Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Exu', Divine Trickster & Master Magician
Book Review: Exu’, Divine Trickster & Master Magician by Denise Alvarado
(Planet Voodoo’s Applied Magick Handbook Series 2010)
This is an interesting short book about an interesting West-African spirit-deity that is now part of many of the Yoruban-derived religious traditions of the African diaspora. Exu, pronounced ey-shu, is the form active in Afro-Brazilian Umbanda. Exu represents a complex deity and family of deities. “... he is known as Eshu in the Orisha-Ifa system of the Yoruba, as well as in the Candomble, Santeria, and Lukumi religions. He is known as Papa Legba in Haitian Vodou and New Orleans Voodoo. In Cuba he is called Eleggua, and in
West Africa he is known as Esu. In Palo Mayombe, he is known as Lucero.” As a Yoruban Orisha Exu functions as divine messenger and gatekeeper to the spirit world. He is always invoked first for he gives access to the other Orishas. One of his places is the crossroads, particularly at midnight. He is a trickster associated with male sexuality, strength, and fertility. He guards the cemetery gates and the mysteries of life and death. As a crossroads force he offers choices. He translates and acts as a bridge between humans and nature. He is the keeper of the life force (ashe). Every being is said to have as well a personal Exu.
Exu has similarities to Hermes/Mercury as a messenger and magician. As a sex/fertility spirit he resembles the Greco-Roman Priapus as he can be depicted with a giant penis. As a gateway to the spirits and remover of obstacles he has some similarities to Ganesh/Ganapati. As a trickster he is associated with chaos and breaching social norms, but also as teacher. For these reasons the early missionaries syncretized him with the devil and all things evil so he is often depicted with horns, tail, and trident/pitchfork. The other Orishas became syncretized to the Catholic saints. The female counterpart of Exu is Pomba Gira and she is depicted with horns, a red face, and as a prostitute who wears furs, sequins, and a gold necklace. She has Portuguese gypsy accoutrements as well.
There are several forms of Exu – often for specific purposes. There is a Yoruban story that illustrates his role as teacher. One day he was walking down the road with a hat that was red on one side and black on the other. After he departed the people who had seen him were arguing about the color of his hat. People on one side of the road saw red and people on the other side saw black. Eshu returned and taught that one’s perception of reality is influenced by one’s perspective and that one can be easily deceived. In the Bantu creation story – the creator god Nzambi created Exu as a being “... that could traverse the Universe and mediate between matter and space.” This became the androgynous Exu-Aluvaia. According to another legend he was given seven powers by Nzambi: 1) limitlessness and the ability to travel between space/matter, light/dark, hot/cold, etc. 2) free will to choose between good and evil. 3) knowledge of all things, the ability to remember all encountered, and the ability to gain wisdom from his own and others’ experiences. 4) the ability to transform and to change matter. 5) the ability to see past, present, and future of everything and everyone with the exception of himself. 6) the ability to understand all creatures. 7) the power to multiply himself – although these other versions of himself will be lower in faculties – and could be dangerous for him if he could not re-unite himself. “In Quimbanda, Exus are said to be the souls of dead men who died unclean deaths, chained to evil, and devoted to helping people with earthly desires ......” This function is likely at least partially traditional and partially a result of syncretization with the Devil. Quimbanda also says that everyone is born with a personal Exu and/or Pomba Gira (Exu’s female counterpart). They are said to be like Guardian Angels but they exist in the shadow realm of the psyche where desires, fantasies, and fears tend to abound. It is also said that his nature changes according to how he is perceived. “According to one practitioner of Condomble, Exu is referred to as – the Slave – because he works at the bidding of the practitioner. As the Master of Sorcery, he works spells and performs favors, but he must be paid to do so.” If he is not paid, or paid to his satisfaction – he can wreak havoc.
