Ogham: The Mysterious Language of Trees – part 2

The Alphabet of the Gods

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According to the Irish Bards of old, the Ogham was received by a great poet, mac Elatha mac Delbeath from the God Ogma Grian-ainech or Ogma Sun-Face, a mercurial God of language and poetry. It was instantly conceived as a magical tool. One only has to cast the mind back to the times when uttering spells and charms was enough to change reality at will, or to recall the opening of the Bible, “In the beginning was the WORD”, in order to grasp the power of letters and language in the old world before books usurped the power of communication and turned language into a standard collection of letters printed on pieces of parchment. Of course every witch knows that books themselves in those times were believed to be magical, and for some of us, they still are.

The first letter written was the Ogham for Birch, Beth, carved seven times on the birch bark paper by Ogma for the God Lugh, as an oracle to warn him that his wife would be carried away.

Blogger, Kevin Jones, at: www.taliere.tripod.com, has these interesting things to say about the word Ogham:

Ogham is named after Ogma. However, in Greek ogmos means a line, row or
furrow, which is quite an apt description of Ogham… In Scots Gaelic the word
for Ogham, oidheam, means ‘a notion of anything, an idea, an inference, hint’.
This is an accurate description of the Ogham. The cognate word in Latin,
agmen, means both ‘boatmen’s oars’ and ‘speech’, which is very apt! There is
also the rather obscure word ogygia which is best translated as primeval or
‘before time’. This may or may not be related but if it is, it is apt since the
Ogham does concern primeval things.

Primeval…yes! What could be more primeval than the trees and the sky and
the birds and the earth?

Wooden portal of the Stave Church at Urnes

Deer nibbling the leaves of the Ash Tree
that is also like a door into the Otherworld.

Witches Wheel

Two trees on either side of a path can be perceived as gateways
into the Otherworld. Therefore you must pass between two birches on the Eve
of Samhain, or All Soul’s Night, to begin your journey around the Wheel of the
Year through the grove of sacred trees.

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photo:Michael Hudson

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As pretty as the correspondences are, I feel the current popular trend of creating Celtic Tree calenders with Birch on the threshold of January is  wrong. The Ogham is an ancient Celtic system. The ancient Celtic calender, and one adopted by many who follow a magical Celtic path, begins at Samhain and the Rites of the Birch are meant to be carried out at that time.

Robert Graves, author of The White Goddess, was among the first to popularize the Ogham as the sacred alphabet of the Celts.  He also claimed that all true poetry sprang from this sacred source, magical words formed of magical letters seeded in the subconscious of the inspired poet, and behind that was the power of the Great Goddess. His description of this alphabet, which he called Beth, Luis, Nion, or Birch, Rowan, and Ash respectively, follows the Celtic year of thirteen lunar months. beginning on November first.

I am following the order of trees in a poem I wrote in the early 1980’s called Witches Wheel. I wrote this poem under the influence of The White Goddess, well before the New Age version of Ogham hit the bookstores under the guise of “Celtic Astrology”. Each tree in this book is accompanied by a stanza of this old poem of mine, which was the first poem I ever had published. Even this order is unusual, but it the one that works for me. I give my reasons in the text, though I wrote the poem in a completely intuitive, stream of consciousness state that intellectually justified none of my choices.

The truth is that the idea of a Celtic Tree calender has more to do with the Celtic Twilight of the Victorian Age than with any historical facts. Nevertheless, it is still a beautiful concept that inspires the imagination and gives us a sense of place in a world where human beings are increasingly alienated from nature.

As one who resonates with the most primal levels in magic, I will attempt to reach back intuitively  into the origins of the Ogham in the mists of the “Dark Ages” on the British Isles.  Fact or fantasy? Who cares!

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