Papa Legba the Loa of the in-between

Papa Legba is the keeper of the keys to the spirit world, and could be the most proficient music teacher of all time. He resides between the spirit and mortal realms. He is also the guardian of the crossroads. Legba is the first Loa addressed in Voodoo rites. He opens the gates to the spirit world to allow communication with the spirits. Legba is also the last loa addressed in ceremonies as he closes the gates once the ceremony is complete.

So who is he?

Without Papa Legba's consent, there is no communication with the spirit world. It is said that he speaks every language in the Universe. You better respect him if you want your messages to get to the spirit world. You don’t want your messages to the Loa getting lost! That could go bad real quick! Thankfully, he is very low maintenance, and easy to please Loa. 


Papa Legba is typically depicted as a poor, old man. He has a cane, and a straw hat. He also smokes a pipe. He likes his tobacco and his coffee. Do NOT mistake Legba as a feeble old man, however. He only limps because he walks in two worlds at once. His cane is thought to be the actual gate to the spirit world. Don’t let him fool you, he is one of the most powerful Loa in Voodoo.


Papa Legba is a known trickster. You need to be very specific and word your requests to him carefully. He’s not mean or malevolent, but he does enjoy a good joke, and MAY play with the translation of your request from time to time. He’s kinda like your benevolent old grandpa, who likes a good prank. . . and a wicked hard word puzzle.


Papa Legba is known for making deals. If you need something, he is your first point of contact. If you are respectful he is always willing to help.

St. Statue

Papa Legba is often represented as the St. Peter. It’s the whole keeper of the keys thing.

Legba, Legba everywhere. . .

Whether you realize it or not you have seen, or at least heard of Papa Legba. Not only is he one of the most important spirits in Voodoo, he is also the one most featured in pop culture. Anyone see American Horror Story Coven? That character design was really more Baron Samedie, but hey, creative license. Movies, books, and TV aside, Papa Legba is frequently referenced in music. Many jazz musicians out of New Orleans claim to have learned how to play music from Papa Legba. Usually this happens at a crossroads at midnight. Legend says Papa Legba will appear, tune your instrument, and teach you to play. Put a pin in this. We’ll come back to it in a minute.

Delta Blues

The Delta blues is a genre of music that came out of Mississippi. This music originated from the workers who lived on plantations. These plantations were very isolated from one another. This meant that each one developed its own unique style of music. This music was very important as it is the root of jazz and rock and roll.

One of the most prolific blues styles that came out of the Delta in the early 1900’s originated at Dockery Farms. If you are ever in Columbus, MS I HIGHLY recommend stopping there for a bit. Visit their website! It has a wealth of information about the Delta blues and that time period. Notable musicians that learned and played music at Dockery Farms include: Henry Sloan, Charley Patton, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, Pops Staples, Tommy Johnson, and Robert Johnson. These men are considered the grandfathers and fathers of rock and roll.

Tommy, . . .er Robert Johnson

Tales of musicians selling their souls to the devil in return for musical mastery is not a new thing. Folklore around the world include variations of this story. Most of the time this transaction occurs at a crossroads. In reference to the blues musicians, the myth states that if you go to the crossroads at midnight the devil will appear as a big black man and will tune your guitar. Once the guitar is returned, he owns your soul, and you’re a musical badass. Sound familiar? Remember that pin from the beginning of the article? You got it. This devil is none other than Papa Legba himself. In the blues Papa Legba is often addressed as “the Devil”, “Papa Legba”, and “The Black Man”. This myth ran so prevalent amongst blues musicians, Dockery Farms alone had not one, but two blues men that supposedly got their mad skills by making a deal with Legba.

Robert Johnson



Two Johnsons, no relation

These men were Tommy and Robert Johnson. There is no known relation between them. While Tommy took on a dark, mysterious persona and actively claimed to have sold his soul to the devil, the man most people associate with selling his soul is Robert Johnson. This is mainly due to his rather. . . sudden journey in becoming one of the most influential blues men of that generation.

