Ogham and The Book of Ballymote
I am writing a book on the Irish Ogham. I have been working with the Trees and the strange alphabet based on them, and reputed to be one of the only things to have come to us from the Druids, since the mid 1980′s. I wrote a poem way back then called Witches Wheel, using the Trees on the Wheel of the Year. This poem was instantly snapped up by the editors of Seattle poetry mag Bellowing Ark, launching my brief, but eventful, poetry career.
I was going through some journals and things and found that old Bellowing Ark with this poem in it. It inspired me to put a book together using this poem based on the order of trees in association with the months that felt right to me back then, and still do now. It is not the standard Celtic Tree Calender, or Celtic Astrology we have had marketed to us for the last 20 years. It is based on the thirteen month lunar calender of the Celts — equally speculative, but more appropriate. I back up my ideas in the book and will make it available through this blog.
At the time I wrote Witches Wheel, I was heavily under the influence of Robert Graves’ White Goddess. I wrote a few others under that influence, including Song to the Gundestrup Cauldron lurking somewhere in the Archives of this blog. Recently as I was doing research to refresh my memory a bit, I was poking around in an online version of the Book of Ballymote. There I found this list — a nice bit of wonderfully poetic Tree Lore.
Click below for that poem:
The Book of Ballymote was written by a scribe and named for the parish of Ballymote, County Sligo, in 1390 or 1391.
I don’t know really know much about it except that it is full of Ogham, like this page here: all these arrangements of little lines symbolize particular trees, and everything they are each associated with.
For more details on the Book of Ballymote, there is a fabulous website:
Ogham Scales from the Book of Ballymote, by Dr. Barry Fell.
I think it was from R.J. Stewart that I first heard where the Faery Tunes of Ireland, like Pretty Girl Milking a Cow, and the Faery Tunes of O’Carolan, came from. In my other brief career as folk musician, I knew that some tunes were known as Faery Tunes, but I did not know that they came up from under the ground.
Call me what you will, but when I was in Ireland, I took a tour on a bus out to the Burrin. As we rode along, I could have sworn I heard music coming from under the ground. Had I known how to write music, I could prove it!
The Faery Tradition is a path of imagination and poetry. In the same way that Turlough O’Carolan captured Faery music as it rose up from the Underworld, I believe that one can get messages from Faery through the trees, the patterns the branches against the sky, and the flight of birds across the sky seen through the trees. Some of these messages may be oracular. A Faery Seer sees signs everywhere, and with a certain poetic sensibility is able to interpret them.
These meanings are mostly about the actual uses of the trees- as types of firewood, cattle fodder, what can be made from them, what insects or animals might hide in them- or are simple descriptions of the trees. While some of the meanings are quite intriguing, I don’t believe that these lists are specifically related to divination or magic- although they could have been part of a larger system that was.
From The Scholar’s Primer: Word Oghams of Morann Mac Main
Parentheses are mine. My meditations have been quick. They will bear deeper work, especially when you are familiar with the trees and can, in a sense, go into them. Be the tree and at the same time, the observer of the tree and you will find the juncture for divination.
At the end of this post, i gave a nice little divination technique.
B – beith, birch – faded trunk and fair hair , ( this is how Birch looks)
L- luis, rowan – delight of eye, blaze or flame , ( the berries of the rowan are flame red)
F- fearn, alder – shield of warrior-bands, (the bleeding alder was used for shields)
S- saille, willow – hue of the lifeless , ( willow is the threshold of the Otherworld, death)
N- nion, ash – checking of peace (a sign of peace) ( upholds the earth)
H – huath, hawthorn – pack of wolves ( the Faery Tree, dangerous to touch)
D – duir, oak – highest of bushes ( large)
T – tinne, holly – “Another thing, the meaning of that today” ( holly is the Winter King who must replace the Oak of Summer)
C – coll, hazel – fairest of trees ( poetry and wisdom)
Q - quert, apple – shelter of a hind, a fold, lunatic ( romantic, sexual love. Lovers run mad in many Celtic tales)
M – muin, vine – strongest of effort ( you cannot break it)
G – gort, ivy – sweeter than grasses, cornfield ( spreads everywhere like grass, but is sweeter)
NG – ngetal, broom – a physician’s strength ( luck)
ST – straif, blackthorn – strongest of red (dye color) ( Also, a tree of suffering — blood)
R – ruis, elder – intensest of blushes, from shame ( witches tree)
A – ailm, silver fir – loudest of groanings, death rattle ( the ghost rising up out of the earth, birth coming from death)
O – onn, furze – helper of horses, chariot wheels ( feeds horses)
U – ura, heather – in cold dwellings, mold of earth ( grows close and all over the ground)
E – eadha, aspen – distinguished wood for the trembling tree ( good fire)
I - idho, yew – oldest of woods ( immortality)
EA – ebad, aspen (or white poplar)- most buoyant of wood (graceful, flexible)
OI – oir, spindle tree- most venerable of structures ( house building wood)
UI - uillean, gooseberry- sweetest of wood ( berries)
IO – ipin, honeysuckle (or woodbine)- juicy wood ( wine)
AE – emancoll, witchhazel- expression of weariness ( end of wisdom)
These meanings show another aspect of each tree.
