The Strength of Ògún

This is inspired in many ways by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold’s “Ifá: A Forest of Mystery,” the stories of Loki in “Myths of the Norsemen” by H.A. Grueber, and particularly in Frisvold’s interview with Gordon White on his podcast, Runesoup.

It all began as I looked at the sly expression on the page of swords in the Marseille Tarot decks I own. In traditional cartomancy, this fellow indicates dark forces, deceit is afoot, treachery, or a dead spirit roams about. When looking at the suit of swords from a magical perspective, this card indicates the witch’s fetch. (For more on the suit of swords from the perspective of the magical journey, take a look at this PDF I wrote on the suit). As I look at this guy, I am strangely drawn to that sneaky expression and I wonder what he hides.

Page of Swords Tarot de Marseille
Decks (Clockwise from the top): The Spanish Tarot published by Heraclio Fournier, Spain; The Ancient Italian Tarot published by LoScarabeo, Italy; Jean Noblet Tarot De Marseille published by Jean-Claude Flornoy, France 2014; Tarot de Marseille Jean Dodal published by Jean Claude Flornoy, France 2009; Uusi Pagan Playing Cards, by Uusi, limited edition.

Incidentally, I am also reminded of the pervasive darker forces of nature. Needles to say, I can’t help but reflect on the state of the world at the moment. We live in polarized times. It seems we have forgotten and disconnected from the cycles inherent in nature and in us. Hence, we vacillate between extremes, confused and scared.

Let’s stop for a moment and look at all the cards on the table, we have much less control than we may want to admit. I will start with Loki, god of fire, chaos, in Norse Myth. I sense there is something latent in these definitions that deserves a closer look. Often descried as evil, he is either looked on from a binary perspective of good and evil, and limited to a shallow construction(personification).

Once upon a time there was a giant and a peasant passing time and playing chess, while betting on who would win. The giant declared that should he be victorious, he would come and claim the peasant’s only son. The giant won and promised to return the following day to claim his prize. The parents where scared and knew they could not outsmart the giant. Hence, they implored Odin for aid. The God answered by coming to earth and transforming the boy into a tiny grain of wheat, which he hid in a large grain field, declaring that the giant would not be able to find him. The giant Skrymsli, however, possessed far more wisdom than Odin imagined. On the following day, the giant arrived with his scythe and began mowing the field of wheat until he took hold of the particular ear where the boy hid. Upon hearing the boy’s cries of distress, Odin snatched the kernel from the giant’s hands and returned the boy to his parents, stating that he had done all in his power to aid them. Skrymsli obviously felt cheated and announced he would be back the following day. This time the parents implored the God Hoenir. The God answered by turning the boy into a fluff of down, which he hid in the breast of a swan. When the giant appeared, sensing the misdirection, he went straight for the swan and bit off his neck. He would have swallowed the boy had not Hoenir taken the fluff of down away and restored the boy to his parents. He also told them he had done all he could to help. Skrymsli threatened he would make a third attempt for his rightful prize. Desperate, the parents called upon Loki, who carried the boy to sea and hid him in a tiny egg, in the roe of a flounder. After doing this, Loki found the giant on the shore, intent on going fishing. He insisted on accompanying the giant. The giant went fishing with Loki, and happened to catch the identical flounder where the boy was hidden. He proceeded to open up the fish and examine the roe. Loki watched carefully for his chance, and snatched the egg away, whispering to the boy to secretly run back home, passing through the boathouse on his way, and closing the door behind him. The boy did as he was told, but the giant caught on and began pursuing the boy. Unbeknownst to the giant, Loki had placed a spike in such a position so that the giant’s head went straight into it, and he fell to the ground. Seeing him helpless, Loki cut off one his legs, but through sorcerous ways they began to join back together. Master of guile, Loki cut off the other leg and threw flint and steel in between the severed limb and trunk, obstructing any further sorcery. The giant was slain and the peasants were forever grateful to Loki, considering him the mightiest of the heavenly council. (Myths of the Norsemen, 219-21).

I can’t help but recall at this point the importance of the darker powers of nature. Wherein the wily and cunning forces reside. Understanding these sinister and uncomfortable aspects of life opens up the flow of possibilities, and forces us to place our selves outside of fear. The crooked shadow forces bring a necessary tension into the creative vortex. It is fitting here, to further contextualize this story of Loki, that I speak of the òrísá Ògún.

