One of the primary spirits worked with in Quimbanda is Exu, the Lord of Magic who is surrounded with much mystery. The nature of Exu (pronouched “Eshoo”) is complicated to behold and often his reality is hidden as a mystery of the cult and revealed only to the devotees who fully initiate into those mysteries or show themselves to be worthy. Outsiders wishing to glimpse his mysteries will at best be granted but an iota of his Truth and at worse taken for a ride for lacking the proper spiritual backing (initiation and proper guidance) in approaching him. It should be noted that Exu, despite the name he has adopted, is not the Eshu or Ellegua of the Yoruba traditions. If nothing else, Exu can be seen as the Lord of Reality and the Master of Macumba for his ability to carry out spells and works of sorcery are truly unparalleled.
Quimbandieros view Exu as the spiritual descendent of Pambujila, the Bantu crossroads deity and Kadiempembe the raw power of the creator manifested in the physical. Therefore he is the first child of Nsambi the creator, who created Pambujila to reach into the darkness with his fire and go where even Nsambi could not. In this view, Quimbanda can be seen as the descendent of the Kongo and Angolan cults of the nkisi Pambujila and Kalunga, the sea of Ancestors who are transformed into Exu and Omolu respectively in Brazil.
Exu is the force of creation, transformation, movement, and the power to change destiny. He represents the contact between the world of the unfathomable and the power to access that world. He is a being with one foot in both worlds and therefore is the linchpin of creation and its shaper. Through him the Tata can work powerful magic that change the very destinies of man.
In addition to being associated with these primal forces, Exu is also the sum of the dead priests of the cult; the ancestral teachers of Quimbanda who have passed on and returned to guide other devotees. These spirits merge with the forces of nature and give face to the liminal. Through this, his nature can be seen as similar to the calundu spirits of Angola and the nkuyu of Kongo. They are spirits who have resonated with the fire of Quimbanda throughout the river time and become sparks of creation through which reality is born into existence. Exu is the primal and chthonic spirit of fire who embodies the night and brings creation even into the darkest of realms while drawing his spark from the infernal and primordial. In this way he is like the saint but inverse. Where the saint withdraws from life and ascends with Light, Exu wades into life and brings the Light of creation into the world. In fact, where other spirits of the African Diaspora adopted the saints as their masks, Exu’s fire could only be contained in the mask of devils and demons complete with horns and tridents. Such is part of his mystery and the taking on of such devilish masks reveals a hint of the true depths of his fire and power.
Exu is the guardian that stands at all places of power, representing the liminal state between this and that. We find him at the crossroads, in the forest, at the cemetery, doorways, at taverns and even along shorelines; wherever there is an exchange, a change, or movement. He is at every place where the worlds meet and sparks fly. He is the power that has been birthed by Nsambi that connects the material world with the world of spirit. He incarnates from time to time into life while inspiring the lives of others.
Exu is a spirit of night, fire, and sorcery. He is truly legion and his power to work magic and transform the very fabric of reality makes him among the most powerful and effective allies and the wisest of tutors. He is tied directly to the passions and desires of man, linked to our psyche, especially our shadow. Because of this, walking his path is a line that can lead those weak of character or those easily swayed and obsessive into madness and insanity. But to those individuals of unshakable character and whose spirit burns with fire, Exu can uplift them to lofty states granting wisdom and purging transformation for he is the mirror through which self-understanding takes place. To those he takes as his people, he stands as guardian, guide, and worker of miracles. To his enemies, he can truly be a devil that unleashes unstoppable devastation.
And so Exu is the spirit, born first of Nsambi, tied to the crossroads and liminal and the spirits of dead sorcerers and Tatas, who embodies the purging and searing flames of the infernal sparking through the darkness of night to bring life and power to creation who is called upon by the living sorcerers of Quimbanda to work magic, mystery, and power.
When he manifests in the temple, terreiro, cabula, or nzila he comes down in a blaze. He speaks truth and power to those with the courage to listen and gives solace and strength to those who seek him out. At the time of power when the clock strikes midnight he roars into life dancing, drinking, smoking and granting his blessings and mysteries to the worthy. Sometimes he is the keeper of riddles and at times a trickster, but always he is a force of transformation and growth. Some of his offerings include marafo, cigars, candles, menga, knives, and tridents. He is called with offerings, songs, and pontos riscados and responds quickly to those who know how to call him.
Through his priests and mediums he receives his children who seek out his help. To some he gives a word of advice, to others he grants boons, and to others he carries out works of magic to save them from the hardships of their lives. Whether it is love, money, protection, or vegeance, Exu accepts them all and grants without judgement, but always with wisdom for he understands the plight of man.
The entryway for each person into Quimbanda is their personal Exu. The priests and sorcerers of Quimbanda, work through the intermediary of their personal Exu who is teacher, guide, and protector on the path. To work Quimbanda without your personal Exu is like working in the dark and invites the dangers this path holds. Some without knowledge will think Quimbanda as nothing more than a catalog of spirits that can be picked and chosen at random, these people will find themselves lost. For the central focal point of the entire cult is the relationship between the votive and their personal Exu.
Each Exu is divided into various legions according to the Kingdom they are found in and the Line to which they belong. They stand as guardians of the kingdoms, mysteries, and spheres of life and magic. Exu is the primal force that first stirred the waters of creation and who is legion in number and terrible in might.
Exu is legion, but some common ones are:
Exu Rei das Sete Encruzilhadas
Exu Trana Rua
Exu Meia Noite
Exu Capa Preta
Exu Tata Caveira
Exu Ze Pilintra
Exu is the King of Life, the Master of Macumba, and the Lord of Destiny.