Cowrie Shell Divination: An Ancient Form of Psychic Reading
Early in the 1990’s, while I was attending New York University, I came up a woman in the street who offered to tell me my fortune. Clearly of an Afro-Caribbean descent, she was a woman in her late thirties. Initially, I thought I was getting a psychic reading. What I did not know at this time, that she was most likely a Iyalorisha (a female priestess) practicing a form of Obi divination. Obi divination is a West African Divination method that has its roots in the Yoruba religion. Today, this divination system is used by the Santeria, a religion practiced amongst Afro-Caribbean communities. Being in my twenties, the central theme of my reading was based on relationships and I have to say that the level of her accuracy was truly outstanding. Unfortunately, I never saw her again.
During this time, I was attending a class in African Art and the instructor was a visiting professor from Harvard. I mention this because he spoke a great deal about African religions and their association to African Art. This man spoke of his utmost respect, appreciation and fear of Yoruban and Dogon religions. He was a believer and carried the message of its power. I also have to mention, that my father was a collector of African Art so I grew up in a house filled with primitive art. In many ways, this was a terrifying experience because I certainly did feel a power emanating from the many statues and masks placed around my home. As a child, I use to look at the shells and beads placed on and around the statues and masks. I remember my father telling me that the shells and beads were once used as currency and I was absolutely not to touch them as they were very valuable.
I mention all of this because although I feel completely comfortable with the tarot and other forms of psychic readings, Cowrie divination is not something I would ever pursue on my own, due to its clear association with African religion. I have too much respect and feel that it would be an insult to practice something I have so little knowledge of. It simply is out of my league and due to my deep respect for the power of African religion (and there are many), I would not dare involve myself with something I clearly do not understand.
There are, however, many practitioners of cowrie shell reading. Should you be fortunate enough to stumble upon one, get ready for a psychic reading from the Gods. It really works. Just to get a little background, the Cowrie shell was first introduced to Africa in the 13th century, most likely from India. The Africans initially used the Cowrie shells as a form of currency. Later, the African used the cowrie shells to decorate religious figures and ornaments. The art of cowrie shell divination began in Yoruba by African priests. It was called Ifa divination and was primarily practiced by men only. In the 17th and 18th centuries, however, this system of divination was carried to the Americas during the slave trade. There are many variations to this method of divination. Today, many women are initiated into this art of divination and there are some psychics that will utilize this process in their psychic readings as well.
The art of cowrie shell divination consists of communicating with the Spirits and Ancestors of the African people. Obi is a type of spirit called upon by practitioners. Obi is a fundamental tool used in Orisha religions. In cowrie divination, the practitioners invoke the Obi and ask questions. The Orishas then answer the questions by influencing how the cowrie shells fall. Obi, typically, answer only yes and no questions. The initial step to this process includes a prayer done by the practitioner. The Obi is called upon and then the practitioner throws the shells down. There are only two ways in which they can fall; either in an open position or in a closed position. It might also be important to mention, that the shells of coconuts are also used by certain sects and practitioners. The inside of the shell is open, the dark rind of the shell is closed. The practitioner then interprets the patterns of the shells.
If it is a four shell reading, there are five possible scenarios:
Alafia: All shells fall in an open position This is a strong yes. You have the Obi’s approval with blessings.
Etawa: 3 open shells and 1 closed one. This is a moderate yes. In other words, you will most likely get what you asked for. However, there may be some delays or obstacles. This is something you will have to work for.
Ejife: 2 open shells and 2 closed shells. This is an explicit yes. In this case, the practitioner will warn you not to ask anymore questions on the subject for fear that you will upset the Orisha.
Okana: 3 closed shells and 1 open shell. This is a no.
Oyeko: A formidable no. In this position, there is negativity associated to the person being read. A spiritual cleansing is required and the practitioner may refer you to a spiritual master adept at a cleansing ritual. The questioning is then dropped.
I am certainly no expert in this area of divination. I do, however, find it totally fascinating. I also suggest that if your wish to pursue a psychic reading by this method, you find someone who is well experienced and initiated in this type of divination process. This is a sacred practice and should be treated as so. Perhaps I am a little superstitious, but I would rather be cautious then offend the Orishas of Yoruba.
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