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Known under various names throughout West Africa, the Caribbean, and South America, Elegua is the Orisha, or deity, of crossroads, paths, chance, and change. He is recognized in many religions including Yoruba, Santeria, Candomble, Quimbanda, Umbanda, and other orisha faiths. He is even syncretized in several Christian denominations native to those areas as Saint Anthony of Padua, as Archangel Michael, or as the Holy Child of Atocha.
But who exactly is this orisha/god and what makes him so popular across so many cultures?
Who is Elegua?
Elegua Orisha, or god Elegua, is an ancient deity with roots in West African countries such as Nigeria. Depending on the religion and the specific depiction he is shown either as an old man or as a small child. Often called a god of crossroads, Elegua is much more than that.
He’s a god of the beginning and end of life, a god of paths, roads, and change, a god of doorways and entrances. He’s also viewed as a messenger god of the chief deity of most religions (Olofi in Santeria) or a messenger of The God in most other monotheistic religions, where Elegua is recognized more as a spirit or an archangel.
In fact, most orisha faiths are monotheistic and have only one god – usually named Oludumare. In those faiths, the orisha/gods such as Elegua are personalizations of The God or spirits/demigods.
Naturally, as a deity in so many religions, regions, and cultures, Elegua has many names. He’s known as Èṣù-Ẹlẹ́gbára in Yoruba (in Nigeria, Togo, Benin), as Papa Legba in Haiti, as Elegbara in Brazil, and as Archangel Michael, the Holy Child of Atocha, or St. Anthony of Padua in the Catholic regions of the Americas.
Elegua also has other manifestations across the orisha faiths such as Lalafán, Akefun, Obasín, Arabobo, Oparicocha, Aleshujade, Awanjonu, and Osokere as described in the Enciclopédia brasileira da diáspora Africana.
Elegua and Eshu
Some people and religions equate Elegua with another deity named Eshu – a trickster god. This is both accurate and inaccurate, depending on your view or understanding of this mythology.
In essence, Elegua and Eshu are separate deities but also brothers with a very close relationship. Whereas Elegua is a messenger god of the crossroads, Eshu is a trickster god. Both are associated with the roads and with chance. However, while Elegua is mostly benevolent, tactful, and merciful, Eshu is a mostly forceful or, at the very least, morally ambiguous trickster god.
There are those who wrongly view Eshu as a stand-in for the Devil. That’s not right for several reasons. For one, there is no devil in most of the cultures and religions that recognize Eshu and Elegua. Secondly, Eshu isn’t “evil” – he’s just a trickster. He does represent much of the negative sides of life, but he doesn’t do what he does out of maliciousness.
Simply put, Elegua and Eshu are often viewed as two sides of the same coin – life. In that way, they are similar to the Slavic Belibog and Chernibog (White God and Black God) – two brothers who are often viewed as the two personalities of one deity.
As in the Slavic religions, the religions of Santeria, Yoruba, Umbanda, and others have a dualistic outlook on life. They see it as a combination of good and bad and understand each as necessary for the existence of the other.
A God of Life
As a deity of the crossroads of life as well as of the beginning and end of life, Elegua is often called upon and prayed to in reference to pivotal parts of people’s lives. Births, deaths, marriages, and life transformations all fall under Elegua’s supervisions.
People often place Elegua stone heads (typically egg-shaped) on the sides of roads or on the doorway of their homes. This is meant to grant good fortune to those traveling or going out on journeys.
In addition to the Elegua stone heads, another key representation of this orisha is the red and black beaded necklace. This is key as the two repeating colors of the necklace represent the ever-changing cycle of life and death, peace and war, beginnings and ends – all the things Elegua presides over.
Essentially, as a deity that presides over all key parts of life and all journeys – both literal and metaphorical – Elegua is one of the most beloved and worshipped deities in the orisha faiths.
Symbols and Symbolism of Elegua
Elegua’s symbolism is incredibly rich across the different religions and cultures that worship him. He is one of those gods that you can revere and pray to for almost anything, be it success, fortune, a healthy and happy life, a safe journey, protection from misfortune and bad turns of fate, and much more.
As a messenger of God, he’s also often prayed to when people try to reach God, whether that’s the Christian god, the orisha Oludumare or Olofi, or the chief deity in another religion.
Elegua is worshipped all across South and Central America, the Caribbean, as well as West Africa. A god of roads, crossroads, change, life’s beginning, end, and journey, as well as fate and chance, Elegua is also a messenger deity to the One God.
If that sounds confusing, keep in mind that most of the orisha faiths Elegua is worshipped in are actually monotheistic and there Elegua is an orisha/deity but not The God.
All this doesn’t diminish his significance. In fact, Elegua is ever-present in most aspects of the life of orisha cultures and is one of the most beloved deities there.