[Expanded and Edited] Shrines and Shrine Masters: Chief Dr. D. O. Ebengho and the Inscrutable Wonder of his Cosmological Shrine : Part 2: Iroko Trees as Cosmological Coordinates

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Oluwatoyin Adepoju

Jan 30, 2023, 12:45:24 PMJan 30
to usaafricadialogue, Yoruba Affairs, Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju


                                                             Shrines and Shrine Masters 

                         Chief Dr. D. O. Ebengho and the Inscrutable Wonder of his Cosmological Shrine

                                                                               Part 2

                                                  Iroko Trees as Cosmological Coordinates

                                                                Expanded and Edited

                                                                Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju


                                                       Comparative Cognitive Processes and Systems

                                                Exploring Every Corner of the Cosmos in Search of Knowledge



This essay explores the aesthetic power and evocative force of the shrine installations and performance art of Chief Dr. D. O. Ebengho in terms of  relationships between their  referential range,  variety of forms,  technical accomplishment and structural rhythms and their spiritual philosophical and cosmological significance.

Using  verbal text, complemented by  pictures and videos taken by myself, by his acolyte Enoyogiere Iyen, the Facebook photos of his daughter Vanessa David, and other sources I could discover as the project proceeds, I examine Ebengho's shrines to various deities in his shrine complex at 2nd Cemetery Road, Benin-City, as well as ritual and artistic performances at the shrine as an achievement of global proportions, its power evident even without understanding the theological context of his art, appreciation amplified by sensitivity to his distinctive development of expressive configurations within the artistic and religious traditions in which he works. 

Underlying my response to Ebengho's art are such sensitivities as represented by Chinyere Okafor's concept of inscrutable wonder,  Immanuel Kant on the Sublime, Rudolph Otto on the numinous, Rowland Abiodun on the Yoruba concept àṣẹ and Bruce Onobrakpeya on magic emerging from the creative integration of material forms, ideas unifying the fascinating and the mysterious, ideationally catalytic and yet cognitively inexhaustible,  the compelling and the ultimately impenetrable, my impressions of Ebengho's art. Toyin Falola's ''Ritual Archives'' provides a rich contextualisation in what may be described as theory of shrines. 

Part 1 of this essay is ''Shrines and Shrine Masters: Chief Dr. D. O. Ebengho and the Inscrutable Wonder  of his Cosmological Shrine : Part 1''.

Part 2 of the essay is ''Shrines and Shrine Masters: Chief Dr. D. O. Ebengho and the Inscrutable Wonder  of his Cosmological Shrine: Part 2: Iroko Trees as Cosmological Coordinates''.

This is an expanded version of part 2, on the iroko trees in Ebengho's shrine as cosmological coordinates. It expands the previous version by contextualising the discussion through a very brief but ideationally focused and yet conceptually broad account of the kind of cosmology being highlighted. It also further elaborates on the associative values of iroko trees in Ebengho's shrinebriefly correlating them with the universal resonance of tree symbolism, particularly as these may be subsumed within what may be described as the Ifa Tree of Existence and Knowledge. All pictures in this part of the essay were taken by myself in early November 2022.

This essay is part of a series describing my exploration of the aesthetic, philosophical and spiritual significance of  vegetative spaces in Benin-City and Ile-Ife in visits to those cities running from 5th October 2022 to 9th November 2022, and thus also presents images from  findings on sacred trees and groves in Benin, suggesting aspects of the environmental and theological framework of Ebengho's work.

The essay continues from ''Ọkha, Ikhinmwin and Iroko: Intersections Between Beliefs in the Spirituality of Trees and in Witchcraft in Benin Thought: Realities, Questions, Prospects'', parts 123and 5, where I first present my observations of Ebengho's shrine in part 3.

