Eshu, also known as Esu or Elegba, is a deity of the people of Yoruba, Nigeria, in West Africa. He is one of the prominent orishas of the Ifa traditional religion. Eshu understands all the languages and serves as a messenger between humans and the gods. He is most notable for his pranks, cruelty, unpredictability, and disruptive disposition. Hence, he is affectionately referred to as a ‘trickster god.’
Eshu descended from heaven with the earliest divinities. He is the custodian of divine law enforcement and orderliness. As such, he serves as a judge of sorts – rewarding just behavior and punishing malevolent deeds. Because of his role as a punisher and misinterpretations of his name, Eshu is often associated with Satan or the devil. However, he is a balancing force though his punishments can appear harsh at times.
Diviners use the staff of Eshu to take away obstacles, cure diseases, and help people. The force of Eshu is often physically represented as both male and female. This is a metaphor for his strength, force, and ability to shift between both genders, turn death into life, and balance the forces of good and evil.
Eshu at the Crossroads
According to Yoruba cosmology, this omnipresent deity dwells at the crossroads. The crossroads is the proverbial place where we are forced to make a decision or take a certain path. Eshu is very powerful and relevant and exists everywhere at once. This deity bears all sacrifices and guards the ritual way of life. He also carries all sacrifices offered to the gods to heaven.
Eshu is consistently at the center of divergent world forces. He gives orders and regulates the two extremes – the world of peace, joy, fulfillment, and happiness and the world of destruction, hopelessness, bitterness, and sorrow.
This orisha keeps the delicate balance of good and evil – the just and unjust. He guides and protects towns and villages, priests and priestesses, and worshippers against evil plots. And he always blesses those that perform the necessary and appropriate sacrifices (ẹbọs) and other sacred rituals. Though he punishes individuals who refuse to carry out their ritual obligations.
Learn more about African spiritual systems in this episode of the African Spirit Reintegrated + Reimagined: