Vodun FAQ: Elekes, Ilekes, Collares, Pearls, Necklaces

What is an eleke?

Eleke An eleke is basically a string of beads.  It can be in the form of a necklace, a bracelet, an anklet, a kneelet, an armlet, waist beads or breast beads.  In the context of Vodun and derivative systems, it is a string of beads that embodies a Spirit or Deity or aspect of them.  They can be dedicated to one or multiple Spirits, including one’s ancestors.

Not all African or diaspora systems have a tradition of wearing elekes.  Because there is a lot of cultural exchange, some may borrow traditions from other groups though.  They may make use of different patterns based on their local or personal beliefs, so not every Eshu eleke for instance, will look the same.  Some may have alternating black and red or black and white, or three black, three red, or a combination.  Sometimes it depends on whether or not the eleke has a dual purpose of both embodying a deity and giving a related blessing or trait to the wearer.

Since Vodun is not really a representative faith, when we say “represent” what we mean is “simultaneously symbolizes, embodies, and calls”.  So they don’t merely represent the Spirits.  They are something like tendrils of the Spirits that a person mindfully constructs and consecrates.  The artist is the tool more than the object.

Where do I get a real eleke?

You may buy an eleke from a shop, receive them as a gift from family or a blood level friend, or receive them formally from the person in your community or “house” who has the authority to give them, or receive them from a solitary practitioner or Obeah-person who is at least of a level that they can make talismans that work.  The first eleke you should always buy or receive is that of Eshu (or your ancestral main Gatekeeper), regardless of who is the Spirit of your head.  Its colors and patterns will depend on your house or priest/ess.   It will usually be black and red, black and white, or black white and red, in patterns of threes.

A real eleke will be made by hand, with each bead strung by hand.  It should never be made in a sweatshop or by literal or de facto slaves forced to make elekes.  You can usually tell by the price.

It takes a skilled beader, working in a state of near trance, at least an hour to make an eleke.  While making it, they will be singing to the Spirit(s) they are making it for.  Different people make different wages in different parts of the world, but if it costs less than an hour or two of minimum wage in the part of the world the shop is in, it is very likely made wrong.

Then there is the cost of supplies, and if they are supposedly made by someone at the priestly level, the costs of incense and other things needed to bless them.  Unless they are getting all their supplies for free, which some people do, they should be at least in the arena of $10-25.

Some can afford to charge less, or are happy to take a loss, but the vast majority of real eleke makers at least need to make their costs back.  So buyer beware.  If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.

As has been mentioned in the comments, some believe that the only good way to receive an eleke is from one’s “godparents” or mentors. Though it is by far, not a universal thing, I would have to say that if you are in an area where this is the common practice, you should respect that and be ready to explain. Nowadays, many are suffering from “one true wayism” and have been misled, and this is not their fault. They place way too much importance on certain items because they don’t know that there is an authentic way of making ceremonial necklaces, and since none of us is going to sit and chew glass and gum here in the diaspora, folks should lighten up a bit.

Actual Yoruba, Bini, Akan, Fulani, and other tribal and ritual necklaces are totally different than the lightweight Czech and Japanese beads most people are wearing in the diaspora. If someone’s elekes are different or differently sourced than yours that is not your business. Yes, it is bad that this aspect of our culture is often copied, but they can’t copy the blessing. A string with no beads that has a strong blessing is better to have than a greed gained string of pearls.

How do I wear my eleke?

Elekes can be worn for ceremonial purposes, or in daily life, to keep a Spirit close to you and on your mind.  It can also let other practitioners know that you are their brother in Vodun.  To people who don’t know the codes, they’ll just look like beaded necklaces, but to someone who does, it lets them know about you in a similar way to people knowing your astrological sign.

For ceremonial purposes, you should always put on the eleke for Eshu (or your ancestral Gatekeeper) before putting on others.  In daily life, you can wear that of another Spirit alone, but you should at least touch your Eshu eleke first.  Wherever you hang or store them, the Eshu eleke should be stored first.

If you like to wear them in daily life, it is best to have a set for ceremonial purposes, and a set for daily life purposes.  Your ceremonial elekes should never see the inside of a toilet room, or be worn for any purpose but ceremony and ebo.  If you do corrupt them, you must give an offering to apologize to Eshu and the Spirit(s) you offended.

That said, if you participate in certain activities, your elekes will get dirty.  You may clean them with fresh, clean water or whatever material is appropriate for that deity and tradition.

What activities are permissible for you to do while wearing even a daily wear eleke depend on the Spirit it carries.  Orun may allow you to wear his eleke while tanning or frolicking on the beach, but Osu may prefer his eleke be covered in the day and only worn outside the clothing at night.  Know your Spirit, and you’ll know how to wear their eleke properly.

