How to prepare a sacred altar at home

Before creating a “Spiritual Boveda” Spiritual Altar to the ancestors, several preliminary steps need to occur. First the room should be clean and neat. After the alter is configured it should stay as clean as possible. Ifa teaches that dirt and disorder can attract unwanted spiritual forces.This may seem simplistic, but it is of well known experience that it is a very important consideration.

Our external environment reflects our internal state of being and either supports resistance to change or growth. Ifa teaches the idea that if you are confused about anything, remove the clutter and disorder from your home and clarity will surface from the newly transformed physical environment.

After the room is prepared, it needs to be smudged. Smudging is a process of spiritual cleansing using the smoke from burning leaves. The method I recommend has been borrowed from Native American tradition. The methods used in Ifa in Africa are complex and involve the use of materials that are not easily obtainable in the western world.

It is common practice in Native America Religion to smudge by placing leaves in either a large seashell or clay pot. After the leaves are lit, the smoke is fanned with a feather. Any small container that will safely hold a small fire without getting to hot to hold can be used effectively. The container selected for this purpose should be kept near the altar and only used to smudge. Simply moving the container and fanning it with your hand can circulate the smoke.

Almost any type of leaf can be used, however cedar and sage are considered sacred by the traditional people who first settled this continent. Honoring their preference is a way of showing appreciation for their association with and knowledge of the land we live on. Cedar and Sage have a strong aroma affecting the quality of the cleansing. It is possible to add incense to the mixture as a way of enhancing the cleansing. Most botanicas and occult stores sell various types of incense that are specifically made to cleanse a room that is to be used for meditation and prayer. Stay as much natural as possible, we are Animist…

Smoke will disperse any spirit presence in the room. The purpose of the smoke is to create a clean slate for the invocation of those spirits you want to call upon.

Start by placing the leaves and or incense in a small mound in the center of your container. Say a prayer over the ingredients explaining what is being done. The religion of Ifa makes extensive use of very formal prayers, with clearly defined structures. The prayer may be in Yoruba, in your ancestral language, English or a combination of all three. Most Ifa prayers start by addressing a particular Spirit, followed by an identification of the person who is making the prayer as follows:

Iba se Egun
I pay homage to the spirit of the ancestors.
Emi (your name) Omo (list your lineage starting with your Parents and working backwards)
I am (your name) child of (lineage)
This opening portion of the prayer is followed by a blessing of the leaves as follows.
Iba se Ori ewe.
I pay homage to the Spirit of the Leaves.
After the leaves have been blessed, ask them to perform a specific task.
Ire alafia,
The good fortune of peace, Ire’lera,
the good fortune of a stable home, Ire ori’re.
the good fortune of wisdom.
The prayer concludes with a statement of thanks.
Ewe, mo dupe, ase.
Leaves, I thank you, so be it.
The prayer in phonetic Yoruba is as follows.

E bah shay A-goon A-mi (your name) Oh-mow (your lineage) E-bah shay a-way E-ray ala-fee-ya
E-ray lear-rah
E-ray oh-re ray
A-way mo dew-pa-we ah-shay

This prayer should be spoken directly on to the smudge. Those who are initiated in either Ifa or Orisha should breath on the smudge. When an initiated priest or priestess places the breath of “to” on a sacred object they are consecrating for the purpose expressed in the prayer. This is known as placing your Ashe on the prayer. The word to functions as a seal locking the prayer on to the object that is being blessed are “to Iban Eshu”. The word also indicates an end to the invocation, so that words spoken after the end of the prayer are not heard by Spirit as part of the prayer.

The purpose of the smudge is to clean away any distracting influences that might block clear communications with the ancestors. Ifa teaches that emotions have mass that can linger in a particular place. Emotions such as anger, hate, disappointment and jealously can attract ancestor spirits who feed off these emotions. Such spirits can be a hindrance in the process of spiritual transformation.
Following the prayer, light the smudge with a match, and then wait until the flame has diminished, leaving a cloud of smoke. Move through the room making sure the smoke gets in every corner and along every wall.

Concentrate on the content of your prayer and the purpose of the cleansing as you move through the room. If possible, continue the smudging through the rest of the house or apartment. Stay focused on what it is you are doing. Your ability to maintain your conscious intention will affect the quality of the cleansing. If your mind starts to wander, the emotions associated with your random thoughts can defeat your purpose. When smudging is done with strong intent, intuition can arise guiding your hand to linger in areas needing special attention.

After the space is cleaned with the smoke, use the smudge to cleanse yourself. Start with the front of your body moving from your feet to the top of your head and down your back. Each pass should be in the same direction. Do not move the smudge from back to front because that would be returning those influences already removed.

In Ifa rituals once an area is clean it is tradition to seal it with herbs and water. Ifa makes use of a wide range of seals for the purpose of locking in the positive effect of prayer and invocation. The simplest seal for the uninitiated is clear water. Take a bowl of water and add a small amount of either perfume or cologne (Florida Water). Make sure your choice of fragrance is something you periodically wear. This becomes a statement to the ancestor spirits that you are in control of any attempts at communication.

A prayer should be made to the water similar in structure to the prayer made to the smudge.

Iba se omi tuto.
I pay homage to the spirit of cool water.
Emi (your name) Omo (list your lineage starting with your Parents and working backwards)
I am (your name) child of (lineage)
This opening portion of the prayer is followed by a blessing of the water as follows:
Iba se omi tutu.
I pay homage to the Spirit of cool water.
Ire alafia,
The good fortune of peace,
the good fortune of a stable home,
Ire ori’re.
the good fortune of wisdom,
Ire ori tutu
the good fortune of calmness.
Mo dupe gbogbo ire, omi tutu, ase.
Thank you for the many blessings of water, May it be so.
The prayer in phonetic Yoruba is as follows.
E bah shay oh-me two-two A-mi (your name)
Oh-mow (your lineage) E-bah shay oh-me two-two E-ray ala-fee-ya
E-ray lear-rah
E-ray oh-re ray
E-ray oh-re two-two
Mo dew-pa-we ga-bow-ga-bow e-ray oh-me two-two ah-shay

Again, the prayer should be spoken directly into the water and the initiated should follow the word ashe with a breath and the word “to”. After the water is blessed, take your left hand and sprinkle the water throughout the area cleaned by the smudge. Conscious attention should be placed on the matter of claiming the area as sacred space. Most of us have some ancestors who would not be welcome at the altar because of a lack of character development. It is necessary to exclude these ancestors and to make it clear that no communication with them is desired. Before sealing the space with water, call the names of those who are to be excluded from participation and firmly express your reasons for not making them welcome.

There are those who do not know their ancestors. Do not let this hinder the process. Simply identify the types of problems you will not allow within you altar space. This same instruction applies to those who know their lineage. In particular you want to exclude those who have caused physical and sexual abuse. At some future date you may want to do a ritual to assist the elevation of the troubled ancestors you are excluding from your altar. For those who are new to the process of communication with ancestors, start by protecting yourself from unwanted influences. If disruptive ancestor spirits intrude after sealing the area, the problem should be taken to an elder. If an elder is not available simply use the shrine as a place of remembrance and do no invocations until the problem is eliminated.

When the cleansing process is completed, you are ready to construct your altar. The purpose of the altar is to serve as a place of remembrance for those ancestors whose wisdom and understanding has improved the quality of your life. Again, for those who do not know their lineage, do not let this inhibit the process. The altar may be used to communicate with known relatives, and it may be used to communicate with historical figures who have provided you with inspiration and possibly deceased mentors who have no direct ancestral connection. Ifa teaches that if we trace our ancestry back far enough we are all related.