Text: Sian Sibley, Art: Yuri Leitch
In the book of Ballymote the Ogham alphabet is credited to Ogma Sun faced, god of eloquence among the Tuatha dé Danann. Originally thought to be a martial language. Closely related to the Futhark runes of Scandinavia, the originator of the Ogham based his language around trees.
It is a secretive alphabet, used to thwart the plans of the invading romans, which dates from between 600 BCE and 600 CE, depending on the academic source.
How is the Ogham used?
This alphabet is arranged phonetically in five groups of five letters, each letter having its own name which is that of a tree, shrub, or woody herb. You can see this in image .2. The corresponding personalities, meanings and spiritual properties of the trees are detailed below.
Current research suggests that Ogham inscriptions were normally read upwards from the bottom of the left-hand side, across the top and if need be down.
Ogham was often used as a sign language, with shapes formed with fingers across the nose, other fingers, or the shinbone with each joint of the fingers representing a particular letter of the Ogham alphabet. When written, the letters of the tree alphabet were generally cut along sticks to form strokes across a straight line. They were also carved on stones, using the edge of the stone as a stem line, with letters usually reading from bottom to top.
Approximately 360 of these stones have survived in Ireland, Wales, southern England, the Isle of Man, and Scotland. Though only 35 sites have been found in Wales as compared to over 250 in Ireland.
Is the Ogham also a divinitry tool?
There is no evidence that the Ogham was used in ancient times as a divinatory tool, this appears to be a new age addition to the uses of this language. The alphabet, like the Greek and roman, is named for its first three letters BLF (Beth, Luis, Fearn) order.
Interpretations vary, as with any divinatory system the interpretation is intuitive, and one can best access the meanings personally by means of meditation on the figures as I will outline later. However, when interpreting these as divinatory oracles, it is good to remember the characteristics of the trees themselves.
The Ogham Trees and their meanings:
BEITH BIRCH A new start, beginning, cleansing, Birch is an incursion wood, the first to initiate growth in an area.
LUIS ROWAN Protection against enchantment, control of the senses. A well known traditional witches tree, provides protection against bad luck and demons.
FEARN ALDER Oracular and protective, connections with Bran in the Mabinogion.
SAILLE WILLOW Night vision, lunar rhythms, female aspects. Willow is a water tree and may be used to work water magic. This Dryad is particularly easy to connect to.
NUIN ASH Inner and outer worlds linked, macrocosm and microcosm. A healing tree, strong and long lived.
HUATHE HAWTHORN Cleansing and chastity, protection, the feeding of others, nourishment of the soul.
DUIR OAK Solid protection, doorway to the mysteries, strength. Strength but with humility and no hubris, the joyful expansion of others lives, to be of service.
TINNE HOLLY Best in the fight. A need for protection of self, seclusion and study.
COLL HAZEL Intuition, straight to the source, the salmon of wisdom gained his wisdom from eating hazel nuts that had fallen into the pool. Communication with the living and with spirits.
QUERT APPLE Choice of beauty, The tree of knowledge of good and evil, contains the mystery of discovering the meaning of life and the universe. To hide the secrets of the universe within oneself, to discover the self-teacher within.
MUIN VINE Prophecy, the ability to be tenacious, to determine your own fate by perseverance. The gift of intoxication with life itself to find joy in any situation.
GORT IVY Spiral of the self, search for self. This can also indicate the parasitic actions of self or others.
NGETAL REED Direct action, a group together is unbreakable, standing alone you are weak.
STRAIF BLACKTHORN No choice, however unpleasant, cleansing. Strong banishing given. The ability to Stand against all obstacles.
RUIS ELDER The end in the beginning and the beginning in the end. The mother tree, a great healer and aid with connecting to the land spirits.
Meditating with the Yew – The process
Look into your churchyard, the old building is old, but the Yew tree sitting in it’s grounds is even older! They are wise, they have to do with time, death and are the gatekeepers from this side to the next. They can live for 1000s of years, so they are powerful trees with a lot to communicate, but very slowly!
With some patience and dedication we can connect with the Yew for guidance. Sian outlines the process below…
Build whatever Astral temple you are used to. If you do not know how to build an astral temple, check out this link: how to create an astral temple.
Once happily ensconced in the temple. Look behind your altar and you will see a door with this symbol on it. Walk towards the door, push it open and go through. You will find yourself in a tunnel, roots pushing down past you as you push your way through, you emerge in the roots of a huge Yew.
Sitting in the roots you will find an old man, he is small and wizened, he wears a black clock and on that cloak is the sign for Saturn. He is the dryad of the IOHO and the Yew. He carries a stick made of Yew and blackthorn for both are the trees of Saturn. He is drawing on the floor with the end of the stick, he draws the symbol above. He wears no shoes being always a child of the earth, his power comes from the soil. His skin is slightly green, and his hair is silver and long, hidden behind his hood.
Speak his name quietly and with respect. He turns his gaze upon you and you see that his eyes are as young as the day but as old as the world. He smiles and in that smile, you see your ancestors rolling back into time. Father and grandfather back through the generations.
“And who are you”, he says.
The rest is for you to experience.
Don’t forget to come back!!
And when you do make sure you eat something and ground yourself in this reality.
Once you make a connection with the tree spirit you will always have that connection.
You can use this technique to meet and understand the dryads of each tree and it has been my experience that once you meet one you will have connections with all of that dryad species.
This helps magically when you want to take a piece for the manufacture of an Ogham set.
Find Sian here: facebook.com/sian.sibley.182