Oh Great Exu, Keeper of the Gate!
Between life and death,
The physical and spiritual realm,
The seen and the unseen,
The known and the unknown,
Please accept our humble invitation,
To join in this feast.
We ask your permission,
To commune with our Ancestors,
And with the Lwa who came before.
Oh Great Exu, Keeper of the Gate!
Please open the gate for us.
Sacred numbers: 3 and 4
Colors: black and red, black and white
Necklace (Ileke) patterns: 3 black, 3 red (or white); 3 black, 3 red (or white), 3x alternating, some also do alternating black and red or black and white in a multiple of 3
Day of the week: Monday for normal purposes, Friday for battle
Eshu Elegbara, also known as Eshu, Exu, Elegua, or Legba, is one of the most popular and yet most misunderstood of the Orishas. He is well known for being extremely powerful and working very fast. Some view him as an evil trickster, and equate him with the Christian or Muslim concept of Satan, or the Jewish Samael, who is both good and evil.
What many don’t know is that as powerful as he is, and as wild as he may seem, he is very honorable and extremely just. He is the embodiment of divine or karmic justice, and the only reason some view him as evil is because of their own guilt. Of course he will seem bad to bad people, especially if they are hypocrites with much to hide. Every time their hypocrisy is revealed, the energy around that revelation can be attributed to the Elegua force of nature.
Elegua as the gatekeeper is important for a few reasons. One of the most important in metaphysics is that one must approach spirituality in the right mind. It is crucial to respect nature and the spirits of nature, and not treat them like our servants. They are not obligated to us. We are obligated to them. In the case of key ancestors whose fame led them to be honored as Orishas because they exemplified a particular energy, they did not come from us. We came from them. It is their genes, inventions, or cultural legacy that enhances our lives.
So before one asks anything of another Orisha or attempts to communicate with them, one asks permission from Elegua, which is symbolic of getting into the proper Elegua mindset. This allows us to understand what we are being told.
Think about it: whenever a person in authority spreads a harmful idea, it is usually because they have forgotten that they are subject to nature, and this blinds them to any true messages from it or from God who created all nature. They come to believe that they are not subject to natural law, and then that they can hide from God. It is more than a slippery slope. It’s a cliff.
Elegua is there to represent right thinking. He is on the one hand pure logic, and on the other, pure wisdom. So in every Vodun ritual or ceremony, approach Elegua (or whatever gatekeeping entity serves this function) first. When you get the message that you’re allowed entry, then you may pass.
In the new world, for a variety of reasons, the Esu of the Yoruba was divided in Haiti into Papa Legba and Baron Samedi. The gatekeeper and dispenser of divine justice seemed contrasted to the embodiment of death. However, the energy is what it is, and Baron Samedi is a face of Esu. He is also however, an ancestor specific to the Haitian/Ayitian people. Remember that Vodun is a living belief system and evolves according to the history and ecology of the area in which it is practiced. Just because a spirit is a face of another does not mean that they are all interchangeable. The reason the differences are recognized is to keep awareness of the historical and cultural roots of it, not just because of incidental shifts.
The force of Death itself however, is called Iku in Africa. It doesn’t have a persona as much as a presence, though she is recognized as a being. So Death is related to by humans through Esu as the gatekeeper of Death.
The Many Eshus
A big deal was made by some Santeros about the fact that there are many Eshus, and that Eshu in Yorubaland is different from Exu in Umbanda or other Eleguas, Eshus, Exus, Legbas, Edjus etc.
In Quimbanda, an Afro Brazilian belief system, the Exu are said to not be the same as Eshu/Exu in other west African diaspora systems, though the original Vodun systems can contain what he/they are said to be because Eshu multiplies himself. Since many insist that they are not the same though, I concede to their insistence. I was not born into Quimbanda, so I can’t be the one to say.
I’d like to remind people though, of the story of Eshu with the multicolored hat…
When those of you who have been engaging in the useless debates are done being sick of yourselves for arguing over a deity well known for this exact sort of trick, let me know. Or better, don’t let me know anything, and just determine in the future not to be so worried about the angles and details that you forget the basics.
Just because we say that a type of spirits are related or cascade or grow from one another does not mean that we’re saying it’s okay to just make stuff up or mix things up the wrong way. I do however, understand because of recent events involving people being unmindful and unwise, the fact that it’s not okay needs to be said a little louder and more frequently, especially with regards to gatekeeper deities.
Eshu Ideograms and Symbols
Eshu has many faces, in that he covers a variety of functions in nature and the human experience. On the one hand, he embodies honor and civil relations, and on the other, the seeming trickiness or chaos of nature. So he has many, many symbols and ideograms, depending on what people are calling him for or what aspect of him people need to remain in awareness of.
Some systems require that when one is learning of Eshu, they learn to draw his symbols in a particular way. One that has fairly standard symbols is Haitian Vodou. These symbols are called “veve”.
For eclectic and Obeah type practitioners, the symbols are not quite so standardized, but there are essential elements. One is crossing lines. In some systems or for some faces of Eshu, the three pronged fork, trident, or pitchfork is necessary. I would say that for Africans in the diaspora, some curved or bent lines are also necessary, since one of the faces of Eshu we need to be aware of at all times is the original Mami Wata origin, which implies our bloodline and being far from home. Candomble practitioners call this face of Eshu Exu Mare or Eshu of the Sea. Another symbol of Eshu of the Sea is the seahorse.
Here are some examples of Eshu symbols or ideograms. Note that the one in the bottom right may be useful for those of mixed ancestry. It combines the Nordic yew rune with a curved line for the sea, and Eshu’s pitchfork.
Bear in mind that these symbols are mainly protective. They can be used as activators in benevolent workings and sacred objects, but they are unsuitable for use in cursing or “hexing” although some blessings can seem like a curse. In 2020, someone posted that a friend had a dolly nailed to their door with the bottom right symbol on it. Between that and the others, it was clear that the “target” was up to no good or taking a path that they shouldn’t, and someone intervened to protect them or change their ways. So that’s an example of something good that was received badly, but hey, I hope it worked.
Offerings to Elegua
Different regions have different traditions concerning Elegua. Global trade has also influenced what various Orishas are offered. So in this article, I’m going to draw on my experience, apatakis (parable like stories) about Elegua, and good old logic to conclude what are and aren’t proper offerings to Elegua. Some things are open to debate or situational. Use your intuition and personal relationship with him to determine what’s right at a given time. Often, he will bring you things he wishes you to offer through gifts from others, especially your dogs if you have any.
From west African tradition, we know that Elegua likes chicken. His favorite parts are the dark meat, but this is because of the flavorfulness. So a small, fattened chicken roasted with the skin will work as well as 3 chicken leg quarters. If you can, a silkie (“wu gu ji” or black skinned chicken) would be a great offering. You can find these in the Chinese market.
If you are running low on cash or don’t have where or how to cook a chicken, some real chicken soup powder or bouillion cubes will do. Use three heaping teaspoons or three cubes to three cups of water.
Elegua also loves black eyed peas. It’s even an African American tradition to cook them on New Years Day.
Spices Elegua loves are hot red peppers, anise, and cumin. He also likes sweets, especially honey, dates, silan (date syrup), jaggery, brown sugar, and coconut candies. He likes sesame and almonds. Green grapes or “white” raisins are good when you are asking for money (in the form of rewards for legitimate efforts). He likes just about any kind of fruit.
College students who are financially pressed and don’t have cooking facilities may want to mix some real chicken and real tomato soup powder with sugar and three good dashes of red pepper, add hot water, and give this. It really is the thought and the ability that counts with Elegua. If you are a rich person, then your minimum offering would be greater, like three roasted chickens, a pot of black eyed peas, a pile of fruit, and well, as much as you can reasonably give.
The oil that is used to prepare any food for Elegua should be unhydrogenated palm oil, virgin coconut oil, or chicken fat. The palm oil is debatable. Some groups believe Eshu likes palm oil, and some that it’s one of his taboos and makes him angry. I say follow your heart and direct instruction from Eshu. Maybe he likes it from some people but not others.
Another offering that is given to Elegua is abrus precatorius, but these are very dangerous. One should not handle them unless they are traditionally trained. If any of it gets into your blood, you will die a very painful death that takes five days.
Food offerings should be left at a crossroads, a corner, or a space in between two or four buildings. If a dog or a calico cat comes to eat them, then this is a special blessing.
Burnt offerings to Elegua can consist of any of the above, but can also include red mice. These should be humanely killed, preferably by a veterinarian who can dispatch them with minimal trauma. It is a special blessing however, if your dog or cat brings them to you.
As incense, Elegua likes spicy aromatics like anise, cinnamon, frankincense, oudh, and red flowers like rose, or the seeds and flowers of coral trees.
Click below to continue with libations and liquid offerings.