EIGHT MOUTHS ON THE MAT
is one of the most complex yet most beautiful systems of divination practiced not only by adherents of the Lucumí faith but also by the Yoruba people in Nigeria. It is a living, oral body of wisdom that took on flesh when the sixteen principle odu (patterns of cowrie shells that can fall in the diloggún) became mortal, living beings, each in one of the sixteen ancient kingdoms of the Yoruba Empire.
When a diviner casts the sixteen shells on the mat, he obtains a numerical value from zero to sixteen. The number corresponds to a particular odu in the...