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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Nuances of the words "Witchcraft" and "Witch" in Old Irish

 How's that for a boring blog title?
 Seriously though, one of the reasons that I tend to be such  strong advocate for an omniglot approach or at least attempting to have a basic understanding of terms in other languages that relate to our practices is that often there are nuances within those terms that are - quite literally - lost in translation. And we shape our understanding, our conceptualization, of things based on our own reference language. In psychology this is called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and it says that language shapes our thoughts and behaviors in line with the culture of that language.
   To give you an example, in English when we think about colors we think of shades on a spectrum of light, so that 'red' is certain frequency usually appearing as a fairly standard red which we then modify with words like 'light' or 'dark' (I'm speaking generally here of course). In Irish on the other hand color is not an abstract concept but a concrete one referring to actual physical colors and this gives us multiple words translated as the same color which aren't actually the same. Uaine is green but its a vivid, bright green, while glas is also green but can be a grey-green or sea green. Dearg is red, but so is rua; dearg being bright rua being more a natural hue. And in old Irish there are an array of words for red that all refer to different shades of blood or states of blood. My point here is that the languages themselves have different ways of understanding something as basic as the concept of colors.
   In English we have the word witch and it gets a lot of play in modern paganism. And I do mean a lot. When you read translations of Irish myths and texts you'll run across witches and references to witchcraft but here's where the language issue comes in because what is being translated as 'witchcraft' in English may have been one of at least 8 different words in Sengoidelc: ammaitecht, diabultacht, dolbud, gliccus, pisoca, sidaigecht, tuaichlecht, tuaithe. Each of these has distinct nuances and undertones that are important in context. I'm going to take a look at each term one by one so you can see what I mean. I'm also going to offer some modern equivalents, or at least my opinion on what modern equivalents might be, to help clarify.
  ~ Ammaitecht - defined by the eDIL as "a. profession or activity of an ammait, witchcraft, evil influence; b. foolishness". An ammait is defined as "a woman with supernatural powers, a witch, hag, spectre; a Fury" and also "a foolish woman". Interestingly however an ammait is also equated with a bandrui or female druid, meaning the two terms were seen as the same. This might explain why ammait and ammaitecht are also connected to foolishness as after the conversion period the Druids lost much status and were reduced in the law texts to the equals of fools*. So ammait and ammaitecht are associated with female Druids, and ammaitecht is seen as a profession.
 ~  Diabultacht - defined as "witchcraft, enchantment" this is pretty obviously based off the Latin loan word Diabul (Latin - diabolus) meaning the Devil. Indeed in the eDIL this type of magic is described as 'melancholia' or deep sadness. This is the sort of witchcraft that is classically associated with witches in a Christian framework, who sell their souls to the Devil and cause misery in other people. A more accurate definition from a pagan perspective might be diabolism,
  ~ Dolbud - defined as witchcraft or sorcery, the word also means "invention, formation, the act of forming". The example sentences used in the eDIL come from the Gaelic Journal: Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge and associate this type of witchcraft with the magic of forming geasa, or ritual taboos. This type of witchcraft then is focused on manifestation. 
  ~ Gliccus - defined as witchcraft or sorcery, gliccus also means cleverness, skill, and ingenuity. 
  ~ Pisoca - also piseoga, defined as witchcraft, sorcery, or magic, specifically the use of charms and spells. Bean phiseogach is translated as witch in English but clearly has the implication of a woman who uses charms and spells in particular. Probably closest to what modern pagans understand a witch to be. 
~ Sidaigecht - defined as witchcraft or magic. However this one is clearly more complex than just that definition. The base word "sidaig" refers to a dweller in a fairy hill, or in other words a fairy so this is rather particularly the magic of the sidhe. One might refer to this as fairy magic for better accuracy rather than witchcraft as we understand it.
 ~ Tuaichlecht - defined as "cunning, witchcraft" tuaichlecht is derived from the word for cunning 'tuaichles' and we see it in examples like "le draidhecht ocus tuaichlecht" (of magic and witchcraft). A better translation for this one based on a modern pagan understanding might be "cunningcraft" in the sense of the art of the cunningman or woman.
 ~ Tuaithe - defined as witchcraft or sorcery and related to the word tuath, meaning "northward, turning nothward, perverse, wicked". Tuaithe is a complex word that is associated with both the Good Folk (tuath-geinte) as well as witches (tuaithech or bantuaithech), and to make things more complex although the word tuath has strong negative associations bantuaithech is also defined as 'wise woman' and tuaithech by itself only means "a person with magic powers". We might tentatively conclude then that this particular type of witchcraft is associated with the Otherworld and can be sinister in nature or benevolent, rather like the sidhe themselves*.