Word Oghams of Mac ind Oic:
b, beith, birch – most silvery of skin ( bark of the birch)
l, luis, rowan – friend of cattle ( I think cattle shelter under rowan)
f, fearn, alder – guarding of milk ( The Fery King who guards women — shields were made of alder)
s, saille, willow – activity of bees ( the buzzing of bees signal proximity of the Faery Queen. Willow is her tree)
n, nion, ash – fight of women ( the Three Norns live under Yggdrasil, the World Tree and spin the Web of Wyrd)
h, huath, hawthorn – blanching of face ( fear the Faeries – supernatural beings, harbingers of death)
d, duir, oak – carpenter’s work ( wood for building houses, Door)
t, tinne, holly – fires of coal ( holly fires, berries turn white, green, red, and then black)
c, coll, hazel – friend of cracking ( hazel nuts being shelled)
q, quert, apple – force of the man ( sexual potency inspired by beauty)
m, muin, vine – condition of slaughter, a man’s back (captivity, lashes)
g, gort, ivy – (med nercc, meaning “abundance of mead.”)
ng, ngetal, broom – (this list skips this letter..)
st, straif, blackthorn – increasing of secrets ( anything hidden under the blackthorn is safely guarded)
r, ruis, elder – redness of faces, sap of the rose ( Enchantress’s tree)
a, ailm, silver fir – beginning of an answer, child’s cry ( birth)
o, onn, furze – smoothest of work
u, ura, heather – growing of plants, the soil ( holds the soil as groundcover)
e, eadha, aspen – synonym for a friend
i, idho, yew – most withered of wood, or a sword (old and yet strong)
ea, ebad, aspen (or white poplar)- corrective of a sick man
oi, oir, spindle tree- (this list skips this letter)
ui, uillean, gooseberry- wonderful of taste
e io, ipin, woodbine (or honeysuckle)- great equal length
ae, emancoll, witchhazel- (this list skips this one)
Ogham Staves for Divination
I am not sure if Ogham staves are authentic, or if they a new thing based on the I-ching. They are cool though.
For modern people, who don’t spend a lot of time with nature watching the trees, Ogham staves can be a replacement for this observation of the patterns of trees. Having the forest reduced and encapsulated into a set of tools, saves you having to learn the names, growing conditions and seasons of each and every tree.
I would tend to visit a tree — say a yew in the park close to my house — and work ask it to help understand the forces of death and rebirth, and immortality. Or I would find a willow if I wanted to increase my psychic powers.
I call Observing the Ogham Faery Divination at its purest. Casting the Ogham staves can work in much the same way if you learn the qualities of the trees, their life cycles and where they fit in the chain of life. Then, when the staves are thrown, you merge with the spirits of the trees and gather the messages from the images that come to mind. The spirits you commune with are Faery beings who impart to each tree is numinous, eerie, poetic attributes, making the staves into doorways to the Otherworld where the answers lie.
I have used Ogham divination in this way for other people. You could try it too.
1. Have the person bring you a leaf. or several if they need them. As they gather them, they should be thinking the whole time about their question or concern, and thank the trees for the leaves.
2. Go out with your client and find a tree that the leaf belongs to. For instance, if they brought you an Oak leaf, find an Oak tree.
3, Sit under the tree, lean on its trunk, and go into communion with the spirit of the tree — its Faery self.
4. If you like Geomancy, this would be great to use it, but only if you need a tool besides Clairvoyance. But if you meditate deeply enough, you should be able to receive direct impressions — messages from the tree, the wind in the branches, the life all around it. What falls on your head?
5. What animals come along? Imagination is the key to Faery divination.
6. You can also make a board like the diagram above and throw stones on it and see where they land if you need more detail. This is good if you have to stay inside, or want a bit more information on an issue and require more trees.
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