Eshu Elegbara

Eshu Elegbara

Tree of Justice

Also known as: Elegba; Elegua; Legba; Papa Legba; Atibon Legba

Origin: West Africa

Eshu Elegbara is the master of the crossroads. He is the lord of communications, guardian of gates. He is the owner of all roads, paths, and thresholds, literal and metaphoric. He owns the highway, the path to your door, and the Road to Success.

Eshu Elegbara is venerated throughout West Africa. He is incorporated into different pantheons, and thus different myths are told of him; however, his essence remains the same. Because he is venerated by different cultures with different languages, different variations of his name exist:

• Eshu

• Elegba

• Legba

Eshu Elegbara journeyed to the Western Hemisphere with enslaved devotees, where he emerged as one of the most significant, widely venerated spirits of African-Diaspora religions. He is called Papa Legba in Haiti, Elegua in Cuba, and Exu in Brazil. He may or may not be the same spirit as Palo’s Lucero.

Eshu opens and closes roads. He is invoked to remove obstacles from your path and to obstruct enemies and misfortune so they can’t reach you. He is an intense trickster but also a force for justice. Eshu is a lover of truth. Nothing can be hidden from him.

Eshu Elegbara mediates between people and the other spirits. Traditionally when one wishes to communicate with other spirits, one first asks Legba to open the door. He is the first spirit invoked in African-Diaspora spiritual ceremonies. Legba opens the gate for the other spirits to follow.

Papa Legba may be invoked when you stand at any crossroad and need direction. If you are literally lost and don’t know which way to turn, call his name and wait for a sign. Invoke him when spiritual communications are not going well. Invoke him by crossing bones at a crossroads or by leaving a small cairn of bones for him there.

Theoretically there is nothing Papa Legba cannot do. He enables the lame to walk. He transforms bad luck into good and vice versa. Eshu Elegbara blesses devotees with the gift of manual dexterity, thus he is beloved by musicians as well as gamblers, dice players, and practitioners of three-card monte. Legends of bluesmen like Robert Johnson receiving extraordinary musical talents at the crossroads may derive from vestigial memories of Papa Legba. All one must do to receive these blessings is go to the crossroads and ask. There’s no selling of souls involved. At worst, Elegba will ignore you and you’re left where you started. Bring your instrument to be blessed (guitar, dice, whatever).

Eshu Elegbara is something of a practical joker. He likes word games. Be careful how you phrase requests, and cultivate a sense of humor. He is an easily pleased spirit and not particularly avaricious: a glass of rum once a week and a cigar or some candy on special occasions keeps him content. He is among the most powerful and proactive of spirits: don’t ask for his help unless you’re ready for change.

He is syncretized to the Holy Child of Atocha, the Anima Sola, Saint Anthony, and Saint Peter, another guardian of gates.

Manifestations: He may have over 121 paths and manifestations. His original form in Africa was as a handsome, virile young man. This manifestation did not survive the Middle Passage. In the Western Hemisphere, Eshu Elegbara may manifest as a merry, tricky little boy or as an old limping man, weary from walking the world. He may dress in Masonic garb.

Iconography: In Africa, he is sometimes venerated in the form of a phallus. His iconic image is a ritually prepared concrete head with cowrie shell eyes and ears. Statues of the Holy Child of Atocha are used to represent him. His image is usually kept near or behind the front door.

Attributes: Key, cross, crutches, cane, shepherd’s crook, walking stick

Colors: Red, black

Number: 3 (two legs and a phallus)

Animal: Mouse

Planet: Sun

Day: Monday

Tree: Calabash

Offerings: Rum, candy, cigarettes, candy cigarettes, toys; he likes his food spicy: lace with hot sauce and peppers.

See also:

Judika Illes
From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.