Getting Involved in Candomblé VI: Switching Orisha Traditions
by Iya Melissa
Edited on June 29, 2017 to clarify points about switching traditions after having gone through full Orisa initiation in another tradition.
As Candomblé grows in the United States, it’s becoming more common for people who have exposure and initiations in other Orisha traditions to develop an interest in Candomblé. It’s normal to want to know more about cousin traditions, and satisfying curiosities about differences can actually deepen one’s knowledge of one’s own tradition. Important to note, however, is that each Orisha tradition exists in its own format with its own intricacies. Each Orisha tradition carries the influences of the local culture in which it was developed. Moving from Lucumi to Candomblé, for example, is not as easy as moving from AME Christianity to Lutheranism.
The period of being an abiyan is very important for us to get a sense, first and foremost, of whether or not Candomblé really is the right path the individual wants to take. In addition, it’s the time for you to learn the basics and get accustomed to the ile, the Iyalorixa, and your irmãos de santo (god-brothers and sisters). Take the time to observe how the ile functions, develop relationships with your irmãos and be open to learning from them. Because of your experiences in another tradition, you may know more about Orixa theoretically, but they will certainly know more about Candomblé; practice humility and follow their lead.
If you’ve been involved in a different Orisha tradition, but are entering Candomblé, you will likely be considered an abiyan in Candomblé even if you’ve received some Orisa in the other tradition. If you’re coming from a different tradition, you may already have Orixa in your home. This should be a conversation that you have with your (new or prospective) Iyalorixa, and she will tell you what the norms are in her ile as you move forward in Candomblé.
Even if you received an Igba Ori while practicing Lucumi, it’s likely to have been done in a way that’s vastly different from the original Candomblé Efon ceremony that it derives from. Remember, not every nation/lineage seats an Igba Ori; those that do may have different fundamentos in terms of preparing them. If you’ve received an Igba Ori in another tradition, this should be part of the initial conversation you have with the Iyalorixa whose ile you are interested in joining.
If you were fully initiated in another tradition, there’s a lot more to take into consideration when switching traditions. It would be best to seek out an ile where the Iya or Babalorixa has a deep understanding of the differences between a Lukumi and Candomble initiation. There are norms that exist in Candomblé that don’t exist in other traditions, and it will be important for you to learn them. Greetings, rules, manners and the way you interact with people will be very different than what you’re used to, so don’t assume that the habits from your old tradition will work within Candomblé.
Avoid referring to readings that you had in the past that indicated the receipt of particular Orixa. As you enter the new ile, your Iyalorixa will likely perform a reading to see what you need (if anything). If it’s important to you to continue to follow the outcome of a reading in a different tradition, then you may want to consider staying in that initial tradition. The reality is that there are also different Orisha in each tradition, and some Orixa just aren’t seated in Candomblé. Olokun, for example, is a very common Orisha for Lucumi practitioners to have even before they are initiated. In Candomblé, however, we do not seat Olokun (although he does hold a place in our liturgy). If you were told that you needed to seat Olokun, it will not be possible in Candomblé.
The way that we praise Orixa, while having similarities, is quite different from the other traditions. Don’t enter your new ile calling out, “Omi o Yemaya,” for example. Wait until you’ve been taught the proper salutations according to the nation of Candomblé you’re entering before saying anything.
One thing that I noticed over the years is that my acquaintances in some other Orisha traditions only see their Orisha family when there is a big ritual happening (an initiation, a birthday, etc…). In Candomblé we have a feast calendar, so your new ile will likely have regular functions that you’re expected to attend in accordance with the calendar. Many iles also have regular (weekly or monthly) functions where you come together to worship and pray in addition to possibly learning (to sing, dance, cook, learn history, etc…). When you’re thinking of making the change, do so understanding that you will likely be giving up many of your weekends. Have this important conversation with your prospective Iyalorixa early in your transition to help you discern whether this is really the change that you want to make.
As with anyone who is interested in entering Candomblé, the advice remains the same for folks who are transitioning from one tradition to another – have an open mind, check your ego, be prepared to make sacrifices (primarily of your time), and try to see this all as a new learning experience. Have respectfully candid conversations with your new Iyalorixa to clear up any doubts that you may have had to help make your transition smoother.