Ogham – Sound and Matter
In the Auraicept na n-Éces, we are told by the Ollamh, Cenn Faeladh, that tradition says that Ogma invented the Ogham. That places it at about the 13th to 18th centuries BCE (depending on whose dating one accepts). We are also told that Ogham comes from sound and matter (which is to say language and information) as well as from the hand and the knife of Ogma. The first part of this statement implies that Ogham is central to Druidic knowledge and language while the second says that it was first carved on wood with a knife. Nothing is said about stone carving in its origin story.
We are further told that it was used by various Druids for divination, spell work and cryptic messages well over a 1000 years before it was carved on stone. It’s readily accepted that Ogham on stone survives from only about the 4th century CE at the earliest. The Filidh certainly knew about Runes because they called them “Viking Ogham.” They are two of about 100 different Ogham forms found in the 7th century CE Scholar’s Primer. By the time of its writing a form of Ogham known as “Scholastic Ogham” was being used on parchment and even stones, amber, metal and other substances (like wooden tablets).
All this early dating for its creation agrees nicely with some of my favorite theories on Ogham and its origins to be found here:
The Filidh plainly said the Ogham was thousands of years old and some scholars even agree with this. Furthermore the traditional tales have Ogham being used for divination and magic. One can say conjecture but then one would have to say that in the face of tradition and the very people who invented/used it in the first place.
Speaking of canons, here is a list of the tales and stories that I believe the Ogham kennings point to:
Mary Jones even has them titled and subtitled as:
Of the Qualifications of a Poet
An Irish Canon
The Book of Leinster
In the context of considering if the tales and traditions are a matter of sacred writing or even canon, I’d like to suggest that some of the caveats of the discussion should acknowledge that the gods act in all things along with individuals and matters. That being said, I just want to insure that the discussion does not ignore that magic has a very real role in influencing those things we consider to be purely a matter of physics or perceived natural laws.
Druids are rational creatures and very logical but that does not mean that we are only rational and logical without also being spiritual and even mystical. We should not lose magic for science or science for magic. In this as in all things, there is a balance point and many places where the leverage of will, intent, sacrifice and personal power come into play. The same things can be said for the use of magical tools or spiritual forms. They are at least as valuable to us in determining what is and what isn’t but could be.
The Ogham are a tool of sorts for magic, for divination, for
constructing language in strings and spells, for seeing in ways that are both usual and unusual. They are not, by themselves, a source of power, but they are a stair step to greater awareness and a focusing lens for magical and spiritual energy. On that point, let me say that the Ogham being associated with a legend, a tradition or a magical action, increases their usefulness within each of us of unblocking or amplifying our own spiritual and magical abilities. This effect extends to a connection, at times, between us and deity (who are after all much closer to the truth and power of anything they govern or create).
A more complete resource for determining where to find the tales if one has access to JSTOR and a university library system would be:
This URL and site has invaluable and active links to other lists that point one to the best known sources for the tales.
It is to be hoped that lessons, examples and additional meanings/understandings can be gleaned from these tales that would be similar to what one expects to learn from canon or scripture.
Searles O’Dubhain/ Henge of Keltria