It also builds upon my  very brief photo essays on the priest/artist and his shrine on Facebook, ''Seeking the Sacred in Benin-City: Shrines and Shrine Masters: Chief Dr D O Ebengho and the Mammy Water Section of his Richly Complex and Intricately Harmonious Shrine, a Powerful Artistic Assemblage Developed Over a Lifetime'', ''Mystic Trees in Benin-City: Iroko and the Powers of the Night'' and 
the Facebook photo and video album ''Magnificent Shrine and Fellowship of Chief Ebengho in Benin-City''.

I provide a brief but visually and ideationally rich overview of Ebengho's shrine, in relation to the shrine art of Bruce Onobrakpeya,  in ''Shrines and Shrine Masters: D.O. Ebengho and Bruce Onobrakpeya: Brief Comparative Photo Essay and Research Funding Quest'',  parts   1345 and 6.

The abstract and list of contents of this essay evolve into greater detail as the essay progresses through understanding gained while in the process of composition. New sections may be added to the list of contents and subsequently published even after the essay has supposedly moved past those sections.

The essay is dedicated to the Ezomo of Benin, Chief James Okponmwense,  without whose explicit recommendation  I might never have learnt of Ebengho and his shrine, a location  hidden on a nondescript road about five minutes from my hotel in Benin when I visited. The essay is aso dedicated to Ebengho and his compatriots, who have been so helpful, even after I left Benin.

I thank my fellow travellers in the Benin expedition, Jane Ineritei, imaginative companion on the journey from her Port Harcourt base, Honourable Benjamin Omuemu, the librarian of the palace of the Oba of Benin, unfailingly informative in his love for Benin culture, Osaigbovo Juliana, a plant seeking the life giving sunlight of traditional Benin sacred culture, 
Mr. Jackson Agbonifi, insightful and informative on the faith of his ancestors,   and donors and clients who made the trip possible.


Part 1

Cover image:   Collage of Chief Dr. D.O. Ebengho and Examples of his Installation and Ephemeral Ritual Art
Images:  Collage of Some Sacred Trees and Groves in Benin-City

Image and Text: Entrance to Chief Ebengho's Shrine Complexthe Three Wise Ones and Ogun Shrine  

The Nature and Significance of Shrines 

        Shrines as Points of Focus of Approaches to the Sacred

               The Multivalent Character of Shrines

                Kinds of Shrines

                    Contextual and Ontological Distinctions and Correlations 

                          Sacred, Secular, Sensate, Temporal, Polyvalent
                     Paradigmatic Shrine Theories of Shrines as Multi-Ontological Phenomena in Hindu, Yoruba and                                                  Western  Esoteric Thought and Practice

                          Tantric Somatic, Yantra, MantraTheory 

                           Abiodun Yoruba Oriki Theory 

                           The Human/Space/Sonic Nexus of the Western Esoteric Golden Dawn 

        Shrine Studies as the Intellectual Exploration of Shrines, Ideally Integrating Objective and Subjective Approaches

                    Inspiring Examples of Shrine Studies

  Ebengho's Shrine

     Ebengho's Shrine as a Cosmological Structure

             Ebengho's Shrine as Dramatizing an Animistic, Architectural, Mythic, Artistic and Spiritual Cosmology

                   Ebengho's Shrine as Projecting  Ifa Cosmology

        Shrine Exterior

               Iroko Trees as Cosmological Coordinates

                      Visual Presences

                             Image:  Iroko Tree for Relating with Osanodoze in Front of Ebengho's  Shrine

                            Image: Iroko Tree at the Back of  the Shrine for Calling Upon the Powers of the Night

                               Between Totality and Immediacy

                               Between the Macrocosm and the Microcosm

                                Journeying Across Being and Becoming

                                 Universal Resonance of Tree Symbolism

                                             From the Norse Yggdrasil to the  Judaic Origin and Western Esoteric Kabbalistic Tree of Life and                                             the  Biblical Tree  of  Life and Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

                                                The Ifa Tree of Existence and Knowledge

Part 3

               Eshu as Cosmological Mediator in the Ifa System of Knowledge and Divination

                  The Human Being as Spiritual and Cosmological Nexus

                         Ifa Divination

                               Ifa as Cosmological Integrator and Multi-Expressive System

                               Internal Networks in Ifa Divination

                                     Initiations into Companionship with Deities

                                           Odu Ifa as Spirits, Sentient Agents, Represented by Symbols


  Reverberations Through the Unity of Beauty and Meaning


Ebengho's Shrine

        Ebengho's Shrine Complex as a Cosmological Structure

Ebengho's shrine complex may be understood in terms of a cosmological structure even though he did not describe it explicitly to me in that way. This understanding is reinforced by his description of the relationship of his spiritual practice to the ultimate reality and transcendental, superordinate moral values embodied by Osanodoze, a Benin name for the creator and sustainer of the universe. Such an account could suggest the integration of the scope of the deities his shrine represents and of his spiritual practices within the embrace of the cosmological unity of the creator and sustainer of the cosmos.                         

           Ebengho's Shrine Complex as Dramatizing  an Animistic, Architectural, Mythic, Artistic and 

           Spiritual Cosmology

A cosmology is understood in this essay as  a depiction of the essence, structure and dynamism of the cosmos. Ebengho's shrine complex may be interpreted in terms of  an animistic, architectural, mythic, artistic and spiritual cosmology. This is dramatised  by the symbolic values of various shrines in his shrine complex, their interrelationship as a network of mutually referential structures,  the symbolism of the spaces they occupy and of the relationships between the shrines  and the spaces they inhabit. 

In this cosmology, the organic, inanimate forms represented by trees, the physical structure of the space housing the shrine complex, the evocative force of the artistic constructs in terms of which the shrines are composed, the deity concepts the shrines evoke, the activities taking place within the shrine formation and the people engaged in these activities, may all be understood as coming together to suggest ideas about cosmic structure and dynamism and the role of the human being within this scheme.

This cohesion of physical forms and human activities may be interpreted as evoking ideas of 
ultimate origination, of cosmic multiplicity and dynamism, of unity in diversity. These could be further perceived as emerging within a creative  matrix in which the human being participates as co-creator, as devotee of deity and creator of deity forms, thereby generating interpersonal relations between visible and invisible human people and visible and invisible non-human beings, as these categories of being are understood within this spiritual cosmology, dramatizing an understanding of the cosmos as alive with meaning and mobile with diverse sentient agencies meaning and sentience complementing the material forms and natural laws of the cosmos in shaping a holistic universe.

             Ebengho's Shrine as Projecting  Ifa Cosmology

The possibility of interpreting Ebengho's shrine in terms of a cosmographic system is also strengthened  by the correlation of the shrine with Ifa cosmology by Chief Obaseki, to whom Ebengho introduced me to help respond to my questions, Obaseki being a better English speaker than himself, in contrast to the Benin language in which they are both proficient while I am not, being limited to English in communicating with them.

Obaseki describes Ebengho as a babalawo, an adept in the esoteric knowledge of Ifa, a system of interpretation of reality centred in divination and grounded in Yoruba cosmology, but also used in Benin. Obaseki sees Ebengho’s shrine as expressing the cosmology of Ifa, a perspective interpretable in terms of the  unification of Yoruba and Benin cosmologies the shrine demonstrates, an exemplar of Benin cosmology as the convergence of both thought systems, a cosmology that includes deities it shares with Yoruba thought and those it does not share with it, as well as its own larger structure of ideas making up the facets of the cosmologies and philosophies developed in Benin.


            Shrine Exterior

                   Iroko Trees as Cosmological Coordinates
At the front and at the back of Ebengho's shrine are iroko trees, the iroko being the tree best known for association with spiritual powers and spiritual activity in Benin and Yoruba cultures. The tree in front of the shrine, he states, is for relating with Osanodoze, while that at the back is for supplication to the Powers of the Night, a confederation of people with unusual powers, associated particularly with the night, that being perhaps when they are most active.

