The Orisha Ogun appears in several traditional African belief systems throughout the diaspora. However, he is most notable as the elemental deity of iron in the Ifa tradition. Ogun was believed to be a warrior and powerful spirit of metalwork (blacksmith) during his time on earth. Likewise, he is well known for rum making in some traditions.
As a blacksmith, Ogun is an industrialist and innovator – a way maker. It’s believed that he entered the earth by clearing a path with a metal ax and the assistance of a dog. Of note, dogs and rum are often given to this Orisha as offerings. Ogun also loves hunting and foraging in the forestlands.
Ogun the King of Ire
Due to his nature as a merciless warrior energy, Ogun lived in seclusion upon a hill for many years. Later, he grew tired of being alone and decided to settle in Ire. He is recorded as the first king of this land.
True to his nature, he was a ruthless king. He fought for his kingdom with vengeance and vigor. But when some of his followers failed to show him respect, Ogun killed them and himself with his sword. He disappeared into the world at a location called Ire-Ekiti. At this point, he vowed to help those who called upon him for assistance.
As such, Ogun is highly regarded as a protector spirit. Travelers often carry an amulet dedicated to this Orisha to ward off accidents. In Yoruba society, it is common for Ifa believers to swear by Ogun’s name or kiss a piece of iron dedicated to this deity in the court of law. This process serves as an oath, much like swearing by other holy texts during legal proceedings.
Symbols and Sacrifice
Ogun is commonly represented by iron, metallic objects, dogs, and palm fronds. Festivals honoring this Orisha often feature knives, guns, blacksmith implements, scissors, wrenches, etc. These items symbolize Ogun’s presence in industrialization, technology, and innovation.
Meats are commonly sacrificed during rituals and ceremonies for Ogun. Dogs are the traditional friends or companions of hunters. Ogun’s personality is likewise “doglike” or fierce, bold, and straightforward in nature. Therefore, dogs are also sacrificed in honor of this spirit during major ceremonies and festivals.
Another sacrificial animal connected to Ogun is the spitting cobra (blacksnake). It likewise shares his characteristic traits of aggression and courage. Other sacrificial offerings include the Clarias submarginatus (a species of catfish), kola nuts, palm wine, alligator pepper, red palm oil, small rats, roosters, and yams. Most of these sacrificial offerings were carried from Yorubaland into the New World, where they continue today.
Learn more about sacrifices and offerings in African spiritual practices in this episode of the African Spirit Reintegrated + Reimagined: