More thoughts on Ogoun

I’ve been reading Karen McCarthy Brown’s book “Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn.” Part religious study, part biography, this book was repeatedly recommended to me and I can see why. It’s a vibrant and entertaining read, and I’m learning a surprising amount just in the descriptions of the rituals and altars. I love this book.

It has a really good chapter about Ogou (alternate spelling of Ogoun, you find spelling variations a lot in Vodou), which I read with great interest since Ogou is one of the lwa who walks with me and possibly my met tet. There are many Ogou. What I like and find interesting about the Ogou lwa are that none of them are all good or all evil. Their characters are well-rounded. McCarthy writes:

Vodou spirits, unlike the Catholic saints whose names they borrow, are characters defined by contradiction . . . The wholeness of the spirits–their ability to contain conflicting emotions and to model opposing ways of being in the world–gives Vodou its integrity as a religion.

Ogou straddles the Rada and Petwo nachons (or nations of lwa). While the Rada lwa tend to be dependable, cooler headed and patient (their power lies in their wisdom), the Petwo lwa are hot-tempered and volatile (their power is their ability to make things happen). In his original Yoruba incarnation, Ogou was associated with ironsmithing and was the protector of hunters and clearer of forest paths. (I found that passage interesting due to my therian side being a predatory cat. It also brought to mind my friend Angie’s vision that I wrote about back in August–see “Doubt, rationalization and unexpected conduits.” The setting of her vision was a forest path.)

In the book, internationally known Nigerian scholar Wande Abimbola describes what Ogou is like in Africa:

…in my country, it is a little different. Ogou has his own priests. And Ogou is not just a soldier. He is the one who clears the way. He opens a path through the forest, you know.

Ogou also works with iron . . .  Ogou is important because he teaches us how to handle the modern world–arms, machines, trucks, all that. Without Ogou, we could forget that the things man creates can turn on him, even destroy him.

In her book, Brown says that the personality of the met tet and that of the devotee tend to coincide. So, for example, someone with Ogou as a met tet is expected to be brave, assertive, loyal, etc. All Ogous tend to be quick to anger, but deal with their anger in different ways–some punish, others withdraw. Brown also notes that diagnosing someone’s met tet is more than a surface labeling of personality types, and that it often works at a deeper level where it zeroes in on significant latent characteristics. This happened to Brown; she was told by more than one houngan and mambo that Ogou was her met tet, even though that did not match her own image of herself.

This made me think back on my reading with Mambo C. She saw Ogou in the cards, but mentioned casually that she didn’t think he was my met tet. I can easily see how anyone who did not know me really well would think this. When I meet people for the first time, I am quiet, polite, and slow to engage in conversation. I’ve also been told by more than one person that I give off a calming, soothing energy. However, when I really lose my temper (which, thankfully, is not often), a contrasting side emerges, one that is aggressive, sharp-tongued, calculating, spiteful and difficult to control. Sometimes when minor things make me impatient, this side partially emerges, and people sense that and back off. Some of them even seem a little afraid of this side, which is humorous because I am far from being a physically imposing person.

Mambo C told me that my path in Vodou might be a difficult one. If this is true, then I am grateful to have Ogou with me, whether or not he is my met tet. I could really use some path-clearing.

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