    Looking at words for witch we have:
    ammait or benammait - both are feminine and as discussed above besides meaning witch are also  equated to a female Druid.
    badb - female only, originally the name of a War Goddess, later used for spectres, and eventually for human witches.
     ban-cumachtach - female, literally 'woman with magical powers'
     ban-cumachtach sithe - female - 'fairy witch'
     bean phiseogach - female, witch
     cailleach - female, hag, witch, crone
     cumachtach sithe - male, fairy witch
    doilbhtheach - male, "person with magical powers", practitioner of dolbud, witchcraft of manifestation (usually translated as sorcerer*)
    lucht piseog - 'sorcerers' but more literally 'people of witchcraft'
    tuathaid/tuaithech - male, person with supernatural power, witch ~ bantuathaid/bantuaithech - female, same as tuaithech, also defined as 'wise woman'

*We see a similar pattern of reducing the power of a term and its associated being with the word "Badb" which was the name of a Goddess and later became a word for a human witch. See Fergus Kelly's Guide To Early Irish Law for a more detailed discussion of the legal position of Druids in the law texts and of women who practiced magic.
*Tuaithe is the witchcraft that I practice so I may be a bit biased in how I perceive its definition.
 * in several cases the exact same thing being practiced by a woman will have her being called a witch in translation, but a man will be called a sorcerer, as we see with bean phiseogach and lucht piseogach. The only change between the terms is the gender of the practitioner(s).

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Expanded Ogham Guide

The Ogham that we are most familiar with in a modern context is the Tree Ogham which associates each letter of the Ogham alphabet with a specific tree. However there are actually many different types of Ogham associations including River Ogham, for example, and Pig Ogham. Each one is layered, both a mnemonic device which associates the letter with a word that begins with that letter and also a mystical system whereby each association has deeper significance related to the ultimate meaning of the symbol. For those seeking to use Ogham, especially magically or for divination, having an understanding of more than just the Tree Ogham is important. There are several good books on the market, including Erynn Rowan Laurie's book Ogam Weaving Word Wisdom, Steven Blamires' Celtic Tree Mysteries, John-Paul Patton's The Poet's Ogam and Skip Ellison's book Ogham: the secret language of the Druids. In this blog I would like to offer an expanded guide to the symbols and some of the basic associations from several of the Oghams. It's important to note that while the words do not seem related in English in the original Irish they all alliterate, beginning with the same letter as their corresponding Ogham letter - this is highly significant and needs to be kept in mind. To help the reader with this I am including the Old Irish names and words as much as possible.

English letter: B  
Ogham name: Beithe - pronounced: Beh     
Literally "birch tree": 
Tree Ogham - birch
The Word Ogham describes it as "faded trunk and fair hair"
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'most silvery of the skin
The Scholar's Primer tells us that Beithe is the first letter because it was the first ever written, used 7 times in a row to warn the God Lugh that his wife was in danger.
Bird Ogham - pheasant (besan)
Color Ogham - white (ban)
Skill Ogham - livelihood (bethamnas)
Key words for divination use: new beginnings, cleansing, protection

   English letter: L  
Ogham name: Luis - pronounced Looh-sh   
 Possibly from the Old Irish "lus", herb. 
In tree ogham represents the Rowan, "coarthann" or elm: 
The Word Ogham calls it 'delight of eye, to wit the flame'
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'friend of cattle...for dear to the cattle is the elm for its bloom and for down'
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'Delight of eye is mountain-ash, i.e., rowan, owing to the beauty of its berries'
Bird Ogham - duck (lachu)
Color Ogham - grey (liath)
Skill Ogham - pilotage (lúamnacht)
Key words for divination use: enchantment, mysticism, protection against magic                   

English letter: F  
  Ogham name: Fearn - Pronounced Fee-yarn   
 In the Tree Ogham it is the alder tree, Old Irish "fern", modern "fearnog": 
The Word Ogham calls it 'shield of warrior-bands'
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'guarding of milk...for of it [alder] are made the vessels containing the milk'  
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'The van of the Warrior-bands, that is, alder, for thereof are the shields'
Bird Ogham - seagull (faelinn)
Color Ogham - blood red (flann)
Skill Ogham - poetry (filidecht) 
Key words for divination: support, protection during attack. Often associated with ravens and divination.   

English letter: S  
 Ogham name: Saille - Pronounced Sall-yuh   
 In the Tree Ogham it is the willow tree, Old Irish "sail": 
The Word Ogham calls it 'hue of the lifeless'
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'activity of the bees' 
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'The colour of a lifeless one, i.e., it has no colour, i.e., owing to the resemblance of its hue to a dead person'
Bird Ogham - hawk (sebac)
Color Ogham - 'fine-colored' (sodath)
Art Ogham - craft of a wright (saírsecht)
Key words for divination: healing, making plans, moving forward.

 English letter: N  
Ogham name: Nuin - pronounced Noo-in   Possibly "weaver's beam".
 In modern understanding it is associated with the Ash, "fuinseag" but in the Tree Ogham it is said to be "maw of spear, or nettles in the woods
The Word Ogham calls it 'checking of peace; it is the maw of a weaver's beam as applied to wood, a sign of peace is that'
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this ' fight of women'
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'A check on peace is nin, viz., ash, for of it are made the spear-shafts by which the peace is broken'
Bird Ogham - snipe (naescu)
Color Ogham - clear (necht)
Skill Ogham - notary work (notairecht)
Key words for divination: peace, creation, stability. A clear path. Bring things together.

 English letter: H  
Ogham name: Huath - pronounced Oo-uh  
 Literally terror or phantom.       
 In the tree Ogham represented by the Hawthorn, "sceach" a fairy tree: 
The Word Ogham calls it 'a pack of wolves, for a terror to anyone is a pack of wolves
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'blanching of face, fear' 
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'A meet of hounds is huath, viz. white-thorn; or because it is formidable owing to its thorns.'
Bird Ogham - night raven ? (hadaig)
Color Ogham - 'terrible' ? (huath)
Art Ogham - trisyllabic poetry (hairchetal)
 Key words for divination: the unknown, fear of the unseen, transition

English letter: D  
Ogham name: Duir - pronounced Doo-ihr   
 The oak "dair": 
The Word Ogham calls it 'highest of bushes'
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'carpenter's work
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'Higher than bushes is an oak.'
Bird Ogham - wren (droen)
Color Ogham - black (dub)
Skill Ogham - wizardy (draiocht)
Key words for divination: wisdom, strength, protection, growth.

English letter: T  
Ogham name: Tinne - pronounced Tihn-nyeh   Literally means metal rod.
 In the tree ogham associated with the Holly "cuileann" or elderberry: 
It is not found in the Word Ogham
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'fires of coal
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'holly, a third of a wheel is holly, that is, because holly is one of the three timbers of the chariot-wheel'
Bird Ogham -  starling (truith)
Color Ogham - dark grey (temen)
Skill Ogham - turning (?)
Key words for divination: fighting, contention, weapons, fire, and smithcraft

English letter: C 
Ogham name : Coll - pronounced Kohl 
In the Tree Ogham it is hazel:
In the Word Ogham:  'fairest of trees, owing to its beauty in woods'
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'friend of cracking
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'Fair wood, that is, hazel, i.e., every one is eating of its nuts.'
Bird Ogham - not listed
Color Ogham - reddish-brown (cron)
Skill Ogham - harp playing (cruittirecht)
Key words for divination: divination, magic, and enchantment, knowledge. Also relates to wealth.

English letter: Q  
Ogham name Quert, alt. Cert - pronounced Kehrt  
Means "rags". In modern understanding this is apple "ull"; 
the Tree Ogham gives three options - holly, rowan, or aspen: 
The Word Ogham calls it 'shelter of a hind. [and] death sense, it is then his sense comes to him when he goes to his death, that is an apple tree'. By this account it is associated with lunatics, deer, death, and apple trees.
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'force of the man
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'Shelter of a boiscill, that is, a wild hind is queirt, i.e., an apple tree'
Bird Ogham -  hen (cerc)
Color Ogham - dark (cíar)
Art Ogham - fluting (cuislennach)
Key words for divination: healing, restoration, renewal, nourishment

English letter: M   
Ogham name: Muin  - pronounced Mwin 
 Literally means "neck" or "back".
 In the tree ogham it stands for the vine "funiuin":
 The Word Ogham calls it 'strongest of effort, back of a man or ox'
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'condition of slaughter
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'Highest of beauty is muin, that is, because it grows aloft, that is, a vine-tree'
Bird Ogham -  titmouse (mintan)
Color Ogham - speckled (mbracht)
Skill Ogham - soldiering (míletacht)
Key words for divination: release, compromises, focus, determination, confrontation, vengeance (basically think the good and bad sides of wine)

English letter G
Ogham name: Gort - pronounced Guhrt
 Literally "field". In the tree ogham it is "cornfield" but is understood as the ivy, "eidhnean":
The Word Ogham calls it 'sweeter than grasses. When it is in the blade sweeter than any grass is that grass, to wit, the cornfield'.
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'Greener than pastures is ivy'
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says simply 'ivy'
Bird Ogham - swan (geis)
Color Ogham - blue (gorm)
Skill Ogham - smithwork (goibnecht)

Key words for divination: beauty, love, friendship, fidelity

English letter: nG  
 Ogham name nGetal - pronounced Neh-tahl  Literally "wounding". 
Associated with the broom plant or reed "giolcach" in Tree Ogham: 
The Word Ogham calls it 'the physician's strength' because of its association with battle and wounding and also calls it 'robe of physicians
Not found in the Alphabet of Mac Ind Oc. 
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'A physician's strength is broom, to wit, broom or fern'
Bird Ogham - goose (ngeigh)
Color Ogham - green (nglas) 
Skill Ogham - arranging (glóṡnáithe ?)
Key words for divination: separation, warning, courage, direct action

English letter: Str  
Ogham name: Straif - pronounced Strahf   Literally "sulfur". 
In the tree ogham it is the willowbrake and in modern terms is understood as the blackthorn "draighean":
The Word Ogham calls it 'strongest of red' and associates it with Blackthorn sloes. 
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'increasing of secrets
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'The hedge of a stream is sraibh, that is, black-thorn'
Bird Ogham - thrush (stmolach)
Color Ogham - bright (sorcha)
Skill Ogham - deer-stalking (sreghuindeacht)
Key words for divination: discernment, cunning, focused protection, the thorn, inner strength, boundaries

English letter: R  
Ogham name: Ruis - pronounced Roosh    Literally "redness".
 In tree ogham it represents the elder tree, "trom": 
The Word Ogham calls it 'intensest of blushes, from the reddening or shame according to fact'. 
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'redness of faces; sap of the rose which causes the redness of faces so that blushing is in them
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'The redness of shame is ruis, i.e., elder'
Bird Ogham -  small rook (rocnat)
Color Ogham - red (ruadh)
Skill Ogham - feast giving (rannach)
Key words for divination: anger, blushing (ie loss of face, embarrassment), endings, completion, be realistic in order to succeed

English letter; A   
Ogham name; Ailm - pronounced  Al-ihm  
The word and its meaning is uncertain. 
In Tree Ogham it represents the fir or pine, "giuis": 
The Word Ogham calls it 'loudest of groaning'
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc calls it 'beginning of an answer
The Scholar's Primer tells us only that ailm is the fir or pine
Bird Ogham - lapwing (aidhircleog)
Color Ogham - piebald (alad) 
Skill Ogham - sovereignty (airechas)
Key words for divination: hard work, effort. The need for caution. Integrity and good judgment are key.

English letter: O  
Ogham name: Onn - pronounced On   
 Old Irish for "ash tree" or "stone".
 In Tree Ogham this is given as "furze or ash" but is understood now as gorse, "aitenn": 
The Word Ogham calls it 'helper of horses' and 'equally wounding
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this of it 'smoothest of work' 
The Scholar's Primer tells us only that this is the furze
Bird Ogham - dun colored bird? (odoroscrach)
Color Ogham - dun (odor)
Skill Ogham - literally Ogham writing, euphemistically called 'harvesting' (ogmóracht)
Key words for divination: take action, movement, success, perseverance, relief

English letter: U   
Ogham name: Uir - pronounced Oor 
  Literally "earth". 
Described in the Tree Ogham as "thorn" but currently understood as heather, "fraoch": 
The Word Ogham says of it 'in cold dwellings
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'growing of plants; the soil of the earth
The Scholar's Primer tells us only that ur is heath
Bird Ogham - lark (uiseog)
Color Ogham - resinous (usgdha)
Skill Ogham - brasswork (umaidecht)
Key words for divination: embrace your talents, plant now to harvest later, effort brings reward with patience

English letter: E 
 Ogham name: Edad - pronounced Ehd-ahd    The word and meaning are unknown. 
In the Tree Ogham it is the yew, now understood as the aspen, "crithach": 
The Word Ogham calls it 'distinguished wood'
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'synonym for a friend
The Scholar's Primer tells us: 'that is, ed uath, horrible grief'
Bird Ogham - swan (ela)
Color Ogham - dark red (erc)
Skill Ogham - fowling (énairecht)
Key words for divination: endings, death, let go of what you've outgrown. Calm consideration. Trust in your ability to endure.

English letter: I  
Ogham name: Idad - pronounced Eed-ahd   
 the word and meaning are unknown. Associated with the yew, "iur", in the tree ogham it is simply called a 'service tree': 
The Word Ogham calls it 'oldest of woods, that is the yew
The Alphabet Ogham of Mac Ind Oc says this 'most withered of wood
The Scholars Primer tells us only that this is the yew. 
Bird Ogham - ? (illait)
Color Ogham - very white (irfind)
Skill Ogham - fishing or yew work (íascairecht) or (ibróracht)
Key words for divination: see the big picture. Seek experience, know when to act and when not act. Bide your time. Don't avoid problems.

Calder, G., (1917) Auraicept na n-Éces: The Scholar's Primer.