The Ogham of ancient Ireland is an alphabet or system of symbols that has long been associated with secrecy and sorcery. Lore and legend tells us that it was created by one of the ancient Irish Gods, the God of Poetry and Eloquence, Ogma, who lent his name to this alphabet. In times past only a few of the letters were associated with trees, but in time every letter became linked to a tree or shrub, a colour, a bird, a deity and so much more.
The twenty-five symbols or trees of the Ogham are broken up into groups of five, which have their own pattern and style. The symbols of the Ogham are sticklike, making them easy to carve on wood or stone and giving them the appearance of a tree, with various types of branches. They were also read from bottom to top, rather like climbing a tree. The Ogham symbols make great and easy to use sigils to enhance our magical workings, for example we can use the symbol for the Oak tree to add strength to our spells, the Rowan for protection, or Gorse to add some lovely Solar energy.
In more recent times the Ogham was used to form the basis of a beautiful and meaningful Celtic Tree Calendar and within this system we also have our own tree sign, just as we have our own Zodiac sign, which can tell us much about our personality. Today the Ogham is a popular, powerful divinatory or psychological tool to help us to better understand ourselves and the world around us.
Divining with the Ogham is done by casting lots or fews which display the symbol for each tree which is similar to how runes are cast, or by shuffling and selecting cards adorned with the image of the tree, just as you would with Tarot cards. The Ogham trees can be laid in a variety of patterns or spreads that you read that can provide you with a window into your thoughts and circumstances.
People love trees; we love to look at them, to walk amongst them, and to enjoy their company. Trees have been held sacred, and even worshipped, for thousands of years. Gods and Spirits were reputed to speak to us through the whisperings of the wind through the trees and today some of us can still hear them. To the Shamans of the North the World of Man, the World of the Gods and the Underworld are all connected by a gigantic World Tree. This idea may not be as far-fetched as we thought now that we have discovered that the 43hectare Pando Forest in the US, all share the same root system and are all essentially clones of a single tree. We’ve become very aware in recent times that the roots of trees literally hold our earth together and prevent flooding and landslides. Trees also give us life, for they provide the very oxygen that we breathe.
Magically the trees of the Ogham can provide the modern magical practitioner and Diviner with a meaningful connection to nature and so much more. The trees of the Ogham can be building blocks the magical practice of modern Pagans as the breath of life for our magic, as metaphorical wood for the flame in our heart or for the fire in the head – which is an old Celtic term for creativity and inspiration. Our wands, besoms and other magical tools are also often made of wood from various sacred trees and lend us their magical energies as we work.
To engage with the Ogham is to take a walk into an ancient Sacred Grove around which the twenty-five trees or shrubs stand as Guardians and Teachers. Many of the Trees of the Ogham are the favourites of the Wise Folk, the Healers, Witches and Druids of Old, such as the mighty warrior Kings of Oak and Holly, the Faerie Queens of Hawthorn and Apple, the Moon blessed Willow, the Sun blessed Pine, the ever-entwining Ivy and the storehouses of old herbal remedies that are the Bramble and the Elder. By working with the Ogham, we follow in the footsteps of the Wise Ones and help to carry on their wisdom into the future.
Trees are the guardians of ancient knowledge, of nature’s cycles and the magic of the woods. Trees speak to something very deep within our soul, after all us humans evolved to live amongst trees before we exchanged the natural jungle for the concrete one. Some ancient trees have literally watched the world go by for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The Fortingall Yew is said to be around 9,000 years old and is the oldest living organism in the UK, just think what it has witnessed!
The traditional trees of the Ogham offer us healing. Aspirin, that well-known painkiller was ultimately inspired by the medicinal properties of the bark of the Willow Tree. Today we are re-discovering the healing properties of trees, both in terms of physical healing, but also for spiritual healing and mental well-being. Just walking in the woods has been shown in many scientific studies to reduce both pain and anxiety and today there is an entire Therapy based around the forest in the form of the Japanese Therapy of ‘Forest Bathing’ or Shinrin-yoku which has now spread all over the globe.
Through connecting with the trees of the Ogham, we can better understand not only the nature all around us, but also our own inner selves. Each of the twenty-five trees, just like each of the Runes, or each of the Tarot cards, has its own meaning, its own associations and a wealth of folklore and wisdom for us to explore. Some trees have been considered so important to both the ancient Vikings and Celts that we find them in both the Runes and the Ogham, such as Birch, Thorn, Oak and Ash. Some trees are considered fortuitous omens, while others warn us to take care. All seek to teach us. As Pagans of many kinds, many of the names we refer to ourselves as, Witch, Wizard or Druid, all derive ultimately from ancient Celtic and Germanic words for wood or trees. Even our word ‘book’ derives from the old name for the Beech Tree. No wonder so many modern Pagans love to work with the trees of the Ogham.
Working with the Ogham encourages us to travel with the trees through the seasons, through our psyche and through the web we create for ourselves through our thoughts and actions. Performing a reading with the Ogham is to take a walk in the woods to meet and greet the trees and to hear what it is they have to say to us at that moment. Trees talk, to each other and to us. Each brings their own unique message and all we have to do is listen and learn. Some prefer to choose a tree for the day, a companion or guide to guide them through the day, to offer advice and insight as to what can be expected or what to be inspired by that day. The Birch tree speaks to us of new beginnings and new opportunities coming our way, while the Yew may be telling us to wind up the projects we already have on the go. Others may prefer to meditate on a tree and what it means to them.
As well as the traditional meanings of the trees, we each ascribe our own meaning to specific types of tree based on our own unique experiences and memories. This helps us to form our own special bond with each of the trees. We may have had a favourite tree as a child that grew alongside us or that sheltered us as we played, or a favourite tree from a story or fairytale. However you choose to work with the trees of the Ogham, allow them to inspire you with their memories, mysteries and their magic.