Oghams

I know I’ve mentioned Runes often enough in this blog, but I believe I’ve only mentioned Oghams as a sort of “Celtic Rune” that is connected to the Wheel of Life pathworking symbol I use. I don’t know if they’ve ever had a full blog post, though. So, I thought that it would be appropriate to delve into an old Irish alphabet on St. Patrick’s Day.

Let’s start with what the Oghams (which are, as I understand it, pronounced oh-ams… the g makes an almost sigh like h sound) look like. They’re essentially tick marks on a line. Either shown a vertical or horizontal line, they are usually read down to up. To give you a little hint as to the direction you are to read them, there can be a sort of arrow to show you where the line is starting. The picture below shows the word “Ogham”, starting at the bottom above the arrow showing the direction it is written.

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The history of the Oghams are a bit murky to me, and seem to be rather murky to historians who know far more than I. Some historians say that the earliest record of the Ogham is from the 4th century AD, but it has been argued that it is as old as the 1st century AD, or perhaps older. Inscriptions of Oghams are found mainly in Ireland, but have also been found in Wales, England, and Scotland.

It is an odd alphabet, as according to medieval information on the Oghams, some of the letters stand for sounds not present in the Irish language. Some suggest it was patterned after Latin, or from a pre-Celtic Irish language from megalithic times.

There were originally 20 letters, with five extra letters added on to the alphabet in later years. The original fews (as the letters are called) were separated into four groups of five, as each group ranged from one to five tick marks in their group (each of these groups of five called feadha).

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The last, newer five are called the forfedha. They have a different style, certainly not as easy to carve into wood or stone as the original ones were.

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Each letter has an association with a tree, as well as other associations tacked onto them throughout the years. This is where their use in divination comes in. Each Ogham can be used for divinatory or magical purposes. Whether they were used originally for such purposes, I don’t know. I swear I read about a story of an ancient Druid who used them in divination, but, for the life of me, I can’t seem to find where I read that. So, we’ll have to stick with the fact that whether they were used in that capacity in ancient times or not, they are used as such now.

An example is the first few, Beith (the first one in the picture of the first feadha above). This few represents the birch tree. In divination, it would represent beginnings, renewal, rebirth, and purification. Generally, a pretty good few to pull in a reading, unless you were looking for the continuation of a stable situation, as renewal and rebirth requires change.

Oghams have a few interesting historical points. The poet Robert Graves discovered a book that had an incomplete listing of the Oghams (the first thirteen, specifically). Thinking that he had figured out an ancient Celtic lunar calendar that corresponded with Oghams and trees, he put a system together. I’ve read a little about it, and it seems interesting and, though not historically accurate, magically useful if it aligns to your cosmology.

There’s also the matter of the order of the Oghams. I originally learned them from “The Druidry Handbook” by John Michael Greer (one of the sources that I have used for this blog entry). In that book, JMG mentions that there are two ways people order the first feadha. He uses the order BLNVS (Beith Luis Nuin Fearn Saille), as that was the way that it was taught to him. He also noted that the letters almost form the name of a Celtic solar deity, Belenos, and the other order may have been a sort of Christianization of the Oghams. It seems, though, that most of the rest of the people that work with Oghams in magical practice, as well as most of the scholars that I’ve come across in literature, say that the first Oghams are represented in the order of BLVSN. The mix up can make understanding what the last three fews of the first feadha mean if someone is writing with Oghams. Because I first learned them via JMG, I read them as he taught them, though it is most likely not historically accurate. That is the interesting thing about divination, though. As long as you settle on a meaning between you and the powers that be in the universe, the message can still be carried through.

If you are looking for information on the Oghams, you can find them in “The Druidry Handbook” by John Michael Greer, or in a lot of places all over the internet. I know there are a lot of books out there, but I don’t really know too many that I can personally vouch for. So, if you find this set of symbols intriguing, do a little research. See what you can find.

On a completely different note, I’d like to announce that Josh (my husband) and I have a new space we will be renting out for readings, Reiki, rattling, workshops, and more very soon. You’ll be able to find us below the Juicy Girls Juice Bar in Littleton, NH by appointment. You’ll be hearing more about that as it unfolds. We will be having an open house on the solstice, having set up fully by June. I’ll keep you all posted.

 

Stay warm. Though the Equinox is this week, it’s still rather wintery up here in northern Vermont.

 

Until next week

 

  • The Green Mountain Mage

The Wheel of Life

It took me far too long to get to my Winter Solstice ceremony this year. The time I kept setting aside for it kept getting sidelined one way or another. Long story short, my ceremony was a few days after, which isn’t too bad. It still happened, which is what is important.

During my personal ceremony, I opened my Mesa (the sacred bundle I work with) and use it as a central point, instead of a traditional altar. I had my things arranged, along with a candle for fire, incense for air, a small bowl of water for water, and garden soil for earth. In the center, I had balsam sprigs to offer the Earth at the end of the ceremony. After all the opening work and blessings, I sat down to attune to the energies of the Solstice.

In the Revival Druid work that I do, a part of the work views different parts of the year as a certain energy to work with in ceremony. When John Michael Greer was putting together the magical system I work with, he came up with a pathworking tool to help the aspiring Druid to attune to the year, calling it the Wheel of Life. For those familiar with Cabalistic and Western Ceremonial Magic, you may know the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is a sort of diagram of the emanating power of God (a quick definition that doesn’t do it justice). The Wheel of Life is similar, but instead sees certain points of the year as places of power.

The eight outer points of the wheel are the two solstices, the two equinoxes, and the four Celtic fire holidays commonly used by NeoPagans. They all are relatively evenly spread throughout the year, and make a great seasonal spiritual schedule. They all revolve around a ninth point, the inner grove. That is the sacred space we create in ceremony.

If you are looking at the photo I linked of the Wheel, you will notice that each circle is connected to the other with lines that seem to have tick marks on them. These are the Ogham, an old Celtic alphabet that has been more recently used as a system or magic and divination, much like the Norse Runes. There are 25 Oghams in the system that I use. 24 of the Oghams are paths between the different points of the year, with the 25th residing in the center sphere. The one in the sphere is Koad, the Ogham of the Grove of many trees (or, in other traditions, the Poplar tree… but those traditions make less sense in the context of the wheel).

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The point of the connecting Oghams are to use them as a sort of meditation piece. Each sphere has its own visualization. In ceremony, you walk in your mind’s eye from one sphere to another via the Ogham. Let’s say I wanted to explore Alban Arthuan, the Winter Solstice. I would start in the Grove sphere. I’m seeing my sacred space surrounded by a mix of trees. There are stone doorways that stand before the trees. I go towards the doorway marked with the Ogham Ailm, the Ogham of the Fir (or Elm, in other traditions… but, again, Fir makes more sense in this context). I walk the path I find, and see what I see until I reach the other side, the sphere of Alban Arthuan. The visualization is a mountaintop on a clear starry night with a stone altar with a crown upon it.

The point of this exercise is to not only explore the energies of these two spheres and one Ogham, but to also explore the way these energies connect and interact. It is seeing the cycle of the year as sacred and powerful, while using tree archetypes to connect these powers. It is also a way of strengthening your inner space, fortifying it with the currents that run through the seasons. It’s an interesting piece of magic work that I’ve only begun to delve into. There are a lot more paths for me to walk.

This brings me back to my Winter Solstice ceremony. I had a hard time nailing down the feeling of Alban Arthuan at first, as I was in a weird space entering ceremony. I used the smell of the balsam fir I was offering to connect, and I think I found it. I’m still exploring some of the meditation, but an interesting point was how strong my sense of smell can control how ceremony goes.

Another interesting part of the Druid magic tradition I use is the use of stones to create sacred space. An aspiring mage acquires eight stones, one for each of the outer spheres of the Wheel of Life, and makes a circle to delineate the space you are working in. When you are celebrating one of the eight Holy Days, you bless the appropriate stone with the energy of its day. It’s a project that takes a year, but you get a cool set of stones to help set up sacred space wherever you wish. I tried to start this work during my ceremony. I took a few candidates for the stone of Alban Arthuan, and used my pendulum to dowse out which one would work best. I received a no on all of them. I’m not sure if I just need to find a new stone, or if I wasn’t in the right place to effectively do the work. Either way, it’s a project put off until Imbolc, February 2nd.

Sigh. Someday!

I hope that you had a beautiful Solstice, and you are staying warm. Nights around these parts are dipping below -20, and that, my friends, is cold weather. Perfect for staying inside with a blanket, some tea, and a good book.

 

Stay warm

 

  • The Green Mountain Mage

A Little Tree Magic

I’ve recently been pondering my role as a mage in the Northeastern corner of the US. Every teacher that I have had the honor of learning from seems to eventually break down this work to relationship, with myself, and the world around me. As I deepen my work with the subtle world around us, I am constantly reminded that I receive certain responsibilities with knowledge.

This really began hitting me as I was driving through a few towns in my area, trying to experience and describe the vibes of these places. While there can certainly be wild variances in the feel of a town from one end to the other, I usually generalize from the town’s center and go from there. There are a few local towns that have quite the oppressed, unhealthy feel. There are a lot of things that play into it, including economic shifts, lack of jobs, the struggle of smaller brick and mortar retail, and drug issues (which are all interrelated). It feels as if the energy of place helps keep the town there, though. Some places, despite the obstacles I just described, seem to be thriving. Is the general feeling that the people of a certain town, mixed with landscape and the ways land energy move throughout the town play a role in sustaining a town’s depression?

There is one town in particular (the name isn’t really important) that, every time I drive through, I think “Damn! This place needs some major juju fixing.” It feels like this immovable heaviness that is way bigger than me, a problem that I can’t address on my own. As I was driving through that town, I was wondering how I could potentially nudge the town’s energy flow in a healthier direction.

Then, I remembered something that I read in “Natural Magic” by John Michael Greer. It was specifically a quick sentence tucked away in the part discussing the magical uses of Oak. He suggests placing an amulet or talisman beneath the roots of an oak tree you are planting. The idea is that the oak will then help with the work, exuding that energy as the tree grows. In this way, it continues its work long after the magician has died, assuming the oak is allowed to live out its years.

I can’t imagine that the magic exuded from this method is acute. Instead, I would imagine it as a slower working, gentle yet patient. The same way the energy of place seems to work. Imagine a grid of these magic trees planted throughout a place that seems to hold heavy, dark energy. Would trees planted with amulets created to change the energy it interacted with to healing energy effect the people around it?

To answer these questions, and to try and lift some of the heavy energy that is certainly not healthy for my neighbors, I propose an experiment that I need a little help with. I would like to create a sort of grid of these magically charged trees, especially in the local towns that need it. Do you live locally, and want to have one of these trees on your property? I would be more than happy to create an amulet to bury. All it would take from you is buying a tree, waiting for me to make an amulet and bring it to you, and letting the tree grow for as long as you are able.

I plan on experimenting with starting oaks from acorns. Once they mature to a point where I can transplant them, I will happily donate the tree, along with the amulet. Until then, you will have to supply your own tree. It would also be interesting to try out other trees besides oak, and see how the energetics of different trees interact with the amulets.

I wouldn’t be planting anything until the Spring, so you have about half a year to consider it. I feel that this might be a good way to do good work for the area. Worst case scenario is we plant more trees, which is still a great outcome. We might just change any oppressive vibes that might be lingering about, though, and that is good work.

If you don’t live close to me, or you want to do your own magic, play around with this work yourself. Make and bless an amulet for healing, abundance, love, or whatever you think your space needs a little more of. Plant it with an oak. See if you have any differences blossom around you. Like I said, worst situation is that you will have a lovely tree for shade and wildlife habitat.

 

Until next week

 

-The Green Mountain Mage