Sunday, March 31, 2013

Exu Ganga • Exu Mulambo

Ponto Riscado of Exu Ganga

Quimbanda is a tricky beast. It has become increasingly popular to use Exus and Pomba Giras in Western Occultism as spirits-for-hire as one would use the Goetic retinue of spirits, and it seems there are even strange hybrid systems used by people who have never learned the system from a traditional house, but rather from scant information in books. At its simplest, Quimbanda is a pseudo-religious Kongolese derived system which centers around spirit contact, possession and pragmatic work, and the spirits mainly used are known as Exu (if male) and Pomba Gira (if female), and are also addressed, quite literally, as the Devil and his wife. It incorporates a healthy dose of European Demonology and Witchcraft, as well as many indigenous beliefs and styles of working. It is a cult of brutal honesty that writhes in the consciousness of its initiates. There is a reputation of it being low-life black magic (a reputation that has also become somewhat romanticized), but, also, it is a system that when embraced fully can make one confront their own shadow and through upright character and being steadfast, illuminate it. We must become masters of ourselves and our spirits, or, we will become slave to our baser nature and the spirits both.

Beyond the normal confusion of misequating Exu of Quimbanda with Eshu of Orisha, and the normal bickering of who does Quimbanda better in the various houses, what is held in common are the Exus and Pomba Giras themselves. Every house may have slightly different interpretations, but these spirits are alive and well in Brazil. They can be tested, and will test in return. 

Let me be clear - I am initiated in Quimbanda, I have seen how different traditional houses work, in tandem with Candomblé and Umbanda, and as its own system. My Quimbanda house is de raiz, and works with Exu and Pomba Gira as their own entities without attaching orixá or the Law of Umbanda. Several of us in the house are initated to various forms of orisha worship and other ATR's, but Quimbanda is worked on its own terms. Again, Exu of Quimbanda is NOT Eshu the orisha. Or Legba for that matter. (See Santeria Church of the Orishas' excellent post for more detailed differentiation). But ultimately, Exus and Pomba Giras have their own agenda, and just as their nature is truly mercurial, the cult manifests in equally mercurial ways - as my Tatá says, "There are as many Quimbandas as there are Exus." But this was supposed to just be a quick intro that allowed me to then discuss a specific Exu, so...

I have had many conversations recently about a particular Exu known as Exu Ganga, or Exu Mulambo. He is a much misunderstood Exu - I say this because I have come to greatly respect his ability and steadfastness. His name, Ganga, is a reference to being a healer (nganga: healer-diviner-priest in kikongo). As an epithet in Quimbanda though, 'Ganga' is used to describe dozens of Exus and Pomba Giras, all speaking of their healing power and ability to affect change in the lives of those who come to them. So what makes this particular Exu singularly 'Ganga'? For me, it speaks of his great power to return both body and place to balance and equilibrium.

A traditional depiction of Exu Mulambo in plaster.
He lacks his traditional attributes here, but this is
 perhaps the most widely available statue of this Exu.
Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold's excellent Exu & the Quimbanda of Night and Fire describes him as a cemetery Exu, who can cause great disruption, has a wide array of talents, and is good for bringing about death as well as great works of healing, especially those of a terminal condition. His colors are black, grey, and red, and he often manifests with the smell of rotting flesh. He is tied into the mysteries of the Pomba Gira known as Maria Mulambo. He is dressed in rags and his attributes are a trident and a skull. He can also be found at dumpsters, and most notably for me "can be called upon to expel negativity and dross from workings and from complicated situations that need a solution".

Here is the key. What I have come to appreciate about him is that he is a true abukenke. Okay, so this is a borrowed term from Lucumí (and ultimately, Yoruba), and after all that talk that Exu Quimbanda is not Eshu Orishá, bear with me here. Abukenke, I have been told, means something like "he who makes himself a hunchback" - i.e. carries a heavy load, and is a term applied to warrior orishas that take the ebbo/sacrifice out to its proper place in nature to be discarded. It is most often heard applied to Eshu-Elegba, but is said to apply to Elegba, Ogún, and Ochosí equally. They have the ashé to not let the ebbo contaminate them while disposing of it, ashé that extends to their omo. It is a gift not to be overlooked. As a child of Obatalá, I greatly appreciate the role of abukenke in Ocha. But back to Quimbanda (are you still with me?) - Ganga is the perfect abukenke; he has the ability to be surrounded by trash as not become it. He is, in fact, that force in the cemetery that allows the body to decompose, to rot, and ultimately to become one with the land. He takes the decay and rot and brings it to the greater absorbing force, the land itself. He makes the poison of death neutral through his particular axé. He is less of a warrior and more a huge preserver of balance and equilibrium. He is a healer for this reason - he can find the disease and neutralize it. He is especially strong in terminal diseases, such as cancer, and life-long diseases such as HIV/AIDS. He helps the body return to a natural state of health. What a fantastic force.

In Nicholaj's equally valuable Pomba Gira and the Quimbanda of Mbumba Nzila, he gives instructions for accessing the axé of Exu Ganga through a stone in such a manner that it can then be put by one's front entrance as a stabilizing force of equilibrium, allowing that-which-needs-to-go-out and that-which-needs-to-come-in to take their proper places. It is worth saying that Nicholaj does not call this an assentamento, nor is it one - such spirit vessels are the province of Tatá and Yayá Quimbanda. It is however, a wonderful way to both 1) utilize the powers of Exu Ganga and Pomba Gira Ganga Mulambo (a qualidade of Maria Mulambo) for the benefit of your workings and house, and 2) start to understand the unique axé of this particular Exu.

Truly, although most mentioned as being of the Kingdom of the Cemetery and the Lyre, Ganga walks in all Kingdoms. His force is truly greatly needed in the world. There is no need to pretend he is anything other than what he is. His magic is astounding, and he is a true alley for the Quimbandeiro. The people of the trash, the people of decay, the people of balance... Salve Exu Ganga! Salve o bem povo de Quimbanda! 

Ponto Riscado of Exu Ganga for attack & defense.