Legba’s Gift

Brown hoofs splashed through the marsh-swamps just beyond the open Gates; as I exhaled my reverence, love, and thankfulness through the boundary to those who had just given their offering to me in exchange for my gifts of food, incense, spices, and devotion, my skin slick with henbane ointment, I felt my spirit sent out through those doors between the worlds along with my noncorporeal gifts. It was a startling sensation because I hadn’t sought it out, but realizing I could cross the hedge this way, I clutched the antler blade and stepped through in two more breaths.

Someone was waiting with a knowing, mousy smile on the other side, a familiar face I had not at all expected to grant me the pleasure of her presence a second time. This fair-skinned and brown-haired ancestor of mine, bound in furs and wrapped in a bland skirt against the cold of her native land, smiled with her eyes as I leapt towards her on long stag’s legs and buried my long nose in the warm layers draped over her slender frame as she greeted me with gentle pettings.

As wordlessly as the last time we met in the Otherworld, she guided me over the green hills of the corner of this fantastical realm most familiar to me, and just as I thought she was leading me once more to her village, we took a path to the left into dense but inviting woods. Only a few paces from the treeline was a standing altar, like a stang made from the entire trunk of a fallen tree carved and painted with a wild owl-like face. Without concern for dirtying her skin or garb, she fell to her knees and dug with her tiny hands–five-inch “fairy hands” just like mine–until I saw the glint of silver through the earth. She uncovered and gestured towards the source of this shine, a heart-shaped silver locket which she did not touch. I looked on as she used her body to give praise to the spirit represented in the totem; I could not at all understand the meaning of the locket or why she believed I should know of its presence in spirit-world dirt, but devotion and worship permeate all cultures and language barriers.

This is a problem I have always had in the Otherworld: I can hear no language. On this side of the Gates, I have lengthy conversations with the gods and spirits (especially with Aenghus Mac Óg; he’s a charmer and a sweet-talker); but while I often use my own words there, and while those I meet on the other side always seem to understand (a gift for which I have the Gatekeeper to thank), even if a stranger there attempts to speak to me, their words sound warped and unreal (the gods are a different story; I have heard them quite clearly in that realm). My ancestral guide knows this, I think; she has never tried to tell me a single word, and neither have the stern-looking men outside of the longhouse or the women in the doorways with children clutching at their skirts in her village.

My head began to spin, which had me momentarily nervous that the body my spirit had abandoned for this other place might be compromised, until a great gust of Otherworldly wind picked me up just after my guide had reburied the locket, tucking it back into the earth as she tucked it away into my mind, and took me from this cold forested land to a desert of great sand-dunes as far as the eye could see. My guide’s skin had turned brown, her hair black, short, and kinky, her bleak cold-weather clothing of skins and dull patterned cloth converted into an incredibly vivid, vibrant cloth dress of orange and red. My guide had changed her skin to resemble that of another of my ancestors, and she confirmed this with a nod.

I had need to find Papa Legba while I traveled through this realm, and when I told her this, a dark finger pointed across the desert; she knew why I had come. Perhaps that’s why she’d brought me to this dry place, which resembled the lands where he’s primarily honored. My Otherworldly taxi for this journey scooped me up again and delivered me to le Gran Chemen, the Great Road where I found its old, dark Master with cane in hand, face wrinkled but hinting at the handsomeness of his youth. He stopped his slow walk along this endless path cut through the desert to hand me a straw doll, her legs wrapped in a white-and-green cloth skirt and bound with a spiraling cord, the first gift I have ever been offered in the Otherworld. In the blink of an eye, he was gone.

 Legba’s silence is a challenge, and his gift an invitation to recreate the doll in this world, an action that will invite a reason once it is complete. Don’t ask questions, the Dead had told me earlier through the Tarot. Be ready. We are the ones who are truly waiting for you.

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