In the 1987 movie “The Believers” staring Martin Sheen as police psychiatrist Cal Jamison, there is scene that is probably one of the most violent scenes of destruction I’ve ever witnessed. Cal Jamison is a new bachelor whose wife recently passed. He hires a Spanish speaking housekeeper to help him look after his son Chris, played by Harley Cross. The woman is neck deep into the Santeria form of the ancient Yoruba practice. The housekeeper starts to pick up on some of the evil vibes in the house and starts to leave spiritual tokens around. Mr. Jamison is angry. He tells the housekeeper to keep her voodoo crap out of his house and away from his son.
But the woman has more compassion than she has sense. She sticks an Esu statue under the boy’s bed. Mr. Jamison finds it and takes it to the housekeeper. He’s furious. He physically grabs the woman and starts to throw her out of his house. He then takes the Esu, raises him high over his head, and throws him to the floor with all his furious might. I literally screamed when I saw it. My family and I were watching the movie off of a DVD when I had to tell them to stop it. I had to take a second to actually comprehend what I just saw. The Esu broke into pieces. It was not a pretty sight for any Ifa or Santeria devotee.
That movie helped me to come to terms with the reality of the Orisa we call Esu or Elegba. Esu is often referred to the trickster or in many respects, some people refer to him as the Lucifer that all of us with any experience in Christianity have been warned about. In fact, in the movie Crossroads featuring Ralph Macchio as Eugene Martone, Willie Brown, played by Joe Seneca, stood at the crossroads and demanded to see ‘Legba. The next thing he knew he was transported into a world of varying shades of black and bright reds, Esu’s colors. Eugene was about to go head to head with ‘Legba’s best guitarist in a contest where the winner takes all the souls on the table. Crossroads is a modern interpretation of the story of Robert Johnson who sold his soul to the devil in order to become the best blues guitarist in the world. Robert Johnson became the best. But in classic irony he was the best at the blues because he suffered so much pain in his life. A classic example of being careful of what you wish for. But the point I wanted to make is that this story is just propaganda. Baba Esu, Elegba, or ‘Legba, doesn’t collect souls.
In the Ifa spiritual tradition, Esu is the Orisa that opens the door to our spiritual path. He is the first step for spiritual enlightenment. Why would such an entity charged with such a responsibility work to lure us off our path to make us fall short of our spiritual goal? Like many aspects of spirituality that are handed down through the traditional processes of Ifa, it doesn’t make much sense.
While it is true that he is the first Orisa on our path he is far from being some trickster or some devil. Like all Orisas Baba Esu takes his job very seriously. He isn’t about to lead someone through the doorway that leads to their spiritual development only to lure people off that path later on. All he would be doing is making more work for himself. And trust me, Baba doesn’t need more work. There are so many people who are in so much desperate need to find their spirituality it’s ridiculous. All of the Orisas are here to help us in this struggle for enlightenment in this physical world. How Baba developed this reputation is beyond me. It might be beyond Baba himself.
Most Orisas are aspects of nature. Baba Sango is associated with thunder and lightening. Iya Oya is the Orisa of wind. Baba Olokun is the Orisa of the ocean depths while Iya Yemonja is the Orisa of the upper ocean. But Baba Esu is one of the Orisas that isn’t so easy to recognize in our natural environment. For lack of a better way of putting it, he’s more flexible in his physical manifestations in our level of existence. Baba has the ability to make an appearance in more ways than we can count. I seriously doubt if he’ll lead you off path. But Baba can surely make you regret going the wrong way if you do cross him. What will he do? The better question is what wouldn’t he do? Those minor accidents people suffer that cause really big headaches are a pretty good example of the mischief he could cause if he so desired. Good thing Baba isn’t here to cause mischief for mischief’s sake.
Baba Esu has a wonderful sense of humor. But it isn’t exactly devilish. He likes a good joke and can appreciate a good laugh just as much as anyone else. And Baba is the quintessential chocoholic. That part of his character that the tradition teaches is very true. He likes a variety in his chocolate. And things with caramel are a favorite. Snickers are cool, but he can appreciate a Twix and an Almond Joy every now and then. I’ve discovered what works best for Baba is to invest in one of those big bags with a variety of little chocolate bars. And Baba loves cigars as well. And it’s always cool to give Baba an ebo with rum.
You can never have too many Esu/Elegba statues. We have about a dozen in our house. One for each room, the car, and everybody has their own pocket Esu. Baba likes to get around. Baba is playful but he is also very respectful of others. He is not to be feared. I suggest you open your own dialog with Esu and learn for yourself what he is like. But do yourself a favor and leave all the baggage you may have already learned about him at the door. Baba doesn’t have time to sit around and make plans to lure the unsuspecting. People are more than capable of falling off their path without any interference from anyone else, especially an Orisa. If we fall off of our path it is only because when we were presented with an option of what path to take, most of us are more than willing to stray off path. Staying on path takes hard work and many of us don’t have the fortitude to do what’s right. No one has to be tricked into straying.
People blaming Baba for their own bad choices is just one of the ways we stray off path. When we take responsibility for our spirituality, the good and the bad, Baba, like all Orisas, will be there to help us. He doesn’t have time for tricks. Tricks are for kids.