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In the Yoruba and Haitian traditional belief system, Ogun (or Ogoun, Ogún, Ogou, Ogum , Oggun) is a orisha and loa who presides over iron, hunting, politics and war. He is the patron of smiths, and is usually displayed with a number of attributes: a machete or sabre, rum and tobacco. He is one of the husbands of Erzulie, Oshun and Oya and a friend to Eshu.

Ogun is the traditional warrior and is seen as a powerful deity of metal work, similar to Ares and Hephaestus in Greek mythology and Visvakarma in classical Hinduism. He is also prominently represented as Saint George in the syncretic traditions of contemporary Brazil. As such, Ogun is mighty, powerful and triumphal, yet is also known to exhibit the rage and destructiveness of the warrior whose strength and violence must not turn against the community he serves. Perhaps linked to this theme is the new face he has taken on in Haiti which is not exactly related to his African roots, that of a powerful political leader.[1]

He gives strength through prophecy and magic. It is Ogun who is said to have planted the idea in the heads of, led and given power to the slaves for the Haitian Revolution of 1804. Therefore, he is often called in the contemporary period to help the people of Haiti to obtain a government that is more responsive to their needs.

Mythical Ogun

In Yoruba religion, Ogun is a primordial Orisha whose first appearance was as a hunter named Tobe Ode. He is said to be the first of the Orisha to descend to the realm of Ile Aiye or the earth to find suitable habitation for future human life. In commemoration of this, one of his praise names is Osin Imole or the "first of the primordial Orisha to come to Earth". He is celebrated in places like Ekiti, Oyo and Ondo States. He is believed by his followers to have wo ile sun, which means to have disappeared into the earth surface instead of dying, in a place named Ire-Ekiti. Throughout his earthly life, he is thought to have fought for the people of Ire thus known also as Onire.

In Dahomey mythology, Gu is the god of war and patron deity of smiths and craftsmen. He was sent to earth to make it a nice place for people to live, and he has not yet finished this task.

In Voudou he is syncretized with St. Jacques Majeur (St. James the Greater) in his incarnation as Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moorslayer).

In Santería and Palo Mayombe, he has been syncretized with Saint Peter.

In the religious tradition of the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé, Ogum (as this Yoruba divinity is known in the Portuguese language) is often identified with Saint George, for example in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. However Ogum may also be represented by Saint Sebastian, as it is often done in the northeast of the country, for example in the state of Bahia. Officially Saint Sebastian is the patron saint of the city of Rio de Janeiro, which is located in the state of the same name in Brazil. Matthias Röhrig Assunção also notes that St. Anthony is often identified with Ogun in Bahia.[2]

In all of his incarnations, Ogoun is a fiery and martial entity. He can be aggressively masculine — much like the spirit Shango — but can also rule the head of a female or effeminate male initiate to whom he takes a liking. He is also linked with blood, and is for this reason often called upon to heal diseases of the blood.

Embodiment of Ogun

Ogun comes to mount people in various aspects of his character, and the people who venerate him are quite familiar with each of them.

His possessions can sometimes be violent. Those mounted by him are known to wash their hands in flaming rum without suffering from it later. They dress up in green and black, wave a sabre or machete, chew a cigar and demand rum in an old phrase "Gren mwe fret" (my testicles are cold). Often, this rum is first poured on the ground, then lit and, finally, the fumes generated by this are then allowed to pervade the peristyle. The sword, or much more commonly the machete, is his weapon and he often does strange feats of poking himself with it, or even sticking the handle in the ground, then mounting the blade without piercing his skin.

Ogun is the lascivious (unruly) Orisa; one that would take multiple enclosures to the battle-front; some filled to the brim with gunpowder; pockets full of miracles; allowances of wine and others sealed-tight in polished minerals.

King of Ire,
Orphan's shield,
Landlord of terraced hills.

Ogun appears in other forms, such as

  • Ogun Akirun,
  • Ogun Ajero,
  • Ogun Alagbede,
  • Ogun Alara,
  • Ogun Elemona,
  • Ogun Ikole,
  • Ogun Lakaye,
  • Ogun Meji,
  • Ogun Oloola,
  • Ogun Onigbajamo,
  • Ogun Onire,
  • Ogun Onile,[3]
  • Ogun the wounded warrior. He assumes a Christ-figure pose which the people know well from their Christian associations;
  • Ogun Feraille. He gives strength to the servitors by slapping them on the thighs or back;
  • Ogun Badagris. He may lift a person up and carry him or her around to indicate his special attention and patronage.

In all of the varied aspects of Ogoun, however, there is the dominant theme of power and militancy which serves to exemplify his position as a spirit of war.


  1. Sandra T. Barnes, Africa's Ogun: Old World and New, Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c1989 ISBN 0-253-30282-X
  2. Matthias Röhrig Assunção Capoeira: The History of an Afro-Brazilian Martial Art, London, Routledge, 2005, p.39. ISBN 0-714-65031-5
  3. Sandra T. Barnes, Africa's Ogun: Old World and New,(ed electronic bk), Bloomington, Indiana University Press, c1997 ISBN 0-585-35704-8

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