For the Love of Eshu

By way of editorial comment: In the Yoruba-derived West African religion of Ifa (which is also the name of an Orisha of divination as well as the system of divination that He governs–still with me?), every person, regardless of race or station in life, is said to have her head “ruled” or “crowned” by a guardian Orisha. That Orisha’s influence will more than likely have manifested in the individual’s personality, as well as in shaping the person’s True Will, or Ori in Yoruba, in her lifetime. I wrote this praise poem (oriki in Yoruba), “For the Love of Eshu,” in honor of my guard and guide, my Baba (“Father”) Eshu, also known as Elegbara. In Santeria, He is Elegua. Ago mo jubara, Baba!

Eshu, Opener of the Ways!

Eshu, Opener of the Ways!

For the Love of Eshu

Eriwo-Ya!

I received your calling card—red on one side, black on the other—

three times seven times

O Akánle,

Paá paá wàrà

You who conduct your business in fast motions

Ever hurrying, ever sudden

And just this week, on the Washington Street bridge at Wacker Drive,

the grinning old man,

Omokùnrin,

Son of the Sons of Africa

Skin the color of the repository of secrets

curly white hair

red t-shirt, black pants

protruding Styrofoam cup with the jingle of coins, rattled like a call to order

Eriwo-Ya!

O Baba Baki, beloved Little Father,

You shone through this guise

and I claimed as a prize

your smiling, heartfelt words accented by widened, lit eyes,

“Ma’am, God bless you,”

as three single dollar bills landed in the Styrofoam circle

Esu, mo juba o

Esu, I give you my reverence

For what I have, I give thanks to you

To enjoy the blessings of this world one must first give you your due

 

A kii l’ayo lai mu ti Esu kurò

 

Child of the Crossroads and Opener of the Ways

Knower of the route to the throne of Olodumare, God Himself

The one secret kept from the other orisha

is rightfully yours

and like a tattletale

you swiftly report to Olodumare on broken covenants

bargains not upheld

sacrifices not made

I know what role you play in the Celestial Court,

O Accuser Who Saunters Up to the Bench,

advocating, without mercy, that the

defendants suffer to the fullest extent

allowed by Cosmic Law

And when the sentence is declared, you scurry off

and become Esu, òkiri oko, the stone bearer

Ota Orisa, the orisha’s avenger

Olagbokun, the great fighter

A fi okuta dipo iyo

He who replaces salt with pebbles,

Oh yes, I know that the quick change of fortune is yours to control

 

As thanks for having healed Him once,

Olodumare richly rewarded you

Laid down the injunction that you are

always

to be fed first when sacrifices are offered,

that progress cannot be attained in any endeavor

without your blessing,

without your nodding, gold-toothed grin like

the blackjack dealer at Rivers Casino—of course the House always wins—

But there’s that vexing issue of image

you seem to attract the same PR problems as Loki

What is it with these sinister Satanic associations?

Especially in Brazil

where they have you wearing a cape and sporting horns and a pitchfork—even though

I can see why hanging out with the foxy Pomba Gira would make you,

Shall we say, a horny devil

(wink-wink)

 

Can mysteries be distilled

and no, I don’t just mean into the forms

of coconuts or kola nuts

But Eshu

you have many pathways—caminos, en español—by which

we can get glimpses of aspects of

your Ineffable Power

When the battle lines are demarcated between the orisha

and the ajogun, the forces of darkness,

you throw down your calling card

red and black

for you are the orisha who is in command of the

Ajogun, the 201 powers of the left

Commander of the agents of mischief such as

Iku, death

Arun, sickness

Epe, curses

Ewon, imprisonment

And Ofo, unforeseen loss on a vast scale

For this, my oluwo tells me, you

are as feared as you are loved

Yes, you are

A š otun šosi lai ni itiju

The one who prides himself in double-dealing

 

And let’s not forget stealing

Although, like a certain Greek god I know—why are messenger gods tricksters?—

you—Aşe ka ma şe é—never deny a wicked act

if and when you commit one

 

And what does that say about me, then, for I am true daughter of my father?

 

Palms stained with red palm oil

I will gladly feed you

whatever your heart desires

toasted corn

smoked fish

a healthy, colored rooster

and of course, candy: mounds and mounds of candy, from

fine chocolates to Gummi Bears and other delights to make you

spin with glee

as then, in turn

you sweeten the path ahead for me

 

And so that you never thirst

Three sprays of gin

from my lips to your face

Seal the pact made when we conversed

 

Esu, mo juba o

I give my reverence

Esu, má şe mi

Do not undo me by negatively interfering in my affairs

E ni ti ko se ebo ni ki o şe

Undo instead whoever promises you sacrifice but never delivers

Thereby disrespecting you

 

Aşe—It is so!

