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The Tree Ogham

Ogham Tree Alphabet

The Tree Ogham is a primitive Irish alphabet used between the 4th and 6th centuries by Celtic tribes who migrated to Britain. It consists of 20 letters called Fedha (meaning trees).

Short horizontal or angled lines, read from bottom to top, are positioned either side of a solid vertical line. It may have once been signed with fingers over the shin bone. A feather symbol is used at the beginning and end of sentances.

Ogham was inscribed on sticks as a way of sending messages, but all that survives today are 320 inscribed standing stones. Words were usually the name of a person or a place, which may have marked boundaries, or even graves.

Knowledge was orally passed down until recorded in medieval manuscripts in the Book of Ballymote and of Leinster. Here we read about how trees were assigned to each character which helped people to remember the relationship between letter and spoken sound. For example, the letter ‘b’ is called beithe, ‘birch’ and the letter ‘c’ is coll, ‘hazel’.

My Tree Ogham

Trees were a huge part of the everyday lives of a Celt and the 20 Ogham fedha also represent the underlying energy of each tree or shrub and the inherent wisdom and guidance offered by its own essential nature. It offers different ways of communicating with the trees to help us to deepen our relationship with them. The symbols have become associated with meanings and elements of human experience.

I'm inspired by this to connect more deeply with the trees I planted in my woodland. I have felt drawn to a particular tree of each species and asked the tree's permission to cut a small twig. The twig is cut to length and a section carved away with my whittling knife before I burn the symbol that represents the tree onto it. This talisman now represents the tree.

For each tree I wrote the English name alongside the Celtic name with the Ogham symbol and letter and made crayon rubbings of the leaves.

Reading about the symbolism of each tree, I picked out what resonated with me. The 10 seen here are the 1st and 2nd 'Aicme' and in fact I replaced the 5th tree on the second row with the final tree of the alphabet. Yew.

I have since been reading some Celtic scholars re-evaluation of the translation of the Ogham. It seems much of the interpretation  comes from the ideas of Robert Graves, following the publication of his magnum opus The White Goddess. However, much of his work was erroneous and speculative, which he admitted himself. So there will be some changes in the work to reflect the deductions of these scholars.

To be continued...

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