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Ogham Divination

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Modern Druidry is a 300 year old path that focuses on nature spirituality and inner transformation founded on personal experience rather than dogmatic belief.

Ogham Divination

Postby Ravencry » Tue Apr 10, 2012 4:22 pm

One area of the craft that arouses much interest among ‘normal’people is the telling of fortunes. Now divination is much more than simply attempting to predict the future. It is equally used to seek answers to current questions or even to understand the past.
Just as there are many uses to which we might put divination there are equally many methods. We have Tarot, Runes, crystal ball and even reading the tea leaves. One method that is less often seen used and one that, perhaps can claim to be a little more ‘native’ is that of reading Ogham sticks.



So what exactly is Ogham?

The Ogham alphabet consists of letters made from short tally-marks on a straight line. One mark for B, two marks forL, three for F
Each tally is called a “few” and each group of five is an “aicme.” The line that they’re written on is called the Druim.
Dots are frequently used between words, spaces between letters. The first aicme is for the Labials, the next for Dental and Aspirant letters, then the Gutteral sounds, and finally the Vowels.

Almost all the inscriptions carved on stone date from the 3rd to the 7th centuries. About 350 stones survive, most in S. Ireland, the rest in Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Man. The use of Ogham in manuscripts continues until much later than that, into the Christian period.



How does the Ogham divination work?

Basically, almost anything that began with that letter in Ancient Irish could be associated with that tally: Birds, Bodies of Water, Herbs, Stones, Tools, and even Saints. There’s a Saint’s Ogham where each letter corresponds to a Saint’s name.
You could come up with a Gods and Goddesses Ogham too. Think “A is for Apple, B is for Ball, For example we might Equate B with Hecate or Hathor as this tally translates to the Letter H
In The Scholar’s Primer, an old Irish manuscript, these associations are called “kennings.” A way to tell what was an original kenning and those added by modern practitioners is to check to see if that association starts with that letter in ancient Irish. If it doesn’t, it’s modern.
Being modern however isn’t bad, these associations are often much better if they mean something personal to the user.

There is a fifth aicme which seems to have been added after the development of the first five and seems to equate to language attributes that were developed as the spoken language of the time become more complex.

In the Irish tale, Tochmarc Etaine, `the Wooing of Etain,' a Druid named Dalan used a method of Ogham divination to find where the God Midir had taken Etain. He cut four wands of yew on which he cut three Oghams, and with themhe found the "eochra ecsi (`keys of divination'?)," with which he was able to discover that she had been taken to the Sidhe-mound of Breg Leith, where Midir dwelt .

According to the Roman historian Tacitus, a similar method of divination was in use in Germany in the 1st century CE . He describes how the Germans would:

"cut off a branch of a nut-bearing tree and slice it into strips; these they mark with different signs and throw them completely at random onto a white cloth. Then the priest of the state, if the consultation is a public one, or the father of the family if it is private, offers a prayer to the gods, and looking up at the sky picks up three strips, one at a time, and reads their meaning from the signs previously scored on them. If the lots forbid the enterprise, there is no deliberation that day on the matter in question; if they allow it, confirmation by the taking of auspices is required."

There are very few instances of divination by Ogham in the old lore. Some scholars will tell you that “Ogham was never used for divination,” and then they’ll politely add “but some modern people use it for that, and it seems to work for them.”

However, when Midir abducts Etain, the Druid Dalan discovers where she is by using ogham although we don’t know precisely how Dalan did his divination.
There is also a sheep bone from a 10th century fortress with an Ogham inscription on it. It was quite possibly used for divination, in a way similar to the way Dalan used the yew rods.
So, there is anecdotal evidence that Ogham was used for divination. And, there’s St. Columba’s proscription on “lots” (which most people take as a reference to tree letters).
There’s not much else.

The Roman writer Tacitus reports that Germanic tribe did divination in much the same way- by writing symbols on staves of wood and tossing them on a white cloth and seeing where they landed.
They were probably using Norse runes, but they could have been using Ogham. We don’t know.

A better way is a method called “Coelbreni.” Sticks with Ogham runes cut on them are tossed on the ground, and divination is obtained from the way they fall.
One way you could do this would be to draw three circles on the ground, representing the past, present and future, or the three worlds of land, sea and sky, or the three kindreds of Ancestors, Nature Spirits and Gods. And you can divide those circles into sections, if you wish. Toss the sticks marked with Ogham in the air and see which lands where.

Making a set of Ogham sticks is quite easy.
First obtain 20, or 25, if you want to use the additional aicme.
I found that ice-lolly sticks seem to be the best size to work with for a first attempt.
You then scribe a centre line down the length of the stick and from that line scribe the required number of tallies on the line.

I also put the Irish name of the letter and the tree association on the bottom of the stick.
This makes interpretation easer. You could of course use any ‘kenning’ that you felt happy working with.
If you want to add more power to them, I suggest making them from yew, apple, or oak wood, or even better, the woods that the fews correspond to.
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Re: Ogham Divination

Postby Ravencry » Tue Apr 10, 2012 5:17 pm

Beith ~ Birch
Beginnings, Purity, Renewal, Birth, Changes
One of the first trees to colonise the land after the last ice age, the Birch tree embodies the the life giving spirit of the Earth Goddess – She is also known as the ‘Lady of the Woods’.
The Silver Birch was believed to have been a portal to the Otherworld and is associated with the Welsh Celtic Goddess Arianrhod

Luis ~ Rowan
Protection, Inspiration, Magic
Also known as Mountain Ash, this beautiful tree can thrive at much higher altitudes than many others so was seen to be ‘closer to the Divine’ by the Ancient Celts. A member of the Rosaceae family with tiny pentagrams on its berries, it has long been associated with magical protection.
Associated deities are Rhiannon and Brighid - Goddess as Protector, ‘The Lady of the Mountains’

Fearn ~ Alder
Guidance, Confidence, A Shield, The Sage
Once used to make the shields of Celtic Warriors the Alder represents strength and courage as well as guidance and wisdom. The wood of this tree is also very water resistant and was used in the building of crannogs, the ancient lake dwellings of Ireland and Scotland.
The deity associated with Fearn is the God Bran, the Guardian of Britain whose head is said to be buried at the White Mount in London upon which the Tower of London is now located.

Saille ~ Willow
Intuition, Divination, Dreams, Emotions
Often to be found growing in or near watery places, Saille is associated with the emotions, the power of the moon, enchantment and witchcraft.
Using psychic power to commune with those in the Otherworld was for the ancient Celts a very normal part of life and those with the gift of ‘the sight’ were highly respected in their communities.
The moon Goddess Cerridwen represents the divinity of Saille.

Nuinn ~ Ash
Change, Order, Harmony, Balance.
Known as a ‘World Tree’ due to it’s great height – ‘Yggdrasil’ in Norse mythology.
Nuinn is also associated with the magician and shapeshifter Gwyddion and the Celtic sea God Manannan.
Druids’ wands were often made of Ash and it is said that St Patrick used a stick of Ash to drive the snakes out of Eire.

Huathe ~ Hawthorn
Obstructions, Obstacles, being held back..
Huathe is a tree of enchantment, a fairy tree associated with the virgin Goddess Olwen.
Solitary Hawthorn trees or bushes are often to be found near wells and springs and the Celts saw them as entrances or portals to the magical Otherworld.
The famous Glastonbury Thorn is a Hawthorn

Duir ~ Oak
Protection, Strength, Nobility
Duir is ‘King of the Woods’, sacred to the Druids and the Celtic God of perfect knowledge - Dagda.
The roots of the Oak tree are said to run as deep into the ground as it’s branches can grow up into the air, therefore Duir was thought to ’exist in the Otherworld’ as well as this world.
It is said that Merlin practised his magic in a grove of Oak trees with an Oak wand.
The Oak as well as being a noble tree also represents hospitality which is why so many pubs and inns in Britain are named ‘The Royal Oak’.

Tinne ~ Holly
Challenge, Spiritual Testing, Defence
Associated with the tools of the ancient Celtic warrior – weapons were forged in a fire of holly and the wood was also often used for making chariot shafts.
Tinne also represents the ‘Holly King’ who is said to rule over the ‘dark half’ of the year, from Midsummer to Midwinter with Duir representing the ‘Oak King’, who rules the first ‘light half’ of the year.
The Celts regarded the Oak and the Holly as ‘opposites of the same’, the dual aspects of the Sun God. The Irish deity Lugh is one of the several solar hero-figures identified with the Holly King.

Coll ~ Hazel
Wisdom, Divination, Inspiration
Hazel is the Celtic tree of inspired knowledge. The mythical ’Salmon of Wisdom’ aquired its knowledge by eating nine hazelnuts which fell from nine hazel trees surrounding the ‘Well of Wisdom’.
Hazel Trees often grow by water which has long been associated with intuition – dowsing rods are often made of hazel wood. Deities which represent the qualities of Coll are Mannanan Mac Lir and Brighid, Goddess of Inspiration.

