The Language of Trees – BLF verses BLN
I am deeply thrilled to be able to share with you all one of my very favorite esoteric topics – the beauty, power and vastness of Trees. I have walked many paths in my magickal travels and in all of them, the trees are a large and integral part of my most deepest insights. Trees inhabit all realms – the realm of Flesh, which is Law and the material plane, the realm of Heart – where emotions and intellect come together and the astral plane, the realm of Spirit – Truth and the Mental plane and the realm of the Ancestors – where Flesh, Heart and Spirit come together.
They stand before me to show me the way, they walk on either side of me to keep me focused, they are behind me to support my path and they throw obstacles in my way to warn me of potentially bad decisions. They are ageless and patient and give us our most constant examples of living in true grace. I offer you now what I have learned, in my experiences as a Druid, as FamTrad folk, as a cunner and root worker, as a dedicated servant to that most primal of energy – the Sidhe, as a Gnostic initiate and as a Witch. I hope you will come to have a bit more awareness and appreciation of the amazing teachers that surround us.
***Note that because of our particular Tradition’s placement of the elements (we put Air in the North and Earth in the East), the elemental associations on our Tree wheel may differ from your own esoteric path. I have worked the wheel in both ways and can say unequivocally that both are equally valid energetically. So shift the elements as you are most comfortable and know that I am merely offering one of many perspectives on how to walk the Wheel of the Year through the seasonal energy of the Trees.
Thank you for allowing me the gift of sharing what I know. May the trees bless you with the abundance, love, joy and peace that they have given me.
A brief explanation of the difference between the BLN and BLF sequencing of Oghams
Anyone who has paid even the slightest attention to Ogham work has realized that there are two different sequences in the order of the trees and their lunation cycles. This difference occurs right at the very beginning and involves the 3rd/4th/5th lunar cycles. From a purely antiquarian perspective – the older version is the Beith/Luis/Nion or BLN alignment. However – although it is newer – the Beith/Luis/Fearn or BLF tree sequence is the one I was trained under and which (at least from the research I have done) seems to have the most esoteric applications and path working currently available. I do not feel one is necessarily superior over the other – follow your bliss and use the one that works best for you. The information I will be offering up will be based on BLF.
My Sidhe tradition’s Ollamh (pronounced OH-Lav) /spiritual teacher structured her clergy around an Ogham grove format. We as Priest/Priestess’ kept or represented a main Ogham’s energy and had functionally related Ogham stations that worked as part of our smaller collectives within the overall Grove. If anyone is interested, I carried Quert/Apple as my sovereign Tree.
For those history wienies (like myself) – here is a little about the two tree patterns. A spin off of the Ogham is the Bobileth or Boibel-Loth alphabet and its derivatives, all favored to some extend by the Druid class in certain areas of the world. In Celtic traditions, the Druids were credited with the power to transform trees into warriors and send them into battle (think of the Lord of the Rings Entfolk, the Câd Goddeu, etc.)
Bards had to learn at least one hundred fifty Ogham patterns, and probably more, during the course of their training. The continental Celts ritually prohibited writing, so it is difficult to tell whether the emphasis on memory was the cause or the effect. Even the laws of the ancients were composed in verse to facilitate memorization. Ogham and the Boilbel-Loth seem to have been used like mnemonic “peg systems” for various riddles, poems and lore. The divination itself was most likely in its original form performed more as a “trance inducing” process where the actual writing of the Ogham glyphs put the seer in an altered state for oracular insights.
Graves’ The White Goddess – a huge influence on most Witch practices – covers Ogham in extensive detail. The book is – in essence – a poem. The White Goddess is the unearthing of a mystery: poetry in its ancient, true form, and its eternal divine Inspirer. Like all works, one should take the information given with personal discretion and glean only those things that can be applied constructively and usefully. These things will of course vary from person to person.
The BLN Ogham is said to have come to Britain sometime between 2000 and 3000 BCE from Greece (via the Cretan Pelasgian alphabet which pre-dates Greek). The result of the Câd Goddeu or “Battle of the Trees” was a religious change that was reflected in the re-ordering of the letters into the BLF (and then subsequently – the Boibel-Loth). Graves felt the Hales Taliesin to be a riddle which, when solved, reveals the BLF alphabet. Whereas the Song of Amergin – said to be chanted by the chief bard of the Milesian invaders of Ireland – is a clue to the BLN form.
