(Note from Daven: This is an excellent article on one of the basics of Celtic Life. The Ogham. It is the basis of most of their poetry, literature, and their knowledge. Look it over and look over that which we have on the Druids, and I think you will start to agree with me.)
The Mysteries of the Ogham-Part One
By Kenneth R. White
The script known as Ogham (oh-m) may have been a product of the Celtic peoples coming into contact with cultures who had already developed a written language; however, it is more than likely that the script developed independently. We know that the Druids used the Greek alphabet for private matters, committing none of their lore to writing. Most of our present day knowledge of Ogham comes to us from the Book of Ballimote, which was written in about the fourteenth century. Like the other texts used to teach medieval students, its sources are far older and lost to us. Ogham is to a long and cumbersome a system to use for writing large texts. The practical use of ogham seems to have been limited to ceremonial or short inscriptions. The physical evidence suggests that Ogham was used for short inscriptions and in fact there are many such examples carved along the edges of stones. Most of these Ogham stones are found in Ireland and Wales though there are a few of them located in Scotland and England. Since Ogham is not practical for writing by hand there must have been some other use. This is where we begin our journey into Ogham as a spiritual or magical system. The Ogham letters themselves were said to have been created by the God Ogma, after whom they are named, From a seventh century Irish text, Auraicept na n’Eces, we are told:
“Now Ogma, a man well skilled in speech and in poetry, invented Ogham. The cause of its invention, as proof of his ingenuity, and that this speech should belong to the learned apart, to the exclusion of rustics and herdsmen.”
The Ogham script was commonly cut as a series of nicks on the edges of squared-up wooden sticks to form strokes across a straight line or stem. Ogham was also carved on stones, using the edge of the stone as the stem line, with the letters usually reading from the bottom up. Another way in which it was employed was as a system of secret communication. The fingers of the hand were used to make the strokes and the shin or nose was used as the central stem. This would be similar in use to the American Sign Language “finger spelling.” Again using Ogham in this manner can become tedious to say the least, thought I’m sure it served its purpose.
The God Ogma was a gifted speaker, and most textual references tell us that Ogham was a “speech” and doesn’t really mention it as being a script. Which may lead us to wonder if something isn’t missing. There are hundreds of types of Ogham from bird ogham, to fortress ogham to tree ogham. These types of Ogham appear to have little meaning, and it is generally thought that they are simply associations to aid in remembering bits of information. Like our “A is for apple, B is for ball” etc. But, as we shall see there is more to the Ogham than just as a use as a memory aid. It is commonly believed that pieces of Druidic lore was hidden within the hundreds of Ogham systems. We shall examine one of these systems in depth, the Tree Ogham. We know more about tree Ogham than perhaps any other type of Ogham.
To understand the power of the Ogham it is necessary to realize that to Druids, both past and present, it is more than a system of communication; it is also one of the keys that can open doors to parallel worlds of knowledge, meanings and associations. In the hands of a skilled practitioner Tree Ogham can become a powerful magical tool. Understand, the magic is not contained in the Ogham symbols, but in the trees the symbols represent. Trees can become powerful allies and since they are beings of the green world they are possessed with power just as we are. Each tree has a different “personality” and each can teach us something different, about ourselves and the world in which we live.
We shall begin our study of the Tree Ogham with a brief introduction to the trees which make up the Ogham and the Ogham symbol for each. These symbols are usually written vertically, and read bottom to top. For ease of explanation I will list them horizontally thoughout the coming lessons. The Ogham are divided into five groups of five characters. The last five characters are commonly known as the forfeda, these additional characters were added at a later date, and were an attempt to add charachters to the script for which there were previously none to represent certain sounds in the ancient Irish language. We shall use the forfeda in this system, as we are seeking to come as close to the original system as possible.
Each letter represents a tree. The names of these trees are given in the Irish with the English equivalent next. On the far right I have provided the pronunciation of the Irish name as an after thought.
