From: http://www.seanet.com/~efunmoyiwa/introifa.html (http://www.seanet.com/%7Eefunmoyiwa/introifa.html)
Ifá not only is the deepest form of divination in the religion, it is the highest expression of La Regla Lucumí. Contained within Ifá is the sum total of the knowledge and wisdom of the ancients, the sum total of existence, as well as the divine wisdom of Olodumare and the orishas. And every event in the universe and in our lives that has happened, is happening or will happen is contained within its scope.
Orunmila, as the deity of Ifá is most commonly known, is the secretary of Olodumare. Therefore the words of Ifá carry the full weight of Olodumare in person. Orunmila is the orisha of wisdom and his priests, called babalawos or "Father of Secrets" are the highest priests in the religion.
Orunmila is even privy to the secret of the creation of the universe as Olodumare allowed him to be a witness to creation, hence his title of Eleri Ipin or "Witness to Destiny in its Creation". He also bears witness every time one of us goes to the feet of Olodumare to choose the destiny that we will follow on earth.
The babalawo has two sets of tools to practice this divination: the opele or ocuele and the opón Ifá or Table of Ifá proper. The opele is a chain separated by 8 small disks. Of these two, the opele is most commonly used for seeing people with Ifá, the Table of Ifá usually being reserved for truly big things such as finding out a person's guardian orisha, the itá during the initiations of abo faca and kofá (see below), or when a person is in a situation beyond the facility of the opele.
When a person is seen with Ifá, one of 256 odus or signs will be seen to be accompanying the person. Each of these 256 odu has its own patakís or ancient histories, its own suyeres or prayers, and 16 paths which this odu can take. This adds up to a staggering 4,096 odus and paths that a babalawo must learn and memorize. Of course, no babalawo can learn it all as no babalawo can know as much as Orunmila himself, but all babalawos must devote themselves to learning prodigious amounts of knowledge pertaining to these odus. This is one of the reasons there are so few babalawos.
In Ifá there are two initiations: receiving kofá for women and abo faca for men, and making Ifá, the initiation where a person becomes initiated as a babalawo. Though the initiations of abo faca and kofá are similar there are differences between the two that cannot be gone into here, but essentially women are the seniors in Ifá until the man makes Ifá, if that is their calling. Only men can make Ifá, and they can not have ever been ridden or possessed by eggun or by an orisha. Gays also are not able to follow this particular path. Actually very few people are called to Ifá and of those very few actually become initiated as babalawos. One reason is the responsibilities and intensive learning involved as there is no such thing as a dilettante or part-time babalawo. Also, the initiation is very expensive and is a much harder one to pass through than that of making Ocha and even includes several severe beatings with sticks, which is the only part of the initiation that is public.
Iború Iboya Iboshishé