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.

The Ogham Enigma

Below is a diagram of Ogham Script as attributed to the Celtic or Druid Tree Ogham. This according to a discussion with a friend in the know on such things is a misnomer since the Tree associations seem to stem from 1000 years after the arrival of Christianity when the language was no longer used and subsequently some errors were made.

While there are some other interesting ideas in motion behind the Ogham script, such as Nuin whose letter value is ‘N’ being labelled Ash when following certain etymological lines the more correct association would be with the vagina or female genitalia. When one considers the arguement for female mysteries and birth its only natural that a society wish to explore this remarkable event whereby a life is created in seemingly miraculous fashion. I would be inclined to agree with my friend on this matter, perhaps being Pagan and witnessing the various ways societies have rendered female mysteries and motherhood as being hand in hand predisposes me to such thinking.
Also Gort, whose letter value is ‘G’, is given to the tree, Ivy, when even in modern Irish górtaigh means ‘[to cause] hurt’. Looking online now I see that gort also means field, its possible that this Ogham means two things but confirmation on Old or Middle Irish will be needed in this regard. Taking it to mean hurt a possible method to divine the injury of a person or indeed place may be involved.
However as I said the primary focus of this blog entry is on certain evasive attributations to the Ogham that culturally may have more meaning for a society than say their latter tree meanings. Also considering the structure that my friend gives to the readings these “older” meanings offer greater insights for the Ogham as a divinational tool.
With the above diagram Sraif is given the letter value of ‘Z’ and ‘SR’ and the tree value of Blackthorn (also called: sloe, wild plum, wishing thorn or mother of the wood), yet if we use our imaginations for a moment or two to explore another meaning we can see a level of complexity to the Ogham Script that is quite remarkable. My friend theorises that Sraif actually means ‘sulphur’. Looking at sulphur doesn’t at first seem likely because sulphur in chemistry [symbol: S] is seemingly very stable, but when one looks to the process of Alchemy we start to notice that not all chemicals are rendered properly for modern usage.
Things such as salt can mean any white powder, or mercury may not always mean just chemical mercury [symbol: Hg]. Because silver is less reactive silver nitrates will not exchange for silver. But silver nitrate might just exchange for sulphur. The thing is the Ancients may not have necessarily cared why something changed only that it did. The reason why we’re focusing on a chemical reaction here is because of the possible meaning to another letter which may mean airgead (money in Irish) and if airgead refers to copper then perhaps we might be onto something.
The following letter is Ruis, and this is given the letter value of ‘R’ and the tree value of Elder. Considering that Elder and Alder may better serve us towards the beginning and the end respectfully and thusly completing the cycle.
This will be updated upon further research. Please comment if any insight can be given on the matter, such as if you happen to know the common minerals in Ireland at the time of the Ogham script. Please remember that this friend retains her right to privacy and that if anyone wishes to lend a hand they will need to contact me here. Many thanks dear readers! x

Ogham Reading – 01/07/2009

I had a very interesting discussion with a pagan acquaintance of mine over the Ogham. Previously I had heard it stated that the Ogham was a form of writing, and based on later usage of the alphabet this seems to be quite apt. Largely based on Old Irish (Sean-Gaelige) it’s complexities as a divinational tool were seemingly hampered by the well-meaning intentions of some monks who attributed the Ogham to trees. While many of the tree meanings are apt some are questionable and I look forward to sitting down with my acquaintance and learning more and hopefully learning to identify some overlooked avenues with the Ogham. While my own interest in linguistics is based on interest more than a valid area of study who knows what avenues might own in years to come.
Regarding the Ogham reading some interesting confirmations arose as I asked over general romantic situations. The reading had four quatrants. Closest to me was Personal issues, furthest away and opposite was what my acquaintance termed the Transpersonal, to my left was Barriers and opposite it to my right was Possible Resolutions. Nuin, which has been seen as another tree has been depicted as female genitalia (V) fell on the outside and well past the Transpersonal and Possible Resolutions which was interesting.
The overall reading highlighted recent sublimations of my own regarding the hurt that had a physical characteristic to it. In regards to this roughly around the same time of these hurtful encounters I developed epilepsy. It also pointed out that I had put up blockades or barriers after all this hurt. But now it seems that its a matter of regulating the deeper emotions. There was also mention of avoiding stagnation as well and this I liken to my recent exploits into the world of people! lol Recent months have provided retrospection and introspection and I have been endeavouring to reclaim my social life so this was very interesting. There was much confirmation to be gained from this reading made all the more interesting based on the fact this acquaintance hadn’t actually met me previous to this.
There seems to be a theme of becoming within the readings of late. Which I am feeling more and more empowered by myself. A separate reading offered by another person part-taking of tea and banter highlighted this point as a choice between two things but in truth a third or alternative Path may also be on offer.