Can I put a pendant or ornaments on my eleke?

Aje Shaluga and Oshun ElekeAgain, it depends on the Spirit’s preferences, but generally, you can.  The pendant should correspond with the Spirit.  You would be ill advised for instance, to wear an Oya pendant on an Oshun eleke.  Many elekes are made with pendants.

Can I make my own eleke?  If so, what is the standard?

Yes you can make your own eleke, but I strongly recommend that you not do so unless you are advanced or under the supervision or guidance of an advanced practitioner of the priestly level.  By priestly I mean that they are living so deep in the Spirits that even their diet and sex life is guided by the Vodun.

Register, log in, and click here for specific instructions for how to make your own or instruct your ile’s artists to make eleke if needed.

What does it mean if an eleke burns my neck?

You may be allergic to some pigment used to make the eleke.  You should try one made of undyed natural stone or plastic beads.

If it is made of undyed natural stone or plastic or glass that has not been coated with anything, it could mean that the Spirit it carries is trying to tell you something.  It could be that there is danger near, or that you are about to do or have done something to offend them.

It could also just be that it has accumulated sweat and dirt from your body and needs to be cleaned.

What do I do if my eleke breaks?

In my tradition, you may re-string it, but you must start the procedure over again, with offerings of apology for breaking a sacred object.  Some of us have “veteran” elekes that have sacrificed their beauty multiple times to protect us.  Broken beads are given an honored burial, and the remaining beads are strung on a new eleke.  The broken string is burned honorably in a censer.

In some people’s tradition, a broken eleke is to be completely disposed of.  What you should do depends on your traditions or divination guided instructions.

What does it mean if my eleke suddenly breaks on its own while I am wearing it?

If it just all of a sudden breaks or one or more beads explodes a little or cracks while you are wearing it, this means that its Spirit is fighting something that caused him/her to rush to defense, and this was too much for a mere physical object to bear.

Stop, look, and listen.  You have likely entered a situation that is spiritually and/or psychologically dangerous for you, and need to get away.  Thank the Spirit for protecting you.  Give them an offering, or have your priest/ess give an offering on your behalf.  The eleke can be re strung with the remaining beads.  Any that have broken should be buried, just as you would bury a crystal that had shattered for the same reasons.

Can other people touch my elekes?

It is not advisable that you allow others except maybe close relatives, apprentices, or assistants to touch your private ceremonial elekes.  Your outside wear elekes should be consecrated regularly, and if you like, can be touched by others.  However, it is best that you not allow anyone to touch your elekes if you are uncomfortable with them or sense a lot of negativity in them.  This will make them prone to breakage or other damage.

From the other end, don’t touch people’s elekes without their permission.

How do I store my elekes?

Your private ceremonial elekes are best stored in a box or bag away from other mundane jewelry.  Your outside wear elekes can be hung up in a special place on your altar or in your dressing area.  Just try to protect them from dust and damage.


K. Sis. Nicole T.N. Lasher

Webmatron of Orisha.me.


  1. I have been unable to find an answer to a question that I have. We moved last October and twice now my Yemoja coconut has cracked open spilling the milk all over her alter. Do you know the meaning behind this? I suspect other spiritual activity in the room as we had to remove the fire alarm due to constant battery drain. Plus my alter room feels differrent in this house than at the last house. Could this other spirit be messing with my alter room? If so how (should) do I expel it without expelling Yemoja, Oschun and my ancestors? Thank you very much for any assistance you can provide.

  2. I have received my elekes but i havent received anything else. After trying out this religion for a while i realized it just aint for me but know i dont know what to do with my elekes and i dont know how to tell my godfather I’ve had a change of hearth. I respect the orisha religion but i just want to end things the right way. Please give me advice.

    • Depending on the tradition, but in Afro Cuban Lukumi tradition, bring a plate, derecho, 2 candles and two coconuts to the godfathers Orisha and say your goodbye’s – that is tradition, where you walk away on good terms with him, them and your own self.

  3. My cousin who is a practitioner of Santeria (from Puerto Rico) for 30+ years, gave me a necklace when I was a teenager. It is white with the African style beads, a claw looking pendant, and leather band. I have never seen another like it, and he never explained its importance. Just told me to wear it. I am a practioner of paganism, and I am not sure if this is an eleke, but I don’t want to offend any spirits. Can someone help me?

    • Post a picture. Describing in depth. White is for Obatala, who rules everyone’s head, before they are initiated, or before their guardian angels claim them.
      No disrespect Sheloya, but when someone’s elekes break, that orisha just blocked something for them. The beads are discarded, not reused, and the person doesn’t apologize, they can say a thank you.

      • Different systems and locales have different traditions around necklaces and other ceremonial items. For many, a head reading is done shortly after birth or before any sort of initiation. Many if not most don’t have guardian angels, but do have Ancestors, Orishas, Mpungo, or other beings not associated with the Canaanite/Hebrew pantheons.

        What works well for your house is not what works in everyone’s. Beware of one-true-wayism. It’s a red flag.

        • can I ask what does it mean when dream that Oshun elekes break please help me with this…….

          • If you are having dreams about elekes breaking, it means that you are either neglecting your responsibilities to that Orisha, which will screw you up soon when you need their blessings especially protection, or you did something particularly wrong to a child of Oshun or to offend Oshun. Because it is a physical object breaking in the dream, it is connected to your physical world, so you should seek local counsel about this. Find someone you trust to do divination on this so that you know specifically what is going on and what to do to correct the situation.

            When Oshun sends dreams of any jewelry or ornament breaking, it is terrifying. When it is an eleke it is doubly so. Many people try to buy Oshun with offerings, but one must remember that if we want her blessings we also have to keep her ways. So until you actually get the chance to go and get the divination (which should be as soon as possible), tighten up your beauty, house cleaning, and yardwork regime. Keep yourself looking good at all times. Keep your home and area clean. Pick up trash in sacred areas like crossroads you come across or places with yellow flowers. If you have parrots or hummingbirds around, put out some bird feeders…pretty ones. Get on that.

    • This is eleke of a specific Odu or letra(sign). Investigate further and you will find that answer. Unless you went for a reading and that letra came for you, or he had a reading for himself and it came out that you should have it, or he did a reading in your name, it would be out of the norm for you to have this. Hopefully, he would have explained what it was and presented it to you in front of the Orishas. If not – hmmmmm?????

  4. Lyndia C Jackson

    What happens if my eleke beads change color/cracks and the red is removed

    • Thank you for your question, Lyndia. It is a good one, and raises an issue folks should know about. Around 7 years ago, there was a shortage of red beads, or the red pigment used in glass beads. So manufacturers started painting other beads red and selling them as red glass beads. So now, when you order red beads, you have to make sure they’re actually red and not painted. Czech and Japanese beads are usually the real thing, but if they’re from anywhere else, you are taking your chances.

    • Cheap beading materials and/or you are wearing them while sweating.

  5. can I clean my eleke with Florida water

  6. Hello I purchased myself one mainly to represent eshu and to have his spirit with me. Until I find a house or padrino. Is it wrong for me to wear one that I have simply saved and dressed with eshu oil?

    • Your Padrino or madrina (god parents) have to place a washed, fed & blessed eleke over your head to have full protection otherwise it has no protection to it, it’s just there for decoration around your neck. Usually you do not cleanse your own elekes your godparents do so.

      • Again, not everyone in the entire diaspora is the same. If someone wants to decorate themselves, that is fine with me, but I would stop short of saying that any mindfully crafted spiritual object has no protection properties. According to Yoruba priests, Orisha elekes’ primary purpose is not protection anyway. They are an embodiment of the deity they are made to represent and should be treated with according respect. How that is done also varies from place to place, sometimes family to family or head to head.

  7. In what order should the Elekes be worn, And what are things to avoid doing when haveing them on

    • No sex, no drugs, they cannot be worn while showering or sleeping, watch your tongue and how you speak to others no cursing while having them on and no alcoholic drinks. You’re allowed to drink and smoke tobacco with your Guerrero eleke only. Kiss your elekes if they ever fall on the ground and put them right back on, kiss them before and after you put them on and take them off.

      • This depends on one’s tradition or customs and which deity the eleke is embodying. Like something made for Yewa, you would have to refrain even from any lewd talk, but alcohol would be fine in some places during a ceremony in her honor because that is part of her domain. Things vary throughout the diaspora and even in Africa.

  8. All this information you gave is partly true. Anyone can make the eleke the godparents are the ones who put the secrets in them. Secondly, no one can touch your elekes period Thirdly when your eleke breaks you don’t reuse nothing if your on the streets just let them fall and walk away and immediately contact your godparents and see. Babalawo for a reading. You also forgot there is a full ceremony that goes with the receiving your elekes

    • Not everyone in the diaspora is Lukumi, and different places have different ceremony and customs around elekes. We have our own ways here in Israel, but we tend to focus more on the observance of the deities and that connection to the objects that embody them. The reason we retrieve fallen pieces is the same reason we would not leave behind the body of a fallen soldier. It’s a thing here.

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