Ogham, the mysterious language of the trees
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The Origins of the Ogham alphabet is still a mystery for many historians, but it is primarily thought to be an early form of the Irish written Language. Though inscriptions can also be found in Pictish, Old Welsh and Latin. Around 400 still exist today in Ireland and the UK.
It is believed the Ogham, pronounced 'O-am', got its name from the god Ogma who exists in both Irish and Scottish mythology as a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann. In fact, the invention of Ogham is often attributed to Ogma who was said to be skilled at poetry and language.
Ogham has been found inscribed on rocks dating back to the 6th, possibly 4th century AD. Some believe it to be even older. It seems to have been used to mark property, land or graves with the name of the owner inscribed on either stone or wood. Wood engravings would not have survived the ravages of time so only the stones remain.
The individual characters can be translated into modern letters as shown and each one is thought to be represented by a native tree.
The letters are the first letter of that tree in old Irish.
For example, the first few characters B, L, F, S, N stand for Beith (birch), Luis (rowan), Fearn (alder), Saille (willow) and Nion (ash).
When written vertically, as it was on stones the words would be written from bottom to top with a feather character known as an Eite at each end of the inscription.
At the end of the 14th century, the Ogham language was recorded in the Book of Ballymote. In it were detailed diagrams and code of how it should be written and for this purpose it was written horizontally (left to right).
The book also contained added characters, not seen before on stone carvings. Presumably, these were added to account for changes in the Irish language over the centuries and were only for use in manuscripts.
Through the centuries Ogham has gradually transformed from a road sign to a secret code and finally into a mystical tool. Today Ogham are used much like runes (a similar written script from northern Europe), for divination. This is mostly down to the author and poet Robert Graves and his book 'The White Goddess'.
Although Grave's work was historically inaccurate and largely based on folklore and fairy tales, there is still a certain mystique surrounding the Ogham. The importance of trees and nature from which the Ogham are named cannot be ignored and nobody really knows their origins.
Follow in the footsteps of your Irish ancestors with your name written in old Irish and the Ogham translation, the mysterious language of ancient Ireland.
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All names in Old Irish and Ogham are also available as digital downloads if you prefer to print at home. here