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Celtic Ogham

Ogham Stone Ireland

Ogham, where to begin? It is an amazing ancient language that can be seen all over Irish historical land marks. I have had the pleasure of seeing some up close when we went to Ireland many years ago. In my celtic pagan studies Ogham was taught, not just as a form of writing: but as a form of divination. From doing a single draw a day to doing more complex readings using an Ogham cloth and tosing the sticks (or tiles as the case may be) you can devine all sorts of interesting data. Below is a list of the diffent characters in Ogham, their names and meanings.

McManus (1991, §3.15) discusses possible etymologies of all the letter names, and as well as the five mentioned above, he adds one other definite tree name: onn "ash" (the Auraicept wrongly has furze). McManus (1988, p164) also believes that the name Idad is probably an artificial form of Iubhar or yew, as the kennings support that meaning, and concedes that Ailm may possibly mean "pine tree" as it appears to be used to mean that in an eighth century poem.  Thus out of twenty letter names, only eight at most are the names of trees. The other names have a variety of meanings, which are set out in the list below.


  • Beith, Old Irish Beithe means "birch-tree", cognate to Latin betula.
  • Luis, Old Irish Luis is either related to luise "blaze" or lus "herb". The arboreal tradition has caertheand "rowan".
  • Fearn, Old Irish Fern means "alder-tree", Primitive Irish *wern?, so that the original value of the letter was [w].
  • Sail, Old Irish Sail means "willow-tree", cognate to Latin salix.
  • Nion, Old Irish Nin means either "fork" or "loft". The arboreal tradition has uinnius "ash-tree".
  • Uath, Old Irish Úath means úath "horror, fear", the arboreal tradition has "white-thorn". The original etymology of the name, and the letter's value, are however unclear. McManus (1986) suggested a value [y]. Peter Schrijver (see McManus 1991:37) suggested that if úath "fear" is cognate with Latin pavere, a trace of PIE *p might have survived into Primitive Irish, but there is no independent evidence for this.
  • Dair, Old Irish Dair means "oak" (PIE *doru-).
  • Tinne, Old Irish Tinne from the evidence of the kennings means "bar of metal, ingot". The arboreal tradition has cuileand "holly".
  • Coll, Old Irish Coll meant "hazel-tree", cognate with Welsh collen, correctly glossed as cainfidh "fair-wood" ("hazel") by the arboreal interpretation. The Latin corylus is a possible cognate.
  • Ceirt, Old Irish Cert is cognate with Welsh pert "bush" , Latin quercus "oak" (PIE *perkwos). It was confused with Old Irish ceirt "rag", reflected in the kennings. The Auraicept glosses aball "apple".
  • Muin, Old Irish Muin: the kennings connect this name to three different words, muin "neck, upper part of the back", muin "wile, ruse", and muin "love, esteem". The arboreal tradition has finemhain "vine".
  • Gort, Old Irish Gort means "field" (cognate to garden). The arboreal tradition has edind "ivy".
  • nGéadal, Old Irish Gétal from the kennings has a meaning of "killing", maybe cognate to gonid "slays", from PIE gwen-. The value of the letter in Primitive Irish, then, was a voiced labiovelar, [??]. The arboreal tradition glosses cilcach, "broom" or "fern".
  • Straif, Old Irish Straiph means "sulphur". The Primitive Irish letter value is uncertain, it may have been a sibilant different from s, which is taken by sail, maybe a reflex of /st/ or /sw/. The arboreal tradition glosses draighin "blackthorn".
  • Ruis, Old Irish Ruis means "red" or "redness", glossed as trom "elder".
  • Ailm, Old Irish Ailm is of uncertain meaning, possibly "pine-tree". The Auraicept has crand giuis .i. ochtach, "fir-tree" or "pinetree".
  • Onn, Old Irish Onn means "ash-tree", although the Auraicept glosses aiten "furze".
  • Úr, Old Irish Úr, based on the kennings, means "earth, clay, soil". The Auraicept glosses fraech "heath".
  • Eadhadh, Old Irish Edad of unknown meaning. The Auraicept glosses crand fir no crithach "test-tree or aspen"
  • Iodhadh, Old Irish Idad is of uncertain meaning, but is probably a form of ibhar "yew", which is the meaning given to it in the arboreal tradition.

Of the forfeda, four are glossed by the Auraicept:

  • Eabhadh, Old Irish Ebhadh with crithach "aspen";
  • Ór, "gold" (from Latin aurum); the arboreal tradition has feorus no edind, "spindle tree or ivy"
  • Uilleann, Old Irish Uilleand "elbow"; the arboreal tradition has edleand "honeysuckle"
  • Pín, later Ifín, Old Irish Iphin with spinan no ispin "gooseberry or thorn".

The fifth letter is Emancholl which means 'twin of hazel'