Iyawó Basic Rules

A white hat is traditionally worn by male iyawós

When a Santería believer takes the step to become an olosha, the transformation is a delicate one. It literally involves being born again, and not in the Christian sense of the word. Our re-birth is one that carries a transformation of spiritual symbiotic nature. In other words, a spiritual force other than ours is aligned to our force during the kariosha or crowning ceremony and from that moment on, initiate and orisha coexist in a mutual codependent relationship. However, this is my very own point of view and I have yet to hear it being articulated in these particular terms by any other oloshas. Frankly, I am not sure that the scientific/spiritual approach would be one readily accepted by many who have no inclination to study or observation of natural sciences as they apply to religion.

Iyawós enter a period of learning and repose for 12 months, this is known as “The Year in White” and most commonly as “Iyaworaje.” This period is marked by a set of rules and restrictions that are imposed to protect the iyawó. Rules are not arbitrary they are established because they are meant to protect the iyawó from any harm, after all they are the future of our religious community and must be cherished and revered. When an iyawó follows the rules it shows commitment, maturity, responsibility and respect for their new rank, to their godparents and most important, the head orisha. The way in which an iyawó chooses to carry on during this year can and will determine the nature of the relationship with the tutelary orisha for life. Take it from someone who has been there and done that.

Basic Rules
1. Caring for the Head:
The head must be protected and covered at all times during the first 3 months of kariosha. Only elders (godmother/godfather or oyugbonakán) are allowed to touch it with no cover. The Iyawo must put some cocoa butter, and cascarilla (efún) on his/her head every day covered by cotton and then use a hankerchief or cap to protect the head.
a. In case of accident medical staff is except from this rule and they can touch the head, they are blessed by Oragun, orisha that protects internal organs.

2. Dress Code, Hygiene and Sex:
a. White is the emblem of the iyawó and it must be worn for one year and 7 days after initiation; this is both in public and at home.
i. Female iyawós wear for the first 3 months a shawl, skirt, bloomers, panties, stockings, brassiere, undershirt, slip, long or calf length skirt, shirt with sleeves and no cleavage showing, white closed shoes, handkerchief and hat. She must also wear all her elekes, bracelets and idé.
ii. Male iyawós wear pants, socks, white closed shoes, shirt with sleeves, undershirt, cap and hat. He must also wear his idé and at the very least the bracelet of Obatalá.
b. Shoes or house shoes with socks or stocking must be worn at all times.
c. Iyawós do not sleep naked (they use pajamas, underwear and socks to bed) or parade themselves naked in front of their orisha.
d. Iyawós do not expose themselves to the elements, they use a white umbrella.
e. Clothes must be clean, pressed and not have holes.
f. Iyawós should take care to have a spare set of clothes at hand in case of accidents.
g. Jewelry not represented the orishas is not allowed.
h. The only exception when an iyawo does not wear religious attributes such as idé and elekes (necklaces) is to go to bed.
i. Some iyawós have work restrictions with regards to attire; those must be consulted during the process of itá to seek leniency or modifications.
j. The iyawo does not wear makeup, cuts his or her hair during the first three months and absolutely does not die his or her hair during the first year.
k. The iyawo sleeps in clean white sheets and uses white towels, white toothbrush, comb and any other utensil must be white.
l. The iyawó bathes twice a day, morning and evenings.
m. A female iyawó does not touch her orisha during her menstrual cycle or partakes in any ritual while on her period.
n. Iyawós should not engage in sexual relations for the first 16 days after kariosha, some houses have different rules, follow your house rules.
o. An iyawó should not be promiscuous and engage in sex with various partners at the same time or concurrently.

3. Meals
a. The iyawó eats on the mat for the first 3 months using a spoon, the dish and mug received during kariosha.
b. If the Iyawo is to eat out, the utensils must be carried as well as the matt.
c. The iyawo does not use fork and knife and will not lift the plate from the mat as he/she eats.
d. The iyawó does not interrupt meals to take calls, text on mobile devices or engage in any activity that could cause stress during the meal.
e. Leftover food is to be offered to Eshú or Egún.
f. Exceptions to rules due to work restrictions must be consulted during itá.

4. Day-to-day
a. The iyawó will not touch the uninitiated, this includes taking things from other people’s hands, handshaking, kissing on the cheeks or lips (other than spouse or their own children)
b. The iyawó must be accompanied by the oyugbona when visiting an olosha’s house for the first time after kariosha.
c. The Iyawo must avoid going out before 6 am and should be back in doors before night fall. He/she should also avoid direct sun and being exposed to the sun at noon or to the night sky at midnight.
d. The Iyawo will avoid sitting in public parks, standing on street corners, going to bar, night clubs, cabarets, market places, ruined constructions, jails, cemeteries, funeral parlors, hospitals, burials.
e. The iyawó should never walk over holes in the ground and should be careful when entering a cave, tunnel, or a forest.
f. The iyawó does not smoke or drink alcohol of any kind.
g. The iyawó avoids crowded places such as movies, theaters, parties, raves, masquerades and does not attend parties that are not related to orisha activities.
h. The iyawó should be escorted by elder at all possible times.
i. The iyawó will refrain from using drugs, being involved in illicit activities, killing or doing anything that is outsides of the parameters of the law.
j. The iyawó must have a head feeding done every month by either the main godparent of the oyugbonakán.
k. The iyawó will not curse and will not lie.
l. The iyawó will not carry weapons.
m. The Iyawo must avoid at all cost arguing, being involved in gossips, using profane language and being offensive to others; especially if the other persons are relatives, spouse or religious relatives.

There may be variations to these rules and they will be imposed from house to house, however, if a person is considering dedicating his or her life to the orishas they should be fully aware of the commitment and requirements expected and be able to follow them.

In today’s society, where the common mindset pushes people to rush and to impose their will over that of elders, just because they can or because it is in their nature to be contrary and push the envelope, rules are seen as something to bent and broken. Rules for an iyawó are a safe haven; because an iyawó should be in a state of grace leaving the igbodu (ceremonial room) after kariosha, it is imperative to conform to new habits and continue to purification process started during the initiation.

Only when an iyawó understands and accepts this process and is ready to release bad habits from before, will the iyawó truly profit from the initiation by evolving, growing and intensifying the changes that each tutelary orisha has in store for their new initiate. Following rules and the itá will bring the road of blessings to unfold at your feet, iyawó. Do not ever forget, others may and will judge you during your first year and your behavior will reflect on your elders, but ultimately, your elders already have their path established, yours is just starting. Be kind to yourself and remember no one forced you to do kariosha, or so I hope. Honor your orisha by following rules and avoid a possible public or private embarrassment by either oloshas, or even worse, the orisha themselves.

Omimelli
Oní Yemayá Achagbá

About Omimelli

I am a Olosha or Santera and for years I have been at the service of the Orisha and the community. I am initiated to Yemayá and my father in osha is Aganjú. I am also an initiate of Palo Mayombe and hold the title of Yaya Nkisi. As part of my daily devotional I spend time at my bóveda and work with my spirits on regular basis.
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33 Responses to Iyawó Basic Rules

  1. tata nkisi lucero vira mundo says:

    Wow….y’all got some rules.

    • Omimelli says:

      Tata,

      Yup, no kidding. I edited out quite a bit of rules because they were related to ebó meta and other things that are really procedures and not behavioral rules or rules to do with protocol. There are many more, but I think common sense should be the first rule. 🙂

      Omimelli

      • Olubunmi says:

        Shawn, I understand that you love your religion. however a very wise Native American Chief said – All Paths lead to the Divine. Some paths are easier and some are more difficult. I am glad that you found a path that works for you.

        If people were seeking your belief of God, then they wouldn’t follow another path. It is also insulting to call any other tradition ‘sick’ just because you don’t believe in it. Especially when Christianity is such a new concept, rather than many other traditions where are much older, and have many more roots. (Such as Orisha/Yoruba/Hinduism/Paganism (not just Wicca) /Native American beliefs/Congo, etc.)

        << Coming from a former Christian. Note that I am not only educated in Christianity, but many other faiths.

        • Omimelli says:

          Olubunmi
          Thank you kindly for your responses to Shawn. I have removed his posts because this forum is not dedicated to persuading anyone to follow any particular path. His point of view was aimed to impose his religious point of view over others, that is simply uncalled for. I came from a Christian background and I salute those who can stride two or more religions and be happy and in peace.

          The blog is about experiencing not about proseletizing.

          Omimelli

      • Oba Meji says:

        I would love to read the things you’ve edited out. I totally agree with you and would love to share your input with my future ahijada. You put into words that I wouldn’t be able to. Thank you.

