The first part of any letra del año will offer information that is primarily used by initiated priests and priestesses to take care of their religious obligations for the year, such as the herbs to be used in spiritual baths or cleansing ceremonies and the offerings to be made to different Orishas. Most of the language used here is in Lucumí ceremonial language (a variation on Yoruba) so it will not make sense to people who aren't familiar with it. For the most part, the general public doesn't need to be concerned about it.
So, which letra del año applies to you? If you belong to a religious house and have a godparent, you'll follow the letra del año that your godparent indicates is best for you. Some people are attached to a particular letra del año by geographical location - if you live in Miami, you go by the Miami letra - and some people are attached to a letra by their religious affiliation with a particular lineage - I made Ocha in Palmira, Cuba, so that's the letra I go by, regardless of where I live. There is really no "right" or "wrong" way to apply the letra del año. Some people look at several of them and try to find common threads. Others prefer to stick to one and ignore the others.
How does it apply to you? The letra del año isn't directed at any one individual so it's not a personalized reading. It describes the energy and the situation that an entire group of people may face during the year. You may be part of the group, or you may be an exception to it. Others may experience problems with health, but your health will be fine. Again, the letra del año is not fortune telling. It's not predicting that you, specifically, will get sick. But it says that there will be a likelihood of a specific kind of sickness or health problem in your community or in the world, for example, many bad cases of flu or an outbreak of an infectious disease. You should be aware of the possibility and take precautions - get a flu shot or see your doctor, wash your hands often- and you may not be exposed to anything, so you will be fine. But others around you will be sick. If you are forewarned that there is a tendency toward a certain kind of problem, you can take steps to avoid that problem in many cases.
In divination, all Odu will come with "osorbo" (obstacles, problems) or "iré" (blessings). This year, the letra del año from Palmira comes with osorbo. That's not to say the year will be terrible for everyone. The diviners offer remedies and advice for how to avoid problems, and if you make ebó and follow the advice, you may well be spared. Just because arguments and unrest are predicted for the general community, you don't have to be a part of that. If you maintain a cool head and act in a respectful way toward people, you can help yourself, your family, and your community overcome or avoid that problem. A year that comes with osorbo generally means we'll have to work harder and try harder to accomplish our goals, maintain good health, and find prosperity. It's not impossible, but it's not going to fall out of the sky and land in our lap. Many babalawos will tell you that when an Odu comes in iré (with blessings) people are overconfident that all is well and they let down their guard, they stop trying so hard, and they don't make their best effort. Iré can disappear in the blink of an eye. But when a sign comes in osorbo, people are more conscious of the need to do their part to overcome obstacles, they build stronger character and learn resistance, which can help them in the long run to have a better life.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I'm going to talk about some of the proverbs and patakis associated with this sign and how they might apply to our lives in the coming year. Check back!