from Chapter 7
They say if you go down to the crossroads alone, and wait for that brief moment when night turns to dawn, you might see the old man sitting there. Even if you don't see him you might smell the faint aroma of his pipe tobacco, or see the shadow of his crutch, or hear his deep merry chuckle. Sometimes he gives you things: sometimes he takes things from you. Only one thing is certain: once you've gone to see him, you'll never be the same again. Some say the old man is the devil himself: others say he's an angel sent from heaven, and still others call him the Lurker at the Threshold. If you ask him about this, he'll tell you "yes." And then he'll chuckle to himself, his eyes brighter than the waning stars as he puffs on his pipe and dawn becomes daybreak.
The crossroads is the point where possibilities intersect, the point where we must make a choice. If we choose to travel down one path, we have also chosen not to travel on the other.
The cosmology of various African tribes has always placed great importance on the crossroads, and on the meeting-points of heaven and earth. For them the cross did not represent the crucifixion, but the creation of the universe.
At first glance, Legba appears like an unassuming old man. Accompanied only by his faithful dogs, he leans against his cane for support as he limps down the road. With nothing to his name but shabby clothes, a corncob pipe, and a straw bag, you might mistake him for a beggar. But when you are dealing with Legba, you must remember that appearances can be deceiving. The cane he leans against is actually the poto mitan, the gateway between heaven and earth by which the Lwa enter ceremonies. He limps not because he is crippled but because his feet are in different worlds--the material kingdom and the land of spirit.
Legba is the first one saluted at any Vodou ceremony. Since he is the keeper of the gateway, no spirit can enter the peristyle without his permission. He is the one who facilitates communication with the spirit world. Houngans and Mambos say that Legba knows all the languages of man and gods. He is the one who brings our messages to God and to the other lwa . . . and the one who brings their responses to us. In this he resembles the Greek Hermes . . . and, like the Greek Hermes, he can be a trickster. We must remember that Legba is the Great Communicator, but also the Great Miscommunicator. He is fond of riddles, paradox and ambiguity. He allows us to speak with the gods, but often plays tricks with their messages. He gives diviners a glimpse into the future, knowing full well they will misinterpret his statements. In yet another of the paradoxes so beloved by Legba, he governs both destiny and uncertainty.
Legba's homeplace is itself a crossroads, where various cultures and traditions have mingled for centuries. Long before the Yoruba and Fon peoples were brought together in chains to St. Dominique, they were trading, making war and exchanging ideas religious and otherwise. In downtown Cotonou, a gas station has gone up beside a famous shrine to Legba. At "Station Legba," as the sign says, you can fuel up and leave a priest instructions to pray for you. (I have no doubt that Legba finds this endlessly entertaining.)
Legba does not demand a lot from those who serve him. An occasional cup of black coffee, some grilled corn or peanuts, and a little tobacco for his corncob pipe will make him happy. Other offerings which he may like include cane syrup, palm oil, plantains, salt cod, yams, gin, rum, and cassava bread. To warm his old bones, you may want to add a liberal sprinkling of cayenne to his food.
You can use an image of St. Lazarus to represent Legba: they are readily available in most Haitian and Cuban Botanicas. You can also represent him with a scarf of the appropriate color, or with his vévé.
Before you honor any other lwa, you must honor Legba. This doesn't have to be fancy, elaborate or drawn-out. All you need do is sprinkle a few drops of cane syrup or some other drink of his choice on the ground, give him a cup of coffee or some roasted corn, or even say "Legba, please open the door for me. You remember me: I gave you [offering] on Monday [or whenever else you fed Legba]." When you do this, you ensure that he will "open the door" and let the other spirits through. If you forget to do this, he will not bring your offerings to the other lwa until you've provided him with appropriate payment and respect.
WORKING WITH LEGBA
Legba is not difficult to please. If you give him some spare change, some peanuts or candy, a bag in which he can keep his belongings, or a crutch to help him along his way he will generally be satisfied. Of course, if he does something really special for you, you can reciprocate in kind: give him a nice statue, or have a Houngan or Mambo prepare him a "Makout Legba," a special bag that contains his things and which has been activated by ceremonial means. If you can, you may want to keep a shrine to Legba by your door. He will guard the gate and bring you good fortune, while sending bad things elsewhere.
Before you ask Legba for any favors, remember that he has a keen sense of humor and loves taking you by surprise. When he comes through for you, it's likely to be in a totally unexpected and surprising way. He may even make you feel like a fool on occasion. If this happens, the best thing to do is laugh with him and learn from the experience.