Exu Meia-Noite is the Exu of great healing, the doctor. Red and black candles, steaks cooked in olive oil, popcorn, rum, and cigars are offered to him. He has special numbers, times, places, and blood sacrifices. He is said to command seven other Exus related to: women/children/marriage, love, magick and witchcraft, mountains and waters, justice/vengeance, power and madness, and one who helps women who have fallen on a “bad path.”
There is Exu de Quimbanda who originated among the people of Angola – a tricky spirit of the forest who likes red and black. Exu Gerere guards the mysteries of Necromancy and African magic and witchcraft – some of which made its way to Medieval Europe and mixed with some of the ceremonial magick there. Pomba Gira Maria Padilha also helps with this function and together they head the Nago Society of Exus.
There is Exu de Candomble who cannot be bought or sold, only petitioned. In Palo Mayombe there is Lucero, the spirit of balance and guidance through paths. The Yoruban Esu is said to have arisen from a sacred red rock and allows people to communicate with the Orishas. There is Exu Cigano de Garito, or Exu the Gypsy of the Casino. There are many other manifestations as well.
Images and forms of Exu are often placed near the door of the home or just outside the door. Sometimes he is a lump of concrete with a nail in the center of his head and cowrie shells for eyes and mouth. Sometimes he is a specially consecrated coconut head. He has special correspondences and offerings, greetings, black animals, incompatibilities, plants (mostly tropical), all black stones, and he is associated with certain Christian saints as well as the devil, ie. St Anthony of Padua, the Holy Infant of Prague, St. Benito, and St. Martin of Porres.
The talismans given here for Exu show some resemblance to those from Medieval grimoires show that influence. Many have tridents. I have seen quite different Veves for Legba in Haitian Vodou. There is an interesting one given with simple Roman numerals referred to as the Odu Ose Tura’.
There is one given for Maria Padihla and her story given is as follows:
“Maria Padihla, whose name means Queen of Fire, is an entity of light that works for good. She lived a long time ago in France, and was the madam of a house of ill repute know as Cabare’. All the men she had, in each of her seven incarnations are with her in the spirit world. There is a prophecy that says that in the year 2000, Maria Padihla, queen of the queens will step on the Orixas. The Orixas will worship her since her mission is to convert the man that she loves (Lucifer, angel of darkness) to the world of light. They will enter the house of God dressed in white. She will sit alongside Jesus and he at the feet of Christ. Maria Padihla will save 7000 souls and will give 7000 to the flames of hell.”
There is a sigil given, derived from an 18th century magick book called The Grimoire of Truth, for the three highest Exus of Quimbanda, called Exu Rei de Sete Liras.
Next there are songs and invocations to Exus – in Portuguese and some with English translation. He is sometimes addressed as – the Gentleman of Souls or God of Midnight. Here is one from a Cuban Santeria song to Ellegua:
“My body gives homage, praise,
I ask your permission, I salute you
Young child, there is no other,
My body gives homage, praise
I ask your permission, I salute you’
Here is one I know (not from the book) from Haiti translated from the French calling on Legba:
“Legba is at the Gate Legba is at the Gate Legba is at the Gate
It is you who carries the flag and shields the spirits from the sun.”
Finally some spells and rites are given for certain purposes; House Cleansing, to Arouse Sexual Energy, to Divide an enemy’s attention, to eliminate an enemy, and one to make a magick lamp for protection. Some of these require some not so easy to obtain supplies.
Personally, I think these Yoruban-derived spirits can be quite powerful due much to the energy invested in them. They are named, colored, given personalities, and an egregore, or group energy that transcends places and times, continents and cultures, even religions. They are worked in traditional rural and modern urban cultural environments. There is syncretization with Christianity but also with some Portuguese and Brazilian Gypsy notions, and also considerable syncretization with practicess of ceremonial magick – some due to the French mystical societies, others due to more modern developments such as the Gnostic Voodoo and Thelemic Voodoo currents. I have personally witnessed some interesting crossroads magick associated with the gate dweller and can vouch for its effectiveness in certain situations. Legba/Esu/Exu/Pomba Gira/Ellegua/Lucero/Kalfu/ is most interesting indeed.