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Description of How to Become Iyami Aje, Translatable as a Witch,

as Understood in Yoruba Cosmology, Using Plants and Ifa Ritual


Ewe: The Uses of Plants in Yoruba Society by Pierre Verger

Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju

Comparative Cognitive Processes and Systems
"Exploring Every Corner of the Cosmos in Search of Knowledge"


Cover image

Female magical/mystical master surrounded by Africana cosmological symbols

Art of Ayaba OshaBi Awodele Ifaseye-Olomo

This image is used here in evoking Iya Agba,the aged, venerable woman, mother
of the orisa Obatala, Oduduwa, Babaluaye and Ogun, deities from Orisa
cosmology originating from Yorubaland, as depicted in a great ese ifa, a literary
work of the spiritual and oracular discipline Ifa, the contemplative serenity of
the figure radiating meaning projected through the Congo cosmogram on the
back wall.

The circular path around the four quadrants is employed in this context in
encapsulating the quaternary division and unification of time, space, cosmic
order and hermeneutic progression evoked by the quaternary and circular
structure of Igba Iwa, the Calabash of Existence in Orisa cosmology, and its two
dimensional affiliates.

These affiliates are the intersecting vertical and horizontal axes and their
quaternary realization in the Africana cosmological forms represented by Opon
Ifa, Benin Olokun Igha Ede and Vodun veves.

Beyond Africana cultures, these affiliates are evident in all quaternary
cosmological and hermeneutic structures where the circle and the square are
conjoined as the seeker makes their way round the circle, immersing themselves
in the units that make up the quaternary constitution and its multiples.


An argument for the need for the greater public visibility of magic in African
contexts, exemplified by witchcraft conceptions and claims of practices of
witchcraft in Africa, concluding with a description of how to become a witch as
the idea is understood in the Yoruba origin Orisa cosmology, along with a
discussion of the controversiality of the correspondence claimed between
witch, in English and Aje and Iyami in Yoruba, from where the description
of the initiation process comes.

The Need for Greater Public Exposure for Practices and Theories of Magic
in Africa
Its vital to move classical African magical procedures and theories more into the
public domain, examining their significance in terms of practical effectiveness
and symbolic value, thereby going beyond superstition and hearsay. By magic I
refer to activities meant to create effects that cannot be explained in terms of
conventionally understood laws of nature, as well as efforts to interact with
various entities using methods not accounted for by such laws of nature. This
definition overlaps with much of religion, and is far from watertight. My
emphasis here, though, is away from the better known cosmological systems in
terms of which the beliefs of various African people are described. I am
emphasizing something not as definite, less describable in terms of definitive
cosmologies and perhaps relating more to practice than to theory.

Practitioners of modern Western magic, which is highly theoretical, as well as
practical, though, discuss their techniques, theories, and results with anyone
who cares to listen, thereby generating a high publication industry, with its
practitioners, schools and theories well known, activity spawning the creation
of a vigorous, new academic discipline to study it, the discipline of Western
Esotericism. African magical systems need similar modernizing in order to fully
actualize their potential for developing knowledge as demonstrations of
humanity's efforts to understand and engage with the cosmos, whatever might
be factual or not or capable of creating consensus about their effectiveness in
what they claim to be able to achieve.

What is Witchcraft ?
My focus in this essay is on witchcraft, not only because it is an aspect of African
magical systems my personal experience seems to relate to but on account of its
being perhaps the most mystery shrouded and superstition laden zone in African
spiritualities, accusations of witchcraft ostracizing many women and children,

among the most vulnerable members of society, in a situation in which

conceptions of witchcraft often operate at the level of sheer irrationality
reminiscent of, though not as virulent and influential, as the attitudes that
inspired the centuries past anti- witchcraft massacres of pre-modern Europe and
the United States.

What marks a spirituality as witchcraft? What is the name for that spirituality
among those who practice it, or in the communities where it is believed to exist?
In what way do African-American magical practices such as Hoodoo, rootwork
and conjure, if I am getting the names right, differ from witchcraft in its modern
Western form and from related practices in Africa?

Witchcraft, or its equivalent all over the world, although the notion of an
'equivalence' of what is a European term that has undergone change from before
and in the 20th century is controversial, is, in many countries, one of humanity's
most mysterious and dreaded forms of spirituality. It was only in the 20th
century, with the efforts of Englishman Gerald Gardner, that witchcraft became
the very visible, highly philosophized system it has become in the West. African-
American involvement in witchcraft in the public sense as developed by Gardner
is also gathering momentum, as demonstrated by the Dawtas of the Moon: Black
Witch Convention announced on the online event organizing site Eventrite for
October 29, 2016, in Baltimore, the United States of America, and the African
American Wiccans Facebook group.

