Exu

The Divine Messenger



Exu (known as Eleggua in Santeria and Legba in Candomble) is the owner of the roads and doors in this world. He is the repository of ashe. The colors red and black or white and black are his and codify his contradictory nature. In particular, Exu stands at the crossroads of the human and the divine, as he is a child-like messenger between the two worlds. In this role, it is not surprising that he has a very close relationship with the orisha of divination, Orunmila. Nothing can be done in either world without his permission. Exu is always propitiated and always called first before any other orisha as he opens the door between the worlds and opens our roads in life. He recognizes himself and is recognised by the numbers 3 and 21.

Exu, for any of you who are familiar with any earth centered religion, fulfills the role of the divine messenger. Every earth centered tradition that I know of, believes that there is some force in nature, or spiritual presence, or some power that allows humans to communicate with nature and allows nature to communicate with humans. It is the function of translation. The divine messenger translates the language of nature into the language of humans and the language of humans into the language of nature.

The most abstract manifestation of Exu is as it comes into being in the Odu Ose 'Tura which appears as follows:

I

IIII

II

III

This is the symbolic representation of the energy pattern that incarnates Exu. This Odu is used as a magnet to invoke the power of the divine messenger. In Ifá Creation Myth, the eternal rock of creation is called Oyigiyigi. This rock separated into four calabashes of creation. These four calabashes interacted with one another to form sixteen sacred principles called Olu Odu or the primal principles of creation. In Ifá the sacred number seventeen represents the sixteen primal Odu plus Ose'Tura which is the seventeenth Odu of Ifá. This Odu has the function of causing the Olu Odu to copulate generating the two hundred and forty Odu that are generated by the first sixteen Odu. This suggests that Exu, in addition to being the Divine Messenger, is also primal seed of generation.

Ifá is the religious tradition of Yoruba culture. It is the parent religion of all the different spiritual societies, fraternities and sororities that exist within the culture. The reason that Ifá is considered the source of all the other forms of worship within Yoruba culture has to do with the role of Exu and Ose 'Tura in relationship to the primal Olu Odu. In essence when an Ifá priest is initiated, they invoke the first sixteen Odu, then they invoke Ose'Tura. This is a ritual reenactment of the original moment of the Creation of diversity within the Universe. This ritual event gives the initiate a glimpse of the primal event that generated being as we experience in human life. It is the mystical vision of that event that gives the Prophet Orunmila the praise name "Eleri - ipin" which means "Witness to Creation."

In addition to being the Divine Messenger, Exu has several other functions. That of a Divine Trickster and that of a Door Opener. Taking them one at a time, should give a broader understanding of Exu as a force in nature:

In the role of Exu as divine trickster, most of the anthropological literature identifies the trickster as a random form of harassment. In some literature Exu is described as an "evil" phenomena and is often translated as the devil. But there is a very sacred function for all tricksters in all traditional cultures. That function is to bring to each one of us the truth that we are all interconnected and inter-related. It is the eternal truth that no one can be totally self reliant. The role of the trickster is to let those who believe that all their problems are covered, that they are a tough guy and will never cry, know that this self perception may not be true. His goal behind his tricks is to create an awareness of inter-relatedness.

This inter-relatedness is not just limited to people. We are dependant on other people to survive in the world and we are dependant on communication with nature to survive in the world. The divine trickster slaps us up side our head when we empty too much garbage in our water. If it is disruptive, we can expect a wake up call from Exu.

The Divine Trickster is not some arbitrary, malevolent force that is out to get you if you don't behave. That is the Christian "boogy man" model. The divine trickster is a fundamental principle of the structure of reality, based on the idea that if you see an egg that hatches and something comes out with wings, there's a pretty good chance that its a bird. The universe is not arbitrary.

Exu is also the opener of the doors; the messenger of the gods. He is a great diviner who does not need an oracle to see the future. He owns the keys to all doors, to evil as well as good. He seems to take pleasure in creating compromising situations and trouble between humans but his actions are always justified though he alone knows the true meaning of justice and sees things which are hidden from humanity as well as other Orishas. He can be equally cruel and generous; treacherous, dangerous and capricicious like fate itself.

It is said of Exu that of the Orisha he is both the highest and the lowest, a prince and a pauper who is equally at ease in a palace and a garbage dump. With Oya, he rules over the four winds. He is a great healer and a master magician. His spells and amulets are all powerful and impossible to destroy.

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