The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Ogun, West Africa’s Lord of Iron, is not just the spirit of ironworking—he is iron itself. No need to “offer” Ogun a blood sacrifice; he is present in the very knife that draws blood, thus the Yoruba proverb that Ogun always eats first. His presence may be invoked by crossing two pieces of iron and anointing them with red palm oil.
Ogun cut the first paths through Earth’s primordial wilderness. He creates tools for hunting, protection, war, healing, and magic. Ogun is among the few deities common to the various West African pantheons: under the names Gu, Gun, and Ogou, Ogun remains as constant and reliable as iron. Devotion to and awareness of Ogun is also shared by the various spiritual traditions of the African Diaspora including Candomblé, Santeria, and Vodou. Devotees of Palo know him by the name Zarabanda. Ogun sponsors all those who work with metal: soldiers, police officers, hunters, body artists and circumcisers, surgeons, and taxi and truck drivers. Ogun both protects against car accidents and causes them.
Although Ogun is considered an exceedingly macho deity, and the occupations he sponsors were traditionally almost exclusively associated with men, the connection between iron and women’s mysteries is never forgotten. Ogun’s most sacred attribute is an iron cauldron. Devotees maintain his cauldrons with tremendous care and reverence, placing offerings to Ogun within them. Also within them, one will usually discover carefully cultivated red rust as a reminder that traditional ironworking magic stems from Earth’s menstrual mysteries and never strays very far from those roots.
Attitudes towards Ogun parallel ambivalence toward iron. Santeria tends to view Ogun with caution: he is volatile and potentially dangerous and so should be handled with utmost care. Without iron weapons, Earth would be a much safer place; wars could not be as devastating or as violent. The implication is that it is the nature of iron itself to be blood-thirsty.
In Haitian Vodou, however, Ogun is a heroic figure. The Haitian war for independence began as a slave rebellion, inaugurated at a ritual honoring Ogun. In Vodou, Ogun is syncretized to the Archangel Michael, Protector of Humanity, depicted with his flaming sword in hand, always vigilant to defend those who request his help. Ogun is also syncretized to the ever-victorious warrior, St James the Greater.
In African cosmology, Ogun lives deep within the forest, amongst a band of brothers: orishas like trickster spirit Eshu-Elegbara, master hunters Ochossi and Erinle, and herbalist Osain. (See DIVINE WITCH: Ochossi; HORNED ONE: Exu; PLACES: Forest: Osain, Swamps: Abatan.) Ogun may be a king but he lives simply and works constantly. He was once married to the warrior orisha Oya who worked the bellows for him. Ogun subsequently had a happier relationship with Oshun, crafting the copper, brass, and bronze with which she is closely identified. Ogun’s sacred creatures are dogs and snakes. (See DICTIONARY: Orisha, Palo, Santeria, Vodou; DIVINE WITCH: Orisha Oko, Oshun, Yemaya.)