Ogham, dispelling some of the Myths

I’m not too sure of readers familiarity with the Ogham and so having referred to it in previous blogs I wanted to explore the Ogham as best I can with readers. Since I am still discovering the wealth of information that is available there will be some mistakes in what I have to say. I do welcome any comments and corrections or perhaps points readers feel could do with some flushing out. I should preface this with stating that while I have experience of a basic introduction to linguistics, by what I have to say on the matter comes from a friend who is a linguistic by study. I don’t feel right in mentioning her by na
me here as she is quite a private person.

Below is a list of the understandings of the Ogham that we have given them based also on the linguistic work of Damian McManus. There is an extended hypothesis behind our divergence from Damian’s understandings. We’re all working from a linguistic interpretation of the the kennings, which are a collection of three poems which offer insights into possible interpretations of the ogham symbols or letters known as fid.

The image below contains some of the adaptions that myself and my friend have been working with based on continued exploration of the three kennings; Bríatharogam Chonchulainn, Bríatharogam Mac Indoc, Bríatharogam Morainn Mac Móin.



I shall be posting on the kennings specifically at a later stage as I don’t wish to overwhelm myself and readers alike. I would like to know what people think of this rendering of the ogham as a map of the world rather than a “tree alphabet”, which seems to be derived from Christian scholars examining the ogham and seeing certain trees depicted and based on other writings of the time attempted to fill in the blanks. This was not a conspiracy on behalf of the Christian church in Ireland as they were examining the ogham circa 1,000 years after it was last in use.

Traditionally in modern Irish the word file means poet but in Old-Irish the word meant seer. The reason for this seems to be that the structure for correct use of the ogham and associated poems took years of specialized study. I think the definitive word here is ‘study’ rather than learning and ‘study’ implies a degree of personal understanding through learning by rote rather that the learning by script or ‘book learning’ which came later. To be a successful file one had to complete the first seven years of learning the basics which include; 50 poems (ceart ogham), 20 stories, 6 of the basic poetic meters as well as the entire Auraceipt na nÉces (or Scholar’s Primer) including the foreword and appendices. Years 7 – 12 were spent studying more texts and poems including some intended for use as a means to employ the “seer’s sight”. After the 12 years a File had the basics by which they could cease study or if they wished to specialize in much the same way that law students in Ireland select specialities after their initial degree.

The real “magic” of a File was in their power to satirize a person. In ancient Irish law the emphasis was on restoration and so if a farmer had grieved against another then the aggrieved party could take some of the farmer’s cattle until restoration was made. This was all conducted under the legal system of the time as administered by the scholars or learned men. But what happens when the aggrieved person is a File? They have no property and so their words are their bread-crust. A formulae existed by which satirizing a person could be engaged. I will endeavour to post on the social structure of the time also at a later stage, for now I wish to show the focus on the sway that words had over people even before the written word came along. As such it makes little sense to postulate that the ogham is merely an alphabet let alone a tree alphabet.

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2 Replies to “Ogham, dispelling some of the Myths”

  1. Good introduction! I have no problem with you identifying me as your co-conspirator… 🙂 But let's not let too much cat out of the bag just yet – after all, we want people to buy the book when it's published!

  2. Oh okay well you pretty much named yourself there! lol I'm withholding the kennings the further research you have on the matter as my blog just isn't capable of doing it justice anyway. Hopefully this will help to make people go "hmm okay interesting… if they publish I'd buy that to find out more!"

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