Tag Archives: ogham

O is for Ogham

Ogham is an alphabet divided into four groups. (There is a fifth, but it was added later and I don’t use it.)

First:

  • ᚁ – Beith – Birch 
  • ᚂ – Luis – Rowan
  • ᚃ – Fearn – Alder
  • ᚄ – Saille – Willow
  • ᚅ – Nuinn – Ash

Second:

  • ᚆ – Huatha – Hawthorn
  • ᚇ – Duir – Oak
  • ᚈ – Tinne – Holly
  • ᚉ – Coll – Hazel
  • ᚊ – Quert – Apple

Third:

  • ᚋ – Muin – Vine
  • ᚌ – Gort – Ivy
  • ᚍ – Ngetal – Reed
  • ᚎ – Straif – Blackthorn
  • ᚏ – Ruis – Elder

Four:

  • ᚐ – Ailim – Fir/Pine
  • ᚑ – Ohn – Furze/Gorse
  • ᚒ – Ur – Heather
  • ᚓ – Eadha – Poplar/Aspen
  • ᚔ – Idho – Yew

These are the things I can mostly remember, and the associations I’ve learned through the Memrise course. I’ve also found this great resource which links the individual letters to tree associations, planets, genders and elements. I look forward to learning more about the alphabet as I go.

 

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L is for Languages

When I came up with this topic I’d been learning the Futhark runes and watched how people writing about the topic had different names for the runes, different spellings for common words, different pronunciation. As I studied more, I struggled with the modern addition of associations between runes and planets, colours, stones, numbers and so on. (“Wait, if Neptune wasn’t discovered until 1846, how can it be associated with runes that date from the 11th century?”)

As a native English speaker and writer, languages other than English are interesting. Cultural saturation also deems them mystical, otherworldly and potentially magical, which I’m trying to avoid. Languages which follow different graphemic or phonological rules are interesting because they make one realise that it’s part design and part accident that English works the way it does, especially with the pronunciation because of the Great Vowel Shift and the 18th Century prescriptivists and – all those things. English generally works such that a single symbol, a letter (‘A’), represents a sound (‘aaah’) but the pronunciation is dependent on its surrounding letters, your accent, the stress pattern of the words, and so on. Letters don’t have additional meaning; they’re just a written representation of a sound.

So, when one discovers a language where the symbols (runes, letters, whatever) all have their own names, meanings, colour associations, tree associations, deity associations, use in divination and so on – that’s pretty exciting. That’s like discovering a mega-language, where suddenly it has all these attachments which can juggle and make you a cup of tea when your own written symbols just… y’know.. represent phonemes. Unfortunately, lots of this stuff (tree associations, divination, etc.) turns out to be based on conjecture (i.e. lies), on guesswork (lies), and on lies (lies). Did the people who used Ogham really associate ‘beith’ with a birch tree when they were using it to mark territorial boundaries or write signs? It could be the equivalent of associating the symbol “C” with the giant blue wet thing “sea” because they have the same sound.  It’s not necessarily a semantic link.

There’s also the danger of cultural appropriation and fetishizing of non-Romanic languages because they are ‘deep’ or ‘meaningful’ simply because they’re used by people who live quite a long way away. (For instance, see this blog.)

Bearing all that in mind, then, why am I learning Ogham?

Well, whether or not it had these associations of trees and meanings and names with the runes back when it was used centuries ago, it’s grown to have those meanings now. It’s used in the Pagan community by people who want to link to Gaelic deities, which is precisely why I’m using it: to get closer to Brigid. When I write poetry to her, I can now write parts of it using Ogham, which is more private and personal. Who doesn’t want a secret language to use to communicate with their deity?

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K is for Knowledge

K is for Knowledge, and for the bits and pieces that I would like to confidently Know so as to call myself a Pagan. I would like to confidently be able to name all the Ogham letters; to identify most common UK trees; to learn more about the Celtic deities.

A customer brought a leaf into work and I was able to identify it as a Sweet Chestnut, which made me very happy. I had a bit of an advantage, since I walk to the castle regularly and have taken time to identify the trees that line the path. There are Beech, Hazel, Elder and Oaks at the edge of the woodland, and I take time to greet them all if I’m walking along there. I’m at the first bit of knowledge – having the bits and pieces of recognition without being able to put it into wider patterns. Someday I’d hope to know more about individual tree species: which kinds group together, what weathers they prefer, what kinds of landscapes they tend to appear in, which animals prefer them, what plants are found in conjunction with them, etc. But that’s for a time when I can confidently point to a tree and think, “Yes, that’s an [n].” I’d like to do the same for plants, wild flowers and birds.

Ogham is going well. I can confidently name the letters of the first and second aicme, get a little mixed on the third, and still rely on “All Of Us Eat Icecream” as my mnemonic for the fourth.

I think that learning some Irish Gaelic might be a good next step. I’ve never done well with learning other spoken languages, but I hope that the things I’ve learned during my linguistics degree might make it a little easier – things like the phonetic alphabet. Diacritics are a bit of a mystery for someone whose first language is English, but if there are regular patterns to them then I hope I’ll get the hang of it.

Much, much more next week, when I finally get to the Ls and can talk about language.

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