Introduction to Ogham
Cricket & Whispering Woods
The Ogham alphabet consists of twenty distinct letters which are known as “feda”. They
are arranged in four series called aicmí (plural of aicme “family”). Each aicme was named after its first character (Aicme Beithe, Aicme hÚatha, Aicme Muine, Aicme Ailme, or “the B Group”, “the H Group”, “the M Group” and “the A Group”).
The Ogham Tract also gives a variety of around 100 variant or secret modes of writing
Ogham (92 in the Book of Ballymote), for example the “Shield Ogham” (ogam airenach,
nr. 73). Even the Younger Futhark is introduced as a kind of “Viking Ogham” (nrs. 91,
92). The Druids of yore were said to be very efficient at Ogham writing and signing.
The Ogham “OH-ehm” alphabet is referred to as “beth luis nion”. The name represents
the names of the first, second, and fifth letters of the Ogham alphabet.
The letters themselves consist of one to five perpendicular or angled strokes, meeting or
crossing a center line. These letters were often inscribed in wood or stone. The alphabet itself consists of twenty letters and five diphthongs.
The first twenty letters are divided into three sets of five consonants and one set of five
vowels.The five diphthongs were thought to have been added later to ease the transition from
Latin to ancient Irish. There is an understanding that the names of the main twenty letters are also the names of 20 trees which are sacred to the druids.
Vowels were sometimes described as a combination of dots. The midline was often, the edge of the object on which the inscription was carved; this is called a “Druim” which means ridge or spine.
The “Eite” (feather) and “Eite thuathail” (reversed feather) symbols are used at the
beginning and end of sentences respectively.
A 15th century treatise on Ogham, “The Book of Ballymote”, confirms that ogham was a
secret, ritualistic language.
According to the Highland Society of Scotland’s Dictionary of the Gaelic Language (1828
CE), Ogham is the “occult” manner of writing used by the ancient Irish.The primary manuscript sources for information on Ogham are “The Scholars Primer”(Auraicept Na nEces), “Values of the Forfeda” (De Duilib Feda na Forfid) and the “Book of Ogham” (Leber Ogam).These sources are quoted in the 12th century Book of Leinster and the 14th century manuscript, the Book of Ballymote.
One legend has it that the Scythian king, Fenius Farsa (or Fenius Farsaidh), visited the Tower of Babel shortly after its destruction, only to find that that the builders of the tower had already dispersed. Fenius stayed at the tower, but sent out seventy-two scholars to study each of the seventytwo languages that were now spoken by the builders of the tower. After ten years the scholars returned, and Fenius took the best parts of each language in order to create a “selected language”, which he named Goidelic after his companion Goídel mac Ethéoir. Fenius is also reputed to have discovered four writing systems, Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Ogham, and as Ogham was the most perfect of the four it was chosen for writing the Goidelic (Gaelic) language.
And others believe that the Ogham may be related to a 13 month lunar calendar. This line
of thought comes from the book “The White Goddess” by Robert Graves. I personally don’t subscribe to this particular concept as put forth by Mr. Graves.
Ogham is used as a source of divination, but I personally believe that this is a rather modern adaption of this ancient alphabet, as there are no documents supporting such a use in ancient times. For the most part, all the Ogham inscriptions that exist are burial monuments, property
divisions, or landmarks.
The Ogham was written from the bottom to top or occasionally from left to right.
The greatest concentration of surviving ogham inscriptions are in southern Ireland. A 1945
survey found 121 in Kerry and 81 in Co. Cork, while others are scattered throughout Ireland, Great Britain, and the Isle of Man, with five in Cornwall, about thirty in Scotland, mainly in ‘Pictish’ areas, and more than forty in Wales.
Similar carvings have been found in the state of West Virginia in the USA. This has led to some speculation that the Celts may have come to the New World as early as 100 BCE. The name Ogham or Ogam was derived from the Celtic God of Literature and Eloquence, “Ogma”. To the Gaul’s, he was known as “Ogmios”. Ogma was also known as Cermait (Honey-Mouthed), and Grianainech (Sunny-Faced).
He was a son of the Daghda and that he created the ogham and presented it to the druids.
He was said to lead his followers around by chains of gold and amber that lead from his
tongue to their ears. He was considered a “strong man” of the Tuatha De Danann and was often compared to the Greek, ‘Hercules”. It is thought that he resides in a Sidhe called “Airceltrai”.