        Oba Meji

  2. Iyawo Shango says:

    It Is an absolute pleasure to find your blog as I go through my ebo de año. There is a groundedness (yea I tend to make up words) that your words bring that make me say adupe pupo to you. I appreciate your perspective and the outline you give.
    I have been an aleyo of santo an follower ATR’s (Div 21 Voodoo, espiritismo, Palo ect.) since 1992 and am just taking the steps to go further because it has taken me this long to find padrinos that I trust with my head and who manifest great ase balanced by iwa pele. Reverence, honesty, respect and humility are the examples that I see in my ile and find during my research of the religion and your blog adds a deeper understanding and appreciation of this/these faiths and tenets.
    I look forward to reading more.
    Be well.

    • Omimelli says:

      Iyawo Shango,

      I am very happy to hear that you have found a good spiritual home. That is a blessing. Continue your year staying away from anything that may even remotely heat up your head. Enjoy every day of it, it is truly an adventure to be an iyawó and I found it most rewarding. I was sad when my year was over. There is nothing like going to orisha events and being singled out as special and fuzzed over by protective elders.

      Spend time taking naps at the foot of your orisha, those are recharging opportunities for you and you may even have some inspirational dreams in the process.

      Also, if you can find a hobby that relates to Santeria during your iyawó year, that would add to your value as a member of the ilé. By this I mean wood carving, beading, cultivating medicinal plants, you name it, whatever strikes your fancy. I know oní Shangos have a reputation for loving to eat, I have many friends that are Oni Shangos and they relish food. So maybe you discover a sudden love for cooking…and for learning how to prepare food for the orisha. It will come in handy when you have to prepare dishes for your one year anniversary.

      Ashe o, iré o iyawó.

      Omimelli

      • Iyawo Shango says:

        Alafia Iya,
        Thank you for the blessings and direction.
        It’s funny that you mention food! I am a chef by trade and was looking at your recipes thinking that I could help out in ceremonies over the year by cooking and collecting and creating adimu recipies for the orisha. I have always been interested in plants and healing. I got this from gardening with my grandmother. I focused on the healing properties
        (physical and emtional)of foods while in culinary school. Healing was also part of my ita so I decided to revisit this study. I also crochette pretty well and am making iyawo hats for upcoming initiates.
        Thank you for affirming for me that I am working on the things that I should be working on!
        Stay blessed and be well!
        Iyawo Shango

        • Omimelli says:

          Hello Iyawo Shango,

          It is very rewarding to hear that divine inspiration was on target. As I read your original post I had a strong and clear impression of you in the kitchen, but also working with your hands in other crafts.

          I took love to crochet, my skills there are so so, I do better with knitting. 🙂

          The kitchen, well that is another story because I am very much in love with spices and I believe we have a world of possibilities yet to be discovered and brought to the table of future iyawoses (well the mat really in their case) but also for other ceremonies.

          I think some our our oloshas are ready for more than black beans, rice and traditional same old recipies. Don’t take me wrong, we all need to learn and cherish every single one of the old school recipies, but we are citizens of the world and globalization has brought more and more to be shared.

          Keep me posted on your progress and feel free to share as you wish on other posts.

          Omimelli

        • IYAWO SHANGOBEE says:

          hello i had done my ocha in july u

          • Omimelli says:

            Hello Iyawo

            Congratulations on your recent kariosha. I hope you are keeping up with all the rules and regulations so you have a very successful iyawo year. Enjoy it, it is a special time of growth.

            Omimelli

        • Johnie says:

          ju06jO3-1n-2a12 para todos los hijos de puta, papa roach es una de las mejores bandas del mundolos ignorantes que no saben, solo dicen estupideces no saben naday su forma de vestir y sus looks son unicos

    • IYAWO SHANGOBEE says:

      hello im currentley a IYAWO

  3. Oshun Kayode says:

    Thanks for writing this; The Iyawo year is so important, and I think it is such a shame when these rules are ignored. It is such a special year. How can those that have not heeded the advice from the elders then guide others when they have not been through the year as they should? I despair sometimes.

    • Omimelli says:

      Oshun Kayode,

      You have a great point there. Leadership by example. Trust me, I feel the same way as well, this is why I write. I keep high hopes that some of the ideas that we share on the blog fall on fertile ground and take root so we can continue our traditions.

      Omimelli

  4. Oshuns daughter says:

    I’m glad I came acrossed your page. I will be crowing in March. It’s getting close and I’m a bit nervous but really looking for it.

    • Omimelli says:

      Hello Oshuns Daughter,

      You have all the reason in the world to be nervous, you are about to go through a life altering process. You will NEVER be the same again, or be literally alone again. Make sure you use your time from here to March wisely and that you try to fix as many things in your life as possible so you go into that igbodu clean and light. The better the raw material, the better the results after kariosha.

      Be blessed,

      Omimelli

  5. Iyawo Donna says:

    Thank you Omimelli! I am just a day shy of being a week off of the throne. It has been quite interesting learning to navigate as a Iyawo with my shawl and bag of goodies. 🙂 I am loving every minute of it and feel blessed every day.

    • Omimelli says:

      Iyawo Donna,

      Congratulations on having done kariosha. I wish you a life full of blessing and spiritual happiness. Being a new iyawo is a joy. Embrace chance, it is in our DNA to change. Don’t fight change, it only makes it hurt.
      –Praise chance, Oya is the mother of changes, she makes them sweep our life with her winds.
      –Bless change, Oshun is the bearer of joy for iyawos, she teaches us to speak softly when we face obstacles.
      –Hold on tight to change, and in the meantime praise Yemaya, Iya oro mi, mother of my traditions as it is her wise counsel that will make you love the roots you are now a part of. —–Appreciate the hard work embodied in the process of change as it is natural to be re-build and Oggun is the one that will help you forge your new character, seek him out.
      –Be fair with others as you change and evolve. Shango is the king that teaches us with grace to be just and allow space to others to get used to the new us. Be fair to them.
      –Be wise and exacting, but be giving. Obatala will lead the way for you to dress your soul with his color of purity and wisdom. Suuru iyawo, suuru, the road will not be easy.
      –Be open to change, may Elegua walk with you every day and stay a step ahead of you clearing your paths.

      Omimelli
      An-ex iyawo who loved that year to the max

    • IYAWO SHANGOBEE says:

      hello i was just done my ocha in july u

  6. Oba Meji says:

    Omi Melli you’re so motherly. I love your words. Please send me the rules leading to ebo meta. I have a future ahijada que ba ser santo soon and unfortunately I’m not as articulate with my words as you. Any guidance will be much appreciated. Thank you much!

    Oba Meji

    • Omimelli says:

      Oba Meji

      Thanks for your kind comments. I can post an article related to Ebo Meta over the weekend. It would help you and possibly others.

      Omimelli

  7. Amy, Iyawo Ochosi says:

    Ache’ to you and your wonderful blog! I was crowned Ochosi in May with my iymawa who was crowned Obatala and so far it has been a very emotional(such as headaches and frustration) yet beautiful spiritual process. I came across your blog because I was curious to know if my godparents had forgot to mention the rule about needing to have a white toothbrush. The thought really got me paranoid since my godparents are out of the town due to religious activities, but fortunately I found the answer here.
    By the way, do you have more blogs about Ocha/Orisha on this website or anywhere else?
    Thank our so much and blessings to you!
    -Amy, Iyawo Ochosi

    • Iyawo Ochosi Ode Mata says:

      To Iyawo Ochosi, Blessings on your Crowning!! You are the second Omo Ochosi I’ve heard of…My Crowned Day was September 8,2012!! let’s talk…

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  10. Ishmael-EL Jackson says:

    Very Good ,

  11. chris says:

    i am in my iyawo year…..and i cannot stop smoking…i had quit for 4 years, but recently had some life events that have caused alot of stress and i started smoking cigerettes again. i tell myself to quit every day….but i have been smoking for 2 weeks now. is this common? how will this affect my future? how bad is this?

  12. donna tarsnane says:

    You know it’s funny. I was in a relationship for four years with a guy who went through this ritual to become I guess it’s a priest in Santeria. He went to Cuba for a week and came back a totally different person. He left me after four years. We lived together. I was and still am heartbroken. I was given no reason no explanation. He does not even speak or look at me. And we we work together. And it’s only been a month. But yet he has someone knew in his life already. It’s only been a month. So basically I think he’s a hypocrite. I thought they were supposed to stay so pure the first year but yet he must have been cheating on me to already be involved with someone else. So how great is Santeria if it’s okay to hurt someone you said you loved like that?

  13. donna tarsnane says:

    I don’t know what to do? I would like to get a spiritual reading. I need answers. I’m heartbroken. I don’t know what I did wrong. I love him and he said he loved me. But everything shifted when he got back from Cuba. I’m lost and this is the hardest thing to go through. How great is Santeria? If it destroys your relationship?

  14. Hija de La Caridad del Cobre says:

    I crowned a few months ago it was an amazing experience and I carry my Orisha with love, pride and respect. I am however having a hard time adjusting to the change its been hard with work, family and even within myself. I feel that I am failing my year in white. But my heart is in the right place and I am trying hard to embrace the change I just pray my Mother understands.

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