Meet the Gods: Papa Legba
Papa Legba is a lao – a spirit in Haitian and Louisiana Voudou – acting as an intermediary between humans and Bondye, the creator god considered to be unknowable to mortals. For that reason, spiritual work is done with the loa much like with angels or saints, however sources indicate they want to be fed and honored before being asked for help.
Papa Legba guards the spiritual crossroads. Because he speaks all languages and has the gift of elocution, he can translate human petitions and decide which to deliver to the loa.
He has evolved from his origins in Dahomey, a precolonial West African kingdom, located in what is now southern Benin, most powerful during the Atlantic Slave Trade (peak years 1740-1810) that brought him to North America. Some see him as a fertility god, portrayed with a large erect phallus that can also signify power and transformation. In other cultures he is a teacher, a warrior, a trickster, a protector of children and a healer. He has been depicted as both male and female and is said to grant forgiveness for crimes against others.
Papa Legba is often consulted to remove obstacles because of his ability to open doors and help find new, positive opportunities, therefore he is associated with crossroads, doors and gates. He can be summoned with a special symbol, with proper offerings and with chanting. Those who find themselves stuck and unable to move forward with life can reach out to him and offer an offering or payment. (More on this below.)
Anastasia Kashian, an artist in Wales, said she made the above prayer card (available on etsy) for Papa Legba because she had difficulty finding an image that conveyed her idea of him on that side of the Atlantic.
“He’s one of the easiest Loa to work with, especially for people coming from outside the traditions of African Diaspora religion, as I do, because as Master of the Crossroads he transcends all boundaries, geographical, temporal, and cultural; he speaks all languages and knows the Gods of every pantheon,” she said.
“Of all spiritual entities, he is perhaps the closest to his human children, whom he loves dearly, although he is not above pranking them from time to time. He loves music, and fun, and dogs (as most deities of the liminal spaces do).
“I like to have a coffee and a chat with him most mornings, and fill his corn-cob pipe for him on Mondays,” Kashian said. “My recommendations on working with him would be – don’t be shy! Share a coffee and some sweets with him, leave some pennies at a place where three or more roads meet, tell him your concerns and listen for his advice. He will move those barriers for you.”
According to author Denise Alvarado, who is quoted in an article on learnreligions.com, Papa Legba “is always the first, and the last spirit invoked in any ceremony because his permission is needed for any communication between mortals and the loa—he opens and closes the doorway to the spirit world.”
In New Orleans Voodoo and Haitian Vodou, Papa Legba appears as an older man, walking with a cane, accompanied by a dog and wearing a tattered clothing and a straw hat.
Typical offerings to Papa Legba include candy (especially chocolate), alcohol (particularly dark rum), pipe tobacco and cigars. Black and red are the colors with which he is associated.
Variations of Legba exist in many traditions including those in Cuba, Brazil and Trinidad. As African practices blended with Catholicism in the New World, Papa Legba came to be syncretized as Saint Peter and Saint Anthony.
Traditions based on initiations to a religion of Voodoo, Voudou, Santeria and other religions have specific protocol that must be followed with working with Papa Legba. Devotees are encouraged to find a tutor.
And for the record, Papa Legba is a recurring character in the television series “American Horror Story,” where he is inaccurately portrayed as demanding a human infant be sacrificed.
When I came across his name for the first time reviewing a book for this site, I had been in a repair facility for three weeks getting my transmission replaced. It’s now been six weeks. Encouraged by Kashian, I drew Papa Legba’s veve, put out a key and a pipe, lit a red candle and offered him chocolate fudge and some tequila. As the candle burned down, I spoke to him, asking for his help opening the road to get me out of here. If I had had a candle like the one below, I would have burned that, too.
Merry part. And merry meet again.
About the Author:
All my life I have known magic was real. As a child, I played with the fae, established relationships with trees and “just knew things.” In my maiden years I discovered witchcraft and dabbled in the black-candles-and-cemeteries-at-midnight-on-a-fullmoon magick just enough to realize I did not understand its power. I went on to explore many practices including Zen, astrology, color therapy, native traditions, tarot, herbs, candle magic, gems, and, as I moved into my mother years, Buddhism, the Kabbalah and Reiki. The first man I dated after my divorce was a witch who reintroduced me to the Craft, this time by way of the Goddess. For 11 years I was in a coven, but with retirement, I have returned to an eclectic solitary practice. When accepting the mantle of crone, I pledged to serve and teach. This is what I do from my skoolie – a 30-year-old school bus converted into a tiny house on wheels that I am driving around the country, following 72-degree weather, emerging myself into nature, and sharing magic with those I meet. Find me at thewitchonwheels.com, Facebook and Instagram.