The BLF poetically reveals the story of the life of the Son-Lover of the White Goddess, the sacrificial god-king in the Fraserian (Golden Bough) sense, who is sacrificed in mid-summer and is reborn at the winter solstice. But, he actually rules the year in twinhood, with his tanist twin/father/son taking over the kingship upon his death at midwinter (when “Oak and Holly come to fight”) – whom he in turn “kills” when he is reborn at winter solstice. The waxing and waning of the sacred king’s life is likened to the yearly path of the sun, poetically embodied by tree months as being sacred symbols of divine attributes.
The vowel sounds (or Solar trees) as well as being umbrella energies for the seasons that encompass several months at a time, reveal the name of the Goddess, who is the Mother, Lover, and Destroyer of the God-king. Upon death, the king’s spirit dwells in her celestial abode which in Celtic lore is depicted as Caer Arianrhod and as the constellation Corona Borealis, the silver-wheeled castle at the back of the north wind, near the pole star or ‘Celestial Hinge”.
The most significant result of the Câd Goddeu was a change from the secret five/seven vowel name of the Goddess to an eight lettered one of a supreme male father-God. This new eight letter secret name of God was borrowed from Jewish Egyptians by Pythagoreans – whose priesthood in Gaul was in contact with Britain. For a potential religious explanation behind this change I suggest looking at Ezekial’s vision of the chariot in Jewish mysticism.
Not to stray too far off the Ogham topic here but I think it is worth noting – herein lies what could be a flaw of perception in paganism’s cosmology of energy cycles. By this I am referring to the idea that sacred kings die and are reborn in an endless cycle, and that poet-lovers are always ultimately scorned by their muse. Please hear me when I state this is my opinion only here – I am of the feeling that the apparent cruel cycle of death and rebirth for sacral kings, and the cognate cycle of rapture and heartbreak experienced by the poet, is an initiation process which is preparatory for the Goddess of Wisdom. The ultimate end in the cycle is the promise of eternal bliss in Her abode for the king, and of eternal love for the poet. Call me a hopeless esoteric sap if you will (smile).
As was most aptly put by The Mad Pru/|\Judith Prueitt- Dallas, Texas -Summer Solstice 2004 – http://druidnetwork.org/reviews/books/white_goddess.html
“Graves can be slammed from many angles – but he published over 130 books in his ninety year life. That is an incredible volume of work and may I humbly suggest that to begin to even critique it is as ludicrous as saying Picasso’s vision of expression sucks or Da Vinci was narrow minded because he wrote backwards. I guess the point I am trying to make here is, far too often authors’ works are chewed up and spit out by intellectuals with grubby ham fisted hands. I see no difference in touching the bones of an ancestor or grave goods than I do reading someone’s words or viewing their artistic endeavors. They are divine attributes of that being and a tribute to their existence. The mistake (to me) too easily made is the discounting of a theory by running down a list and checking off topics. That is not scholarship – it is intellectual bookkeeping. This to me is far more repugnant than base ignorance.”
So please – in approaching work with the trees, or in expressions by individuals trying to grasp some small piece of the eternal Divine – use your heart, your intuition and your empathy for the journey of a fellow earth walker.
R.A.S. McAllister has put out the theory that Ogham was a secret language that could be used as a sign language – as when a Druid arranged his/her fingers in a certain way across his/her nose, or shin, or forearm to represent the various letters (i.e. – A Druid known to you signed the Beith/Birch Ogham glyph at you). You – as a trained Druid – would understand all of the symbolic and/or poetic implications of that letter. I can attest that this is quite effective as we utilized this mode of communicating quite a bit in my West Munster Sidhe tradition. We also used Ogham glyphs to spell out words to each other – this was a bit more time consuming and cumbersome but did get one able to hand sign a particular glyph rather quickly on the fly so I thought it was a good training exercise.
McAllister also put out an opinion on the theory that Ogham was what had been referred to in various works as the “dark speech” attributed to various Celtic pagans. To McAllister, the dark speech was a symbolic or poetic language. Poems such as Colloquy of the Two Sages and Taliesin’s Song of His Origins , along with stories of riddling games like that played by CuChulainn and Emer when they first met, seem to indicate that there was a communication via allegory and metaphor known only to the initiate.
This is a speech that can only be translated by a shared understanding of a particular culture’s myths and legends. Here is an example of what I am trying to get across:
“To the place of lambs following but never admitted I go”
Now, only someone who had been well exposed to nursery rhymes would understand what is being alluded to here. (Mary Had a Little Lamb – the “place” is “to school”). With Oghams it was probably tied to stories of the land and the local Gods and Goddesses. It allowed for public communication of arcane matters.
The bottom line is, we really don’t know the full ramifications of Ogham use. And if we are ever to discover more we must approach the question with absolutely open minds and examine the evidence presented by ancient artifacts and texts – without any pre-conceived notions at all.