Papa Legba: the voodoo god of magic and crossroads

Practitioners of Haitian Vodou believe in a creative being called Bondye (which could be translated into French as “Good God”).

However, this supreme creator does not intervene in human affairs. For this, he has loas, spirits at his service, who act as intermediaries between Bondye and the human world.

Among all the multitude of existing loas, Papa Legba is undoubtedly the most important in the voodoo tradition. He is the guardian of the passages between the human world and that of the spiritual.

In fact, no one can reach spirits or even other loas without them agreeing to act as an intermediary.

Contents :

Papa Legba: a voodoo loa with multiple influences…

… but with predominantly African roots!

Appearance of Papa Legba

The roles and functions of Papa Legba

The respect necessary for the invocation rituals of Papa Legba

Why practice a ritual of invoking Papa Legba?

Papa Legba in pop culture

American Horror Story: a TV series putting Papa Legba in the spotlight

Several books containing voodoo sources

Papa Legba: a voodoo loa with multiple influences…

Voodoo is a sort of great mixture of traditions from very diverse backgrounds.

In addition to all African animist spiritualities, it is very clearly the influence of Catholicism that has had the most weight.

This diversity is actually found in just about every voodoo lucky charm.

Bondye, the supreme creator, is in fact directly derived from the God of the Christians.

The loas can in some way be seen as saints (this is particularly true in the way voodoo practitioners venerate it).

With this in mind, a parallel is often established between Papa Legba and Saint-Pierre, the guardian of the gates of Paradise.

Others associate him rather with Lazarus, a lame beggar depicted in the Bible, or with Saint-Antoine, patron saint of lost objects.

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…but with predominantly African roots!

However, most of those who have studied voodoo agree that the figure of Papa Legba does indeed originate from Africa, and more precisely from the kingdom of Dahomey (present-day Benin).

Indeed, given that it is from this region that the slaves brought to America came, most of the roots of voodoo find their source in the West of the African continent.

When local tribal people were captured and enslaved, they kept many of their gods and protective spirits with them.

The voodoo deity Papa Legba is one of them.

Slave owners worried about potential rebellions. They therefore often separated slaves into groups of individuals from different regions.

Thus, the language barrier prevented them from communicating effectively with each other.

However, many deities were common to several regions, and therefore served as points of convergence between slaves.

Papa Legba is one of them.

It therefore quickly found a place in the belief system of slaves in Haiti and the Caribbean, as well as in the Southeastern United States.

Haitian painting showing two children on a plantation

Appearance of Papa Legba

The appearance of this voodoo loa has evolved in many ways since its departure from Africa, where animist traditions prevailed.

Initially, he was seen as the god of fertility, and was often represented by an erect phallus.

Nowadays, each form of voodoo has its own way of representing it.

This loa will therefore not be described to you in the same way if you speak to a Haitian or a resident of New Orleans.

There are, however, some commonalities that we can talk about.

This voodoo loa is most often depicted as a poor old man, wearing a straw hat, dressed in rags and smoking a pipe.

He is also often accompanied by dogs.

Lame, he must rely on a crutch or a cane to be able to walk.

Even if the description given to you here may make you think of a weak or even downright senile being, this is not the case!

Papa Legba is actually one of the most powerful gods in the Vodou tradition.

If he walks with a limp, it is because he walks in two worlds at the same time, that of the living and that of spirits.

The cane on which he leans in an unusual cane: it is in fact the bridge between these two distinct universes.

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The roles and functions of Papa Legba

Author Denise Alvarado about it:

...he stands at a spiritual crossroads and grants or denies permission to speak with the spirits of Guinea, he is also believed to speak all human languages. He is always the first and last spirit invoked in any ceremony because his permission is necessary for all communication between the dead or loas. It opens and closes the door to the spirit world. »

A crossroads, Papa Legba's favorite place

The voodoo loa of doors and crossroads

In the Haitian Voodoo belief system, Papa Legba is therefore a loa.

Its main function is to be the master of crossroads and gates. Thus, it is he who serves as an intermediary between men and the universe of spirits.

Legba actually eliminates the obstacles that separate us from this other world. Symbolically, he stands at a spiritual crossroads, and grants or denies permission to communicate with the spirits of the ancients.

Thanks to its ability to open doors and new roads, an invocation of Papa Legba can also sometimes reveal new opportunities. ..

Whatever it is, the fact is that this loa stands well “at the crossroads”. It therefore occupies an essential role on which a huge part of the voodoo belief system is based.

He is the intermediary, the messenger and without him the door to the spirit world would remain closed to anyone trying to communicate with heaven.

Two people who communicate by touching their fingers, under the patronage of Papa Legbaa

The voodoo loa of communication

As it serves as an intermediary between the spirits of the entire planet, this loa is believed to be able to speak all the languages ​​of men and spirits.

He must in fact understand everything that is said to him in order to then be able to retranslate it between those who wish to enter into correspondence.

We can truly describe him as a “ master communicator ” and a great teacher.

In addition to his abilities as a translator, the voodoo loa Papa Legba also has a gift of eloquence. He is therefore sometimes asked to help us improve our communication and the way we express ourselves.

For example, politicians or lawyers will most often make this type of request.

Woman calling her two friends with a megaphone

The loa that calls all others

In Haitian Vodou and that of New Orleans, this divinity is therefore the intermediary between the loas and humanity.

Without him, no loa can hear our call.

Without his help, any ritual seeking to bring one to receive his blessings would be in vain.

There can no longer be any opening or closing of doors.

For all these reasons, it is appropriate to honor him above all other loas.

In fact, every voodoo ceremony always begins and ends with an invocation of Papa Legba, because his permission is necessary for all communication between mortals and loas.

Papa Legba walking down the street with his voodoo cane

And so ?

We can learn a few lessons from all this:

  • The voodoo loa Papa Legba is therefore a great communicator (he speaks all the languages ​​of the world and the gods).
  • No communication with the spirits can occur without his agreement (he alone can open the door to other spirits and loas who wish to access the human world).
  • All voodoo ceremonies and rituals must first begin with an offering intended for him, so that he opens the door and lets the other spirits enter into communication with us.

Even if he commands respect, he remains a benevolent and fatherly figure. Plus, he usually doesn't require much to be pacified. It's not a very demanding spirit.

However, keep in mind that Papa Legba is considered a great trickster, and a lover of puzzles.

Sometimes the messages he sends to us can therefore be misunderstood. There generally remains a doubt because the meaning is hidden behind willful confusion.

Voodoo altar filled with offerings to Papa Legba

The respect necessary for the invocation rituals of Papa Legba

All loas have negative sides and can show them if not treated well enough.

When invoking Papa Legba like all other loas, you will always have to show great respect, even downright veneration, so that he remains benevolent towards you.

If he guards the door between the worlds, what could stop him from letting malevolent spirits be unleashed on you?

To show their respect, voodoo practitioners generally offer him payment in exchange for his help. Voodoo lucky charms used as offerings may include:

  • candy
  • chocolate
  • alcohol (especially dark rum)
  • pipe tobacco
  • cigars
  • Coffee
  • cane syrup

Know, however, that he is sometimes satisfied by simply being thanked for having opened the doors as we asked him.

We might as well tell you that compared to certain other loas, it really doesn't ask for much!

Large fire made in honor of the voodoo loas.

Why practice a ritual of invoking Papa Legba?

If you are having trouble continuing to move forward in your life, if you are stuck at the crossroads of several paths, this voodoo loa is the one you need to contact.

However, don't forget, as mentioned above, that he will always expect payment in one form or another.

Like all other loas, it is represented by a veve, that is to say a voodoo lucky charm supposed to allow us to enter into communication with it.

You can also find an example here, with this amulet from Papa Legba.

Most of the people who work with him are related to New Orleans Vodou, Haitian Vodou or Santeria.

There are very specific ways to get in touch with Papa Legba. Many arise from initiatory traditions with a long and difficult journey.

Revealing them without prior preparation of several years could even be downright dangerous.

Black bluesman on stage, and who undoubtedly respects the voodoo tradition.

Papa Legba in pop culture

This voodoo deity has made numerous appearances in films and series.

We could notably cite “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman or “Witches Abroad” by Terry Pratchett.

His qualities as a crossroads deity made him a recurring subject of blues at the beginning of the 20th century.

According to a legend spread in the Mississippi Delta, the famous musician Robert Johnson performed an invocation of Papa Legba and offered him his soul in exchange for musical success.

Although over time the story was twisted to speak more of an encounter between Johnson and the devil, local folklore preferred to speak of some advice received in exchange for a song played on the guitar.

Whatever the case, this legend was the subject of numerous interpretations, and is a major theme of the musical movement known as “ Delta Blues ”.

Although we may think otherwise at first, most blues songs from this era do not seek to invoke either the devil or any voodoo loa.

In fact, it is quite simply the social suffering linked to the condition of black people at that time that is expressed.

Old style American television.

American Horror Story: a TV series putting Papa Legba in the spotlight

In the show American Horror Story, Papa Legba (played to perfection by the very good actor Lance Reddick ) is presented as the guardian of the spirit world.

This therefore corresponds quite well to the reality of Haitian beliefs.

American Horror Story therefore presents us with Papa Legba as a very powerful god... who would even be capable of granting the wishes of those who ask him!

In the series, Marie Laveau, for example, obtained immortality following a contract made with him.

Be careful though: this had a price. Marie Laveau had to sell her soul, and for the deal to hold, she must also sacrifice a life every year.

A divinity working with the forces of evil, Papa Legba nevertheless knows how to remain fair : in the series, he always explains the ends of his “contracts” and warns those who want the passes of the dangers.

In short, if you want to discover this Lao voodoo from a new angle, watch the American Horror Story series!

Lucky charm featured in this article

Amulet of Papa Legba

Amulet of Papa Legba

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author picture(Cyril Gendarme)

Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.