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How to Learn the Ogham Alphabet from Trustworthy Sources

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How to Learn the Ogham Alphabet from Trustworthy Sources - Ogham Academy

Want to learn about the Ogham Alphabet?

This ancient writing system, developed in pre-Christian Ireland around the late 300s Common Era, has endured for centuries on our island, and is still studied today.

Read on for our guide on how to assess and access reliable sources of information on Ogham, to help you understand its symbols and significance in a reliable way today.

 

Here are our top tips for learning about the Ogham alphabet from scholarly sources!

Mass market or commercial, Pagan or New Age books on Ogham are really not the best way to begin. I know they can seem like an easier option, believe me I understand that scholarly materials can seem daunting, especially if you're not coming from that educational background yourself. However, it is worth it.

Most New Age authors are cherry picking and misquoting bits and pieces of scholarly work (if they even get that far), often without even checking it in the original source themselves. They're usually just rehashing the last pseudo spiritual shit they picked up themselves from some equally spurious source. 

Don't fall for it!

After far too long of trying to make sense of that nonsense myself, back before we had helpful guides like this one... I really don't want you to have to make the same mistakes I did 20 or 30 years ago. Because that's how old and stale most of that trash has been recycled in NeoPagan circles for.

Here is a better way, brought to you by your Ogham guide, Lora O'Brien.

 

  • Check the Credentials of Sources Before Viewing Content


    Before you begin your Ogham alphabet research, it’s important to check the credentials and authenticity of the sources you begin to find. Do some digging to see if websites or authors have specific qualifications relating to Ogham studies or a general background in Irish language, culture, and history. If they come from, or live and work, here in Ireland - even better! Research papers, books, or websites that are written by people with these qualifications, and a solid grounding in actual Irish history and current culture, can be considered a more reliable source than other materials which are generally available on the internet, or from New Age publishers.

 

  • Research the Authors to Identify their Expertise Level on the Topic


    Before you believe any information you may find about the Ogham Alphabet, make sure that you do some research on the authors, or content creators, in order to identify their level of expertise. Are they Masters or PhD students specializing in linguistic studies? Have they published books or articles pertaining to the Ogham alphabet specifically? College or University level learning isn't always necessary, but that type of training and experience certainly lends itself to a more even and unbiased baseline, as well as a focus on quality primary and secondary source material for their own research. Check references and credentials to ensure your Ogham alphabet sources are trustworthy, and again - if they come from Irish colleges or universities, this is usually going to be a better position that some vague 'Celtic Studies' degree from a school in a different country.

 

  • Use Reliable and Authoritative Resources like Books or Academic Papers


    When researching the Ogham Alphabet, using reliable sources is essential. Start your search with academic journals or books written by archaeologists and linguists who specialize in Celtic culture and language. These can provide in-depth information on the Ogham Alphabet, its origins and its unique characteristics. Pay close attention to authors’ credentials and qualifications and any previous publications, as stated above, and also to how often their material has been cited (a search on Google Scholar will tell you this). You can also check if the study is in a reputable, peer reviewed journal, and have a look at the age of the research you find (year of publication) in order to ensure that you are getting accurate, up-to-date information about the Ogham Alphabet.

 

  • Compare Sources for Accuracy and Comprehensive Coverage of Ogham Alphabet Information


    Once you’ve identified a few scholarly sources of trustworthy, credible information about the Ogham Alphabet, it’s essential to review and compare their content. This will help you to determine whether each source provides an accurate and balanced representation of the Ogham. You can also contrast different sources to provide a more comprehensive understanding of Ogham, overall, since each author or research question will show a unique approach, with details that may not appear in other publications. Check out their literature review (usually at the start of a paper, in the text) and their bibliography or references (always in footnotes and/or a list at the end of the article) to access even more quality source material! Comparing various sources on the same topic will give you a better overall picture of the subject, which will be invaluable when further exploring the Ogham Alphabet. >>> (This Guide for Remembering What You Read is great!)

 

  • Consult an Expert if You Have Questions or Want to Validate Your Knowledge


    While diverse and trusted resources can provide valuable information about the Ogham Alphabet, getting expert input can be extremely beneficial too. If you have specific questions or are looking to validate what you’ve already studied, it’s best to reach out to a knowledgeable individual with expertise in that area. (Please note that professional consultations should be paid for - you are not entitled to anybody's time or expertise just because you have a need). Besides looking up the authors you've been researching, as per the advice above, you may be lucky and find experts in ancient Ogham through events run by your local library, historical societies, universities, or in social media groups dedicated to the topic. On the latter there, please be careful as most of the groups are full of absolute garbage, run by 'Celtic Shaman' type eejits.
  • If it helps, the Facebook Group run by the Ogham Academy is called >>> Learn Ogham. We also have Online Courses in Ogham Coming Soon! 