The Journey

When Robert Johnson first arrived at Dockery Farms as a teenager somewhere in the 1920’s, he was a pretty darn good harmonica player. He was also a terrible guitarist. He was so bad, people would request to take the guitar away from him. In less than two years he went from being awful to developing a musical style that is emulated by blues and rock musicians to this day. This meteoric rise in skill led many to raise their eyebrows and assume he didn’t do it ALL on his own.

The man the myth

Robert Johnson’s songs also perpetuate the soul selling myth. Robert Johnson frequently references the Devil in his music. He wrote ``Me and the Devil Blues”, where his lyrics include “me and the devil walking side by side”, and “Up Jumped the Devil”, and “Hellhound Blues”. One of Robert Johnson's most famous songs was “Cross Road Blues”. While this song does not reference a devil at all, it references the crossroads. In this song Robert Johnson admits that he went to a crossroads to ask the universe for help.


You may not have ever heard of Robert Johnson. You should know who he is though. He is a very important figure in American music. Performers that directly cite Robert Johnson as a musical influence include Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Robert Plant, Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix, Rush, Slipknot, Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers, and Muddy Waters. I’m sure you’ve heard of some of them. Robert Johnson directly inspired and influenced all of these rock giants. This is why he is seen as one of the fathers of rock and roll. A father that possibly got his iconic sound from the devil, er, I mean Papa Legba at a crossroad at midnight.

The Crossroads- the Devil vs Papa Legba

So how did the benevolent old grandpa Legba come to be known as the devil? Anything to do with African culture and religion has been demonized since the beginning of slavery in the early 1600’s. African traditions and religions were banned. This was an attempt to keep slaves from bonding and coming together. If they didn’t have a meaningful community it was less likely they would band together and revolt. Voodoo, however, is an oral tradition that has been passed around down through the generations. The tales of the Loas were still prevalent in the 1800’s and early 1900’s in the South. The time and place of Robert Johnson in other words. In open company, the reality of Papa Legba could have been forbidden, while the reality of the devil was accepted. Johnson could have sought out Legba at the crossroads to seek guidance and wisdom, but labeled him as the devil in lyrics. It was common to reference Papa Legba as the devil in song, to the song writers at that time however, "the devil" didn't have the same Christian connotations it does now.


The suspected place of the Robert Johnson crossroads is the junction of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in Clarksdale, MS. This intersection didn’t exist in the lifetime of Robert Johnson. It is a tourist trap with a pretty sign. It is still a cool place to visit. Across the highway from Dockery Farms, however, is a crossroads. If such a moment were to have happened in Robert Johnson's life, I would put my money on that intersection. He and the intersection existed at the same time at least.

These are the crossroads next to Dockery Farms. The ambiance there is real!

The purposed crossroads at HWY 61 and 49.

Robert Johnson the Crossroads, and you

For being such an influential musician Robert Johnson wasn’t around very long. In total he recorded just twice. His entire discography consists of a whopping twenty nine songs. Each of these songs only took two or three takes to record. That’s impressive! He lived to be the ripe old age of twenty seven. In that time he married twice. Both women died before him. Robert Johnson's life and career were both very short and tragic. In fact, there are only three known photographs of him. His biography is also problematic due to the spotty record keeping of that time, especially in African American communities. Due to these reasons Robert Johnson is an enigma surrounded by mystery. This is a big reason such a mysterious tale sticks with him to this day.


Maybe he spent every waking moment practicing and perfecting his musical passion. Maybe he was just super talented and found himself in the right place at the right time in the company of amazing musicians who would teach him. Possibly, just possibly, he found himself at a crossroads late one night praying to become the best guitar player in the land. Maybe, just maybe Papa Legba answered.


Robert Johnson influenced the biggest rock stars of our time. These musicians in turn have influenced thousands that have come after them. The next time you’re cruising down the road, jamming to your music stop at an intersection. Why not leave some coffee or tobacco behind and thank Legba for creating the devil's music? He could be the actual father of blues, jazz, and rock and roll after all.