27/12/2009

The Language of the Birds



King Solomon’s supreme secret is said to be his knowledge of the language of the birds. The language of the birds in tasawwuf or what is better known as Sufism, is the watermark of prophets, the wali or nabi. We can understand wali to be ‘saintly’, while nabi is a wali that has a mission in the world that goes beyond itself. By resorting to a word like ‘saint’ this invites a great range of misconceptions, because it brings the thoughts of modern man towards an image not in conformity with what a ‘saint’ truly is. A saint is someone whose maqam, or station is in divine proximity. This divine proximity can result in the saint being a recluse and wander incognito in the world, like a wali, or motivated by a certain mission is making the knowledge he or she wants to pass on available to the world, being a nabi. There is no difference in the station of the wali and the nabi, what differs is the compass, and the direction of attention. So, by sainthood we must understand a proximity to the divine, which is simply accomplished by turning ones passion towards the intellect and onwards, refusing to be a slave of passions, but rather using passions in the service of the One.
The birds are divine messengers, in Ifá the birds are manifested in Osá Meji, an odu that represents a tendency to fly away from mundane responsibility and calls upon the powers beyond the veil, the unruly powers mortal man can only appease. But through appeasing turbulent powers they turn friendly towards the one who invest interest in calming these powers down and make them enter in agreement and sympathy with oneself. Ifa speaks about two deities capable of understanding the ‘Solomonic language’, they being Orunmila and Osanyin. Orunmila is the spirit of wisdom who draws his power on the spirit of knowledge, Ela, and the other spirit is the divine doctor and herbalist, Osanyin. The odu that speaks of this mystery is found in the odu OkanranTurupon where Olodumare invites Orunmila to discover the ase (powers) of Osanyin. Osanyin comes along in spite of Orunmila’s advice of staying out of this. When they arrive to Olodumares court they sit down on a mat that has been impregnated with blood taken from Olodumares wife with cotton, a power that ignites Orunmila to become oracular – and thus he solves the riddle of the calabash presented before him. Osanyin, who in his stubbornness chose to come along, is challenged to sacrifice a dog to seal the secret of his ase, but he is not capable and instead he wounds his leg, making him unfit for hard work. Orunmila thus gives him his secret, which is the secret of leaves and plants. This odu is immensely rich in meaning, but today I want to focus on the secret of revelation, which is the blood of Olodumares wife wrapped in cotton, which is the voice of Osanyin, The menstrual blood wrapped in cotton is the voice of nature – and this is the essence of the language of the birds. By ones knowledge of the secret works of nature the birds can speak. It is through ‘the road we did not traveled before’ as the odu says, we come to know wisdom. And indeed nature speaks, through birds as through plants, waters and rocks. And it is I this frame as nature as having a language that we can understand if we just turn our attention towards it I understand what happened just a few hours ago. I was going to the Egbe Ifá but on my way I met two birds (Turdus rufiventris) who jumped towards me screaming, I heard in my head the screams telling, “keep your distance!”, which I did. I spoke back asking what was wrong and again these screams that told me to keep my distance. I was wondering if they had made some nest nearby that I was disturbing and then I saw, a snake, curling through the ground, actually a viper I was about to step on, had it not been for the bird telling me. An hour before this encounter I had discovered a dead kolibri, which for me always carry sinister omens – today as any other day, and indeed it was a forewarning of impeding death that was avoided by actually understanding the language of the birds. This tells me that anyone can, with the right direction of their attitude, become a wali, someone who understands the language, not only of birds, but of nature. And in such way I count my blessings as a dweller in the countryside and as an Awo and a Sufi… as Ifá says:

Ifá kí kó níí mú’nì mò Ifá
Ònà sísì níí mú ni mò ònà
Ònà tí a kò rìn rí
Níí se ni sìbásìbó
Meaning:
It is through constantly studying Ifá that we come to understand Ifá
It is through missing the way that we come to know the way
It is the road we have not traveled before that causes us to wander here and there