                          Visual Presences

                           IROKO SHRINE ED.jpg

                                Iroko Tree for Relating with Osanodoze in Front of Ebengho's  Shrine

The appearance of each tree, dramatizing the forms of ritual associated with  each, projects sharply contrastive images, suggesting diverse kinds of spiritual identity and power. The foot of the tree in front of the shrine, for calling upon Osanodoze, is rich with unopened  bottles of sweet drinks, beceause Osanodoze does not accept alcoholic drinks, as Ebengho  says.  The shrine installation constituted by the tree and its sacrificial items  projects  an impression of fulfilling bounty, a sense of delightful amplitude reinforced by the location of the tree in the front of the shrine, in full view of any on the street facing the compound, an exoteric presence evoking those positives explicit to all as people's generally understood sense of consummate value.

                                          IMG_6764 ed3.jpg

                        Iroko Tree at the Back of  the Shrine for Calling Upon the Powers of the Night

The iroko tree at the back of the shrine, on the other hand, is partly covered in the dramatic colours of a cloth divided into two parts of sharp white and stark red, the central symbolic  colour binary in Benin culture, evident in such surfaces as clothing and architecture. The dramatic force of this colour juxtaposition is amplified by the brilliant red of blood running on the white of the cloth, the blood of animal sacrifices, contrasting with the more benign ritual context and consequent appearance of the iroko tree in front of the shrine, used in entreating the attention of Osanodoze, the creator of the universe.

The more dramatic presence of the  tree employed for supplicating the Powers of the Night, contrasting with the milder character of the iroko in front of the shrine, dedicated to engagement with the creator of the cosmos, thereby demonstrates a stronger visual presence generated by the starkly contrastive primary colours of the fabrics  with which the tree is covered, colours highlighted by the red of blood vividly colouring the pure white of the cloth  in stark contrast.

                     Between Totality and Immediacy

The richer animation of character of this tree may perhaps suggest a greater immediacy of action in relation to the vicissitudes of human existence represented by the Powers of the Night, in contrast with the cosmic breadth of the identity and activity of Osanodoze, the creator of the universe.

Demonstrating the immediacies of human life, in contrast with, though subsumed by the overarching plenitude of Osanodoze, are the sometimes puzzling realities dramatized by suffering, striving, the gap between aspiration and fulfillment, those issues beyond human control or human predictive capacity, yearnings and perplexities in relation to which the human being has called upon a vast network of unseen powers across time and space to help close the gap between desire and fulfillment, expectation and reality, provide succor in pain, guidance in uncertainty, an orientation pictured  by the matrix of spiritual powers dramatized by Ebengho’s shrine, from non-human deities to the continuum between the non-human and the human, the human embodiment of spiritual power characterized  as the Powers of the Night, the latter being figures possibly identical with the Benin notion of ''azen,'' translated into English as ''witches'',  enigmatic forces inspiring wariness and hope, correlative with both creation and destruction.

The raw realities of existence, the tension between pain and fulfillment, the cry of the slaughtered animal and the smile of the human being whose fortunes the sacrifice of the animal is meant to enable, a paradoxical convergence coming together in the enigmatic potencies represented by the Powers of the Night the iroko tree and its animal sacrifices are meant to call upon and satisfy, dramatize symmetries of discordance, evoking the agonizing tensions of existence,  in which life and death, in their various forms, exist in a symbiotic unity.


These are possibilities which may be seen as suggested by the visual potency of this tree, hidden from public view at the back of the shrine as befits an agent of converse with powers perceived as existing in the shadows of reality, powers, which, for most, are more speculative than encountered, more rumored than confirmed, inspiring circumspection rather than the bold embrace enjoyed by belief in the creator of the universe evoked by the uncomplicated emblems of fulfillment represented by the sweet drinks of the iroko at the front of the shrine, dramatizing the wellspring of existence to which many aspire as the summation of life's possibilities.


