Ogham: From Alphabet to Divination

Today is Arbor Day, a day on which many plant trees to celebrate the beauty and gifts these plants give us. In order to celebrate, we asked Teddy to share with you their knowledge of Ogham, “the tree alphabet,” and how it has gone from ancient alphabet to a modern divination system.

Ogham in the Past

Ogham (or Ogam, as it is sometimes spelled) originally was a system of writing, thought to have originated somewhere between the 1st century BCE and 4th century CE. Some accounts tell of it being used primarily by artists, bards, and the affluent within the Celtic culture. Others suggest that it was created with cryptic intentions, to keep information from outsiders who only knew the Latin alphabet. We know it was used on monuments, boundary stones, and markers as most of the surviving inscriptions involve personal names or land ownership.

The Ogham alphabet originally contained 20 letters grouped into four groups of five. Five more letters were later added, creating a fifth group. Each of these groups (or aicme) is referred to by its first letter.

Modern Ogham

The use of Ogham has changed over time. Recently it has been picked up by modern pagans and neo-druids for the purpose of divination. Divination sets are typically created from some sort of wood (often yew wood). The Ogham symbols, or fews, are inscribed on the wood staves. Each few is based on a tree or plant, earning Ogham the nickname of the “tree alphabet”.

Reading Ogham in divination is quite like reading runes. Their interpretations often pull on nature based imagery. Because each few is associated with a type of plant, there is a lot of external information you can pull on to try to boost your understandings of each few. Some readers of Ogham pull staves from a bag, cup, or bowl.  Other readers use spreads that help them interpret the staves based on where they are placed. There are ways to interpret messages by casting the ogham staves like you would runes, charms, or bones. Ogham is a versatile divination method in this way.

There are many books on Ogham, if you are looking to learn more. One that I highly recommend is Ogam: The Celtic Oracle of the Trees by Paul Rhys Mountfort. I love this book because it gives both an in-depth history of Ogham and instructions on using them for divination yourself.

If you are interested in seeing how an ogham reading plays out in practice, check out our general ogham readings in the shop!


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