Showing posts with label Ogham. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ogham. Show all posts

Saturday, April 1, 2017


Some unique symbols of Celtic origin are found in ogham inscriptions. Ogham is used to represent the old Irish language. It is also referred to as the “Celtic Tree Alphabet” which is based on a high medieval tradition that ascribes the names of trees to individual letters.

The Origin of Ogham

Today only about 400 ogham inscriptions survive and these are found on stone monuments found in both Ireland and Britain stretching from the south of Ireland across into south Wales as well as south eastern Ireland, western Scotland and around the Devon and Cornwall border in England. The majority of the inscriptions bear personal names. The origin of the word ogham is not clear but one possible explanation comes from the Irish og-úaim which means ‘point seam’ and refers to the seam that is made by the point of a sharp weapon.

Ogham stone, Irish National Heritage Park  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 Text reads BIVAIDONAS MAQI MUCOI CUNAVA[LI], or in English, "Of Bivaidonas, son of the tribe Cunava[li]"

The creation date for ogham is after the 4th century. Classical inscriptions etched in stone around the Irish sea have been found dating back to the 5th or 6th century. It is assumed that there were writings on wood and other perishable materials, but none have stood the test of time and so this cannot be authenticated.

It is clear however that the ogham alphabet was modeled on a different script and there are those who consider it to be a cipher of its template script. There are a large number of scholars who consider this template as being the Latin alphabet, but others favor the Greek alphabet. However, the origin of Runic (ogham runes) can explain the presence of the “H” and “Z” letters which are not used in Irish as well as the consonantal variants of “U” vs. “W” which are unknown in either Latin or Greek writings. The Latin alphabet is a favorite contender as being the origin of this script because it was around in the 4th century while the runes were not widely spread at that time.

The ogham symbols found on stone inscriptions in Ireland and Wales are considered Primitive Irish and the transition to Old Irish only takes place in around the 6th century and since ogham inscriptions consist almost exclusively of personal names and marks that may or may not have depicted land ownership, the linguistic information that may have been seen from this Primitive Irish period is restricted to phonological developments.

Non-monumental uses

It is presumed that early ogham was used for short messages on wood or metal in order to relay messages or stake ownership of the object that was inscribed.

These messages may have been cryptic but some were also used for magical purposes, there is also evidence that ogham was used to keep records or to make lists such as business transactions or genealogies and still more evidence exists that ogham may have been used for finger and hand signals.

Later on ogham ceased to be used for practical use but it has retained its place and is used by Gaelic scholars as the basis of grammar as well as the rules of poetry. Until modern times, the Latin alphabet was taught using letter names derived from ogham and that were borrowed from the Beith-Luis-Nin along with the medieval association of each letter to a different tree.

Ogham Letters

Ogham letter names are interpreted as the names of trees or scrubs in both the Auraicept na n-Éces (‘The Scholars’ Primer’) and In Lebor Ogaim (‘The Ogam Tract’) and were first discussed in 1685 by Roderic O’Flaherty, but he took them at face value.

The Auraicept gives a short phrase for each letter that traditionally accompanies each letter name, it further explains their meanings and identifies the tree or plant that is linked to each letter. Out of the twenty primary letters what have tree names only five are considered comprehensible in the Auraicept.

This ancient Tree alphabet dates back to the Old Irish period around the 10th century and it also post dates the Primitive Irish period too. Its origin is possibly due to the letters being called ‘feda’ or trees or ‘nin’ meaning forking branches because of their shapes. Some of the words were indeed named after trees while some other letter names fell out of use as independent words and were then free to be claimed as Old Gaelic tree names.

By Tim Lazaro

Tim Lazaro is a Celtic Symbols enthusiast. For more great tips and advice on Symbols of Celtic [] origin, visit [].Article Source: EzineArticles