Quert ~ Apple
Health, Healing, Love..
Avalon, translates as the ‘Island of Apples’ and is in Celtic myth ’the land of youth and immortality’. Therefore apples were considered to be ‘the food of the Gods’.
When an apple is cut crosswise a pentagram is revealed which shows us that the apple is also a fruit of the Goddess ..from a tree of protection with links to the Otherworld.
Quert is also representative of the heart and our emotions, of love and generosity of spirit. The associated Goddess is Cerridwen


Muinn ~ Vine
Unity, Work Completion, Festivity
Muinn can refer to all vine like bushes or brambles - the connection to a grapevine was probably a late one for the Celts with vines not being introduced to Britain until the Roman era.
The spiralling vine which features often in Celtic art is symbolic of the intertwining of the conscious and unconscious mind. The drinking of alcohol was thought to provide Divine Inspiration and wine especially so with the grapevine’s ability to grow so high above the trees that support it.
Grapevines need to be meticulously cared for if we want them to bear fruit and/or produce wine - great patience is needed to receive good harvest – Muinn suggests the realisation of personal projects as well as inner development.
The Welsh moon Goddess Cerridwen is linked with Divine Inspiration and so connects with Muinn.


Gort ~ Ivy
Restriction, Binding, Tenacity
Associated with the Goddess as well as the planets and stars, Gort represents the knowledge of the Universe.
Evergreen Ivy is an incredibly powerful plant, ruthless in its tenacity, using other plants and trees to support its growth until it constricts them to death - it can even kill the mighty Oak.
The Welsh Celtic Goddess Arianrhod is the deity for Gort, her heavenly abode said to be the constellation Corona Borealis.


Ngetal ~ Broom
Healing, Cleansing, Strength
As the name of this tree tells us, it’s long flexible branches have long been used in the making of besoms and brooms.
The association with Witches or Wise Women links with the clearing, cleansing and healing and protective properties of Ngetal.
Broom represents the clearing out of inner negative energies and is known as ‘The Physician’s Strength’ – we must shed the emotional baggage, bad habits and fears that hold us back physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually if we are to bring harmony into our lives .
An associated deity is the God Cernunnos ‘The Horned One’.

Straif ~ Blackthorn
Negativity, Pain, Conflicts
Said to be the sister tree of the Hawthorn or Whitethorn – Straif rules the dark half of the year, Huathe the light half -similar to the Holly and Oak Kings.
Straif literally translates as ‘strife’ and so is associated with misfortune and negative forces. The thorns of this shrub were once used as weapons known as ‘pins of sleep’ having been tipped with poison before piercing the victim.
The Cailleach the ‘Divine Hag’ and the Morrigan the ‘Phantom Queen’ are the deities associated with Straif which is not all about evil but can also signify protection, transformation and awakening – the breakdown of old things to make way for the new


Ruis ~ Elder
Karma, Regret, The Inevitable..
The Elder represents the Goddess in all her aspects – as Maiden, Mother and Crone - especially the Crone who was said to guard this tree and bring bad fortune to anyone who dared to cut it down.
The ancient Celts therefore connected Ruis with death and the dark mysteries ..as well as regeneration as death for them simply meant a transition from one realm of existence into the next.
The Celts also believed that one should die with dignity and honour which connects with the ideas of Karma and evolutionary change.


Ailm ~ Pine/Fir
Purification, Elation, Experiences..
Ailm is connected with the Sun and the Midwinter Solstice, the birth of the Sun-Child - the winter born God-King.
The fiery brands which our ancestors used to make torches were most often made of Pine and the fragrant burning wood also used for purification rituals.
Pine cones were also used in ancient fertility rites and the tree itself was also sacred to the Goddess Druantia – Queen of the Druids.


Onn ~ Gorse
Vitality and Optimism.
Gorse with its vibrant yellow flowers links to the Sun and the ancient Celtic solar deity Lugh, a God of light, knowledge, inspiration and ‘many arts’.
This evergreen shrub can be found in flower all year round so was also a symbol of continuous fertility to the Celts.
Onn also provided them with a very useful fuel and helped make up the Beltane fires through which their cattle were driven every year in order to purify and protect them.