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4 thoughts on “For the Love of Eshu

  1. Great poem!

    I once read a book called Drum and Candle by a guy named David St. Clair. I don’t know if everything he says in the book is accurate or not, but he was quite respectful to the syncretic faiths he encountered while traveling Brazil, and he recounts an interesting tale of a woman beseeching Eshu’s help in escaping eviction by her landlady. He also tells of how the Brazilian police would sometimes throw suspects in a room filled with Eshu statues and bric-a-brac, with the suspects eventually confessing to their crimes because they worried about Eshu getting them if they didn’t. I’m not sure that’s ethical policework exactly, but I always thought the idea of Eshu helping to fight crime is pretty dang neat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, G.B. Marian! I’ve not heard of the David St. Clair work, so I’ll check that out. The interesting fact about Brazil is that it has more Orisha worshippers in the Diaspora-created faiths of Candomblé, Palo Mayombe, Quimbanda, Umbanda, etc. than West Africa does at this point, as animistic beliefs in the traditional lands of the Yoruba are struggling to survive amidst the twin fundamentalist terrors of Christianity and Islam. (Nigeria itself being pretty much split between an Islamic caliphate in the north and evangelical Christian-dominated in the south; it’s in the far south that pockets of Ifá struggle to survive; it helps that a very public shrine to the Orisha Oshun has been declared by the UN as a World Heritage Site!)

      In Brazilian Diaspora traditions, Eshu or Exu is a very complex figure, and, given His amoral nature, would more often than not be called upon BY criminals so they could go about their work undetected. He, like his foxy female trickster counterpart, the seductive and powerful Pomba Gira, is one of the “povo de rua,” the “spirits of the street,” and serves as a champion to the disenfranchised, or people needing to live by their street smarts, trying to eke out an existence in one of urban Brazil’s many shantytowns/urban slums. As with Mexico’s popular folk saint, Santa Muerte, Exu doesn’t judge, and spells or more serious ritual workings to Him for, say, protection could be done from noble motives (i.e., praying for your family’s safety) or less scrupulous ones (praying for your shipment of cocaine to make it to the U.S. undetected by narcs). So long as you approach Him with the respect that He’s due and you present your offerings in the properly prescribed way, it matters little to Him what your motives are in beseeching His aid.

      But you BETTER fulfill your end of whatever bargain you make with Him at His crossroads. As a guiding principle, it’s unwise to piss off any of the Orisha, but Eshu is one you really don’t want to ever piss off. The God seen as a Road Opener also has the means to Block as well, and should He cut you off, well, it won’t end well for you!

      If you want to read more about the cults of Exu and Pomba Gira in Brazil, I highly, highly recommend anything by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, especially “Exu and the Quimbanda of Night and Fire,” published by Scarlet Imprint. The companion book about Pomba Gira is also excellent.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the recommendation! I will definitely check that book out. I am glad to know the Oshun shrine is protected by the U.N. I have a lot of anger about what’s been happening in Africa lately. Also, Exu sounds like yet another one of Seth’s poker buddies; I’ll bet They get along famously!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I also am disturbed and even outraged by the targeting of traditional beliefs and worship sites in West Africa. I know a lot of people in the Ifa community here in the New World, my babalawo included (he’s technically my godfather or “oluwo,” what in Santeria would be called my “padrino”), have made pilgrimages to Nigeria to receive their initiations/connect with revered elders in the faith, and I used to be convinced I’d follow in their footsteps one day. It seems less and less likely, sadly, with all of this Boko Haram-fueled bullshit running rampant in the country. In the meantime, I do my devotionals and know my Orisha (plural) have got my back.

    On a happy note, oh, absolutely! Set and Eshu would be marvelous poker chums, along with Loki and Odin and yes, I’d throw Hermes in there too, as He was the world’s first thief (having stolen Apollo’s head of cattle when He, Hermes, was but a newborn!) after all! I can see them hanging out, swilling their gin (Eshu) and beer (Set) and mead (Loki and Odin), puffing away on primo Cuban cigars as Their card game lasts well into the wee hours of morning. 😉

    Like

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