Vodun F.A.Q. – What is the difference between Ifa and Orisha (or Orishaism)?

Making Due  As I have mentioned in earlier articles, there are many streams of Vodun, Orisha, honored Ancestor worship, and Nature worship in Africa and the diaspora.  In Africa, because they all have a very long history, they have all gained legitimacy over time and through effective practice and aiding in the success of their people.  Every village has different specific customs, but there are fairly large centralized streams in which the village and family based groups adhere to certain norms for their stream.  There are even new streams of Afroscientific spirituality, explicitly Agnostic practitoners, and seeming Atheist Nature-ism that isn’t materialist in the usual sense, but takes a sort of esoteric view of the material realm.

The major groups that spring to mind are Ewe Vodun, Yoruba Ifa and Orisha, Igbo Odinani, and the Ashanti and Akan traditional groups. Lately, the Ga have been sharing more about their spirituality through the Homowo and twins festivals.

Ifa, as a specific name for a group, a system of divination based on the Odu (verses that may vary from place to place, but have a similar theme) as well as the name of the deity/Orisha of law and obligation, is one of the main Yoruba streams. Each of the Odu is considered a sort of spirit in their own right. Orunmila is the guide deity who mastered wisdom in general as well as the specific wisdom of Ifa.

Orisa/Orisha is the term used for people who worship the Orishas but may or may not belong to an established large stream of Isese, the general term for the Yoruba belief system.  Most people in the diaspora are in the category of non affiliated or locally affiliated, regardless of what titles some may claim.  The only way to get a title within Ifa is to earn it from an Ifa temple or representative of an Ifa temple in Yorubaland.  Likewise, the only way to get a title in Benin or Volta Ewe Vodun is through a temple or representative of a temple in Benin or the Volta region.  There is no official status in an African belief system without actual Africans.

This is not to say that other streams of Orisha or African and diaspora spirituality are not legitimate.  Anyone may worship the Orishas, so long as one respects the cultures their legends and practices were crystalized in, and respects the Orishas themselves.  No problems there.  The problems start when people start claiming titles they didn’t earn, and even worse, do not even attempt to keep certain consistent norms of the culture and system they are claiming a title in. One of those norms by the way is a high level of accountability that includes but is not limited to righting ancestral wrongs.

If one is initiated into a diaspora tradition, that is fine.  They are free and even encouraged to serve their community as best as they can.  It’s just that they should qualify their title with the diaspora stream or ile they belong to, and not lie explicitly or through omission, that they belong to or hold that rank in an African stream that they do not.

There are many people running around calling themselves babalawo or iyanifa, who did not earn these titles by Yoruba standards.  Some were initiated and bestowed rank by underqualified people who lied to them and took their money.  So they believe they have rank that they do not.  Others just lie.  Some did even worse than just lying, went to Africa, sat in people’s temple, ate their food, and were received as guests in trust, and then returned to the diaspora claiming higher titles and lording their initiation over Africans in the diaspora who could not afford to make the journey.

Recently, since more actual Ifa priests are visiting and serving in the diaspora, the ability of pretenders to run initiation mills is lessening.  It hasn’t completely died out, but it will because people will have access to authentic Ifa.

Mind that actual Ifa and other ancestral priests of other streams of Vodun and Orisha in Africa have never condemned or even put down people in the diaspora for making due, doing the best we could with what we had available.  The only problem is in the misrepresentation and the disrespect of the original cultures and practices.

For more perspective on this read:

Ifa and Orisha in the Diaspora.

Clarifications About the Orisa Tradition of Yorubaland and the Orisa Tradition of Cuba known as Santeria or the Lucumi


Blessings and Ashé!


K. Sis. Nicole T.N. Lasher

Webmatron of Orisha.me.


  1. Janelle Alexander

    Love this very educating am blessed to have such valuable educational informative ,information at my finger tips ase,ase,ase

  2. Yes wonderful information. God bless you and what you have given.

    Moors are re-membering Self, therefore I give great credence to the familiarizing one’s self with cultural and spiritual traditions and orders. However, its a language, when understood is as effective, even moreso than computer programming language – because it is the same thing.

    You can call upon the universe using chemistry principles, physics, mathematics, economics, physiognomy, religion, board games, movies, whatever – while differences could separate these systems their likenesses could just as easily unite them all into the telling of One eternal story – at least a respect for all point of views.

    If I have a great Mother and I call her Mami Wata and you have a great Mother and you call her Yemoja, and another wishes to call their own Mary, all three are still talking to and calling upon and receiving gifts from the same One Great Mother – different languages and all. This can and everything else in existence can be summed up in that old adage: as above so below.

    Differences and separation will exist wherever you look for them. As so will unity and oneness as long as you look for them.

  3. A person claiming to be an IFA priest contacted me through social media, stating that the ancestors guided them to reach out to me because I have dark spirits surrounding me that are prohibiting me from being financially well off. They asked for photos of my palms and my face and for my birthday. They then told me that they could help me by performing a ritual for me for the goddess Osun which included sacrificing two white pigeons along with using herbs and palm oil. Part of me wanted to believe them because they did not seem insistent and didn’t seem like they were trying to talk me into it or coerce me in any way. But of course my logical mind told me to respectfully decline. Do you think this was just a scam?

    • If someone claiming to be a priest or babalawo contacts you through private messaging uninvited, they are fake. Real African and diaspora diviners do not need to market in this way. They have patrons who refer them to others or legitimate sites or pages wherein you can see that it is them doing the work. Someone “dropping in your DM’s” is shady at best. So best is to ask a friend who they are seeing and go with them or consult one of the diviners on our About page if you need an Ifa reading.

      Blessings and Ashe!

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