Ebengho's shrine, therefore, is fronted by a projection of ultimate possibility, an iroko tree dedicated to the creator and sustainer of the cosmos, a tree complemented by the one at the back, expressing the dynamism of the Powers of the Night, occult potencies vital for the raveling and unravelling of the details of life's challenges and opportunities.

                             Between the Macrocosm and the Microcosm

Both trees, in the symbolism of their locations, in relation to the different but complementary uses to which they are put, may therefore suggest Ebengho's shrine as a microcosm of cosmic, terrestrial and human possibilities.


The iroko in front, in its dedication to supplication of the creator of the universe, may symbolize the generation of the multitudinous possibilities constituting the cosmos, possibilities dramatized by the individualities and synergistic unity represented by the various deities served by the meticulously constructed shrines constituting Ebengho's multi-roomed shrine complex, a wonderful assemblage most powerful in its visual force and aesthetic power, its union of selectivity of materials and arcane presence, an artistic installation of global quality, on a nondescript location in Benin-City, Second Cemetery Road, off Ehaekpen Street.

                                  Journeying Across Being and Becoming

Both trees may be imaginatively conjoined in evoking ideas of origination, manifestation and multiplicity, of diversity and consummation, suggesting a journey from the cosmic origins evoked by the tree associated with Osanodoze, in front of the shrine, through the variousness and ultimate unity  of the ideas and different deities evoked by the shrine complex, to the convergence of human capability and spiritual power dramatized by the conception of the Powers of the Night embodied by the tree at the back of the shrine, further possibilities ultimately subsumed in Osanodoze as the ultimate source of origination and unity of diversity within cosmic wholeness.


Such a progression suggests the potential of the shrine as a pilgrimage site, a place one may traverse physically or imaginatively. Each location in the complex, from the  tree at the front of the shrine, to the empty performance and ritual space leading to the shrines in the shrine house, to the shrines themselves and to the tree at the back of the shrine house and the creative cacophony of shrine construction materials and shrine/s at that back, may thus be seen as an opportunity for reflection on the significance of that spot, evoking a journey of being and becoming at macrocosmic and microcosmic levels, in terms of cosmic emergence and progression and human and personal birth and development within this larger matrix.

                              Universal Resonance of Tree Symbolism 

The opening and consummating forms of the shrine, the complementary polarities represented by the iroko at the front and the one at the back, in their respective associations with Osanodoze, the creator of the universe and with the Powers of the Night, are thereby correlative with a global spectrum of tree symbolism as evoking cosmic structure and dynamism and humanity's place within this continuum.

                     From the Norse Yggdrasil to the  Judaic Origin and Western Esoteric Kabbalistic Tree of Life 

                    and the  Biblical Tree of  Life and Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

These conjunctive forms of tree symbolism range from  the imagistic concreteness of the Norse Yggdrasil to the far reaching combination of abstraction and imagery of the Judaic origin and Western esoteric Kabbalistic Tree of Life. The roots of Yggdrasil, its trunk and branches, reach into or constitute various worlds. At one of its roots is the Well of Mimer, zone of unfathomable wisdom. At those roots are also the three Norns, female figures whose spinning constitutes the web of human lives. Underlying the character of the tree as a zone of understanding of the nexus of realities, the god Odin sacrificed an eye which he dropped into Mimer and  hung for days on the tree, both actions taken in quest of supernal insight and wisdom, as Daniel McCoy compellingly describes in ''Odin's Discovery of the Runes.''

The Kabbalistic Tree of Life is vivid in its union of abstract ideas and concrete imagery, represented in terms of the fusion of the organic image of a tree with the abstractions of number symbolism, in which the metaphoric roots of the universe are symbolised by the number 0 and its consummation in the material cosmos by 10.

