Ogham (or in Old Irish, Ogam), pronounced “Ohm”, is the earliest form of a written Gaelic language – an alphabet and cipher originally devised under Latin influence. There are twenty ogham feánna (letters/glyphs), which are organized into four sets of five. Each set is an aicme. The first three aicme are made up of consonants and the fourth is made up of vowels. There is also a fifth aicme called the forfeda (extra letters) that are rarely, if ever, seen outside of manuscripts. The forfeda are definitely of later origin than the original character set. Whether they were the creation of the monks who wrote them down as an attempt to bring it in line with Latin or an independent development of a living system is a matter of some debate.
The horizontal style was used primarily in manuscripts. It was written left to right, then top to bottom. The vertical style was used mostly over stones and wood. It was written from bottom to top, then left to right. Most ogham inscriptions which have survived are on large boundary stones, and simply give a name in the genitive case, often with a patronymic or matronymic or the name of an individual’s grandfather. In Old Irish narrative texts, ogham is often described as having been written on sticks of wood or wooden objects (like shields), but no such artifacts have survived. A few bone artifacts with individual letters, either dice or bones with possibly magickal inscriptions, do survive. Use of ogham for divinatory purposes seems likely, given the attestation in the Second Vision of Adomnan that one of many arts that the Irish practiced was fidlanna, “divination by wood”.
Many Neopagans use ogham for divination, sometimes through casting or drawing a fiodh (lit. “stick”, usually used to indicate an ogham letter/glyph inscribed on a piece of wood), and through studying the symbol systems as a way of interpreting omens in the world around us. Neopagans who use ogham for divination and meditation study the old texts and work with our inspiration and the feedback of other Neopagans to learn and further develop the system. This results in each letter becoming a point in an entire matrix of symbolic and conceptual associations. Some incorporate the forfeda, others do not. Many Neopagans look to the Book of Ballymote and its section on ogham alphabets and ciphers for historical associations and symbolism. However, particular approaches to the inclusion of ogham in a modern setting vary, with some Neopagans focusing on the tree associations for each letter and their ties to natural forces, others on the linguistic analysis of letter-name meanings or the word-association kennings and their poetic connection, and still others to the bird ogham, fortress ogham, color ogham, cipher ogham, or other historically attested ways of interpreting the feánna.
|Symbol||Value||Standard Name||Old Irish||Association|
|A||Ailm||Ailm||Pine or Fir|
- The Celtic Tree Oracle by Liz Murray (1988)
- Omens, Oghams & Oracles by Richard Webster (1995)
- Ogam: The Celtic Oracle of the Trees by Paul Rhys Mountfort (2002)
- Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom by Erynn Rowan Laurie (2007)
- Ogham: The Secret Language of the Druids by Robert Lee Ellison (2008)
- Celtic Tree Magic by Danu Forest (2014)