“Writing” and “Reference” in Ifá Divination Chants


The 256 graphic inscriptions (odù), and the infinite number of illustrative narratives (ẹsẹ) that they generate, constitute the two main parts of Ifá divination protocols. However, the narratives do not adhere coherently to durable patterns that attach to specific inscriptions. This paper argues that the storytelling freedom exercised by diviners decouples interpretation from “writing” and creates room for individually authored therapeutic commentaries. “Writing” links the present to the past, but storytelling keeps them apart.



Ifá Divination “Writing” chart.

Divination tray.

Photo by Henry Drewal, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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