Denise is an artist and online writer who enjoys investigating the mystical and mythical aspects of the human experience.
Who Is Exu?
Exu is one of the most well-known spirits of the Brazilian religion and related African-derived traditions. Exu is a powerful spirit who functions as Divine Messenger and Gatekeeper to the Spirit World. He sits at the Crossroads offering choices and possibilities to humankind.
Exu represents balance: day and night, old age and youth, black and white, construction and destruction. He encompasses male sexuality, strength and fertility, and is privy to the mysteries of life and death. Exu is the lord of chaos and trickery, and the keeper of the life force/energy (ash).
Nothing can be accomplished in the human world or the spirit world without the permission of Exu. He is a translator and bridge between humans and the supernatural world – the sacred and the profane. Every living thing has a personal Exu.
In the Afro-Brazilian tradition commonly referred to as Umbanda, Exus are considered a family of spirit-deities. It is believed that Exus are the spirits of people who were considered to be either frightening, very well-educated, or experts in a given field when they were alive. Exu Meia-Noite, for example, is said to be the spirit of a great doctor who knows all the secrets of healing.
Exu's Different Names
The veneration of Exu is widespread in the New World, as well as in Africa, and he is worshipped under many different names and attributes. For example, Eshu-Elegba in Cuban Lukumi tradition has 101 different roads, or manifestations, while there are about 10 common manifestations in Brazilian traditions.
Although he goes by many names and manifests in different forms for different purposes, it is important to understand that they are all not one and the same; each is a separate entity unto itself and should be treated as such. Some of the legends and creation stories illustrate the multitude of ways in which Exu is perceived.
Divine Trickster and Master Magician
Exu is not the devil or Satan in Christian terms. Instead, he is a powerful spirit who functions as a 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. It is up to you which door is open. If you decide to open a door to some unsavory place, that is your responsibility, not Exu's!
As Divine Trickster, Exu is not evil. 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.
Good Guy or Bad Guy?
As Master Magician, Exu is knowledgeable and capable of doing black or white magick. He knows all the formulas and spells. In fact, his spells and talismans are so powerful that it is said that they are impossible to destroy. He can be invoked to do manipulative magick, but only by those foolhardy enough to try.
Contrary to popular opinion, Exu is neither an evil spirit nor a demon, despite his continued portrayal as such. The Western stereotype of Exu stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the sacred role of the trickster in non-Christian cosmologies.
In most traditional cultures, the trickster archetype 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.
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Exu teaches us that no one is an island unto themselves; he humbles us through his trickery regarding this absolute truth. He watches us as we walk through life and when we become too arrogant, he is right there to throw a wrench in the works and bring us back down to earth.
As previously mentioned, Exu is a trickster-god, and plays around, frequently tempting choices for the purpose of causing maturation. In mythology, and in the study of folklore and religion, a trickster is a god, goddess, spirit, human, or anthropomorphic animal who plays pranks or otherwise disobeys normal rules and norms of behavior.
A similar spirit of Yoruban origin is Eshu. Though Exu and Eshu are not the same Spirits, there is a little story often told about Eshu that aptly illustrates how trickster spirits often operate.
Once, Eshu was walking down the road, wearing a hat that was red on one side and black on the other. Some time after he departed, the villagers who had seen him began arguing about whether the stranger's hat was black or red.
The villagers on one side of the road had only been capable of seeing the black side, and the villagers on the other side had only been capable of seeing the red half. They nearly fought over the argument, until Eshu came back and cleared the mystery, teaching the villagers about how one's perspective can alter a person's perception of reality, and that one can be easily fooled.
In other versions of this tale, the two tribes were not stopped short of violence; they annihilated each other, and Eshu laughed at the result, saying "Bringing strife is my greatest joy."
Exu Is Not Eshu
The cult of Eshu is widespread in the New World, as well as in Africa, and he is worshipped under many different names and attributes:
* Exu: Although connected with the Orisha Eshu or Elegba of the Yoruba-based traditions of Candomble and Santeria, the Exus of Umbanda and Quimbanda are in fact spirits of the dead.
* Eleggua: Ellegua is another name used among Lukumi for Eshu.
* Legba: In Vodou, Papa Legba is the intermediary between the divine and humanity, while Kalfu is his Petro manifestation. Eshu also resembles the Voodoo loa Simbi who is both the god of magic and the intermediate between humanity and Papa Legba.
* Lucero: In Palo Mayombe, Lucero (also Nkuyo\Maunga\Lubaniba) is the deity of balance and guidance through paths.
* Esu: In Yorubaland, this is an energy that rose out of the Yangi (sacred red rock) and allows people to communicate with the Irunmole, Orisa, Orunmila, and so on. Is the oldest Esu. Also important in the African diaspora. All Esu live in consecrated sacred rocks.
Sources and Further Reading
- Eshu | Wikipedia
- Dos Ventos, Mario. (2008). Na Gira Do Exu: Invoking the Spirits of Brazilian Quimbanda.
- Eshu | Yoruba deity | Britannica
- Frisvold, Nicholaj de Mattos. (2006). Kiumbanda: A Complete Grammar of the Art of Exu. Chadezoad.
- Eshu | Religion Wiki | Fandom
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.