What to Know Prior to Initiating into ATR
As African traditional religions (ATR's) become more and more maintstream and as people set out on their spiritual journeys many find themselves curious and wanting to learn more about them. Many seek to become initiated. Initiation however is a huge step and requires a long term commitment to the religion/faith. Therefore, initiation is something that should not by any means be taken lightly. There are several factors to consider and things that one should know before they take this step. I'll try to breakdown some important factors and things to consider prior to initiation.
The first is that you have to be called into being initiated into a particular ATR. It is important to learn the difference between a passion and a calling. The best bet to determine your path is to get a spiritual investigation done by a reputable priest/priestess who initates if you are unsure. It's important to know that ATR's are ancestrally founded and based. IFA and the Orisha for example originate from (Yoruba/Nigerian/West Africa) and is practiced widely in the Diaspora in Cuba/Dominican Republic/Puerto Rico+ Vodun and the Lwa originate from (West/Central Africa) and is widely practiced in Haiti and the Diaspora in the Dominican Republic/ Puerto Rico/New Orleans. The religion you initiate into should be attached to your ancestry. This is because your ancestors are who have established the connection with these spirits and are who help forge the connection for you with the spirits.
Nowadays, you have people from all backgrounds and walks of life who are initiating into these religions yet have no ancestral connection, or spiritual lineage ties to these spirits. So, what they will do is buy the spirits. The issue is that just because there are priests/priestesses who will allow for this for their own greed, these spirits are not for sale and the proper gatekeeping is simply not being done. Many priests/priestesses are making a killing off of selling spirits to the highest bidder. The end result of this however is that a person ends up having spirits that don't really want to work with them and then they wonder why their lives are not becoming better but worse. (This is a topic for a later date.)
In Lucumi, there is a saying "El muerto pare el Santo", which means that the dead give birth to the Saints. Many people will attempt to skip over their ancestors and go straight to initiation, which is a mistake. Unless in the circumstance of an emergency or, for health reasons where it is determined that a person has to do an immediate initiation; prior to initiating the first step is to setup an altar for your ancestors and to start honoring them. You honor them with prayer/affirmations, food and offerings. As you honor them and give offerings they gain strength they become a strong protective force for you. They become great guides for you on your journey and will lead you to fulfill your greatest destiny.
It is important to follow the correct spiritual path, one that is in agreement with your ancestral lineage to avoid problems later down the road. Also, by following the correct ancestral path your life becomes easier and the work you do surrounding your life's purpose becomes more powerful. Initiating into a religion or practice that is not in agreement with your ancestry could upset your ancestors and cause some major issues within your spiritual cuadrant (group of spirits). This can cause your life to be turned upside down.
Your ancestors are fully invested in your journey because the work that is done ultimately has the purpose of breaking generational curses and advancing your bloodline. Your future generations are at stake. When you start with your ancestors first they will lead you to the right mentors/godparents and the path that will be for the highest good for your bloodline. They will also be your first line of defense.
Another reason it is important to start with your ancestors is that they help you to develop the spiritual gifts that have been passed down to you. So, if you have a family ancestry of healers, seers, etc. you will want to tap into that and develop it should you need it later on down the road. ATR's are religions yes, but there is also ancestral magic that is included within these practices. So, should you end up in the wrong house/practice and find yourself being exploited (as often does happen) or, under attack from predatory elders, you will know how to recognize it and defend yourself.
Having established a connection with your ancestors, they can better protect you and safely guide you out of harms way. Whereas, when you have skipped over the ancestors you become somewhat of a sitting duck (prey) in certain situations that could end very badly for you including perhaps losing your livelihood, losing your mental health, and in some cases even losing your life. This is not to scare anyone but it is to make you aware of the harsh reality and how very serious tapping into spiritual practices without having developed your spiritual gifts and the proper guidance can be. Just as with all religions you have some elders who are righteous and others who are not and who choose to exploit and/or harm their mentees/godchildren/students/followers for gain. The fact that ATR's deal with ancestral magic makes this behavior a far more serious threat.
As I've stated earlier initiation into ancestral practices should be a lifelong commitment. It is a way of life. It is not something that you temporarily dabble in or get involved with out of curiosity and for the short term. Also, nothing comes freely. There are extensive costs to initiations up to several thousands of dollars. This is something that you should be aware of if you are considering initiation so that you can work on saving towards these costs. Your ancestors and spirits will help you to obtain the funds if initiation is marked for you, but you can't just expect it to fall from the sky. Also, not everyone is meant to initiate. This is why the proper spiritual investigations must be done to confirm whether or not you need to initiate. It is not for everyone as it is also not for everyone to be a spiritual guide / leader. It is a calling it is not something you choose. It is something that is marked for you at birth.
Spirits have to be tended to and well taken care of. Orishas, Lwa and other ancestral spirits are not working for free. You are calling down an energy and there is to be a proper exchange of energy for energy. Sacrifice is required. Should you decide you no longer want to work with these spirits the proper guidance regarding returning these spirits will be needed to avoid wreaking havoc in your life.
You are born with your own "ache" or spiritual power. Then, this power gets utilized within the religion you have initiated into. You cannot pay to get power and you can't develop gifts that you don't have already have (unless you are "selling your soul" to some lower level entities, which is a completely different situation altogether). For example, if you are a medium you were born a medium. You can't develop that gift if you don't have it. There are people who believe that once they get initiated they will become more powerful or, get more "ache" but this is simply not true. You are born with all the gifts that you will have in your lifetime.
There are many different branches, lineages, and practices of ATR's. I frequently name the two that I am connected with but there are many, many more. Amongst the various ATR's spirits may have the same or, similar names but they are venerated differently in each religion. For example, Sanse (Puerto Rican Vodou) and 21 Divisions (Dominican Vodou) have spirits some spirits who have the same names, yet the way they are venerated and the practices are completely different. The ceremonies, altars, initiations etc. differ. In Lucumi the iyawo (initiate) has to undergo a year in white clothing. In Isese, its Nigerian counterpart, this is not the case. The ceremony to become initiated into Isese is 3 days. Again, there are so many different ATR's not limited to but including, Lucumi, IFA, Isese, Obeah (Akan + Diaspora Jamaica/Trinidad), Candomble (Brazil), Kimbanda, Umbanda, Palo, 21 Divisions, Sanse, Kenbwa (Guadeloupe), Vodou, Kemetic Science (Egypt), etc. Many of us due to mixed ancestry may have connections to more than one of these lineages. The key to finding the right one that will allow us to best reach our highest potential is to allow ourselves to be led by our highest vibrating and strongest ancestors. Becoming a practitioner of an ATR can be a wonderful experience if the proper protocol is followed.
This is by no means an all inclusive summary of what you need to know but I do hope this information helps to answer some questions and explain some things that need to be considered prior to any initiation. Please do like and comment below any other questions you may have. Feel free to message me privately also if you prefer.
Also, I do offer a very helpful and in depth 1 on 1 course that you can register for to learn more about ancestor veneration. It is helpful for beginners as well as those with existing altars and who seek to learn more. See link below.