geometric shape that is obtained. This way you don't just get a no or a yes to interpret and reinterpret, but a context to focus on within the divinatory conversation. These forms are each associated with a receiving and emitting orisha.
In this way, if the coconut pieces fall in a horizontal line, it is Ellegwuá who answers, while if they fall vertically, it will be Olofi. It will be different if they fall in pairs, the Ibeyis, twin orishas, ​​presiding over the act, than if they fall two by two but without touching, where we will find Orula, and if they are somewhat inclined parallel, Obbatalá. An upper grouping of three and a loose piece below is the work of Oyá, while if the loose piece is on top it will be Babalú Aye. These are just a few of the more recognizable shapes, but there are obviously endless possibilities, and each Yoruba community tends to have its own rules or readings. This ease of reinterpretation and variety is what does not convince scholars in Santeria to often take the Apere-ti into account.

There are many other things to pay attention to. For example, if a piece falls on edge or hits the querent when falling, it announces misfortunes for him/her; if the coconut pieces are piled up or split (except if it happens with all of them) they indicate money and luck, since they evoke abundance. But if the crowded ones are all dark views, then they warn of a betrayal or entrapment, while if they are white they speak of gifts and surprises. As can be seen, the white-good and black-bad dualism is constant.

Likewise, the messages, positive or negative, will be accompanied by certain recommendations or clearer messages on how to proceed. To cite a few examples, they can recommend specific offerings or refer to the personality of the consultant; it can warn of the presence of enemies or of the good predisposition of the saints to help in their undertakings. They may even recommend using one color or another to enhance luck, or avoiding certain foods and places. The answers are much clearer and they allow for a longer conversation with the deities. Once again, the fact hat someone outside the santero circles carry out such conversations, even when the orishas lead them to their initiation, does not please babalawos and santeros, who have consecrated their lives precisely to communication and dedication with the saints. On the other hand, if someone who is not specialized in these questions of religious communication wants to consult and converse with the variants of position, then they will need a manual that tells them what each thing means until they learn what they mean. And if they learn it by heart, they are not really talking to the orishas, but deducing from a book, which cannot properly be called conversation.

A system considered superior and confused with the Obbi oracles is the Obi Abatá, considered one of the most ancient oracles of the Nigerian tradition. The procedure may be similar, but it is carried out through the four fragments into which the Cola Nut is divided, which in turn are divided into male and female, and has nine Odu or positions, whose options multiply in their combinations. That is why it is in the triad of the most complete and complex oracles, while the Biagué is the meeting point between the learned and the profane ones.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada - pietrocarracedo@gmail.com

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- Delgado Torres, A. E. El gran libro de la Santería: introducción a la cultura yoruba. Esfera de los - Libros, 2005
- Llorens Alicea, I. Sincretismo religioso: pervivencia de las creencias yorubas en la isla de puerto rico. UCM. Madrid, 2003

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