My first two basic divination classes are winding down; the Monday night class finished almost 2 weeks ago, and one of the Wednesday night classes has only two lectures left; then they have a final. Some of them will go on to the advanced divination class on Wednesday nights, an advanced seminar on the families of Odí and Unle. Some are taking a break. I’ve started one new basic class on Wednesday nights, and I have another starting up on the 14th of this month on Sundays. Now that my first group of students is nearing the end, it’s time for the teacher to evaluate what he has learned.
I’m thinking about a quote attributed to Felipe Garcia Villamil, an elder olorisha and olúañá. He once said, “For me, teaching is remembering.” I never understood those words because I’d never really taught anything formally, but now that I have, I do.
For each 1 ½ hour lecture, I spent hours reviewing my notes, and that in itself is no easy task. Over the years the notes on my field work and studies have grown to encompass a huge four-shelf bookcase, stuffed full with three-inch binders. My notes on each family of odu often include 2, sometimes 3 binders; each is stuffed full of proverbs, lore, herbal baths, ebós, meanings, and personal commentaries. Some include transcriptions of conversations I’ve had with elders regarding the ashé of the odu, and even now, twenty-one years after I first began this journey, I’m still footnoting and indexing all of my files. Trying to break that material down into something that can be used as a lecture is monumental, and I shudder when I reread all the material and realize I’ve forgotten as much as I’ve learned. Preparing to teach has become an act of remembering, and in the end, I think passing on relevant knowledge to my students has helped me learn and retain more than they’ll ever realize.
In a lot of ways, the act of teaching what I know to those who don’t know fulfills the ashé of the odu Osá Irosun, and odu that speaks of each initiate as a folkloric library. In my personal commentary on that odu, I wrote the following almost 10 years ago:
What is written cannot be erased.
Many of the proverbs from this odu speak of the future, the past, and the present being maintained through the diloggún and its odu. Realize that every person involved in the Lucumí religion is a folkloric library to himself or herself. As long as that one person lives that library remains; it is maintained, and continues to gather additional scores of knowledge into its whole. Yet just as a natural disaster can wipe out a single library or a collection of rare books, so does death and natural disaster destroy that wealth of knowledge contained in each person. If the elder teaches, his teachings last into the next generation, if the student has absorbed his knowledge well. If the elder does not teach, or if the student does not learn, the entire library is destroyed with the death of that one priest. Not only does this religion need good teachers, but also it needs good writers. Knowledge, like books, can only be preserved when it is studied by many and assimilated by many. Even though we have been a strictly oral tradition in the New World, do not the elder Yoruba write and then teach from their writings? Is not their religion preserved openly among Nigerian, Yoruba culture? If our branch of the religion needs nothing else, it needs good teachers and good writers whose works maintain their knowledge, even if it is never published. Perhaps this is my own destiny?
I think I came to those conclusions after reading something that John Mason once wrote.
The more I teach the more I realize that this just might be the next step in my evolution, the next unfolding of my personal ashé. Definitely, this is something I enjoy doing.