Legba: The Gate
Papa Legba, a Haitian Vodou Lwa Legba is sometimes said to be the first lwa saluted in a Vodou ceremony. In actuality, this is not true, there are other Lwa who are saluted before him. There is no doubt that serving Legba is essential though. Without an appropriate salute to Legba, one will not be able to get in contact with other Lwa. Papa Legba is the gate-keeper. Thus, he opens the gates to the Lwa.
Note it here in this popular song:
“Papa Legba, open the gate for me, Ago eh
Papa Legba, open the gate for me
Open the gate for me, Papa
For me to pass, when I return I will thank the Lwa!”
As you can see, Papa Legba resides at the gate. At the beginning of any Vodou dance, you will note the various salutations to the Lwa Legba. During ceremonies, the entrance to the peristyle will be saluted during Legba’s salutes. This is a way to honor the “home” of this Lwa, the gate. Living at the gate, Legba controls the entrance and departure of the Lwa into and out of the temple. Without his permission, no Lwa will be able to enter the peristyle and addressing the Lwa will go in vain. Legba is the master of doors, gateways, and highways. Points of intersection are also under his control.
Legba’s living at the gate ultimately places him in the role of regulator. He somewhat regulates the flow of a ceremony, allowing Lwa to pass through as they should. The Houngan or Mambo leading the ceremony also regulates the Lwa. He or she may make Lwa leave the head of someone if they have shown up at the wrong place or inappropriate time. There are a number of techniques used to do this.
Papa Legba is an old, (mostly) peaceful, sexually impotent man. He is seen as a small old man who wears beggar’s clothing. He has sores, a lame foot
and a twisted limb. This is deceptive though, as he is a very powerful Lwa. One can see this during his possessions, in which Legba can demonstrate his great strength. He walks with a crutch (sometimes a twisted cane), carries a djakout, smokes a tobacco pipe and wears a straw hat. Legba’s straw sack, djakout, can often be seen hanging off of a tree with his offerings inside. Even in all his conditions, Legba has a wife. He oftentimes “leans” on his wife for support. His wife’s name is Adjessi.
I remember one time seeing Legba pick up a burning branch out of the fire made for Ogou. He took the branch, dancing back to the peristyle. Then he proceeded to clean people by passing the branch over their bodies. He cleaned me too! No one was harmed by the flames.
Legba is a big Lwa. He has many paths. Papa Legba lives at the gate and is often seen as a wanderer. During ceremonies, the entrance to the peristyle will be saluted during Legba’s salutes. This is a way to honor the “home” of this Lwa, the gate. Legba is a trickster too! He has been known to play quite a number of tricks on people, some nice and some not so nice! I know a woman, who after doing a service to Legba for money, got into a terrible car accident, broke two of her legs, and then got her money – from the insurance company! She is alive and well now, but that definitely wasn’t the way she wanted to obtain the money! (This is another reason why one should serve the Lwa under the guidance of a Houngan or Mambo)
There is only one Legba but you will sometimes hear someone say “Legba nan Petro”. There are songs for Legba nan Petro. “Legba nan Petro” actually stands for serving Legba in the Petro rite. Legba is being served to open the gate for the Petro Lwa. The service of Legba “in the Petro” is different from his service in the Rada rite. Legba, when being saluted in the Rada rite, is saluted and served with water, molasses, and sometimes honey. He is saluted with the asson, the sacred rattle of the priesthood. Legba, when being saluted in the Petro rite, will be saluted with rum (or kleren laced with various things) and with a tcha tcha.
Legba is an old man. The images of St. Lazarus (the one with the sores and the dogs) serve for Legba in the Rada rite. St. Jude is the one associated with Legba nan Petro. Like I said, Legba has many paths. One of the most well known is Atibon Legba who is an old man and a trickster! He will walk with a twisted cane (I have seen houses that use a crutch instead). He smokes a pipe, and wears a straw hat. He also carries a djakout, the straw sack. In fact, Legba’s straw sack will often be seen hanging off of a tree with Legba’s offerings inside.
There are so many paths of Legba, and differences in their services. Legba Avadra is the wanderer. He is a considered a vagabond too. Legba Do Miwa is Legba behind the mirror. Vye Vye Legba which translates to Old Old Legba, who indeed is very old. Most Legba eat in a kwi (calabash bowl) but I know one Legba who eats on a specially prepared mat on the floor, and another who actually eats off of the floor!
Legba may also drink coffee, cola, and trempe. Trempe is kleren steeped in different herbs. He is also known to take akasan, siwo, and palm oil. He also eats toasted corn, and peanuts, which are a staple that is often offered to many Lwa. He likes sugar cane, bananas, and bread. He is also fond of yams, malanga, and other similar vegetables. He likes cakes decorated in his colors. He also likes popcorn, and many times during Legba (and sometimes Marassa) time of service, an initiate may be seen dancing with a laye full of popcorn, peanuts, and pieces of coconut that have been sprinkled with spices.
There are certain spirits in the world that everyone must and does have naturally with them. Everyone has ancestors, everyone has Gede, the Lwa Met Tet. But a Lwa which everyone may not necessarily have walking with them, yet everyone is able to get in contact with him is the Lwa Legba.
The Lwa Legba is the opener of the gates allowing us to walk through life to new places and walk “Gran Chemen” (The big road- journey through life) In order to get in contact with any Lwa at all, Legba’s blessing must be had. He blesses us immensely by opening the gates. Having one’s gates closed is not a good thing at all and can lead to many problems.
A person’s gates can be closed due to a variable number of causes. This is usually divined by the Houngan/Mambo doing the work in order to restore flow and open gates in his or her client’s life. One cause of having one’s gates closed can be Legba feeling neglected or forgotten, or he may be angry at the individual. If you have your gates closed, you will find much trouble in all areas of your life. I was given permission by a personal friend of mine to tell you what had happened to her. Allow me to recount something that happened here a few years ago.
I had someone come here who needed help desperately and fast. She needed to acquire a job so that she could continue living at her father’s house (she was staying there due to being in a financial wreck as well as being evicted) until she gathered the money to move back on her own. Her father was giving her two weeks to get a job or her and her child would be out of a home.
Papa Legba – Gatekeeper Voodoo Lwa
Vodou Lwa Papa Legba She came to me in a state of confusion, anguish and worry. She knew I was a Houngan and although she believed in Vodou she was very ignorant of the subject. She avoided any conversations about it at all, and I never pressed her about it. But this was an emergency, any means necessary was what she had as her motto. So she asked me if there was anything I could do.
I looked her over and said “Yes and I know just who to fix it” “Who?” “St. Lazarus and this is what I will need . . .” and continued to give her a list of supplies that I informed her I would need right away. The next day, she arrived to bring me everything I had told her I would need. I prepared everything and did the work. After I was finished I told her to light a seven day candle I had specially prepared for her, meanwhile she needed to be praying her prayer for work and remind Legba of her promise to him.
She did such and three days later, BOOM . . . a phone call. She just got a job at the location she wanted even though she didn’t think she would’ve really been qualified for the position as she had little experience. She was also making a great wage, which was one of the highest paying positions she’s ever had. I congratulated her and reminded her not to forget her promise to Legba. She thanked me again and said that she did not forget and on her first paycheck she would bring what she owed him.
Well, what did she do? Her first paycheck came and left. She spent all the money and didn’t even pay Legba. Two days after her due date, I left to make a trip to Haiti. By the time I arrived, her life was in shambles. I spoke to her two days after my arrival, I asked her about work.
She told me “I got fired. I don’t live at my Dad’s anymore, I am staying with a friend. I feel tension between us two and Hector, I think she is going to kick me out soon too. I’ve been putting applications and more applications and I can’t get a job. I’m depressed, and I don’t know where me and my son will go to if we get kicked out. My husband started cheating on me and left first, then I got fired, then I got kicked out. What’s wrong with me?” I looked at her “You forgot to pay Legba!”
She said “Oh My God, Oh My God, Oh My God, that is why all this is happening to me. I forgot Hector I really did. When I got my first check, I paid what I had to and spent the extra money. That’s right, it was almost a week after I owed him that all this started. I found out about my husband three days later, I got fired five days after, and then seven days after the due date I was kicked out. I got to pay him, I got to pay him, what is it that I owe him? Oh, sh*t I remember!”
Well then when can I bring them to your House? “Later today around five” I told her. She brought the items to me that same day. I offered them to Papa Legba. Legba added some additional items he wanted as payment for the lateness. She brought them the next day. But . . . Legba gave her a job quickly, he destroyed her life quickly but to put it back together he did that quite a bit slower. While it took him mere days to ruin her, he took a little over a month to put the pieces back together. Shortly after the payments, however, she did start to see an improvement and things getting better.
You see how important it is to keep Legba happy! Legba is needed by everyone including the Lwa. In fact, almost every nation has their own Legba who helps open the road for them. These Legbas are often referred to by the nation they walk with (i.e.: Legba Nago, Legba Kongo, Legba Ibo) but initiates know the true names of these Legbas in order to open the gates to those nations.
But for non-initiates, it suffices for them to know that there are two main Legba. The Legba that serves to open the gate into the Rada rite of Lwa and he who opens for the Petro. The Rada Legba is an old man and is often represented by the image of Lazarus. Lazarus walks on crutches and is accompanied by two dogs. Legba dan Petwo (Legba in Petro) is served with the image of St. Anthony of Padua. This is appropriate as the Petro Legba is young and works with fire. I was cleansed by this Legba with a burning branch at a dance in Haiti.
Legba carries around a straw sack known as a djakout Legba in Haiti. These are special bags in which Legba receives his service. Certain items are placed within the djakout when serving Legba and this also acts as his carrying device for him to place all of his things.
Since Legba is such an important Lwa to get along with, I highly suggest having a djakout to help serve him better. Typically in Haiti, these are hung near the entrance of the peristyle off of a tree. Here, however, you can hang them inside your altar room or near your front entrance if you serve Legba there. Preferably it would be hung, and if you have a crutch for Legba you can even hang it off of that.