With regard to what may be understood as African witchcraft conceptions, the
work of Iyalaje Mercedes Morgana Bonilla (Priestess of Aje) is deeply moving, as
demonstrated by her Facebook pages evidencing her spiritual journey, which
seems to integrate spiritualities from various cultures in developing her
understanding of Yoruba Aje and Iyami spirituality as one that transcends
ethnicity and culture though its core ideas may be derived from a particular
culture, that being my understanding of her approach to this spirituality. She
may be said to represent a strand in the transmission of African, particularly
Yoruba spirituality, beyond the African diaspora, a demonstration of its
development as a global spirituality, unifying various peoples. Her practice is
further enriched by her immersion in the diaspora African religion, Voodoo. She
runs the Egbe Aje Iyami Temple of America and Egbe Aje Iyami Temple
Worldwide on Facebook. Her work inspired a number of imaginative
explorations and essays from me which are collected in the Facebook group
Rethinking Iyami : An Autonomous Yoruba/Orisa Female Centred Spirituality

"part of a project exploring the concept of Iyami, Our Mothers, a Yoruba/Orisa
autonomous female centred spirituality, the Orisa tradition having also migrated
from Africa to develop a strong presence in the Americas, Iyami being an
autonomous spirituality because it is not circumscribed by although it has links
with other aspects of Orisa spirituality and is understandable as a distillation of
perceptions of relationships between female biology and its spiritual
significance, ideas resonating across and unifying various aspects of Yoruba
culture and Orisa spirituality but which receive their most potent integration in


The Iyami and Aje conceptions, in their place of origin,
Yorubaland, are institutionalized into Yoruba cosmology and institutions, such
as Gelede, but, to the best of my knowledge, are based on ideas and practices the
practitioners of which are unknown, who do not speak in their own voice, but
are represented by literature, religion and the visual and performance arts,
existing more in belief than in observable reality.
The translation of Iyami, which means 'My Mother' and 'Aje' as 'witch' is
controversial. To adequately assess the translation one needs some background
in Iyami and Aje theories. The books of Teresa Washington, Our Mothers, Our
Powers, Our Texts : Manifestations of Aje in Africana Literature and The Architects
of Existence: Aje in Yoruba Cosmology, Ontology, and Orature, Barry Hallen et
al's Knowledge, Belief, and Witchcraft: Analytic Experiments in African Philosophy,
Babatunde Lawal's The Gelede Spectacle: Art, Gender, and Social Harmony in an
African Culture and Henry and Margaret Drewal's Gelede: Art and Female Power
among the Yoruba are very helpful, these being the sources I am best able to
appreciate although there are more most of which I am not aware of.

Witchcraft in the African Context as an Autonomous, Shamanistic
My tentative definition of witchcraft in the African context is that of a spirituality
that is not circumscribed by any religion and is marked by claims of human
demonstration of powers that transcend the laws of nature as conventionally
understood, central to such powers being the ability to move from one place to
another without the use of physical locomotion or mechanical instruments. This
ability may be associated with natural formations, particularly trees, groves and
forests, understood as acting as the enablers of these activities as well as
providing environments where those who practice these activities may interact.
This definition is derived from hearsay in Benin-City, where I became an adult, as
well as my own experience of such motion without physical or mechanical
assistance, facilitated by trees and the Ogba forest in Benin-City, the
environment of the city being a great facilitator of exploration in spiritual
techniques on account of the preservation of natural forms and shrines that are
priceless for such explorations. It would be a tragedy if those aspects of the
culture are eroded in the name of urbanization and modernization. Nothing can
replace them as pointers to a central legacy in humanity's efforts to harness the
multiplicity of potential available in the cosmos. My experience with what I
describe as the projection of consciousness I associate with witchcraft in the
African context occurred involuntarily, however, and I have not been able to
replicate it.
This style of spirituality is not unique to Nigeria or even Africa, though. It is
similar, if not identical, with what is described by the Western mystical and
occult order AMORC as projection of consciousness and to the idea of the

hedgewitch in modern Western witchcraft, the hedge symbolizing the dividing

line between states of being and consciousness which the witch crosses as well
as the naturalistic character of the witch's practice as different, for example, from
the more ceremonial and instrument oriented techniques in some other forms of

Is Witchcraft in the African Context Necessarily Evil?

This kind of spirituality, known as azen in Benin, as Aje and Iyami in the
neighbouring Yorubaland, is often referred to in terms of claims of the
orientation of its practitioners towards destruction, distorting lives of people
through their powers and taking human life.

I hold, though, that this form of spirituality may be related to either good or evil,
its character depending on the choices made by the spiritual practitioner. These
choices relate to how this practitioner cultivates the powers or unusual abilities
they develop and how these resources are used.

