The West African trickster spirit Eshu Elegbara is Master of Roads. He determines whether someone’s path is clear or blocked with obstacles. Eshu determines how easy or challenging an individual’s life will be. Devotion to Eshu Elegbara was widespread; he is common to many West African pantheons. Because of this, Eshu Elegbara exists in virtually all African-Diaspora traditions although, as befitting a trickster, his name, appearance, and personalityis slightly different wherever he manifests.
In Brazil, Eshu Elegbara evolved into Exu, a special, unique kind of spirit. He manifests differently in Brazil than elsewhere. The Exus are a category unto themselves: there are many Exus or at least many individual aspects or manifestations of one Exu. He serves as a messenger and medium. Each orixa has its own Exu serving as a private messenger. This definition of Exu is common to Afro-Brazilian traditions.
Theoretically the female path of Exu is known as Exua; however, his usual consort and female alter ego is Pomba Gira.
Perceptions of Exu depend upon spiritual convictions of the perceiver. Those with more purely African or Pagan orientations perceive Exu as dangerous and volatile but not inherently evil. He is a miracle healer and provides opportunities and good fortune. Those of a more conservative Christian orientation, however, perceive Exu as evil or even as the devil, which may not stop them from asking for his help but will color the way they behave toward Exu—and perhaps vice versa.
Exu is closely identified with the Christian devil; the two are sometimes perceived as synonymous. Like the Christian devil, Exu signals his appearance with the scent of sulphur. Statues of horned red devils are used to represent Exu.
He is a trickster; he likes to have fun. Only those with a sense of humor should invoke him: expect the joke to be on you. If you are afraid of him and expect the worst, don’t invoke him. He can read your heart and may have fun fulfilling your expectations. However, he can be a dedicated guardian and a very benevolent provider. There is no illness he cannot cure. Invoke Exu for protection from evil. He fears nothing; there is no road he is afraid to travel.
• Ask him to scare away the devils that frighten you.
• Ask him to protect you from your own evil impulses.
Iconography: Typically as a red or black devil, but he has many manifestations. Some images feature dapper dress; others are very primal and phallic.
Attributes: Pitchfork; an iron trident
Colors: Red, black
Numbers: 3, 7
Plant: Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), known as Absinto in Portuguese
Offerings: Tobacco products; sugarcane; honey; favored beverages include Cachaça (Brazilian white rum), absinthe, and rum, especially rum steeped with hot peppers:
• Cut slits into a lot of spicy hot peppers* and place them in a glass decanter.
• Pour rum over them and seal the decanter.
• Let the rum steep for a while (three weeks? seven weeks?).
• Serve the rum to Exu. Be careful! It’s hot.
• Ideally use Brazilian peppers such as bird or malagueta peppers, but not the Brazilian pepper tree (Schiaus terebinthiflorius), which is not a true pepper. Be sure not to touch your eyes or other sensitive parts of the body before cleaning your hands very well.
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.