Eleguá is the orisha of the crossroads or destiny in parts of West Africa, Central Africa, and the African diaspora in the Americas.
When we pray, we first ask Eleguá for permission because he is the messenger to God (the same One God as other faiths). He opens the road to the divine. You could say that he activates the divinity which lives in us all.
If your life changes suddenly, that’s Eleguá, because he manages your life’s journey.
Yoruba and related traditions are oral traditions, so they vary slightly by place, community and even by family. In the Americas, Yoruba traditions are syncretized with Christianity, so there are even more variations. It’s all good.
Eleguá is his Caribbean Spanish name. In Yorubaland (Nigeria/Benin/Togo), he is Èṣù-Ẹlẹ́gbára. In Brazil, he is Elegbara. In Haiti, he is Papa Legba.
In the Americas, Eleguá is syncretized with Saint Anthony of Padua, the Holy Child of Atocha, or the Archangel Michael.
Eleguá is paired with Eshu, the trickster. Some of the sacred stories consider them to be the same, some consider them to be brothers. American pop culture knows Eleguá from the Robert Johnson story, and Eshu from the Brer Rabbit children’s story.
Yoruba Faith is the Equal of Any Faith
Eleguá/Eshu represents the power of chance. Every time you leave your house, you are taking a chance. Things can go good or things can go bad. Activating your inner divinity when you walk through the door is probably a good thing.
Chance is very powerful. It turned a chemical soup in the primordial oceans into all the life on Earth today. One thing we notice about change is that it may not be pleasant while it’s happening, but usually leads to better things.
When our lives change suddenly, we have learned to pay attention, take a step back and wait for the change to finish. Better days are ahead.
Èṣù-Ẹlẹ́gbára, Eleguá, Elegbara, Papa Legba
The orisha of the crossroads opens and closes doors to the paths of life. To worship or celebrate our ancestors, we always ask Eleguá first to open a spiritual path to God. In Mother Africa and the Diaspora, we pray by singing, drumming and dancing together, so we also speak with Eleguá before we dance.
Eleguá represents beginnings and endings so may appear to you as a child or an old man. He presents in nature as the stones in the road.
Like Hermés/Mercury (Greek/Latin) the patron of New York City, Eleguá is the messenger of the gods. Orisha faith ceremonies always begin by asking Eleguá to open communication with God and his/her manifestations. Without Eleguá’s permission, nothing can happen.
It’s worth noting that the orisha faiths are monotheistic. There is only one God Oludumare. He/She is the same one God that all human faiths worship.
Symbols of Eleguá are alternating red with black. Followers who are dancing for him wear red and black, often with a red handkerchief under a straw hat, and sometimes with old Spanish-style breech pants.
Specific drum patterns and dance movements are used to call the orishas. The same patterns and movements have been performed since the beginning of human time. There is a difference between the sacred and popular patterns, but similar rhythms and movements live on today in salsa and reggaeton dancing.
Eleguá’s number is 3 and multiples of 3. That might be why he is honored on Three Kings Day, January 6, the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of the new year. Perhaps the reason is that the Three Kings traveled long roads to visit the divine. That’s exactly what Elegúa does.
The beginning of the week, Monday is Eleguá’s day. Followers often put a shrine to him behind the front door to protect the house.
Syncretized with Saint Anthony of Padua
He is also syncretized (blended) with Saint Anthony of Padua, the Portuguese saint on June 13, the Holy Child of Atocha, and Archangel Michael. We are not sure why Eleguá is syncretized with Saint Anthony. Perhaps it’s because Saint Anthony had his road changed.
Eleguá is everywhere in the Caribbean. You just have to know how to read his signs. You can be looking right at him and not know what you are seeing.
We long wondered why Elegua has two different days: January 6 and June 13. We suspect it’s because of the way traditions vary in Africa and in the Americas. Yoruba New Year in Africa is June 3, so it makes sense that at the start of the year, we honor Elegua. In the Americas, New Year is based on the Gregorian calendar of the Romans. So we honor Elegua at the start of the Gregorian year. And the story of the Three Kings paying respect to the divine fits well with the way we ask Elegua for permission when we want to pay respect to the divine.
Eleguá Guards the Door
Followers place small shrines to Elegúa behind the door to safeguard the house, and to protect your journey when you leave.
Maferefún Elegua”“Maferefún” is a blessing that means to pray or honor.
Eleguá watches our door at New York Latin Culture Magazine. We can’t explain why he is in our life, but we are certain that he is.
[Editor Kíko: Yo soy un hijo de Elegúa.]