Clothed in red and black, Elegua is the Guardian of the Crossroads of Life to the peoples of Nigeria, Benin and to Afro/Cuban practitioners of Santeria. Also known as Eshu, he sees in all directions and watches humanity, laughing at their weaknesses, encouraging their strengths. Whenever there are decisions to be made, Elegua provides opportunities and second chances — if you're lucky. The childlike Elegua often complicates things. With a wink, he can turn a simple choice into a huge conundrum. Paradox is his favorite pastime.
Elegua sits at the threshold to the home, guarding the entry. A good offering to him would be made on a Monday, his favored day, and include three balls of cooked cornmeal with canary seeds called alpiste, a fine cigar, and a bottle of rum. During the first year of initiation in this tradition, homage is paid to Eshu/Elegua every day with a gourd filled with clear water. Before the orisha, the initiate drips the water on the ground three times while reciting the following invocation:
"Omi tutu, (Fresh water)
Axé tutu, (The spirit of Eshu is fresh)
Onã tutu, ilê tutu, (The way is fresh, the home is fresh)
Tutu Laroyê, tutu ariku babawá, Laroyê. (Eshu is fresh in the manner of deciding disputes.)
The initiate hits the ground three times with a closed fist as if knocking on a door. The palms of the hands are placed together, as if praying or requesting blessings, and rubbed briskly together producing the heat of friction.
Eshu/Elegua is also messenger to the higher Gods, particularly Olorun, the Yoruba Sky King, god of peace and justice. Now, there's a challenge! The message comes from the high god, and Elegua always relays it truthfully — but in a manner that allows for multiple interpretations. Tricksy Elegua! This extravert loves being the center of attention. His lessons are swift and can be painful although he can also be kind and gentle. He carries a soft spot in his heart for children. You just never know.
Here is a tale that is often told about Elegua:
On the first day of the week, Elegua donned a hat — red on one side, white on the other — and traveled to a crossroad. Stepping silently, he walked between two friends, one seeing the red side of his hat, the other seeing the white. Later in the day the two friends spoke to one another about the mysterious man.
"It was a fine white hat that he wore," said the first man."
"No, you are mistaken, my friend," said the second man. "I saw it clearly and his hat was brilliant red."
"Are you calling me a liar? It was white as that cloud in the morning sky."
"Do you say that I am blind? It was red as the blood that will flow from your nose!"
Their quarreling turned to blows, as each man insisted that he was right and the other wrong.
Trickster Elegua, who had been secretly watching them fighting from a distance, chuckled at the sight. He walked over to the bloodied and furious men and separated them at arm's length.
"See, fools, this hat of mine — red on one side and white on the other. Ha! I laugh at you from the depth of my belly, that you would strike each other over something so ridiculous as the color of a stranger's hat. Your clothes are in tatters, and so is your friendship. Should you not choose to wrestle with more important matters, and together defeat your families' hunger? Clothe your children? Improve your lot?"
In this version Elegua leaves them there, weeping and apologizing to each other, but in other versions, their struggles continue until their entire village is destroyed.
A Chant to Elegua
Thanks to Anna Penido of the Orisha Dancers and to Nilson Nunes for their help in translating the invocation from O Iyawô by Miguel Ramos
Brenda Sutton is the publisher of Mythic Passages, Operations Director, Corporate Secretary, and Office Administrator for Mythic Imagination Institute. She is an award-winning singer/songwriter with the internationally reknown band Three Weird Sisters. She works in a support and consultant capacity for the non-profit music organization Interfilk, and maintains their website. She is freelance writer whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines. She is also the mother of five, grandmother of two.