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Ogham - It’s All in the Symbols
“Symbols are powerful because they are the visible signs of invisible realities.” - St. Augustine.
Today, I will discuss the Irish writing system called Ogham (pronounced “Oh-Am”). But before I get on with the Ogham, I apologize for this shorter and slightly rushed update. As I am sure those of you with children can understand, sometimes their activities and events can rule your life.
Right now, we are in the middle of marching band season. In addition to the usual Saturday football games, there are Columbus Day parades for the band to play in this weekend. The big one is the New York City Columbus Day parade on Monday. This parade is a big deal for the band members. They march up 5th Avenue starting at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and perform for the judges at the end of the parade. My son’s school usually scores very well. In any event, there have been a bunch of extra rehearsals and practices requiring parents to be unpaid Uber drivers.
So, has anybody read any Dan Brown books or seen any movies based on the books? I will not give spoilers to those who have not, so don’t worry. I will say that the main character, Robert Langdon, is a symbologist who helps solve mysteries by analyzing symbols. However, symbols do not have to be complex, like in the Dan Brown books/movies.
What is a symbol? I am not interested in any scholarly or technical definition. To me, a symbol is something visual that conveys a meaning(s). Symbols can be simple in appearance but still have great and multiple meanings. The words and letters I am currently writing are symbols that mean something to you, the reader. They convert my thoughts to you in a visual format. The letters I write have a fixed meaning, but perhaps to some people, the letters may mean something more than a visual presentation of my words.
In Ireland, there is a writing system called Ogham, which visually represents the Primitive Irish language. Ogham is probably most known for being carved into stones. There are many examples of Ogham-carved stones in Ireland and a handful in Scotland. Stones with Ogham inscriptions have been dated to the fifth to seventh centuries CE. Although several theories exist, nobody knows precisely when and how the Ogham alphabet came to be.
Ogham is written off a stave, which is just a vertical straight line. Off this stave are perpendicular or diagonal lines going in either direction. There are twenty original letters in the Ogham alphabet. Each letter is called a feda. There are four groups of five feda; each called an aicme. Eventually, additional five feda, called the forfeda, were added by the Benedictine monks to write Ogham in manuscript form.
The letters in the Ogham alphabet are written vertically from bottom to top. If used for manuscript writing, it is written from left to right.
Here is the Ogham alphabet:
To put it in context, here is a photo of the Ogham pendant on my necklace. The lettering spells out my name, Michael, from bottom to top.
So, now that you have an understanding of how Ogham represents letters, let’s talk about what else Ogham might actually mean. But first, a significant misunderstanding must be cleared up.
The names of eight of the original feda translate to the names of trees. However, an author named Robert Graves published a book in 1948 called “The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth.” In this book, Graves falsely indicates that there is a tree associated with every feda, and the whole alphabet together forms a tree calendar for Celtic magic. Many have taken this erroneous information and run with it, producing various books, divination methods, etc., related to Ogham.
From what I understand in my beginning stages of learning about Ogham, there are numerous meanings and uses for each feda. For example, numerous correspondence lists indicate what each feda represents in various situations. I am unsure how this works, but I look forward to learning.
Some people use Ogham as a divination method. Now, I thought it was nonsense when I first found out about it, but I didn’t fully understand what divination was. Yes, part of divination is telling the future, but it is not a required aspect. Divination can also be used to learn about oneself on a profound level. Once again, this is something I will learn about.
Another use for Ogham is meditation, especially to “journey” to the otherworld. This is obviously something I am very skeptical about. However, I promised I would keep an open mind. So I will give this a fair shake and see what happens.
Since using the Ogham for all these various purposes is very specific and intense, I have decided to take a six-month Ogham course from a reputable school in Ireland. Even if I was willing to explore these topics on my own, there is so much wrong information out there; it is better to go with a reputable teacher who uses source information whenever possible.
I look forward to reporting back about my thoughts and experiences with the Ogham.
Have a great weekend!
My name is Mike, and I am a skeptic and recovering accountant just starting to make my way through the world of the Druids, Celts, and Pagans.
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With a skeptical mind and an analytical eye,
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