Ogun’s machete is his most powerful tool. Forged in fire it is a weapon used in many ways. For those unaware Ogun is a divinity revered in many of the African Traditional Religions. In Haiti he is known as Ogou. Here he is known to have been an instrumental force guiding those who were responsible for the Haitian revolution and the country’s subsequent independence. La Regla Lucumi, more commonly known as Santeria, honors this energy as an Orisha called Ogun who focuses his energy on iron and the forge. In my book Voodoo and African Traditional Religion I write about how Ogun among the Yoruba in West Africa, “he is the owner of the gun, the knife, the razor, the police and the law, metal, driving, and more. Even swords are called gu or gubasa after Ogun.” His power of protection and necessary healing are celebrated worldwide.
Wild Man in Solitude
Many of the sacred stories, also known as patakis, that talk about this Orisha tell of his time spent alone in the forest with his dogs. It is here he forges his tools and weapons. My post on this Orisha explains ” some view him as the archetypal “wild man of the woods.” For this reason, 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.” It is said that even though this is where this Orisha does his work, it can also be the place where he indulges in self-reflection. The religion cautions us however, that these times must not turn to inaction and depression, because Ogun is also needed to protect the community in his role as warrior.
“He has heart who knows fear, but vanquishes it; who sees the abyss, but with pride.
He who sees the abyss, but with eagle’s eyes,- he who with eagle’s talons grasps the abyss: he has courage.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
It is a delicate balance that takes place in this solitude, and I included the above quote, which illustrates the strength and courage Ogun can pull out of this abyss. I recently participated in the Intimate Partner Violence Awareness TeleConference organized by Phoenix Coffin-Williams. Here I spoke about this solitude, this abyss that can both harm and heal. The entirety of my talk can be seen here.
Ogun as Soldier and Healer
There are many dualistic aspects to Ogun. This plays out very often in his roles as both warrior and healer. His machete is a necessary tool both for agriculture and protection. In Haitian Vodou, and also 21 divisions, there is an avatar of Ogun known as Ogun Balendjo, who is seen as both a physician and a military man. He is often syncretized with St. James and honored on July 25 in accordance with the saint’s day. It is important to remember that a scalpel can be a weapon or a healing tool, it all depends on how you use it. The same is true for the Ashe or sacred power and energy of Ogun. Approach it wisely and carefully.
Many people have heard me speak about my dear friend Santero Luis Manuel Nunez. He was an integral participant in the early days of the Voodoo Spiritual Temple here in New Orleans. He has risen up to join the ancestors, but fortunately he took the time and effort to write Santeria: A practical Guide to Afro-Caribbean Magic. In it he talks extensively about Ogun and lists his herbal/food offerings as follows: “palo vencedor, rabo de piedra, palo bomba, escandon, pincha de gato, Eucalyptus, sasparilla, boneset, blessed thistle, restharrow, senna, datura, carpenter ants, guao (comocladia dentada), tree native to Cuba, sweet soursop, guamao (Lonchocarpus sericeus),Cuban timber tree, red pepper, black pepper, mastic tree, castor oil plant, oak leaves, and indigo plant among others.” Ogun’s sacred energy or Ashe runs through these offerings which are given frequently. Please honor this ashe respectfully.
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