Yoruba Rituals for Self-Actualization

By Nuola Akinde. Photography By Deun Ivory.

I was born into mango juice and akara. Guava duff and fufu. My childhood was rooted in affirmations that Black has always been Beautiful. Stories of Obatala’s charcoal hands kneading clay into human bodies, and Yemoja’s wisdom, deep and wide as the ocean, are among my oldest memories. I would sit transfixed, as my mother prayed over the Metu Neter, her Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) divination cards. From time to time, I would sneak the deck from its hiding place, inhaling the sweet headiness of sandalwood incense from the hand dyed cloth that enclosed it. Soaking in the red, blue and gold images of caramel colored goddesses. I knew with certainty that if She had a face at all, God looked like me.

As we collectively rejoice in our Black Magic, I humbly offer a handful of gifts from our yesteryear. Based in Yoruba teachings, these rituals are both Unapologetically Black and Universal. They are ancient and created anew each day. Within their duality lies a glimpse at Truth.

Honor your Ori: Each person’s Ori, or head, is at the center of Yoruba cosmology. In the philosophical sense “head” refers to intuition, destiny, as well as knowledge. The belief is that we are all in possession of the spiritual tools that we need to fulfill our destinies. The daily work of preserving our integrity and cultivating a clear mind enables us to receive information from the spiritual plane clearly. Each morning, before looking at any devices or speaking to anyone else, take a few moments to honor your Ori. This ritual can be as simple or elaborate as you like. Most days I just hold my head gently in my hands and take a few seconds to say, “Ekaaro! Good morning! Today I will walk in gratitude and in alignment with my highest self.”

Spiritual bath: A spiritual bath is a rejuvenating practice that you can do on your own. Spend some time in meditation becoming reacquainted with yourself. Set the intention to get clarity and openness, then choose three, seven or nine fresh flowers or herbs to include in your bath. Select some flowers to place on your altar, and set the remaining flower heads or petals aside for your bath. Rub the leaves and petals between your hands while singing or praying. You may add Florida water. While it's lovely to lounge in a warm bathtub, a spiritual bath is best done with omi tutu, cool, fresh water. Repeat your favorite prayer or affirmation aloud as you bathe from head to toe, in that order. Pat dry. Wear clean, white clothing, then rest. A clear, or “clean,” head is essential to life, so be sure to do this when you have time to speak calmly and clearly.

Make an altar: Put simply, altars are curated physical spaces where we can tap into the spiritual realm. To create an altar for the Egungun or Ancestors include:

  • pictures of your ancestors

  • an item that was special to, or represents them

  • a glass of cool water

  • a potted plant

  • cup of cooled coffee or tea (whichever they preferred)

  • bowl of honey

Drinks should be changed weekly and food changed out as needed. You should periodically leave gifts (things they enjoyed in life) for them. Altars are traditionally made on the ground, but if you prefer yours can be created on a low table with a white cloth on top. Feel free to add a colorful fabric that represents your heritage as well. Spend at least five minutes each day at your altar, sitting in quiet meditation and expressing your gratitude. Your words have power. Speak them aloud.

Self-adornment: Each Ori߲sa (Yoruba goddess or god) has praise songs, animals, days of the week, colors and hairstyles that have been designated to invoke and honor them! You can channel the energy of each deity by adorning yourself in colors associated with their power.

  • If you’re trying to bring more abundance into your life (love, fertility, material wealth), tap into O߲sun by wearing coral or putting on five copper bangles.

  • If you need change, rebirth and strength, call for Oya by putting on purple lipstick or rocking a pair of rust colored pants.

  • Yem߲oja should be called for drawing in a nurturing and protective energy by wearing flowing clothing in hues of blue.

  • A white head wrap is always ideal for cleansing your energy.

  • Black is the most powerful color. Think Supreme Court Justices, CEOs, and how bomb you feel when you wear your favorite black dress. Be cautious of how often you wear it, as it is a color that absorbs all other colors, thereby energies.

Like all indigenous spiritual traditions the details of sacred rituals are shared orally through initiation and apprenticeship with an experienced elder. The blessing of this hyperconnected era is that we can use the internet and social media to create digital villages and find support through each stage of our spiritual development. In the tradition of Cosmic Blackness, we can take pieces of the ancient ways and weave them into new strategies for empowering and sustaining ourselves. Above all, I urge you to trust your inner voice more than the chorus that surrounds you, and to cultivate a relationship with your Inner Wisdom. You were born sacred, whole and divine. Inner peace is your birthright. Joy is your inheritance.

Nuola Akinde is a writer, unschooling mama, and Yoruba priestess. Born of Nigerian and Bahamian heritage, she draws on ancestral wisdom to create Cosmically Black rituals for holistic wellness. You can find her at her website, on Pinterest, or Instagram