Ogham Divination - Questions Of Origin
My first introduction to Ogham was through my father’s family.
But the first time it had an impact on me was about 50 years ago on Iona. There a historian and folklorist told me a tale of Iona being a place where Ghaels met the Picts.
When this meet up and culture exchange happened I am not sure of. Was this during Columcille’s time, or earlier during Oran’s time. Oran is described as being a ‘druid’ on Iona when Columciulle arrived.
I also ask if there was some kind of Ogham presence on Iona before Oran, and that he inherited it there. That idea is very doubtful, yet also possible.
Today it may seem odd to think of Iona being part of the Ogham story considering the only trees are some beeches around the former Anglican church there and a few hazels, hawthorns and other tree shrubs around the village area.
The story I was told back then was that the Ghaels had an oral language they shared that was a weaving of their interpretation of trees. This was said to be how they explained things and their experiences of living.
Meanwhile, the Picts carved symbols of their language into wood and stone, with some having appearance similarities to what we recognise as Ogham symbols today.
I was told, back then, that the Ghael Tree Symbols language and the Pict Carved Symbols language came together as part of a peace pact between the Picts and Ghaels. This pact was the start of what has eventually become Scotland.
From this story, the vision I was left with was the merging Pict scribed symbols with Ghael tree referenced so that maybe they could archive what they shared, decided, and bonded. I also have the feeling that a lot of this merged symbols based language was probably divination and prophecy.
Another thought is how it seems that Columcille was quite a pioneer of translating old Irish tales told to him through combining the old more modern gaelic of the time with the latinised alphabet that he had been scholared in.
Also language from Columcille’s time was scribed in a linear horizontal direction, like we write today.
It was not from the ground up, like the growing tree, just like Ogham is scribed on Ogham stones we see. Several tourism trinkets have Ogham scribed in linear form. Also in the much later Book Of Ballymote, Ogham is scribed in linear direction too.
It seems that the linear Latin symbols language was reduced to 18 letters, and each letter was named after a tree, just like within the native Gàidhlig today. When this happened, I do not know, but I suspect the 8th or 9th century.
A question I ask is whether Columcille translated some scribing from Ogham that he may have learned from Oran, referring to line marked tree branches style symbolism? There’s quite a story of Oran being descended from the original ‘tree people’ explained through tales of the arrival of the Milesians in Ireland, that I will talk about in other chapters.
It does seem quite certain that Columcille was familiar with Ogham, especially the sounds applied to each Ogham symbol.
There is a famous and quite well known story of Columcille copying a book of Psalms owned by a former teacher, St. Finian, abbot of Moville, that is now Newtownards at the North of Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland.
This story leads into being part of the cause of the ‘Battle Of The Books’ below Ben Bulben mountain in Co. Sligo, with consequences that are said to have landed Columcille on Iona.
That Psalms book that Columcille copies is told, through folklore, to have included Ogham symbols that gave Columcille an insight into how to sing the Psalms.
Eventually, that book he copied ended up back with his Donegal family that carried it as a battle mascot for hundreds of years.
Another question I carry is, Did the Psalms book that Columcille copies at Moville become his reference of how to cross reference and translate Ogham to Latin for scribing?
This and other related thoughts have revealed to me a vision of Ogham starting as a ‘prompting’ language, as most ancient language origins seem to be.
Personally, I am all for prompts much more than actually reading full books, and especially in relation to the new craze of referring to AI artificial intelligence as a knowledge source and, even worse, wisdom source.
I do believe that in living practice, we do actually refer to ‘prompts’ much more than book references. To me, the majority of books seem to be items that get neatly stacked on bookshelves and are soon forgotten.
Also, I do not think that ancient cave art was just pretty cave art, but those items carved and painted were mainly prompts for something.
Today, with the increasing popularity of dabbling in Divination with Ogham, we may reach for Ogham Sticks or Divination Cards with pictures of trees and Ogham symbols.
For me, humans always being able to sustain some kind of prompting tools is essential for our life connections and mental health.
Books do wonderfully set off imagination and inspiration, and I love that. To me that appears to be using the writing in books as ‘prompts’. They can get us right back into our collective consciousness and back again and accumulate amazing wisdom and vision on the way.
What concerns me is when books become ‘dictators’. When we are commanded to do things and even live our lives according to the written instructions in books. Within social media, several ‘keyboard warriors’ comment things like ‘do your research!’ and try to ‘command’ that if is ‘stuff’ that is not written down, then it does not exist. Look at the animals and birds. It's very rare to catch another species reading a manual.
When Claire and I were at Carrowcrory Cottage and Labyrinth Gardens, the labyrinths were constructed partially inspired by the idea of providing ‘prompts’ for the exploring visitors, especially within the Tree Labyrinth.
When we left Carrowcrory the Tree Labyrinths was almost exactly 13 years old from when it was first walkable.
Things I personally do not believe in are the human concepts of ‘answers’, ‘facts’, ‘beginnings’, ‘ends’, ‘time’, ‘distance’, and ‘science’. And here I am having achieved a degree in Food Science, yet I carry those beliefs?
I believe our approach to these concepts have a huge effect on how we approach any form of divination, and how we enjoy success with it as a handy living tool.
What people call ‘answers’, I only interpret as portals to hundreds more questions. But ‘living with questions’ I regard as being much more healthy and fulfilling as through this we sustain wonder and fill our lives with much more wisdom than through any forced linear thinking.
Within our past Tree Labyrinth I invited visitors to contemplate their questions and then connect with any visions inspired by their questions, including asking them among the trees with their inner voice, or maybe vocal.
Those visions then seem to unfold a story, a prophecy of our present. An ‘voila’ there’s a lovely guided map to live with. We may even call that ‘map’ an ‘entity’ such as the presence of our ‘guardian angel’, ‘guiding spirit’, ‘the sidhe’, our ‘invisible friend’, or the ‘spirit of our Christ heart’.
It seems that when we sustain such wonder, and we sustain clarity of inspiration, instinct, presence, conscience, and wisdom, our minds are not mudded with guilt, shame, demoralisation, and even fear.
To consider this Tree Labyrinth experience with Ogham and it’s tree symbols, that can happen with any natural tree, water, beach, and nature landscape situation, and within our gardens to where there is some permaculture style respect, let me get back to the concepts of ‘Ogham Prompts’.
Though I’ve no personal real evidence as I have never been an early languages researcher, I am sure prompts were with us before scribable languages were invented. Ogham as a semi organised set of symbol prompts, seems to have been with us since about 3rd or 4th century AD, but evolved from earlier tree prompt languages as we hear about sometimes from tales of Milesians and Tuatha De Dannan here in Ireland.
Prompts, I feel, can keep us alive and connected in inspiration and ideas. Prompts prompt us to write Prompts prompt us to draw Prompts prompt us to unravel problems Prompts prompt us to build
Next time, I am going to delve deeper into Ogham, Ogam, origins and include some theories of why it was ‘invented’ and where the ‘Ogham’ word came from as it appears to be quite unique for old Irish language.
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