Quick Look at the Real Papa Legba

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This morning, I posted this question and the reply was unexpected. I haven’t seen American Horror Story, so I didn’t get the reference, but ‘Papa Legba’ definitely stood out. I only know the name from a game I play called Dark Manor: A Hidden Object Mystery. It’s a game that takes place on the Bayou, though nothing you see would actually indicate as such. One hidden object scene you can play is title ‘Papa Legba’s Shack’, though you don’t see Legba or any actually reference to him.

Season 3 of American Horror Story takes place in Louisiana, so the use of Papa Legba started to make some sense to me. Knowing that our popular entertainment has a habit of bastardizing mystical/mythical figures to give off a hint of mystery, I was prompted to do some quick research on Papa Legba.

Veve of Papa Legba

Veve of Papa Legba

Let’s start with something simple. The above graphic is the Veve of Papa Legba. The stars, eyes, crosses and canes are representations of the characteristics of Papa Legba:

Legba is also strongly associated with the sun and is seen as a life-giver, transferring the power of Bondye to the material world and all that lives within it. This further strengthens his role as the bridge between realms.

Although there are various iterations of Papa Legba depending on where Voodoo is practiced, he is still a very much beloved image. He is invoked first and mentioned last in rituals because he is the gatekeeper. Practitioners can not speak to other lwa without going through Legba first.

Apparently, the Papa Legba portrayed in American Horror Story is, like so much of Hollywood mysticism, a complete fabrication.

American Horror Story's Papa Legba

American Horror Story’s Papa Legba

Papa Legba by turpentyne

Papa Legba by turpentyne

Looking at other paintings of Papa Legba, he seems to always have a red skirt, walking stick and 2 dogs. That’s very different from the Hollywood version. In the Western hemisphere, Legba is usually portrayed as an old man, whereas in West African countries, he’s usually a young and sprightly man. Needless to say Voodoo adherents aren’t particularly pleased with his representation in the tv show.

The show, in addition to falsely equating Legba with the Devil, seems to have collapsed his character with that of the Voodoo Lwa Baron Samedi, traditionally depicted with a Top Hat and images of the dead, as he is the ruler of the cemetery. The reality is that Legba is the wise teacher, the communicator between the worlds. I like to call him the gentle guiding paternal influence we all wish we had. [source]

We all know that Hollywood had a great track record on making and messing up non-Christian & Jewish religions, but I don’t think a little research is a bad thing. Speaking of which, I also ran across a great article by LadyGeekGirl on this subject, which offers a lot of history on the African diaspora’s use of religion in the slave strongholds of the Western hemisphere.