 

Trustworthy Contemporary Source Recommendations for Learning the Ogham Alphabet

The first rule is - avoid Robert Graves and his 'Celtic Tree Calendar' nonsense. 

Second rule is - avoid any author or website spouting similar bullshit. 

>>> This blog post explains more - The Celtic Tree Alphabet?

 

 

Scholarly Books on Ogham that we Can Recommend

-- Guide to Ogam (Paperback) – January 1, 1997 by Damian McManus

>>> Find it on Amazon Here

-- The Ogam Stones at University College Cork (University Heritage) (Paperback) – January 1, 2004 by Damian McManus

>>> Find it on Amazon Here

-- OGAM (Paperback) Aelaw Booklet 2022, by David Stifter

>>> Find it on Amazon Here

--- Ogham Stones PDF Download Guide, by Nora White

>>> Ogham Stones - The Heritage Council (Ireland)

 

Websites on Ogham that we Can Recommend

>>> Ogham in 3D Project - Digital Archaeology 

(also don't miss their extensive bibliography!)

>>> OG(H)AM Blog

(This is the AHRC/IRC Project OG(H)AM: Harnessing digital technologies to transform understanding of ogham writing, from the 4th century to the 21st, University of Glasgow.) 

>>> Kids' Activity Sheet: Ogham Code - National Museum of Ireland

 

To take an online class and learn more...

>>> Online Courses on Ogham taught by Lora O'Brien at the Irish Pagan School

 

Contemporary Pagan Books on Ogham that we Can Recommend

Folks, I am sorry, but there are only two, at time of writing. 

-- Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom (Paperback) – Illustrated, July 31, 2007 by Erynn Rowan Laurie

>>> Find it on Amazon Here

-- The Poet's Ogam: A Living Magical Tradition (Paperback) – October 30, 2010 by John-Paul Patton

>>> Find it on Amazon Here

 

Sample Scholarly Bibliography for Learning the Ogham Alphabet

If you don't have university access to JSTOR, please note they have a lending/reading option for papers, while some older ones are free to download as they are out of copyright. You could also ask a friend who is in college, or check your local library to see if they have access.

Other options may be to source papers on Academia.edu, or simply ask on your own social media pages or in groups if anyone has access to a specific paper and would be willing to send it to you - or get in touch with the author directly... they are often happy to send on a copy!

