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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

thoughts on the Ogham Tract

     The Ogham Tract is one of the most interesting and useful texts to study for those interested in Irish mythology and divination. Within the text the mythological origins of Ogham are outlined and several different types of Ogham are discussed, although only the Tree Ogham and Word Oghams are gone into with any depth. The sections detailing these two types of Ogham are invaluable, however, for those who seek to use the Ogham for divination since they attach significant meaning to each letter, and these meanings can be used as the basis for a system of symbolism.
     The first section looks at the mythological history of the Ogham, using the typical question and answer style so often seen in Irish texts. The first question asks about the place, time, inventor and cause of the creation of the Ogham and the answer, while apocryphal, are illuminating. We learn that the Ogham was created in Ireland during the time that Bres ruled the Tuatha de Danann, before mortals came to Ireland, and that it was invented by the god Ogma to prove his inventiveness and to give the educated something the uneducated didn’t have. This tells us not only that the Ogham is believed to have divine origins, but also that it is believed to have been created as something to be reserved for a select few. The second questions asked relate to why it is called Ogham, who are the “father” and “mother” of the Ogham, what was first written in it and why “b” is the primary letter. The name is explained as a play on words from og-uaim meaning perfect alliteration and is an allusion to the poets’ art and possibly the very mnemonics that are used to remember the meanings of each letter in each type of Ogham. The father of Ogham is, of course, Ogma, and the mother is said to be his hand or blade; this is a beautiful description of the balanced act of creation involving both passive design and active carving.  The final answer contains another fascinating bit of mythology, that is that the first thing written was “b” and that it was written as a warning to the god Lugh that his wife was about to be kidnapped to Faery. Interestingly it is said that “b”, which in tree Ogham is associated with birch, was written seven times on a switch of birch; this not only reinforces the connection between the letter and the tree but also offers a possible magic charm to be used.
     After this section the divisions of Ogham are discussed, with the idea of dividing the Ogham into four groups of five. It also mentioned that they can be separated into three groups of eight based on the Tree Ogham, divided by chieftain  trees, peasant trees, and shrub trees. A second origin of Ogham is mentioned, the school of Fenius, which adds three dipthongs to the twenty consonants and vowels. Then a brief outline of the Tree Ogham is given, followed by the more in-depth description of the Tree and Word Oghams, and then very brief descriptions of many other types of Ogham.
     By studying the trees associated with each letter and then the descriptions given for each correspondence to the Word Ogham a clear pattern of symbols can be developed for use in divination. Using the Ogham for divination can be effective and useful if the symbolism of each letter is fully understood. Many people err in only looking to the Tree Ogham for meaning when divining with the letters, when in fact the other types of Ogham reinforce and add detail and depth of meaning providing clearer readings. Ogham can easily be used as the primary means of divination for both personal daily use and at ritual, but it is important to understand the meanings of each letter as fully as possible. Interestingly the “Boy Ogham” is actually a method of divination in and of itself that uses the mother’s name written in Ogham to predict the gender of her unborn child by dividing the name at a certain point, which is unfortunately not specified in the text.
     The Ogham Tract may at first seem of interest only to those seeking to learn about divination since that is what Ogham is most known for these days, yet the tract contains valuable mythology as well. Studying this text is useful to anyone because it expands our knowledge of Irish mythology with small details and also highlights the exclusive place of Ogham literacy when the Tract was written. And of course it is invaluable for those seeking to use the Ogham for divination as well. No matter what your focus is, if you are interested in studying the Ogham, this text is useful and should be studied.

 further reading on the Ogham:
 Ogam: Weaving Words of Wisdom by Erynn Rowan Laurie
 Ogam: the Celtic Oracle of the Trees by Paul Rhys Montfort
 Ogham, the Secret Language of the Druids by  Robert Ellison
 Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham by Steven Blamires
  The Book of Ogham by Edred Thorson


  1. Thank you Morgan, this came just in time :-)

  2. It should be noted that the Edred Thorson book underwent revision by Michael Kelly, and is currently available under the same title. The diagrams are muddier in the reproduction used in the current edition, so there is still reason to keep (or get) the earlier one, but Kelly's version is the better of the two otherwise.

    Still, Laurie's book is the definitive one for modern ogham use in an esoteric context.

    Also, though you didn't mention it, note that Damian McManus's A Guide to Ogam is back in print for €10 and shipping.

  3. Morgan, In Ellison's "Ogham the Secret Language of the Druids" he talks about the "Boy Ogham" and how to use it to divine the gender of the child. It's on page 6 in my copy (Chapter 1, section F). Not a primary source, but interesting.

  4. I wonder if the baby divination is an echo of some numerological system akin to the Jewish gematria, where words have numerical values that can be used in magical invocations? Bricriu's ogam seems to have elements of this about it.