B – Beith – Birch (BEH)
L – Luis – Rowan (L-WEESH)
F – Fearn – Alder (FAIR-n)
S – Saille – Willow (SHAL-yah)
N – Nuin – Ash (NEE-un)
H – Huathe – Hawthorne (HOO-ah)
D – Duir – Oak (DOO-ir)
T – Tinne – Holly (CHIN-yuh)
C – Coll – Hazel (CULL)
Q – Quert – Apple (KWAIRT)
M – Muin – Vine (MOON)
G – Gort – Ivy (GORT)
Ng – Ngetal- Reed (NYEH-tl)
St – Straif – Blackthorn (STRAHF)
R – Ruis – Elder (RWEESH)
A – Ailim – Silver Fir (AHL-M)
O – Ohn – Furze (UHN)
U – Ur – Heather (OO-r)
E – Eadha -Poplar (EH-yuh)
I – Ioho – Yew (EE-yoh)
In this section we will delve into some of the meanings of the Tree Ogham. In Later lessons we will teach you techniques for building relationships with the trees as well as teaching you how to use the Ogham in divination and magic. But, for now, become familiar with the Ogham rune, the tree and the meaning of each.
B – Beith – Birch (BEH)=Cleansing, new beginnings, breaking new ground
L – Luis – Rowan (L-WEESH)=Protection against enchantment, control of the senses
F – Fearn – Alder (FAIR-n)=a shield of protection, oracular, intuitive
S – Saille – Willow (SHAL-yah)=change and cycles, ebb and flow
N – Nuin – Ash (NEE-un)=inner and outer worlds linked
H – Huathe – Hawthorne (HOO-ah)=cleansing, purity and protective
D – Duir – Oak (DOO-ir)=solid protection, strength, endurance, doorways to otherworlds
T – Tinne – Holly (CHIN-yuh)=balance and directness
C – Coll – Hazel (CULL)=divination, wisdom, the unseen worlds
Q – Quert – Apple (KWAIRT)=choices, pathways
M – Muin – Vine (MOON)=prophecy, fertility
G – Gort – Ivy (GORT)=sprial of life, search for the self, linking and unity
Ng – Ngetal- Reed (NYEH-tl)=direct action, guiding to proper direction
St – Straif – Blackthorn (STRAHF)=fate, destiny, no choices, protective
R – Ruis – Elder (RWEESH)=circle of life, life in death, death in life, change
A – Ailim – Silver Fir (AHL-M)=long sight, gods, ambition
O – Ohn – Furze (UHN)=gathering of power, elements of necessity to reach goals
U – Ur – Heather (OO-r)=links to the inner self, the soul, all healing.
E – Eadha -Poplar (EH-yuh)=endurance, protection, resistance
I – Ioho – Yew (EE-yoh)=rebirth, change, long life, eternity through change
The Other Ogham’s
The Book of Ballymote gives many examples of Ogham lists aside from the tree ogham we are all familiar with. I have given two examples below. These should illustrate how the Druids used them for “secret communication.” They may also shed some light on how they were used to aid the memory in recovering absorbed knowledge. We have already read how Fionn’s servant used Ogham carved upon sticks to relay a message, that it was used we are fairly sure. There are many “ogham stones” found in Scotland, Wales and Ireland which seem to be used as boundry markers.*
We have no way of knowing if the Celts used Ogham for divination but, that the Ogham had magical qualities of that we are sure. There are many instances of Ogham being used in such a manner. Cuchulain used Ogham many times in his life. One instance which comes to mind is from the Tain Bo Culailnge. Cuchulain he inscribes a wooden ring with Ogham and places it around a standing stone. The army from Connacht was unable to pass until they had deciiphered its meaning. Cuchulain again uses Ogham to stop the army of Connacht by chopping down an entire oak tree and covering its surface with Ogham. The army was prevented from passing until one of their number had leapt the tree in his chariot. It is interesting to note that if the Ogham was meaningless or had no power the armies of Connacht would have paid no attention to Cuchulain’s ogham inscriptions.
So how would one use the Ogham for Druid magick in our day and age? We will discuss that and more further on in this lesson.
Below are two additional Ogham lists for you to work with. I have not included the “runes” in this packet because by now you should be well versed in them. (refer to the last lesson or above for help). (*There are even Ogham inscriptions found here in North America! See the book America B.C. by Barry Fell)
Q-quair (mouse colored)
I-irfind (very white)
R-rocnat (small rook)
*The bird for this letter is missing from the original manuscript, I have added Callieach (owl) for completeness.
Originally posted 2011-06-22 19:34:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter