Four Shells, Five Answers: Obi divination – Mouthpieces of the Orichas

 “Ago Obi, Ago Obi, Ago Obi”

The prayers begin for Obi, the system of divination from the Yoruba religion to obtain “Yes” and “No” answers to questions in various levels of intensity and meaning. This system, crucial to all in the African religious concepts under the major heading of Ifa and their various levels of dilution under the categories of Lukumi and Santeria, are a methodology of the ways Nigerian kola nuts (Obi Abata), fresh coconut meat (darle el coco) and four cowrie shells speak to us and are considered the ‘mouthpieces’ of the Orichas. The Orichas, as they are collectively known, are African based Gods and Goddesses of Nature who rule various places and elements of the World and are considered ‘guardian angels’ of each and everyone who inhabits the Earth. Each and every one of us is considered having that particular Deities’ “Ache” or “Spirit” and it is within the patakis, or stories of the Orichas’ interactions with each other and the World that the message is delivered.

Obi’s spirit, once mortal, ascended to being an Oricha once good deeds had been done, fell from Grace because of Ego. Upon descending to Earth, Obi’s spirit embodied the coconut palm tree. Although Obi cannot speak with his tongue, he communicates through the white (“clean”) side or brown (“dark”) of coconut meat. If cowrie shells are used, it is the side that has been filed open to indicate “Yes” (“clean”) and the closed ridged side that indicates a “No” (“dark”) side of the answer pattern that fell during questioning.

After prayers, I utilize Obi divination with cowrie shells to answer questions during a card reading using the Tarot of the Orichas. Obi gives clarity to questions regarding messages of the cards to a client. Clients can ask Obi a question and I may also be prompted to ask as well when the layers of cards upon themselves are not in association with the clients’ dilemma. Obi, not to be taken lightly, is regarded as a tool to help Mankind seek clarity in decision making, regardless of whether you are fully initiated into the religion or not. There are 5 levels to Obi; two affirmative or positive in different severities, two negative or “no” answers, and a “maybe” answer that needs a second question to extract a less ambiguous answer.

The five different shell patterns that will fall during a questioning session are as follows:

“Alafia” – “Yes with blessings!” – The most affirmative answer, it can be over eager in delivery and must have a second toss to confirm and secure the answer. The second fall of the cowries must be another “Alafia” or “Ejife” or “Etagua” answer to be taken as a “Yes” answer.
“Ejife” – “Yes” (but without emphasis) – This affirmative answer is interpreted as a “Yes, and your World is balanced”, meaning what you have proposed or achieved (or about to) brings balance to the contradictory struggles of the World to keep in harmony.

“Etagua” (or “Etawa”) – “Maybe” – This answer comes when the question needs clarification (posing it in a way to obtain a “Yes” or “No” answer) or Oricha is pondering the situation and needs a second question to be able to answer. When Etagua appears, the second answer of the second toss of shells is the true answer. If another “Etagua” (Etagua-Meji) falls after the first one, the meaning is “do not ask what you already know”.

“Okana” – meaning darkness is surrounding the client and a positive outcome is not available, perhaps without additional spiritual work. One open shell and three closed ones indicate to focus on the small beam of light in darkness.

“Oyekun” – The most serious “No” answer, it tells of being out of touch with spirituality and walking in darkness. A dire warning; it presages unforeseen problems, accidents, fires and even portends death. Additional questions need to be asked in the clients’ behalf to determine why Oyekun has come. Water must be sprinkled on Oyekun and if it appears more than once, the shells must be placed in water to ‘cool’ down the answer.

After the reading with me, the client has an opportunity to ask questions that were not addressed in the card reading. These may be additional clarity on the original shell toss or other unrelated questions on relationships and business strategies. Once we begin to receive multiple “Etaguas” to questions in an obvious pattern, this indicates that the line of questioning needs to end as the client is asking questions to obvious answers they are facing.

While not always an immediate answer, Obi gives insight on things to come. Clients who return for a follow up reading three months later will exclaim, “The shells were right! I just didn’t see it (the situation) evolving before me!” and other affirmations that indicate that revelations of Truth that Obi gives come true. For me, as well as over 70 million plus devotees of this African indigenous religion, we know Obi does not lie.


Jacqueline Mathers, educator and author, uses Obi divination in her readings for clients. She is also a certified Rootworker in the Southern style of conjure, studying under Cat Yronwode. Many years of study of African based folkloric and religious beliefs have earned her the title “native informant” with various institutions of education in the Central Valley. She is also the producer of the Holistic Healing Expo in Elk Grove, CA and can be contacted at (916) 284-5552 or at jacqueline (at)

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