The Price of the Ticket: Cost in Certain African and African-Rooted Spiritual Traditions

Photographer: Pierre Verger

Photographer: Pierre Verger

The Yoruba Isese spiritual tradition, and the African Diaspora traditions of Lukumi, Haitian Vodou, Palo Monte, and Candomblé, are initiatic. Initiation gives you not only the healing you need for your life, amongst other things it bestows, but also an access pass granting you permission to learn the secret, ritual knowledge of the cult. Perhaps the most notable characteristic being how to initiate others, better known as establishing lineage.

A Few Notes On Lineage
Lineage is determined by a continual line of initiations under the auspice of a specific spiritual community that traces its collective history back to a person who was the first to inaugurate that lineage. In the case of Yoruba Isese, the lineages are millenia old and spread across numerous towns within Yorubaland. Some of the most well known of these towns are Osogbo, Oyo, Ile Ife, and Abeokuta. Where the aforementioned Afro-Caribbean/Afro-Atlantic traditions are concerned, people of African descent have been in the Caribbean and Brazil since the 16th century. There is evidence documenting the existence of cabildos (mutual aid councils) and cofradias (fraternities) that pertained to Lukumi, Palo Monte, and Abakua in Cuba as early as the 17th century. Lukumi and Palo Monte lineages, with the contemporary initiatic practices known and executed today by adepts in Cuba and elsewhere, developed in the 19th century. These lineages have roots that were planted in the 16th century by Bantu peoples, and in the17th century by Yoruba and related peoples (who ultimately became known as Lukumi). Haiti has a similar religio-spiritual timeline. The oldest Candomblé Ketu houses were formally established in 19th century Brazil in the Northeastern city of Salvador da Bahia with Casa Branca do Engenho Velho / Ilê Axé Iyá Nassô Oká being the oldest.

Gaining Access bka Pay Your Fare
Let me be clear: without initiation your access is severely limited. In certain of the aforementioned traditions, no initiation = no access.

So if initiation gives access to ritual knowledge and practice, as well as [eventual] permission to perform initiations, thus by extension establishing lineage, in accordance with the rules of the tradition, then how does one get initiated?

You pay.

You pay with your time and your energy, and you most certainly pay with cold hard cash.

Before we get to the meat and potatoes of this topic, here are a few notes to dispel possible bunching of shokotos:

  • The prices listed below were provided by individuals initiated in one or more of the aforementioned spiritual traditions. Two of these individuals are my godparents;

  • The information quoted comes from priests across the aforementioned traditions located in various areas of the United States with active ties to their root lineages in Yorubaland, Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, and the United States;

  • On the surface some traditions look cheaper than others. If you are traveling to initiate, you will have to factor in flight, housing, and food. Depending on where you live, this can significantly augment your overall costs for initiation;

  • These prices are estimates, not absolutes. There is no such thing as a standard price. Prices fluctuate depending on geography, ceremony specific needs, the cost of ingredients, and the character and economic conditions of the person/people doing the initiation; and

  • All prices are quoted in USD.

Palo Monte
Also known as Las Reglas Bantu, Afro-Cuban Palo Monte is one of the least expensive of the African Diasporic initiatic traditions. Prices for initiation range from $900 - $1,500 depending on the level to which you are being initiated.

Lukumi
Perhaps the most well known of the African-Diasporic initiatic traditions, Lukumi (also known as Santeria or La Regla de Ocha) seems to have the most price variation. Depending on the Orisa to which one will be initiated, the price can range from $7,000 to as high as $15,000. I have been told that costs for Lukumi Ifa initiate demonstrate extreme variability with prices quoted as low as $5,000 and as high as $20,000. It was heavily emphasized that the final decision on cost for Lukumi Ifa initiation is made by the Oluwo Siwaju.

Haitian Vodou
Like Palo Monte, Haitian Vodou has various levels of initiation. The head wash ceremony ranges from $1,500 - $2,500. Depending on the level of priesthood to which one will be initiated, you are looking at a range of $2,500 - $5,000.

Candomblé
Candomblé is the popular overarching term for the three main branches of Afro-Brazilian spiritual traditions: Ketu, Jeje, and Angola. The information provided here pertains to Candomblé Ketu. Orisa initiations range from $3,000 to $5,000.

Yoruba Isese
Increasingly many individuals are looking to practice Yoruba spiritual tradition as practiced in Yorubaland. Yorubaland is comprised of several centers of Orisa worship that each maintain unique initiatic practices. Prices are as follows:

  • Orisa initiation starts at $2,500

  • Egbe initiation starts at $2,500

  • Ifa initiation starts at $3,500

Please note: inherent to Yoruba culture is the notion of bartering and negotiation. There is an expectation that when one is given a price that a bartering session will ensue, and this is the case whether the topic is the cost of food or initiation.

Words of caution for those looking to initiate (these opinions are mine and do not represent the opinions of anyone other than me):

  • The priest or priestess you work with should have no issue giving you a flat number that represents the full cost of your ceremony.

  • For traditions that have different levels of priesthood, do your best to find out the the level you are initiating to. Not all have the same requirements and thus there are likely to be fluctuations in cost;

  • Fraudsters and charlatans are no strangers to these traditions. If the price sounds inflated, it may very well be;

  • Overpaying for an initiation, or going into debt to pay for an initiation, is not in your best interest;

  • The godparent sets the cost of the initiation;

  • Generous priests who apply the concept of charity to their pastoral work will be willing to work with you by offering a payment plan or discount. This is not an invitation for you to get brand new and think you are exempt from reciprocity or showing gratitude. Initiation, though focused on a person, happens because of the culmination of many priests and their deities, all leveraging and focusing their energy to support your healing, growth, and development. Do the right thing and repay these costs with your time, money, respect for your godparents, and devotion to your ancestors and deities.

Thanks for tuning in. Until next week!

Negarra A. Kudumu

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