The numbers between 0 and 10 constitute the movement of cosmic emergence from ultimate origination in an unknowable plenitude to the concentration of cosmic possibility in the material cosmos within which the human being seeks understanding of this totality from within his embodied existence.

The various branches of the tree, with its roots and apex,  are represented by the sequence of numbers from 0 to 10. Each number in this sequence symbolizes a central quality of the creator of the universe. That quality is itself understood as the foundation of an aspect of the cosmos. The cosmos is thus seen as an expression of its creator, who, nevertheless, transcends that creation, as suggested by the evocative qualities of the number 0, standing for this creator.

The progression of numbers from 0 to 10 are linked to each other in a manner suggesting correlations between aspects of the universe as expressions of the nature of its creator. Each of these links is also represented by a number. This network maps the structure and dynamism of the cosmos, 
a totality also actualised in the human being as a microcosm of this ultimate system.

Abstraction in relation to visual images may be seen as characterizing the Western esoteric adaptations of Kabbalah. The Judaic sources of the tradition, however, may be understood as more varied in their expressive forms, those abstractions and imagistic dynamisms  growing out of or in relation to powerful mythic narratives and a river of stories, both imagined and historical.

This is demonstrated, for example, by the paradigmatic Kabbalistic text the Zohar, stories and ideas shaped around the far reaching discussions of a group of wanderers, as evidenced in English by the twelve volume complete translation by Daniel Channan Matt and other scholars
 the reworking of the primal Kabbalistic cosmology by Isaac Luria in terms of ideas of rupture in divine being; the adaptation of Lurianic Kabbalah by the narrative spirituality of Nahman of Bratslav, using stories as means of dramatising and relating with spiritual realities, as demonstrated, among the wealth of Bratslav scholarship, by Arnold Band's Nahman of Bratslav: The Tales, with  Joseph Dan's preface  exploring the relationship between mythic construction and personal history giving birth to Nahman's achievement,  and the embodiment of the values of this tradition as a means of survival in the horrors of the Holocaust as demonstrated in Yaffa Eliach's Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, narratively vivid and rich in editorial contextualisation of the religious springs and mythic frames of these  first hand accounts of faith and survival.

A classic reference for understanding the complex history of Kabbalah is Gershom Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, although Scholem's book predates Eliach's collection of Hasidic stories, vital for demonstrating the ongoing adaptations of Kabbalah, highlighted by its  relevance to issues of survival in such an extreme situation as the Holocaust, a context resonant  with questions of ultimate as opposed to  immediate values, divine justice and human suffering, correlations between good and evil,  their universal and relative possibilities.

Scholem might also not be adequate for understanding the developments of this tradition by Western esotericism. Israel Regardie's The Tree of Life: A Study in Magic is superb for its clarity and scope as an example of this adaptation. I am not informed on studies of the history of Kabbalah in Western esotericism  although Robin Hutton's The Triumph of the Moon: A History  of Modern Pagan  Witchcraft discusses this as an aspect of its subject. 

A supreme text of Western esoteric Kabbalistic Tree of Life symbolism and its adaptation to ritual and contemplation, dramazing its integration of Hermetic, ancient Egyptian, alchemical, Rosicrucian and other cultural forms subsumed or constructed by Western esotericism,  is Israel Regardie's edited The Original Account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, published by Llewellyn in various editions, each edition more elaborate and richer than its successors.  An excellent, succinctly powerful, poetic demonstration of this symbolism is William Gray's The Office of the Holy Tree of Life. The varied possibilities of the Internet, though, remain primary for introductory guidance on such rich and complex subjects, online possibilities also useful for exploring contemporary developments of these traditions.

These two climaxes  of global tree of life symbolism, from the concrete to the abstract,  are themselves correlative with the Biblical Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, evoking  two major parameters of existence,  life and its enablement of knowledge, knowledge of good and evil, complementary binaries vital for understanding existence.

                                       The Ifa Tree of Existence and Knowledge

This conjunctive network across Norse, Judaic, Western esoteric, Biblical and Ifa tree cosmologies  further develops the associations of the twin iroko trees defining the spatial  and associative coordinates of Ebengho's shine.

The conjunctions between existence  and awareness suggested by these tree images may be subsumed within the more immediate associations of  Ebengho's shrine represented by what may be named the Ifa Tree of Existence and Knowledge.

The Ifa Tree of Existence and Knowledge, in the associative value of its constitution by roots,  trunk, branches and leaves, may suggest the organizational structure of Ifa, the cosmological associations of this structure and the hermeneutic implications of this complex as a means of exploring intersections between the cosmos and the human being represented by the challenges of living  addressed in Ifa divination.

This tree may thus evoke  ultimate reality and its manifestations, as well as  the processes through which this cosmological structure and dynamism is apprehended by the human mind.This understanding may be seen as emerging in dialogue with the odu ifa,  the organizing structures and active agents of Ifa, represented by the branches of the tree.

The Ifa Tree of Existence and Knowledge is my name for  the palm tree of sixteen branches, massive as houses, spreading in many directions, under which the disciples of the deity Orunmila found him when they went seeking him in orun, the land of ultimate origins,   after  he had left the Earth, appealing to him to return. 

Instead of  returning to  Earth, Orunmila, witness to creation, insightful on all possibilities of existence as the unfolding of those possibilities enfolded at the emergence of the cosmos, perceptive of the flow of the river of being and of how this river may be directed in particular circumstances, gave his disciples the nuts of the palm tree as replacement for his presence. 

The symbolic configurations of the palm nuts when cast in the consecrated context of Ifa divination thereby became  guides to Orunmila's  wisdom and power as witness to creation, bridging dimensions between being and becoming, existence and change, actuality and potential, as this story may be retold from its rendition in Wande Abimbola's An Exposition of Ifa Literary Corpus.

The sixteen massive branches of the palm tree, projecting in various directions, may evoke the sixteen major odu ifa, the organizational categories of knowledge in Ifa, constituting  a huge library of verbal art of unknown scope, known as ese ifa,  composed over perhaps centuries, integrating perspectives on aspects of the cosmos and its totality in relation to human life and used as means of interpreting the voice of the oracle in Ifa divination.

The odu ifa are also known as not only organizational forms, chapters of a vast literary archive, as Abimbola describes them in  An Exposition of Ifa Literary Corpus, but also as living beings, a fragment of whose inconceivable scope is known to humanity, interpretive matrices enabling human knowledge even as these matrices themselves constitute sentient agents.

Abimbola describes them  as spirits who descended from the ultimacy that is orun, while Benin babalawo Joseph Ohomina, depicts them as  spirits whose origin we do not know, understanding only a small aspect of their significance,  but who embody the names, the identities,  of all possibilities of existence,  from material forms to emotions, from the stars to human celebrations and conflicts'', in a personal communication I present and discuss in ''Cosmological Permutations : Joseph Ohomina’s Ifa Philosophy and the Quest for the Unity of Being'', quoting him:

The Odu are the names of spirits whose origin we do not know. We understand only a small fraction of their significance.They are the power behind the efficacy of whatever we prepare. They are the names of all possibilities of existence. Abstract and concrete, actual and potential. Concrete forms such as rain, water, land, air and the stars, abstractions such as love and hate, situations such as celebrations and conflict, all have their spiritual names in the various Odu.

The branches of the Ifa Tree of Knowledge and Existence may thus be seen as the odu ifa, the organizational categories of Ifa, themselves organized in terms of mathematical order, developed through relationships between binaries constituting a foundational sixteen odu, ultimately elaborated into a total of two fifty-six. The leaves of the Ifa Tree of Knowledge and Existence may be understood as the ese ifa, the stories and poetry in terms of which this Ifa's knowledge is presented in literary form.