Ura ~ Heather
Love, Passion, Partnership
The glorious sight of Heather in bloom raises the spirits and to the ancient Celts this flowering season was a time of rejoicing and indulgence - both beer and honey were made from Heather flowers.
Ura is associated with the the Irish Goddess Aine who is representative of love, summer, wealth, fertility and sovereignty.


Edhadh ~ Aspen
Fear, Doubt, a Shield
The Aspen is a tree which the ancient Celts associated with the Underworld but they also used its wood to make shields for their warriors - maybe for psychic protection from the fear of death/the unknown as well as for the bodily protection it provided.
The Celtic Deities whom Edadh connects with are Arawn, King of the Underworld and the Goddess Rhiannon. For a time Arawn swapped places with Pwyll, a Lord of Dyfed who slept chastely with Arawn’s wife and went on to meet and marry Rhiannon.
As Aspen can survive in the most inhospitable of conditions so it represents a challenge to fear and the unknown - our inner strength and courage.

Idho ~ Yew
Transition, Renewal, Rebirth, a Gateway
The Yew tree is a Celtic symbol of eternal life. Not only is it an evergreen but it can live for a very long time indeed – the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire is estimated to be anything between 3000 and 9000 years old!
The Druid Dalan is said to have carved his Ogham on wands of Yew when searching for Etain.
The ‘Land of the Dead’ in the old Irish tales of Finn and the Fianna is referred to as ‘The Valley of the Yew’ telling us that Idho is a gateway for the dying …as well as rebirth whether it be for a life phase, relationship, way of thinking or project coming to its natural end – on the other side of the gate are new beginnings :)
Cerridwen is the Goddess associated with Idho which is the end of the original Ogham but begins again with Beth (the Birch) - rebirth and renewal

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Re: Ogham Divination

Postby Ravencry » Tue Apr 10, 2012 5:33 pm

The Forfeda
Five Additions to the Ogham
Later additions to the Ogham of which the five below are considered to be the most important - they are believed to represent sounds missing from the original alphabet.

There seems to be some disagreement or confusion over the symbols and trees with some scholars and diviners choosing to ignore them completely.

Koad ~ Grove
Peace, Mysteries
Koad is the 'Sacred Grove' as venerated by the ancient Celts and place of worship for their Druid priests.
In these peaceful places where conflicts could be addressed and justice served everyone involved had a right to speak and state their case which meant that matters were usually settled quickly and reasonably.
Koad therefore represents the revelation of hidden knowledge and new deeper understanding.
The Grove was sacred to all Deities
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Oir ~ Spindle
Inner Peace, Commitment
Spindle is named for its hard wood which was used to make spindles, bobbins and pegs in times past.
As spinning was a communal activity Oir relates to showing honour and commitment to oneself and others - this naturally brings about inner peace and contentment and of course it works both ways.
The last Spindle thicket left in the UK is located at Norbury Park in Dorking, Surrey.
Oir is sacred to the old Celtic God Dagda.
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Uilleand ~ Honeysuckle
Living Life to the Full, Search for Self
Also known as Woodbine this sweetly scented plant loves to coil around any woody stem it can reach.
In Ogham divination Ulleand represents 'seeking' as in finding your path in life, getting to know who YOU really are and the need to be true to yourself.
Just as the clinging Honeysuckle can damage the tree it climbs, so we must be careful in our search or else we may find ourself 'cut down' and having to start all over again.
Uilleand is sacred to all the Celtic Deities.

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Phagos ~ Beech
Wisdom, Knowledge, Prosperity
The first books were written on thin slices of Beech wood and so it is no surprise that Phagos is a tree of learning - indeed the Swedish word 'bok' means both 'book' and 'Beech'.
The ancient Celts made talismans out of Beech wood as they believed it would increase their creative powers and also bring them good luck and prosperity.
Groves of Beech trees have been found in or near important mystical sites like Cerne Abbas and Avebury.
Phagos is sacred to Ogma, a Celtic God of Wisdom who is believed to have created the Ogham alphabet.
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Mor ~ The Sea
Travel, Hidden Depths, Flow of Life
The only non-botanical member of the (five most important) Forfeda - the few can be carved on Driftwood.
The Sea has long been associated with hidden depths, the sub-conscious, our moods and intuition - it can also remind us to 'go with the flow' in life but to 'navigate' to 'safe harbour' if we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed by emotion.
Mor is sacred to the God Manannan, son of Lir or 'Lear' meaning 'Sea'.

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