The process is seating the orisha inside of the ultimate stone, one’s head, is called kariosha. Also known as yoko orisha, asiento (to be seated) or crowning, the process involves ultimately a spiritual and biological symbiosis where an external living spiritual force is aligned to one’s orí for life. Once the process is successfully completed, a chain reaction of changes should accelerate the development of the spiritual and physical life of the individual who has undergone kariosha.
Now, this is not the way in which most people understand the transformation that kariosha means. For most, the simpletons, the process is one of crowning. It is one of ego and of the creation of a king or queen that now will ‘have Shangó crowned’ or ‘Yemayá crowned’ or whatever orisha was it that was called upon guiding the life of the iyawó or bride of the orisha. Here is where I part ways with those practitioners who go about on a rather unbecoming manner, boasting of having ‘orisha crowned’ thinking that somehow they are now a god or newly created royalty. Titles be damned. Every initiate, no matter the rank, is nothing but a servitor of the orisha. I don’t care if you are an olosha or if you are (as most considered and I beg to differ as well) on the top of the chain as al oluwo, every person who goes through initiation is nothing but a servant of the orisha. If we remember this simple fact, we do much better as a religious community because we keep the mentality of humility and servitude with love to the orisha and to our fellow members. The word servant is not demeaning in this case, it is an honor to serve.
However, I before I continue on my tangent, even if much needed, I will refocus on the subject at hand: Transformation.
I have been blessed to witness the transformation process of quite a few individuals through their journey from aleyo to olosha, and now I am preparing for this rite of spiritual passage for my youngest son who is 7 years old.
This is not the first time that I have a son become an olosha. My eldest son, who will be the kariosha godparent of my youngest, was initiated to Oggún 8 years ago. Back then, I watched a child go into the igbodu and a different being emerge from it. It was as if someone had taken my little kid away and in his place, returned to me the body of a child with an the soul of a full grown man peering through his eyes.
As a mother, this was a most disconcerting experience. I knew my child, I carried him within me, watched him grow and develop his personality. Suddenly I was left to face a very different experience than I anticipated. It is quite different to see an adult come out of the kariosha process than it is to watch one’s child go through this transformation.
These are the things for which no one can prepare you. You may hear them from me, but if you are not a parent and your child has not gone through this process, you may only understand my words at an intellectual level, but you will lack the visceral knowledge only a parent would know. And even then, not all experiences are the same, thus the value and beauty of sharing these stories of transformation.
Why do we allow our children to go through such transformation at an early age? Most child development experts would agree that the personality of an individual is still in the process of formation until 7 years of age. I am not an expert on child development, however, I agree with the fact that a child is still pretty much in a process of profound changes and that it is crucial that only children who have a very clear path in the orisha are allowed to go through this experience at an early age. It is not enough with having the head orisha determined to put a child through this process. I consider that there must be a certain level of inherent maturity and understanding for parents to submit a child through kariosha.
Kariosha is not like a baptism in the Catholic Church granting you admittance to practice a religion and making you part of the ranks of believers. Kariosha is the ultimate sacrifice a human can do to honor the orisha and since it makes a priest or priestess out of the initiate, it is much more than an entry way into a complex religion, it is a life-time commitment that is not to be taken lightly.
You may ask, what about those who are initiated when their mothers are pregnant? What about their personality, what about their development? I happen to disagree with initiations done when a woman is expecting. Here is my reasoning for it. An initiation is meant to be experienced by one person at a time with full awareness of what is about to happen and with a series of prior determining readings to support such drastic spiritual transformation. I could go into the technicalities of initiation which also make me very skeptical of doing kariosha to an expectant woman and to claim that the child is an olosha at birth, but that is a debate that deserves analysis on its own merits and which is not the focus of this essay.
As I help my son Oggún Addá Araí to prepare for the kariosha of his little brother, I can’t help but to wonder what profound changes will take place for my child. I am both thrilled and scared. Thrilled because I know that he is ready, he has asked for this initiation, he has prayed to have Elegba chose him as the orisha did and he is happy. He understands the implication of the steps we are about to take as he has grown in a house where the orisha is the center of our spiritual practices. I am scared because I am not sure that I am ready to let go of my son as he is. I am not sure that I am ready to face the fact that this boy I know now will no longer be the same when he comes out of the igbodu. I love him as he is. I will love him just as well when he finishes his transformation, I am sure of this. However, he will no longer be the same boy I raised and I will miss who I know now so very dearly.
I am not being dramatic about this, I am speaking from a position of knowledge, of fact and observation. We are never the same when we come out of the kariosha process, we can’t predict the changes that will take place. All we can do as parents is to prepare our children the best we can, to help them correct as many character flaws as possible before kariosha and to be there to support and guide them as they emerge slowly and changes continue to unfold over the years to come.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá