Oh Great Exu, Keeper of the Gate!Between life and death
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
Elegua 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. In his way, Eshu is both good and evil and neither good nor evil. Our ideas of good and evil are conceived around our personal interests. Eshu is the force of balance in Nature.
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 stupid 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 first. When you get the message that you’re allowed entry, then you may pass.
In the new world, for some reason, 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.
The force of Death itself however, is called Iku in Africa. It doesn’t have a persona as much as a presence, though it is recognized as a being. So Death is related to by humans through Esu as the gatekeeper of Death.
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.
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.
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 (preferably roosters if possible). 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.
Spiced rum, absinthe, Ouzo, Sambuca Noir, and Red Chile Vodka, and coffee liquor are good for libations to Elegua. Most of us medicine folk make our own. Each usually has their own recipe.
You can find a good recipe for Eshu coffee here. He is also said in some places, to enjoy “Ataya” or gunpowder tea. The tea ritual for Eshu in this case is like someone is serving tea to an honored guest. It is for those occasions when you would like to talk with him and not just to him.
So you would boil 3 cups of water, then add 1 cup of gunpowder tea. Bring it to a boil again, and then pour some tea into 2 glasses, filling each of them a little less than halfway.
Then add a cup and a half of sugar, and bring it back to a boil. Do not stir it at any time. Some also like to add spices and herbs at this point too.
While you wait for it to return to a boil, pour the left glass into the right, and then the contents of the right glass into the left. Do this as many times as it takes to form a thick froth, but make sure to end it at a multiple of 3 or 4 pours, ending with the left cup. Take the pot off the heat, and then pour this froth back into the tea pot. Then it is done. Let the tea settle so the solid bits sink to the bottom.
Clean the glasses you used with clear water. Sweep the area where Eshu is to sit. Pour his tea first, and then yours.
You don’t need to be super fancy for Eshu, but you should use glasses or cups that are a bit special, as you would for an honored but familiar guest. I like to use Japanese tea cups such as one would use for matcha, a big man sized one for him, and a smaller woman sized one for me.
You can also do this tea ritual with a child of Eshu, or someone who he is riding. Definitely serve sweets or compatible snacks with this.
If you are petitioning the Reaper or Baron Samedi face of Elegua in order to honor your ancestors or fallen comrades, or someone has done something to you that made you want to kill them, you need special offerings.
Spicy fruitcakes in the shape of skulls, candy frosting skulls, black mice, a syrup made with absinthe with extra artemisia steeped in it, lots of candies, tobacco, and strong coffee are good offerings. Burn some incense with funeral type flowers and myrrh.
If you are working with Elegua, you must be very careful to be a fair and just person. He appreciates cunning and craftiness, but draws the line at malicious fraud. For instance, it would be okay for you to pose as a beggar to make some extra cash to support your family, or dress as a flamboyant fortune teller in order to make more money or open the way to teach people positive things or make them feel magnanimous.
It is not okay to cheat in gambling or to defraud people out of their money for totally selfish reasons. Elegua loves children and old people. If you harm them, you will pay. You will pay especially hard if you attempt to use Elegua to do your dirty deeds. As much as he gives you to trick you into thinking your evil plans are working, he will take away three times.
So if you want to get on Elegua’s good side, you will be generous to children, the elderly, and the poor. You should defend them and help them at every opportunity that is presented to you.
Another thing Elegua hates is cheapness. If you are bargaining or bidding, your first offer should be a fair one. If they try to con you, that is on their karma. You can feel free to refuse a bad deal. However, do not cheap out and take advantage of someone else’s desperation.
For this reason, you should also be fair and just in matters of the heart. This does not mean you have to tell people what they want to hear. This means that you should be honest and up front about your intentions. You should also use Elegua’s guidance to determine whether the person is even capable of dealing with you and your desires.
For instance, for a child of Elegua or someone who wants to stay on his good side, it is as bad to guilt someone into a romantic relationship if they don’t really want one as it is to trick someone into sex by pretending you want a romantic relationship. If you stay aware, then it shouldn’t be a problem to sort people.
Basically, don’t be a con artist, don’t steal from the poor, kids, or the elderly, and don’t be a sick manipulator, and you’re cool.
All crossroads belong to Eshu, so if you can, designate one in particular that feels right to be your away-from-home altar. You can also choose a large rock. In this, especially if you’re a very feminine woman, you want to enlist the help of a very Eshu oriented man. Men are generally intuitively better at the practical Eshu things than women.
If you have the space for an Eshu altar in your yard, make a crossroads out of stones, or arrange stones in a corner, and put a large stone and an iron pot, or an Eshu head with a built in bowl at the corner or in the center where the makeshift road crosses.
If you can, plant some red flowering or seeding plants around it. He really loves abrus precatorius and the coral tree. If you can’t plant flowers around it, then bring him some fresh red flowers on Mondays. Try not to kill a plant to take them. Take them from what is about to fall or needs to be trimmed.
Your indoor altar should have items for Eshu in the corner. You should also, if you can, put an Eshu head behind your doors, or hang one on the indoor side doorknobs.
Many of the oils used in Vodun and diaspora systems are very complicated to make, but Eshu’s oil isn’t. It’s basically an infusion of dried ingredients in palm or nut oil.
On a Monday, gather the ingredients together before you do your offerings, and put them on a plate. You will need:
While your altar incense is burning, and after you have opened the ceremony, ask Elegua to bless your oil. Then put the dry ingredients in the jar, and fill it with the oil. Cover it tightly, and give it a good shake.
Keep it in a cool, dark place for at least three months.
Once it is done, you can use this oil to anoint your Elegua dress candles, or burn in an oil burner.
Recipes vary, depending on the mystic and the path or camino of Eshu they’re making it for, but this is the general purpose recipe.
Elegua incense is also fairly easy to make, but you may need to work a bit to acquire some of the ingredients. You will need a mortar and pestle or heavy duty food grinder for this. Some ingredients, you may not be able to find powdered, and this is okay. The resins should be powdered though, and any oils or extracts you add, thoroughly blended throughout the powdered ingredients. You want whatever’s powdered, liquid, or viscous, to coat any larger chunks. This recipe is for a big batch because most of us who are Eshu aware, burn incense for him every Monday.
On a Monday, gather all of your ingredients and arrange them on a plate, and when you do your normal offerings and open the ceremony, pass them through the smoke of incense, and ask Eshu to bless them.
Grind the resins thoroughly, and even if everything is already powdered, mash them together in the mortar and pestle. Then add the rest of the dry ingredients, and try to pulverize them as well as you can.
Add the tobacco, and keep pounding. Then add the oil a few drops at a time, until you have a slightly damp, crumbly, sort of sticky mixture.
Transfer this to a glass jar, and let it age in a cool, dark place for three weeks. Then it’s ready to use.
Burn this incense on a piece of charcoal or in a bakhoor burner.
Again, with this recipes vary, but this is the general purpose one.
A friend of the ile and authentic Vodun artist, Sunday Gbenga, posted this prayer. He says if you want to praise Eshu, do it like this:
Divine Messenger of Transformation,
Esu lanlu ogirioko.
Divine Messenger speak with power.
Okunrin ori ita,
Man of the crossroads
A jo langa langa lalu.
Dance to the drum.
A rin lanja lanja lalu.
Tickle the toe of the drum.
Ode ibi ija de mole.
Move beyond strife.
Ija ni otaru ba d’ele ife.
Strife is contrary to the spirit of Heaven.
To fi de omo won.
Unite the unsteady feet of weaning children.
Oro Esu to to to akoni.
The word of the Divine Messenger is always respected.
Ao fi ida re lale.
We shall use your sword to touch the Earth.
Esu ma se mi o.
Divine Messenger do not confuse me.
Esu ma se mi o.
Divine Messenger do not confuse me.
Esu ma se mi o.
Divine Messenger do not confuse me.
Omo elomiran ni ko lo se.
Let someone else be confused.
Pa ado asubi da.
Turn my suffering around.
No ado asure si wa.
Give me the blessing of the calabash.
So be it.
© 1997 Sis. Nicole Lasher and respective guest authors.