Ogham is thought to have been created some time around 200 – 300 CE, its history is very vague. It is believed that one man in Ireland created the script which has similarities to the Latin and Greek alphabets; the Celts often borrowed from other cultures and no evidence has been found to show that it existed before the Roman Era. Despite Ogham inscriptions being almost unique to Ireland, (over 300 stones have been recorded), some of the corresponding trees such as the Silver Fir or Elm were not native to Celtic Ireland or any part of Britain at this time. So botanical history tells us that Ogham had to have been invented by someone who had lived in the old La Tene territory which was located between France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy ..although no Ogham stones have ever been found there? Mysterious indeed!
In Irish mythology we are told that Ogma of the Tuatha de Danaan created the Ogham. The Tuatha de Danaan were a mythical godlike race with Ogma, a Sun God, known also as Ogma Grianaineac (Sun Face) and Ogma Cermait (Honey-tongued), who offered gifts and help to Men. The ancient Book of Ballymote states “Ogma, much skilled in dialects and poetry, as proof of his intellect, invented Ogham for signing secret speech known only to the learned to the exclusion of rustics and herdsmen”. So this would mean that Ogham was for the use of the Druid classes only, in fact apprentice Druids learned the Ogham during the first three years of their training.
The Druids placed great store on ‘learning by heart’ but they had to remember a vast amount of information about their Clan histories, genealogies and cultures so to make thinags easier they used the Ogham. Each ‘letter’ became associated with anything that shared its beginning sound – for example the ancient Irish symbol ‘B’ for Beith (birch) could also relate to Bo (cow) or Ban (white), in fact anything that was pronounced orally with the B sound. From this practise further Oghams, (aside from the Trees), were developed, these included the ‘Bird Ogham’, ‘Herb Ogham’, ‘Stone Ogham’ etc..
The letters of the Ogham are made up of a series of lines, individually known as ‘flesc’ which means ‘twig’, the central line is called the Druim. The letters themselves are called ‘fews’, based on the older word ‘feda’ which means ‘wood’ -hence the main association with trees. The Druim represents the trunk, the lines or ‘flesc’ the twigs or branches. Originally there were 20 letters in the Ogham alphabet with another 5 being added later on; these ‘additions’ are known as the ‘forfeda’. The letters or fews are grouped into families of 5 which are known as the Aicmi (singular aicme).
As well as the ‘beginning sound’ correspondences with birds, herbs, stones and places, there are esoteric meanings attached to the Ogham letters or fews. A seventh century source ‘The Ogham Tract’ tells us that there is more to the Ogham, additional ‘matter’ – names, meanings and mythological associations. A Druid called Dalan, in the old Irish tale ‘The Wooing of Etain’, used Ogham to find where the God Midir of the Tuatha de Danaan had taken a beautiful mortal woman called Etain. Dalan cut for himself 4 wands* of Yew on which he inscribed 3 Ogham inscriptions, he then used these to find the ‘keys of divination’ which enabled him to discover that Midir had taken Etain back to where he dwelt, the Fairy mound of Breg Leith.
*The ‘wands’ used for Ogham Divination are known as ‘staves’ and beautifully hand-crafted sets made from the (ethically sourced) wood of each tree can be purchased from www.spiritofold.co.uk
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