IFA Santeria

The 13th of June is Eleggua’s day

Eleguá (Elegguá) is sometimes represented as a child, and sometimes as an old man. He represents the beginning and end of life, and the opening and closing of paths in life. Sometimes known as the trickster, he likes to play jokes on people. He enjoys candy and toys. Despite his childlike nature, however, he’s a very powerful Oricha. He’s one of the Warriors (along with Ogún, Ochosi and Osun). Eleguá is always mentioned first in any ceremony, because without his permission, the doors to communication with the other Orichas stay closed.

Eleguá’s colors are red and black. His number is 3, or any multiple of 3. His day of the week is Monday, and the 3rd day of every month. Traditionally, the 6th of January and the 13th of June are recognized as his “saint’s days” in Cuba. On these days, a feast may be given in his honor. In the Catholic religion, Eleguá is syncretized with the Child Jesus of Atocha, Saint Anthony of Padua, and the Anima Sola (soul in Purgatory). Eleguá and Ochún are good friends.

Elegua dancing
Folkloric dancer dressed as Eleguá.

Elegua dancing
An artist’s representation of Eleguá

Eleguá likes all kinds of things associated with child’s play, like kites, whistles, balls, toy soldiers. He also likes keys, silver coins, a shepherd’s crook and a straw hat. He dresses in red and black, sometimes in Spanish colonial-style knee britches. On his head, he wears a red kerchief or cap, or a straw hat. When he dances, he’s playful and wants others to pay attention to him.

In addition to candy, he likes cigars, toasted corn, coconuts, aguardiente (strong alcohol) or vino seco (white cooking wine), smoked hutia meat, smoked fish, and red palm oil. On Mondays, he should be offered something he likes as a way of paying tribute to him.
Receiving Eleguá
Through divination with a Santero or Babalawo, a practitioner might find out that he needs to receive Eleguá. Sometimes Eleguá is given alone, and sometimes with the other warriors. Through a special ceremony, a stone representing Elegua is prepared and charged with the Oricha’s aché, or special energy. Usually the stone is shaped into a head with a cement outer layer and cowrie shells for eyes and mouth. He lives in a shallow clay dish inside the house, usually behind the door. When practioners receive Eleguá and the other warriors, they’re “medio asentados” or half-way initiated. They can’t perform all the duties of an Oloricha (priest/ priestess) but they have made a very serious commitment to the religion.

Eleguá’s eleke (beaded necklace) consists of one red bead, one black bead, in a repeated pattern. The color and design of the necklace represent life and death, war and peace, the beginning and end of all things. Eleguá is called the Lord of the Crossroads because he plays a role in every decision we make in life. With his help, things go smoothly. But, he can also put obstacles in our path, and life takes unexpected and negative turns. Most practitioners of Santería know that it’s very important to maintain good relations with Eleguá because without him, nothing is possible. is not the same as Eleguá; they’re like two sides of the same coin, with separate but very closely connected identities . We can think of Eshu as Eleguá’s shadow, or his reflection from the other side of the mirror. In many ways, they’re opposites. Eshu is wilder and more unpredictable than Eleguá, so Santeros/as don’t keep him inside the house. All Santeros/as have an Eleguá who lives behind the door inside the house, but not everyone receives an Eshu. Usually, if someone needs an Eshu, he’s given by a babalawo, especially in Ifa-centric communities. Eshú lives outside the house, in the garden or tucked into a niche to the side of the front door. Both Eleguá and Eshu are tricksters, but Eshu’s tricks can be unpleasant or harmful. Outsiders have mistakenly called Eshu the devil – he’s not, in Santería there is no devil – but Eshú can definitely be naughty and we shouldn’t play around with him, because he’s a very powerful force when he gets stirred up. Traditionally, no one in Santería is ever crowned with Eshu on the head, whereas many people are crowned with Eleguá. No one wears elekes consecrated to Eshu, only to Eleguá. According to the patakis, Eshu loves to eat and can be calmed by food, so sometimes people place a wooden bowl of table scraps outside the house for Eshú. Eleguá can also keep him under control, since the two of them understand each other and they often walk side by side. Metaphorically, Eshu and Eleguá can be understood as polar opposites, the negative and the positive, the dark and the light. They work together to create balance in life, because without the negative, we can’t appreciate the positive. Life is made up of both good and bad. Eshu isn’t really evil, he’s just a bit uncivilized compared to the other Orichás. In many ilés, Eshu isn’t considered an Orichá in his own right, but is simply a part of Eleguá. Regardless of how we imagine the Eleguá/ Eshu dichotomy, we can’t conceive of Eleguá without thinking also about Eshu. It would be like trying to understand the daylight if we had never seen night.