“Ifá reveals that at the beginning of time, when Ayé became an ensouled planed, spirits came from the right and the left. Of these spirits, 201 came from the left and are associated with strength and malefica, whilst 401 came from the right, representing benevolence and good fortune. From the left, the side of strength, only one òrísá came forth, and this was Ògún. The remainder of the spiritual forces coming from the left were spirits detrimental to human well-being. These are considered to be the necessary arsenal of defenses available to Onilé, with Ògún serving as a stabilizing force amidst all these spirits of obstacle and grief.” (Ifá: A Forest of Mystery, 27).

After all this, what do I mean to say? Namely, and in a roundabout way, that it is the tension between these two opposing forces that generate change and movement. This is seen in nature and its cycles. Moreover, character is forged, tempered, refined and shaped within this rhythm. The strength of Ògún is need to balance these “detrimental” forces, and these do not adhere to the pronunciations of good and evil, this polarity is merely something that is, that exists. The key lies in our approach.

The world is infinitely more dynamic than good or bad, black or white, this or that.

If we remember the rhythm, stay attuned and in sync to the rhythm, we will realize that the sinister aspects of life are unavoidable, whether frightful or not, they are a part of the kaleidoscope that is living. Accordingly, we can approach situations where the unavoidable manifests with a detached and clear understanding. We henceforth learn to navigate the patterns of what is, we learn to reside in the flow of the dark, when cunning is necessary, as well as in clarity, when light and transparency is needed. In the end, these are just words describing what is seen and unseen and the forces that permeate our created reality.

Jean Noblet Tarot de Marseille
Jean Noblet Tarot de Marseille edited and reproduced by Jean-Claude Flornoy, 2014 edition.

May we always have the strength of Ògún on our side to temper our darker natures, those inside and outside. To help us understand the cycles and their workings so that we may build in ourselves better character and resilience.

I return to the sly page and discern his vitality, and the necessity of residing within the flow. Aware that the key to all situations lies in our approach. As these are my own observations, feel free to comment away… Happy reading with the cards.

Ifá: A Forest of Mystery, Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, Scarlet Imprint, 2016

Myths of the Norsemen: From the Eddas and Sagas, H.A. Guerber, Dover Publications, New York, 1992.


6 thoughts on “The Strength of Ògún

  1. That story of Loki is in neither of the Eddas as far as I can remember. What is the original source?
    I’ve always suspected that Loki was really just Odin’s shadow aspect. Hoenir is rarely and only vaguely mentioned in these stories, always in connection with Odin, and often with Loki as well. It makes me think that perhaps Loki and Hoenir are both aspects of Odin. Perhaps Hoenir is the order to counter Loki’s chaos. How much do you know about him?

    Also, not to nitpick, but even though Loki is usually a driving force behind these stories and is mentioned far more often than many of the proper Aesir, he’s not technically a god. And if Loki is often described as evil like you say, it’s for a very good reason. In my experience, though, I’ve never read an interpretation that didn’t paint him rather as a complex and ambiguous figure.

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    1. That story was included in this compliation of the eddas and sagas, as the title of the book suggests. I have added the title and publisher at the bottom. The editor does mention that this is a rare story of Loki because he isn’t presented as is typical, the mischief maker and evil character. Also, the editor mentions that there are some historians that suggest that instead of Loki being part of the creative trilogy that is Odin, Hoenir, and Lodur(Loki), he is part of a pre-Odinic cult. Check the book out, it’s really good.
      Oh and what I know of Loki is what I have read in the Eddas and in this book.

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      1. “Mischief maker” is the key, I think. Loki isn’t really ever a purely good guy, because even though he sometimes gets the gods out of sticky situations, he also caused those situations. I think he is more likely to be branded as “evil” though, because of that unpleasant business with Baldr and siding with the giants at Ragnarok. No matter what his prior affiliation was, at the end of days he chose the side of the antagonists, and that’s why he’s remembered as a bad guy.
        I feel like, as far as cults go, Loki would have more likely been celebrated as a culture hero than worshiped as a deity, although it’s impossible to know these sorts of things for sure – could even have been both.
        I’ll check the book out sometime, but I really was wondering what source the book cited for this story. Is it from a saga? Something more obscure? It’s not easy to find new material when it comes to Scandinavian myth, after all.

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      2. You kight also want to check out The Origins of Worlds Mythologies, not specifically on northern myths but spans an overarching analysis of it all. Very interesting, specifically when you think of the preponderance of the trickster god throughout time.

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  2. Hmm, I dig this post! In Ifa, Ogun and Eshu (our mischief maker) are often found together. Which makes sense when you consider the tension of chaos and stability and finding the way through. These are the Orisha you would call to.

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