Papa Legba and Other Spirits of the Crossroads
Who Is Papa Legba?
Papa Legba has his origins with the Fon people of Dahomey (in present-day Benin, Africa) and is said to be the guardian and trickster of the crossroads and entrances. He is one of the most widely served African deities.
In Haitian Vodou and New Orleans Voodoo, Papa Legba is the intermediary between the loa (lwa) and humanity. He stands at a spiritual crossroads and grants or denies permission to speak with the spirits of Guinee, and is believed to speak all human languages. He is always the first, and the last spirit invoked in any ceremony because his permission is needed for any communication between mortals and the loa—he opens and closes the doorway to the spirit world.
Read on to learn more about this powerful and often misunderstood spirit.
About Papa Legba
The Crossroads deity known as Papa Legba is referred to by several names though he is not the same spirit as many of the other names commonly used interchangeably to identify him. In Surinam in Brazil, the crossroads spirit is known as Exu, in Trinidad, in Cuba, he is known as Elegua, and in Haiti and New Orleans, he is known as Papa Legba.
Papa Legba is the master linguist, the trickster, warrior, and the personal messenger of destiny. He has the power to remove obstacles, and he provides opportunities. All ceremonies begin and end with Papa Legba, and there can be no communication with any of the other loas without consulting him first. His gift for linguistics enables him to translate the requests of humans into the languages of the spirits and loas.
Papa Legba's colors are red in black (as worshipped in New Orleans), and some of his favorite things that can be used as offerings include, candy, cigars, rum, and tobacco. He absolutely loves palm oil. His number is three, and his day of the week is Monday. He is often depicted as an old man with a crooked cane, dressed in brown pants, and accompanied by a rooster.
Legend of the Crossroads
What about that legend where a person can sell their soul to the devil in exchange for fame and fortune? The infamous crossroads legend is one that ignites such curiosity. The legend of the crossroads is referenced in many popular songs of the Delta Blues tradition (circa 1900 to 1941).
These songs referenced Voodoo, Hoodoo, and the crossroads, explicitly. Robert Johnson sang of "hot foot powder sprinkled all 'round my door" and Muddy Water(s) referenced "the gypsy woman," "seventh son," and the "mojo hand." Although Voodoo is often associated with Satanism, Satan is purely an Abrahamic belief and has not been incorporated in Voodoo tradition.
When Mississippi Delta folk songs mix references to Voodoo and to Satan, what is being expressed is social pain such as from racism, which is couched in Christian terms and blamed on the devil. Those who practice voodoo do not worship or invoke the blessings of a devil.
If this is the case, then who are they encountering at the crossroads? Papa Legba, of course!
"If you want to learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar, and you go to where the road crosses that way, where a crossroads is. Get there be sure to get there just a little ' fore 12 that night so you know you'll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself. A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar, and he'll tune it. And then he'll play a piece and hand it back to you. That's the way I learned to play anything I want."
What to Offer Legba in Exchange for Special Requests
Legba is the loa to petition when you have special problems; when things are getting in the way of your progress in life. It is customary to offer things to him as payment for his help. Legba likes candy, toys, and coconut as offerings, or anything children would enjoy. The dog is sacred to him. His favorite color is red and black, and his number is three.
Papa Legba, open the door
Your children await
Open the door Papa Legba
So that I may pass
When I return, I will thank the loa.
Legba Ritual Bath
In New Orleans Voodoo, ritual baths are commonly used as prescriptive measures for a variety of conditions. The following ritual bath is a purification bath and can be done whenever a cleansing is needed.
3 cans evaporated milk
- Handful star anise
- Handful anise seed
- 1 pound salt
- 1 white candle
- Light the candle.
- Put all of the other items into a warm bath.
- Soak 15 minutes then turn to the left 3 times and say "I am clean".
- Dress in white and sleep in white sheets.
- In the morning, gather up all the seed remnants from the bath and the candle and discard at a crossroads.
Legba Spell for Good Fortune
Spread pennies and candy in the corners of your home. Do the same at street corners and crossroads. It will make Papa Legba happy, and he will favor you.
Exu, Divine Trickster, and Master Magician
Exus are a family of spirit-deities that that are worshipped in the Afro-Brazilian tradition commonly called Umbanda. Exu is NOT the devil or Satan in Christian terms. Exu (Ey-shu) is a powerful spirit who functions as Divine Messenger. As such, he is a translator between humans and the natural world. In addition, Exu possesses a dual nature as Divine Trickster and Door Opener. He is similar to Legba of the Voodoo tradition and Elegua of the Santeria tradition in that he can remove obstacles and open the doorway to new opportunities.
The trickster archetype in most traditional cultures embodies a sacred role as a teacher. The trickster raises awareness of the interrelatedness and interconnectedness between humankind, the natural world, and the spirit world. No person is an island unto themselves; this is a fallacy. Exu humbles us through his trickery regarding this absolute truth.
Legba and His Corresponding Patron Saints
One way in which African slaves could continue to practice their traditional religions was by shrouding them in elements of Catholicism. Thus, there are corresponding saints for each of the major deities or Seven African Powers. The Seven African Powers is largely a Hoodoo term that is used by practitioners of Santeria, New Orleans Voodoo, Candomble, and other religions. In Spanish, they are referred to as Las Sietes Potencias.
Legba's Corresponding Saints
- Eleggua / Elegua/ Legba: Messenger, Opener of the Way, Trickster
- Saint Simon Peter
- Saint Anthony (of Padua)
- El Nino de Atocha
- St. Lazarus
Images of Legba
There are many forms of Legbas. In New Orleans Voodoo, as well as Haitian Vodou, Papa Legba usually appears as an old man on a crutch or with a cane, wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat and smoking a pipe, or sprinkling water.
However, in Africa, he is frequently depicted as a fertility god. Sometimes, Legba is depicted as male and female, sometimes with enhanced manhoods, sometimes as a healer, and sometimes as a protector. Here, he is depicted as an apologetic Legba, petitioned for forgiveness when a person has insulted the gods through awful behaviors like rape and burglary.
Contemporary Legba, Artist Moses from Ghana
Prayer to Eshu
I praise the mysteries and power of Eshu!
You are the messenger of Olodumare, the Orisha and the Ancestors
You are the owner of the four directions:
North, South, East and West
You are the keeper of the Ashe' of the Orisha
You are the guardian of the gates of fortune
You are the Lord of flexibility
You are the Lord of choice, chance and change!
Unfortunately, there are many people in this world who are intolerant of beliefs other than their own. Because of the nature of some of the feedback I have received, it has become necessary to moderate the comments. Please keep the hateful comments to ravage your own soul, instead of projecting onto others.
Questions & Answers
Can Exu of the 7 crossroads help in love matters?