Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

African Traditional Religions: Ifa

This guide, created by the Atlanta University Center Woodruff Library with funding from the Atla OER Grant Program, exists as an Open Educational Resource on "African Traditional Religions: Ifa." Content licensed CC-BY-NC 4.0.

Hermeneutics (Interpretation): Cosmologies

Several cosmology diagrams are included under the following section of this chapter.  The first one represents the Hebrew cosmology. Next comes the Yoruba and then the others are comparative representations from other parts of West and Northeastern Africa.

1.Hebrew. This cosmology is constructed from reading genesis, chapter 1, verse one through chapter 2, verse 4a.  The image is that of a sphere.  Above the upper portion of it is the domain of the Creative powers. Underneath it is a dome through which rain, snow, etc is emitted via "windows."  The sun, moon and stars traverse this dome in rhythmic cycles.  They move through the atmosphere.  The earth is conceived as an island surrounded by water and supported by a giant pillar that plummets into the deep sea underneath it.  The more immediate soil under the ground is Sheol.  It is the place where human bodies are buried.  Much later on in Jewish thought it becomes a place of imprisoned spirits.  It is important to note that all earthly  life is contained within this gigantic sphere.  Beyond this, there is the unknown realm of the heaven of heavens.

2. Yoruba. Ifa cosmology is amazingly similar to the ancient Hebrew one.  Its mythologies of origin speak of a vast "ocean."  When Olodumare sends one or more of the Orishas to manifest a habitable land mass, they are given elements that are cast upon the ocean that will create Ile Ife.  Creation is both sequential and concurrent in another dimension and on earth.  In a sense Orun (heaven) is no place and everywhere.  The image of the calabash is aptly suited to represent the idea of all things and beings contained within it.  There is no dualism or dichotomy.  There is cause and effect, along with the wisdom needed to live according to established principles of how the cosmology functions.

 3. Vodun.  Here again there are striking similarities between the ancient Hebrew and Vodun cosmologies.  Originally brought forth by Nana Buluku, the androgynous couple Mawu Lisa complete the process of creation through their offspring.  Lisa is symbolized as the sun; Mawu as the moon.  The other "vodun" are described as forces of nature.  Similar to Ifa, the spirit world is adjacent to the physical one.  So too, everything is interconnected.  Also, there are other realms of reality below the surface of the visible earth.

4. Igbo.  The supreme being, like the deity of Hebrew cosmology is supremely above and beyond creation.  The cycles of life rotate from brith, puberty, adulthood, maturity, death/transformation.  At the same time "death" is not permanent, as one could become an ancestor and/or reincarnate.  The human hemisphere of life "above"  the horizon is adjacent to the spirit world "below."  Thus, they are interconnected.

5. Kongo.  The Kongo cosmogram is similar to the other.  And it represents the cycles both microcosmically and macrocosmically.  Moving counter clockwise birth corresponds to east, sunrise, spring; adulthood corresponds to north, noon, summer; death to  west, sunset, fall; and beyond death to south, midnight, winter.  The world below the horizon is equal to and/or greater than the one above.  In other words, the realm of the ancestors below the surface is a place of both veneration and rejuvenation.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.