Susanne Wenger presents a related perspective:

The spiritual world of the Yoruba is a powerful, metaphysical-forest wilderness, vegetatively ferocious and of a scarcely conceivable variety. A turbulent order prevails, in which all life is closely intertwined with itself, maintains itself mutually, while with great intensity each part holds its ground. 

If this jungle arcanum is metaphorically compared to a mighty, mansion like giant tree, with all its innumerable forms of animal and plant tenantry, Ifá would be neither root, trunk, branch, twig, leaf, flower nor fruit of this tree, but the unimaginably complex network of veins and channels that permeates it throughout...a meta-algebraic universe of equations that manifests itself in the poetic Ifá corpus of 4096 symbol-laden poems.. a translation of ...metaphysically rhythmic cadences into their physical dimension, a magnificent architecture of word-symbolisms, the word-cathedrals of Odù, Odùthe main structure of meaning of Ifa and of life, called Odùafter the goddess Odù'' ( Susanne Wenger and Gert Chesi, A Life with the Gods, 74 and 76; I have slight edited the sentence sequences for continuity).


Ifa's literary range and numerical compressions and expansions may thus be understood as conjuncting imagistic vividness of the kind demonstrated by the Norse Yggdrasil  and the abstractions, visual imagery and narrative range represented by the Judaic and Western esoteric Kabbalistic Tree of Life, even though Ifa's literary scope is of an unknown vastness.

The Kabbalistic form, however,  benefits from  centuries of reflection on its symbolic possibilities and value for religious practice, insights readily accessible through texts in various Jewish and Western languages, given the ethnic origins and geographical spread and consequent cultural diffusiveness of Kabbalah, while the Ifa equivalent of such an interpretive and practical scope, across West Africa and the African Diaspora, is only recently becoming evident in various print and digital texts, social media such as Facebook being a primary site for explorations of Ifa's possibilities.

The range of interpretive possibilities developed in Ifa may be described as awaiting a comprehensive synthesis bringing it to the level of cosmological specificity of Kabbalah, although it seems such an ideational range may already have been achieved in other variants of the system to which Ifa belongs, such as the Dahomean Fa, as suggested by Paul Mercier's ''The Fon of Dahomey,'' in Daryll Forde's edited African  Worlds (1970) and Nyornuwofia Agorsor's account of a similar system in Ghana, which I reference in 
"Performative, Visual and Lyric Spirituality: Space, Image, Interpretation: Nyornuwofia Agorsor, Efa Initiate, Speaks to Lekan Babalola's Ifa/Efa Shrine/Priest Image".

A holistic grasp of the achievements represented by various Ifa variants,  similar in structure, from the Igbo Afa to the Benin Oguega to the Dahomean Fa, correlating them with other systems outside this complex with which they share similarities, such as the Chinese I Ching, taking account of various studies in the arts, philosophies and spiritualities of these systems, and the sciences, in relation to them,  is priceless for an adequate actualization of the interpretive potential of Ifa, a great system from which glimmers of further possibilities emanate.

The iroko trees of Ebengho's shrine may thus be seen as imaginatively conjunctive with the tree cosmologies of the Norse Yggdrasil, the Judaic origin and Western esoteric Kabbalistic Tree of Life and the Biblical Tree of Life and Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, a confluence  of possibilities  subsumable in the  Ifa Tree of Existence and Knowledge.

''The leaves scattered throughout the universe as pages of a great book making up the cosmos, things in themselves, their individual qualities and their interrelations, all these I beheld unified as one simple flame'',  Italian poet Dante Alighieri expresses this  cosmological vision through plant imagery in the concluding sections of his Divine Comedy.

image emerges from the intersection of ancient Greek and Roman and medieval Christian thought and secular philosophies, uniquely recreated by Dante, yet resonating with the arboreal evocativeness, the tree coordinates within cosmological associations, of various tree symbolisms across time and space, conjoined within Ebengho's shrine.








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