Eshu: Divinity of Cosmic Balance and Guardian of Ashé

Eshu: Guardian of Cosmic Balance in the Yoruba Religion

Eshu, also known as Èṣù, Echu or Exú, is a central and multifaceted deity of the Yoruba pantheon. His influence ranges from everyday events to the deepest aspects of human existence, making him a crucial figure in the Yoruba religion and its variants in the African diaspora. This article delves into his origin, roles, syncretism and the various manifestations of this powerful deity.

Eshu (Èṣù)
Alternative nameEchu, Exú
Deity typeOrisha
ReligionYoruba Religion, Santeria, Candomblé
SymbolsPaths, Crossroads, Snails, Walking Stick
FeaturesController of sacrifice and Ashé, Divine Messenger, Mediator
NatureDual (Order and Chaos)
SyncretismElegguá (Cuba), Legba (Haiti), San Antonio (Cuba), Lucero
Common offeringsPalm oil, snail, goat, rooster, dried corn, gin
CelebrationJune 13, Varies according to tradition and region
Associated ritualsSacrifices (Ebo), offerings, initiation ceremonies

Who is Eshu?

Eshu - Yoruba Religion

Eshu (also spelled Èṣù or Echu) is an enigmatic and complex deity of the Yoruba pantheon, known for his dual character and his ability to influence various areas of human life. Unlike other Orishas, ​​he is neither inherently good nor bad; His role is to ensure that the consequences of human actions are adequately manifested. In Yoruba cosmology, Eshu acts as the karmic force of the universe. He is known for his mischievous nature, his ability to sow both chaos and order, and his ability to transform into multiple forms, reflecting his dynamic and adaptable character.

The Primitive Kingdom of Eshu

In Yoruba mythology, Eshu lived in Aima or Orima, a vast sphere of total darkness. This kingdom of darkness was practically all that existed until Olodumare, the supreme creator god, began the work of creating it. Within this darkness, there was only a small core of light where Olodumare resided. When he decided to illuminate the darkness and create life, the primordial conflict between light and darkness arose, personified in Olodumare and Eshu respectively.

Eshu, finding himself displaced by the new creation, made a significant declaration: any life form that flourished under the light would also be under his dominion. Although he recognized the darkness' inability to sustain life, he proclaimed its power to influence all creatures, promising that he would move freely under the brilliance of the light.

Eshu and Creation

Olodumare's creative process brought with it plants, animals and other deities. It was in this context that Eshu began to exert his influence, establishing his presence in all forms of life. This act marked the beginning of the eternal tension between creative and destructive forces in the Yoruba universe.

One of the most revealing legends about Eshu is found in the Odu of Ifá Ogbe Dí. In this story, it is narrated that Eshu was not created by Olodumare, but existed independently. This autonomy allowed him to infiltrate and manipulate the first created divinities, demonstrating his ability to sow discord and conflict, despite lacking creative powers of his own.

Main characteristics

Eshu is a complex, multifaceted deity who represents both order and chaos. He acts as controller of authority (ache) and sacrifice, being an essential intermediary between humans and other deities. He supervises the rituals and ensures that the prophecies of the Ifá oracle are fulfilled correctly. His ability to transform into various forms—such as a child, an old man, a woman, a hunter, or a warrior—highlights his dynamic and adaptable character.

In Yoruba cosmology, Eshu facilitates communication and the transfer of sacrifices between humans and the Òrìṣà. Its role is crucial in maintaining cosmic balance, ensuring that every human action has its appropriate consequences.

Roles and Functions of Eshu

Eshu acts as a messenger and mediator between humans and deities. His ability to transform, communicate and mobilize makes him an essential figure in rituals and ceremonies. He is invoked at the beginning of any rite to ensure effective communications with the divinities and the correct reception of offerings.

Origin of Misconceptions about Èṣù

Misconceptions about Eshu arose mainly due to the translation of the Bible into Yoruba by Bishop Samuel Àjàyí Crowther. Crowther, a former Yoruba slave educated in the Christian mission, translated "Satan" as "Èṣù." This error was probably due to his lack of deep knowledge of the Yoruba religion or a deliberate attempt to demonize African spirituality, contributing to the misinterpretation of this deity in popular culture.

Duality and Syncretism of Eshu

Eshu is a deity who personifies both good and evil, creating obstacles and conflicts, but also granting blessings and solutions. He is described as mischievous and malicious, but also fair and protective. This duality reflects the complexity of his nature and his role in the Yoruba religion.

Manifestations of Eshu in Different Cultures

LegbaHaiti, Dominican Republic, Suriname, BrazilDeity of roads and communication, similar to Èṣù.
AbboneyJamaicaName by which Eshu is known in Jamaica.
ElegguaCuba, Brazil, Dominican Republic, HaitiDeity of crossroads and paths, similar to Eshu.
ElegbaraBrazilAnother way of referring to Echu in the Brazilian tradition.
Encourage aloneCubaName given to Eshu, especially in rural areas.
Child of AtochaCuba, MexicoName given in Cuba and Mexico, associated with a child figure.
Legba BeHaitiVariant of the name Legba in the Haitian voodoo religion.
San AntonioCubaSyncretic name of Eshu due to Catholic influence.
chooseDominican Republic, BrazilAnother variant of the name Elegguá in these regions.
San RoqueCubaAnother syncretic name due to the influence of Catholicism.
DiabloMexico, NigeriaName given after the influence of Christianity and Islam.
The MandiagaMexicoSpecific name of Eshu in Mexico.
The ShaitanMuslim faithName given to Eshu by Muslim priests.
Igba KetaNigeriaName that means "third in the hierarchy of the Universe."
The EkwensuNigeria (Igbo)Name of Eshu according to the belief of the Igbo of Nigeria.
BeaconNigeriaAnother name for Eshu in Nigeria.
Laroye, Latopa, Bara, Lalupan, BaroyeNigeriaNames linked to market activities.
Logemo OrunNigeriaThe indulgent son of Heaven.
AnlakaluNigeriaHe whose greatness is manifested in all places.
Papa WaraNigeriaThe rushed, the unforeseen.
Atuka Mase SaNigeriaThe one that breaks into pieces and cannot be rebuilt.
BurukoNigeriaEvil to the death, always ready to do harm.
ExuCandomblé (Brazil)Messenger of the Orishas in candomblé.

Syncretism between Eshu and Elegguá

The syncretism between Eshu and Elegua has been widely debated, especially in Latin America. In Cuba, for example, many practitioners view Eshu and Elegua as separate entities with distinct functions. Eshu is seen as a mischievous and dangerous deity, while Eleguá is more benign and protective. This syncretism reflects the adaptation of African beliefs with influences from Catholicism and other religions present in Latin America.

demonstrations, avatars o Paths of Eshu

Manifestations, Avatars or Paths of Eshu

Eshu has multiple names and manifestations, each with specific characteristics and functions. These paths reflect their versatility and omnipresence in the Yoruba religion. Some of the best known are:

  • Èṣù Ìjà: Used for personal or community defense.
  • Esu Ifá: Accompanies Ifá as guardian of Àṣẹ and mediator between humans and deities.
  • Èṣù Agb'Ebo: Crucial to the Babaláwo, manages accepted sacrifices.
  • Èṣù Alaje: Associated with financial stability.
  • Èṣù Ìsó'lé: Protect home and property.
  • Esu Oja: Preserve peace in the markets.
  • Eleggua: It is the best known and syncretized version of Eshu, especially in Cuba. He is the guardian of the doors and paths.
  • eshu laroye: The messenger and guardian of the roads, known for his cunning and communication skills.
  • Eshu Alaguana: Protector of markets and wealth, ensuring fair trade.
  • Eshu Bi: Known as the Eshu of war, assisting warriors in battle.
  • Eshu Alawana: Tireless traveler, watching over and protecting travelers.
  • Eshu Afra: Associated with medicine and healing, helping healers in their work.
  • Eshu Odara: Eshu of prosperity and good fortune, blessing those who worship him properly.
  • Eshu Elegbara: Known for his strength and power, he is one of the most feared and respected.
  • Eshu Agogo: Known for his relationship with music and drums.
  • Eshu Ina: Related to fire and energy.
  • Eshu Akere: The small but powerful, showing that size does not define your power.
  • Eshu Aye: Associated with life and existence itself.
  • Echu Olona: The guardian of the roads and crossroads.
  • Eshu Eleguede: Protector of merchants and travelers.
  • Echu Inle: Related to health and healing.
  • Eshu Gold: Known for its relationship with justice and truth.
  • Echu Ewe: Associated with nature and plants.

The Multiplication of Eshu

One of the most fascinating stories about Eshu is his multiplication and dispersal throughout the world. Accompanied by the Odu Ifá Ogbe Irete, Eshu descended to Earth with his followers, multiplying in multiple forms and names. Each deity, plant and animal has its own Eshu, who acts as its guardian and mediator. This proliferation symbolizes the omnipresence of this divinity in all aspects of life and nature.

The Sacrifices to Eshu: A Comprehensive Perspective

Eshu, Eshu, Exu

In the Yoruba worldview, sacrifices to Eshu are essential to maintain balance and harmony in the universe. These ritual acts not only seek to appease the deity, but also to attract her favor and protection. The various offerings and sacrifices dedicated to Eshu are explored below, highlighting their importance and the specific procedures involved.

Types of Offerings and Sacrifices

  • General Offerings: To attract the energy of Eshu, various offerings are used that include specific foods and materials. These include mashed yam, cold grated corn breads, boiled beans, brandy, palm wine, kola nut, pepper, palm oil, tobacco leaf powder, melon, roasted ripe plantain and porridge. These offerings are essential to establishing a connection with the deity and ensuring that the rituals are effective.
  • Ajitenas: The ajitenas are ritual and magical diagrams that are drawn to attract the energy of Eshu during offerings. These lines condense supersensible and natural forces, functioning as a bridge between the earthly and spiritual worlds.
  • Other Materials Used in Sacrifice: In addition to food, various objects are used such as virgin plaster, tobacco dust, leaf tobacco, palm wine, gin, brandy, chicken eggs, articles of clothing, sweets, palm oil, kola nut, water coconut, fresh water, sugar cane, ground toasted corn, honey, smoked fish and jutía. These materials have specific functions such as purifying, entertaining, softening, appeasing anger, attracting joy and good fortune, and warding off evil.
  • Eshu's Favorite Foods: Eshu's favorite foods include red palm oil (epo pupua), pepper grass (iyeré), snail (igbín), goat (obùko), fine rooster (akuko), dried corn (gúúrú), walnut of kolá (obi agbata), and gin (oti opa). These foods are used to feed and entertain this Orisha in various ceremonies.

Taboos of Eshu

It is crucial to avoid certain foods in any offering or sacrifice dedicated to Eshu, such as red pepper (ata pupua), dog (aja), bitter leaves (ewúro), dark or burnt palm oil (adin), and vulture (igun).

Sacrifices (Ebo)

Sacrifices are an integral part of the cult of Eshu, Santeria and Yoruba religion, each with its own meaning and procedure:

  • Black Goat or Male Goat (Obuko): Considered Eshu's favorite animal, the sacrifice of a black goat is one of the most important rituals. The blood of the goat and certain internal parts are offered to the deity.
  • Guanajo (Tolo Tolo): This sacrifice involves marking a clay pot with Ifá signs and sacrificing the guanajo on it. This specific procedure seeks to calm Eshu's anger and ensure acceptance of the sacrifice.
  • Jutía (Eku): Hutía is used to obtain calm and good fortune. Before sacrifice, he bathes with sacred water, ensuring that his blood falls directly on Eshu.
  • Dog (Aha): Used on rare occasions, the sacrifice of the dog seeks to appease Eshu's anger and prevent attacks of sorcery.
  • Jicotea (Ayapa): Jicotea is used in the ebo with the aim of obtaining positions, titles and high responsibilities, as well as to ward off diseases. The procedure includes painting signatures of Changó and Eshu, sacrificing the jicotea with a lightning stone and roasting the inals of the jicotea and the rooster offered next to it.

Procedures and Meanings

Each sacrifice has a detailed procedure and a specific meaning that must be respected for the ritual to be effective:

  • Pigeon (Eyele) and Guinea (Etu): These sacrifices are carried out following specific procedures that vary depending on the type of bird. The blood and internal parts of these animals are essential in the offering.
  • Ram (Agbo): The ram is sacrificed for the purpose of ensuring prosperity and protection. This ritual is especially significant in times of great need or danger.
  • Others: Fish, roosters, chickens, curiels, mice, ducks, pigs and antelopes are also sacrificed to Eshu. Each animal has a specific procedure and a unique ritual purpose.

Before any sacrifice, specific prayers and invocations are made to ensure the presence and benevolence of Eshu. This includes the use of ajitenas, ritual signatures that draw the energy of the deity to the ceremony site.

Blessings or Punishment: The Impact of Attending Eshu or Not

Eshu, a central deity in Yoruba religion, is known for his duality, representing both order and chaos. The relationship with Eshu can bring both blessings and calamities, depending on how he is cared for and sacrifices are offered to him. This analysis delves into the positive and negative consequences of attending to, propitiating, sacrificing and entertaining this deity, based on various myths and traditional practices.

Positive Consequences

Protection and Prosperity: When proper offerings are made and the sacrifice is performed correctly, Eshu can bring protection and prosperity. A classic example is the myth of the people of Olowu, who were blessed with riches after offering suitable sacrifices to this divinity.

Eshu arrived at the town of Olowu, which was prepared with abundant offerings of food and tobacco. After eating and chewing tobacco dust in large quantities, he began to vomit out riches: money, precious beads, cloth, and horses. This generosity transformed the town into a prosperous place, underscoring the importance of generosity and respect in the cult of this Orisha.

Problem solving: Obedience in the prescribed sacrifices can lead to the solution of serious problems. For example, on one occasion of severe drought in the city of Ife, proper sacrifice enabled Eshu to open the floodgates of heaven and bring much-needed rain.

In the city of Ife, there was a devastating drought that threatened to destroy crops and cause famine. The Ifá priests consulted Orúnmila, who told them that they should make a sacrifice to Eshu. They prepared an offering of food and animals, and performed the complete ritual. Eshu, satisfied with the sacrifice, opened the floodgates of heaven and rain began to fall, saving the crops and bringing relief to the city.

Protection in Danger Situations: Eshu can intervene to protect his devotees from dangerous situations, as shown in the story of Eyiogbe, where Eshu used an antelope to deflect assassins waiting to attack.

When Ejiogbe was on his way to a meeting, his enemies prepared an ambush to kill him. Essu, seeing the danger, called the antelope that had been sacrificed in his honor. The antelope suddenly appeared among the assassins, distracting them and allowing Ejiogbe to pass undetected. The confused murderers followed the antelope to the king's palace, where they were captured and punished.

Negative consequences

Punishment for Refusal to Sacrifice: Refusing to make sacrifices to Eshu can result in severe consequences, including death. The odu Oyekú Meyi reveals how Jewesun, who refused to sacrifice a goat, died prematurely.

Jewesun, a proud and stubborn man, refused to offer a sacrifice to Is U, arguing that good should never give way to evil. Despite the priests' warnings, Jewesun persisted in refusing him. Three years later, without the protection of Is U, Jewesun became seriously ill and died, demonstrating the consequences of ignoring the deity's demands.

Interference and Obstruction: Eshu can obstruct paths and cause difficult situations if he is not offered due respect and sacrifices. In a story by the odu Ogbe Ofún, a man who refused to offer a goat to Eshu was induced to steal and severely punished.

An ambitious man decided to ignore the need to make a sacrifice before starting a new business. Upset by this lack of respect, Eshu caused a series of misfortunes in his life. First, the man was induced to steal a machete, something he had never done before. After selling the machete, the theft was reported and the man was arrested. In desperation, he begged for forgiveness, but his appeal was not heeded until he finally offered a goat as a sacrifice. Only then did his problems cease.

Destruction and Confusion: Lack of proper sacrifices can lead Eshu to cause destruction and confusion. In the odu Oturupón Meji, the refusal to perform the sacrifices correctly resulted in a death trap for the conspirators, who fell into a bottomless grave prepared for them.

A group of conspirators planned to overthrow the king, but decided to ignore the need to make a sacrifice to ensure their success. Offended by this disrespect, Eshu prepared a death trap. As the conspirators began their plot, one after another fell into a bottomless grave they had dug. None of them survived and their plot was foiled. This myth shows how Is U He can use confusion and destruction to punish those who do not respect his power.

Oriki to Eshu (Translated)

Èṣù, the wealth of the city
The big and strong stone
The Penis Peddler
Bakare, the righteous fighter
Create crimes to implicate those who seek them
He who has eyes capable of driving away evil forces
King in the city of Ketu
The strong black man of Ijelu city
The confidant of those who appease
The support behind those who make sacrifices
The antagonist behind those who reject Olodumare's messages
Èṣù, please don't turn against me
It is against my enemy that you must turn

Eshu's Relationship with Orúnmila and Other Divinities

Eshu's relationship with Orúnmila and other divinities is fundamental in the Yoruba religion. Eshu acts as an intermediary, controller of the sacrifices and the aché (spiritual power), guaranteeing the correct interpretation of the prophecies and the effectiveness of the rituals. Furthermore, he dynamically interacts with other deities, such as Changó, Ozain and Oggún, playing crucial roles in their respective functions and myths.

Eshu and Orúnmila

orunmila He is the god of wisdom and divination in the Yoruba religion, and his relationship with Eshu is essential for the practice of Ifá. Eshu supervises the rituals and ensures the correct transmission of the Ifá prophecies, acting as an intermediary between Orúnmila and humans.

Patakie of Eshu and Orúnmila: Orúnmila, concerned about Eshu's influence on the divinities, decided to confront him. He performed a sacrifice of corn, kola nuts and a rooster. Eshu, impressed by Orúnmila's devotion, agreed to collaborate with him in the correct interpretation of the prophecies and in supervising the rituals, thus ensuring the balance between good and evil in the universe.

Eshu and Changó

Shango, the god of thunder and lightning, has an ambivalent relationship with Eshu. Although they both have strong and sometimes conflicting personalities, their cooperation is vital to the balance of the universe.

History of Eshu and Changó: One day, Changó challenged Eshu to a power duel. Eshu, aware that a direct confrontation would be destructive, proposed a challenge of wits. Both had to solve a riddle posed by Orúnmila. Changó, being impulsive, could not solve it, while Eshu, with his cunning, found the solution. Recognizing Eshu's wisdom, Changó agreed to work alongside him, combining his forces to maintain order and justice.

Eshu and Ozain

Ozain, the god of medicine and plants, depends on Eshu for the collection and proper use of sacred herbs. Eshu guides Ozain in the rituals, ensuring that each plant is used correctly to heal and protect.

Pataki of Eshu and Ozain: On one occasion, Ozain lost consciousness of sacred herbs due to a spell cast by an enemy. Desperate, he asked Eshu for help. Through an elaborate ritual with offerings of herbs and animals, Eshu managed to break the spell and return Ozain's knowledge of him. Since then, Ozain trusts Eshu to protect his wisdom and guide him in the use of medicinal plants.

Eshu and Oggún

Oggún, the god of iron and war, has a complementary relationship with Eshu. While Oggún forges the tools and weapons, Eshu ensures that they are used with justice and proper purpose.

Myth of Eshu and Oggún: One day, Oggún forged a sword so powerful that it could unbalance the world if it fell into the wrong hands. Concerned about its potential danger, Oggún asked Eshu to guard the sword. Through a complex ritual of protection, Eshu ensured that only those with a pure heart could wield it. Thanks to this collaboration, the sword became a symbol of justice and protection.

Conclusion: The Importance of Eshu in Yoruba Cosmology

Eshu (Èṣù) is a complex and vital figure in the Yoruba religion, playing an essential role as a mediator and guardian of cosmic balance. The misinterpretation of Eshu as an evil figure is an example of how colonization and Christianization have distorted indigenous beliefs. Recognizing and understanding the true nature of Eshu is fundamental to appreciating the depth and wisdom of Yoruba cosmology.

As a central deity in Yoruba cosmology, Eshu's complexity and ambivalence reflect the dual nature of existence itself. Through her myths and her worship, she teaches us about the importance of balance, devotion, and sacrifice. His role as mediator, supervisor and controller of rituals and offerings makes him an indispensable figure in the Yoruba belief system.

The syncretism and variability in its representation and worship reflect the adaptation of these beliefs to different cultural contexts over time. With its dynamic and multifaceted nature, Eshu not only represents the constant interplay between good and evil, order and chaos, but also highlights the resilience and richness of Yoruba tradition. Appreciating Eshu in his true context allows us a deeper and more respectful understanding of this powerful divinity.

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