Ogun, the Warrior Orisha

History and Worship

African warrior with sword

Lorado / Getty Images

In Haitian Vodou and New Orleans Voodoo, Ogun is a warrior orisha associated with blacksmithing and the creation of iron tools and weapons. Called Ogou in Haiti, he is in charge of guarding sacred temples and political power, and is known for his protection of Vodou followers.

Key Takeaways: Ogun

  • Taking different forms in various African diasporic religions, Ogun is typically portrayed as a big, virile, handsome man—the epitome of the strong blacksmith and warrior. He is often depicted with a machete or sword and a three-legged iron cauldron.
  • Ogun is the patron of blacksmiths, hunters, truck and taxi drivers, surgeons, and mechanics. Some belief systems also associate him with agriculture and protection of the community.
  • The warrior orisha's followers dress in red, in honor of his symbolic colors.

History and Origins

Like many of the orisha and loa, Ogun has his origins in Africa. In the Yoruba belief system, he was the first orisha to come to earth, in the form of a hunter named Tobe Ode, who led the other orishas to the world of mortals. Armed with an axe and sword, he was known as the god of warriors, blacksmiths, and hunters. Thanks to his role as a patron of the hunt, he is associated with dogs—the traditional hunting companion in many parts of the world.

In Nigeria, he cleared paths through the forests with his machete and axe, and thus became known as the orisha who opens the way when it is blocked.

As the patron of metalworkers, who are often healers and spiritual leaders, Ogun watches over those who work with metal in any capacity. He shared the gift of ironworking with man, and taught humans how to perform magic, as well as the arts of hunting and warfare. Although he isn't an agricultural orisha, Ogun does have a connection to planting and the harvest, because he's the one who made the first tools of agriculture, such as the hoe and sickle.

In Candomblé, a syncretic Afro-Brazilian religion, Ogun is associated with Saint George. It's not uncommon for beings of these traditions to become connected with Catholic saints, due to the overlap of African religion with Christianity that occurred when enslaved people were brought to North America. In some forms of Candomblé, Ogun takes on aspects of Saint Anthony or Saint Sebastian.

For followers of Haitian Vodou, Ogun is known as Ogou and has a number of different forms, all of which protect the community. He is known for his dislike of liars and thieves, and can often be called upon to enact justice towards those who commit fraud, theft, or the breaking of oaths, particularly if those oaths were sworn on a piece of iron in his name.

Ogun is typically portrayed as a big, virile, handsome man—the epitome of the strong blacksmith and warrior. He often is depicted with a machete or sword and a three-legged iron cauldron. The cauldron is usually wrapped in heavy iron chains and filled with tools, nails, and knives. His colors are red, black, and green, and he is symbolized by a sword driven into the warm soil of the fertile earth.

Worship and Offerings

Ceremony in Benin honoring Ogun
Ceremony in Benin honoring Ogun. robertharding / Getty Images Plus 

Thanks to his work with iron in its many forms, Ogun has become the patron of truck and taxi drivers, as well as surgeons and mechanics. His altars often include a three-legged iron cauldron to help enforce his power.

Shrines to Ogun are often located outdoors, at the base of trees or near a forge. A sacred shrine may also be located on the floor behind the front door. It all depends on which tradition one is honoring. The forced migration of the middle passage is perhaps the most important explanation for the multiple incarnations of the Ogun spirit.

In his aspect as Ogou Feray, he is sometimes portrayed as riding into battle on a magnificent white horse, and is associated with the magical healing power of magnets. The Ogou la Flambo variant of Ogun is highly martial and revels in bloodshed and battle. In a berserker-like rage, he slaughters his enemies and destroys those who would perpetuate injustice and tyranny.

During Voodoo ceremonies, Ogun often appears as a soldier from the time of the Haitian Civil War, wearing a French cap and a red jacket or scarf. He has a penchant for cigars and beautiful women, particularly for Erzulie, the goddess of love and beauty.

His followers wear red shirts, pants, and scarves in ritual, and make offerings of white rum and spicy food in hopes that he will honor them with possession; those who are blessed with this gift enter into a frenzied trancelike state. Ogun is a warrior who likes meat—the traditional meat sacrificed to him is that of the dog, but he will gladly accept rat, rooster, or black snake.

Sources

  • Beyer, Catherine. “African Diaspora Religions of the New World.” Learn Religions, Learn Religions, 25 June 2019, https://www.learnreligions.com/african-diaspora-religions-95713.
  • Dorsey, Lilith. “Orisha Ogun: Lord of Iron, God of War.” Voodoo Universe, Patheos, 11 Nov. 2013, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/voodoouniverse/2013/11/orisha-ogun-lord-of-iron-god-of-war/.
  • Fandrich, Ina J. “Yorùbá Influences on Haitian Vodou and New Orleans Voodoo.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 37, no. 5, 2007, pp. 775–791. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40034365.
  • “Voodoo: Facts About Misunderstood Religion.” LiveScience, Purch, https://www.livescience.com/40803-voodoo-facts.html.
  • Owusu, Heike. Voodoo Rituals. Sterling Pub., 2002.