My journeys in spirituality have convinced me of the factuality of the assertion
by perhaps the most influential writer for me in the field, the Western magical
mystical magician Dion Fortune, that as one progress on the occult path,
opportunities, or in another term, temptations, will emerge to use for evil the
knowledge and powers one is developing. In my experience, this could emerge in
terms of suggestions emerging in one's mind in relation to the effort to dialogue
mentally with some spiritually powerful trees, an idea well known in folklore
and spoken of in relation to African magical systems. Another is the temptation
to use the resources you are cultivating in attacking a person who has wronged
In such contexts, it could be helpful to draw upon profound philosophical and
spiritual ideas that go beyond power of any kind, such as the words of Jesus, the
founder of Christianity, who is depicted as more powerful than most magicians
have ever been- what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose
his own soul?
What is your soul? Your soul is the essence of your humanity, expressed in the
finest qualities that make human life meaningful , joyful. Love is a central quality
of that character of humanity. No amount of power or achievement can replace
the simple beauty of being alive and enjoying the freedom to love and be loved
and live a life of your choosing. Under no circumstances should one's freedom or
the freedom of others be sacrificed in the name of anything, talk less access to
power of any kind.
I am convinced that various spirits exist who would promise favours in exchange
for what you, as a human being, posses as a natural right. The exchange is not
worth it. Patience and perseverance are key to discovering or developing, among
the many possibilities available, methods for one's spiritual growth that provide
optimum value rather than degrade you in exchange for something else or that

Some of the most inspiring engagements with this aspect of the occult I am
acquainted with are in imaginative literature, particularly the works of Western
writers, such as Algernon Blackwood's story "Strange Worship" and the novels
of Dennis Wheatley, ideas developed at greater scope by J.R.R. Tolkien in
his Lord of the Rings novels and by J.K Rowling, most likely adapting Tolkien in
the Harry Potter novels, fictional works woven around a kernel of reality, all of
them ultimately foreshadowed by the story of Jesus' moral wrestling with Satan
in the Bible, its symbolic significance beautifully dramatized by John Milton in his
poem Paradise Regained and by Fyodor Dostoyesvsky in his short story "The
Legend of the Grand Inquisitor" from his novel The Brothers Karamazov.
There is much that a magician can learn on relationships between power, love
and wisdom in relation to being human from the example of Jesus, whatever
might be one's views on various aspects of the Biblical context that frames his
story. Jesus is depicted as demonstrating both magical power, the ability to
influence events through his own will drawing on unusual abilities, devotional
spirituality, relating himself to the source of existence, God, through prayer and
self surrender and profound identification with other people, transcending any
focus on self centredness, to the point of surrendering his life for his beliefs,
thereby demonstrating his power over the fear often inspired by human
mortality, an understanding of power that remains valid whatever one might
think about the claim that he rose from the dead or that he was divine, or even
about the factuality of his existence.
Experimenting With Initiation into Witchcraft through the Use of Plants
and Ifa Symbolism

Happily, Pierre Verger's Ewe: The Uses of Plants in Yoruba Society, composed of
information he got from babalawo, adepts in the esoteric knowledge of the
spiritual discipline and oracular system Ifa, in Nigeria's Yorubaland, can help
take us forward in exploring witchcraft conceptions in Africa through
participation in the phenomenon, by experimenting with a technique described
in the book as capable of making one a witch and which I present here. I am yet
to experiment with this procedure, but intend to do so as soon as possible and
make my experience public.
If you try this procedure please share your experience publicly as I am sharing
this information, as the writer of the book shared the knowledge he had gained
from various babalawo and as those babalawo shared their knowledge with him
and as the person who made this normally very expensive and rare book
available, enabling me share part of it with you.

If you want to keep your experience private, feel free to correspond

All enquires on this subject, in private or in public, are welcome. I can be reached
by email on and on Facebook.

1. English Text

Collect the following



Leaf of CROTON ZAMBESICUS. Euphorbiaceae.

Leaf of ACANTHUS MONTANUS. Acanthaeceae.

Leaf of TETRAPLEURA TETRAPTERA. Leguminosae Mimosoidae.

Black soap.

Pound with the black soap, draw the odu [ Ifa symbol, in this case, the odu Irete
Owonrin] in iyerosun [powder used in spreading on opon ifa, the Ifa divination
tray]. Mix [ the iyerosun. Iyerosun can be bought online]

Bathe with the preparation.

Irete Owonrin




Odu source : Odu Ifa in Oyeku Ofun Temple

Accessed 31/10/2016

A picture of the relevant section of the book:

2. Yoruba Text

Ewe oyoyo

Ewe ebure

Ewe aje ofole

Ewe opipi

Ewe aidan

Ose dudu

A o gun un mo ose.A o tefa lori iyerosun. A o po o po. A o fi we.

Picture of book section: