The Orisha god of mischief


Alternate Names Echu, Elegba, Elegbara, Ellegua, Esu, Exu, Kalfu, Legba
Pantheon The Orisha
Powers Manipulation Wits Darkness Health Justice Magic Prophecy Psychopomp
Abilities Awareness, Empathy, Larceny, Occult, Politics, Stealth


Eshu is a god of many faces and endless trickery, of chaos and balance and a little bit of everything in between. As the opener of the ways for his pantheon, he is present at every divination ceremony and carries the prayers and offerings of every mortal to the ears of the gods, yet he also demands sacrifices of his own for doing so and is prone to twisting the words of the diviners when angered or amused. He balances the forces of the universe, ensuring that none become so powerful that they overwhelm each other, yet he also acts as the most malicious and heartless brand of justice among the gods, visiting vengeance on those who have erred, often far out of proportion to their sin. He delights in mischief and mayhem, regularly vexes his fellow gods as much as he does humanity, and is in all things a spirit of chaotic change and danger. Eshu wears as many faces and names as most others wear clothes, but all of them are similarly whimsical.

Eshu and the Hat

There were once two friends who lived on adjacent farms, who were so close that they spent every day together, even wearing the same clothes. They had been told in a divination to make a sacrifice to Eshu, but they forgot to do so and he in turn determined to destroy their friendship. He fashioned himself a hat that was white on one side and red on the other, and then put his clothes on backwards and stuck a pipe at the nape of his neck before walked down between the two farms, bidding both men good morning. The two men began talking about the strange man who had passed by, but found that they could not agree on what color hat he had been wearing or which direction he had been walking. They grew so angry with one another that they came to blows and had to be separated by their neighbors, who brought them before the king for judgment. Both were adamant that they were in the right, but as the argued in the court, Eshu appeared to all of them mockingly, showing off his cap and delighting in their upset. Thereafter no one in the kingdom forgot to make sacrifice to Eshu, and the two men remained friends for the rest of their lives.

Eshu and the King

Eshu noticed one day that many of the other gods were kings and decided that he wanted to rule a kingdom also. He disguised himself as a rich merchant and paused at a king’s palace, asking for shelter for the night. The king agreed wholeheartedly, but Eshu also presented him with an empty wooden box, inside which he said there was a wondrous treasure that must be kept safe. The king obligingly put a guard on the box for him, but after everyone had gone to sleep, Eshu set fire to the palace and burned half of it to the ground. Eshu then immediately called upon the king to demand his treasure back, but it could not be located because it was in the part of the palace that had burned. Eshu proceeded to threaten him so soundly that he was cowed, and lacking any money he was forced to give up the throne to Eshu to pay him back.

Eshu and the Murders

The king of another land neglected to sacrifice enough to Eshu to appease him, so he decided to destroy him. He went secretly to one of the king’s wives who was feeling neglected and told her that if she brought him a hair from the king’s beard, he would make her a love charm that made her the favorite. He then also went to the king’s oldest son and told him that the king was going to march to war during the night and wanted him to bring all his warriors and meet him. Finally, he went to the king and told him that one of his wives was planning to kill him. When the king went to bed that night, he indeed saw his wife approaching him with a knife, with which she had intended to cut off a hair from his beard. He leaped out of bed and seized the knife from her, but his son outside heard the screaming coming from the room and rushed in with his soldiers, and when he saw his father with the knife believed he was intending to kill his mother. The king, in turn, saw his son burst in with armed warriors and believed he was trying to usurp the throne, and there was utter chaos until everyone had died in the confusion.

Eshu and Shango

Shango was very powerful and enjoyed boasting to all who heard him that there was no god he could not defeat. One day he did so within Eshu’s earshot, and Eshu cheerfully asked if that statement included him. Realizing his error and that Eshu could make his life miserable, he immediately apologized and explained that he had meant all other gods except Eshu, who was obviously in a category by himself.

Eshu and the Wives

Eshu saw once that a man with two wives was living in harmony and that all were happy, and since he found this unsatisfactory he decided to turn them against one another. He fashioned an incredibly beautiful feathered hat and took it to market, where he sold it to one of the wives. When she wore it, its enchanted beauty so captivated her husband that she instantly became his favorite, much to the annoyance of his other wife. Eshu then made another hat, even finer than the first, and sold it to the second wife, who used it to sway her husband’s affection back toward her. Over and over Eshu did this, giving first one wife and then the other the finest hat and completely addling the man’s senses; then, when he was sure they would never cease quarreling, he ceased going to the market. The wives were unable to buy any better hats and consequently began to simply argue over their husband, who could not understand why his house had become so filled with strife.

Eshu and Orunmila

Orunmila once set out to visit the kingdom of Owo. Normally he learned about possible perils on the road ahead of time by performing a divination, but two attempts at learning the future had strangely told him nothing and he was in a hurry. On the first day that he traveled, he met his friend Eshu, who was departing from Owo; on the second day, again he met Eshu, who was again departing from Owo. He thought it was very strange that Eshu should have appeared again when he had been going the opposite direction, but he was still in a hurry and ignored it, even when he again met Eshu, departing from Owo, on the third day of his travels. On the fourth day, Eshu, who was enjoying the sport of confusing his friend, placed some fresh fruits on the trail leading to Owo and again passed him as if departing the place. Orunmila had had a long and tiring journey, so when he saw the fruit he took it up and ate it, quenching his hunger and thirst. As he was eating, however, a farmer with a knife emerged and accused him of stealing his fruit, which he denied, saying he had found it. The farmer did not believe him and cut his hand with the knife in the ensuing struggle.

Saddened that he would be considered a thief, Orunmila fell asleep beneath the stars; in the dead of night, Eshu, who had seen everything, sneaked into Owo and cut the hands of every person who lived there. When he again met Orunmila in the morning, the god accused Eshu of tricking him to have him branded as a thief, but Eshu persuaded him to enter the city anyway. The farmer who had accused Orunmila of thievery saw him coming and demanded they go before the king to be judged; when they did so, the farmer declared that he knew him to be the thief because of the cut in his hand. Eshu, however, laughingly told them that by that proof everyone in Owo was a thief. Orunmila was profusely apologized to, and Eshu went on his way cheerfully, having tricked both his friend and an entire city.

Eshu and Olodumare

Long ago, Olodumare the greatest of the gods, lived among the other Orisha. His son, Eshu, carried out his will; if he wished something good done for the people, Eshu achieved it, while if he wished ill upon them Eshu undertook to see it happen. Eshu found that the people avoided him and thought him to be evil because of the things that he did in Olodumare’s service, however, and he went to the great god to complain. Olodumare told him that this was something he would have to accept, since it would never change.

Angry at this answer, Eshu overheard Olodumare decree to the people that anyone who stole his yams would be harshly punished; in the dead of night, Eshu put on his father’s shoes and stole through the garden, taking all the yams. In the morning, Olodumare was furious that the yams were gone and demanded that they find the culprit, but no one’s feet matched the prints in the garden; at last, they found that his own shoes matched them, and he believed that he had stolen his own yams in her sleep. Humiliated, he withdrew from the people and the other Orisha for good, asking only that Eshu remember to tell him how things were going from time to time; thereafter, Eshu did as he pleased.

Eshu and Oshun

When Oshun possessed all the wealth of the gods and refused to share it, Eshu rose to her challenge and determined to make her lose it all. He made five beautiful dolls, and inviting her to his house showed her how they magically danced, sang and played like living things. Enraptured by the cunning dolls, Oshun was happy to pay all her money to Eshu to possess them; but when she took them home, they became lifeless wood again, for it was only Eshu who had made them dance.

Eshu and Orunmila’s Death

Though all gods came to Orunmila for advice and divinations, he seldom went to any others, answering all his questions by divining for himself or calling on Eshu to help him. One day, however, he decided to buy a new slave without consulting Eshu, and Eshu was in turn to insulted by this dismissal that he determined to kill him. First, he waited until the dead of night and strangled the slave to death; in the morning, everyone knew it had been Eshu but no one could prove it, and it was thought that the matter would be settled there. The next night, Eshu crept into Orunmila’s house, intending to do the same to him, but he found that it was impossible and he could not convince his hands to close a rope on his fellow god’s neck. Olodumare then spoke to him from the heavens and explained that it was impossible for him to kill the god of divination; the two of them were linked together for all time, and anything that happened to Orunmila would also happen to Eshu. Eshu was forced to forget his grievance and become friends with Orunmila again.


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