  • "The Mount Callan Ogham Stone and its context" by Siobhán De hÓir, in North Munster Antiquarian Journal. 1983, Vol 25, pp 43-57
  • “An Account of the Discovery of Ogham Stones Presented by Mr. Richard Hitchcock.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836-1869) 4 (1847): 271–72. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20520285.
  • “Notice of an Ogham Stone Found in the County of Wexford.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836-1869) 3 (1844): 136–136. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20489535.
  • Archdeacon of Ardfert. “On an Ogham Monument Discovered in the County of Kerry.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836-1869) 7 (1857): 100–107. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20489840.
  • Barry, E. “On Ogham-Stones Seen in Kilkenny County.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 5, no. 4 (1895): 348–68. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25508257.
  • Barry, Edmond. “On Fifteen Ogham Inscriptions Recently Discovered at Ballyknock, in the Barony of Kinnatalloon, County of Cork.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 1, no. 7 (1891): 514–35. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25507817.
  • Brash, Richard R. “On the Seskinan Ogham Inscriptions, County of Waterford.” The Journal of the Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland 1, no. 1 (1868): 118–30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25497778.
  • Carney J. (1975): 'The invention of the Ogom cipher', Ériu 26, pp 53-65.
  • Carney J. (1979): 'Aspects of archaic Irish', Éigse 17, pp 417-35.
  • Ferguson, Samuel. “Account of Ogham Inscriptions in the Cave at Rathcroghan, County of Roscommon.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836-1869) 9 (1864): 160–70. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20488894.
  • Ferguson, Samuel. “On an Ogham Inscription at Mullagh, Co. Cavan.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Polite Literature and Antiquities 1 (1879): 303–303. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20489965.
  • Ferguson, Samuel. “On the Ogham-Inscribed Stone on Callan Mountain, Co. Clare.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Polite Literature and Antiquities 1 (1879): 160–71. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20489945.
  • Graves, Charles. “On a General Method of Deciphering Secret Alphabetic Writings, as Applicable to the Irish Ogham.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836-1869) 4 (1847): 70–73. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20520240.
  • Graves, Charles. “On a Silver Brooch, with an Inscription in the Ogham Character.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836-1869) 4 (1847): 183–84. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20520264.
  • Graves, Charles. “On Inscribed Crosses on Stones, along with Ogham Inscriptions.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836-1869) 5 (1850): 234–35. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20489735.
  • Graves, Charles. “On Ogham Monuments.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836-1869) 5 (1850): 401–3. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20489783.
  • Graves, Charles. “On the Age of Ogham Writing. No. I.” Transactions of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society 1, no. 3 (1851): 305–7. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25489781.
  • Graves, Charles. “On the Ogham Chamber at Drumloghan.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836-1869) 10 (1866): 119–21. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20488977.
  • Graves, Charles. “On the Ogham Character and Alphabet. Part II.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836-1869) 4 (1847): 356–68. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20520316.
  • Graves, Charles. “On the Ogham Character.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836-1869) 4 (1847): 173–80. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20520262.
  • Kern, G. (2009): Ogam Inscriptions of Ireland: A Relative Chronology Based on Linguistic Evidence, MA dissertation, University of Aberystwyth.
  • Macalister, R. A. S. “A Newly Discovered Ogham and Some Other Antiquities in County Carlow.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 40, no. 4 (1910): 349–51. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25514103.
  • Macalister, R. A. S. “Celtic Ireland.” The Irish Monthly 47, no. 550 (1919): 206–19. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20505278.
  • Macalister, R. A. S. “Do Ogham Inscriptions Contain Latin Words?” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 6, no. 2 (1896): 175–77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25508311.
  • Macalister, R. A. S. “On an Ogham Inscription Recently Discovered in County Wicklow.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature 33 (1916): 230–32. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25504193.
  • Macalister, R. A. S. “The Ogham Inscription at Barnafeadog, County Louth.” Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society 3, no. 4 (1915): 385–87. https://doi.org/10.2307/27728057.
  • Macalister, R. A. S. “The Ogham Retrospect of 1896.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 6, no. 4 (1896): 392–93. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25508351.
  • Macalister, R. A. S. “The Ogham Retrospect of 1897.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 8, no. 1 (1898): 67–67. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25508478.
  • MacAlister, R. A. Stewart. “Eight Newly-Discovered Ogham Inscriptions in County Cork.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 36, no. 3 (1906): 259–61. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25507538.
  • Macalister, R. A. Stewart. “The Cryptic Element Alleged to Exist in Ogham Inscriptions.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 9, no. 1 (1899): 52–55. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25508586.
  • Macalister, R. A. Stewart. “The Ogham Stones near Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 39, no. 3 (1909): 294–96. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25514013.
  • MacNeill, Eoin, and Shane Nagle. “EOIN MACNEILL: THE MIND BEHIND THE EASTER RISING?” History Ireland 22, no. 1 (2014): 36–39. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23596302.
  • MacNeill, Eoin, and W. N. Osborough. “GUIDELINES FOR AN IRISH EDUCATIONAL POLICY.” Irish Jurist (1966-) 14, no. 2 (1979): 378–84. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44027417.
  • MacNeill, Eoin. “Archaisms in the Ogham Inscriptions.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature 39 (1929): 33–53. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25515945.
  • MacNeill, Eoin. “Beginnings of Latin Culture in Ireland.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 20, no. 77 (1931): 39–48. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30094719.
  • MacNeill, Eoin. “Colonisation under Early Kings of Tara.” Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society 16, no. 3/4 (1935): 101–24. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25535139.
  • MacNeill, Eoin. “The Pretanic Background in Britain and Ireland.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 3, no. 1 (1933): 1–28. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25513664.
  • MacNeill, John, and Charles MacNeill. “Ogham Inscription at Cloonmorris, County Leitrim.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 39, no. 2 (1909): 132–36. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25513983.
  • MacNeill, John. “Early Irish Population-Groups: Their Nomenclature, Classification, and Chronology.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature 29 (1911): 59–114. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25502794.
  • MacNeill, John. “Notes on the Distribution, History, Grammar, and Import of the Irish Ogham Inscriptions.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature 27 (1908): 329–70. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25502768.
  • Martin, F. X. “The Writings of Eoin MacNeill.” Irish Historical Studies 6, no. 21 (1948): 44–62. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30004943.
  • McCone, K. (1996): Towards a Relative Chronology of Ancient and Medieval Celtic Sound Changes. Maynooth.
  • McManus, Damian. “Irish Letter-Names and Their Kennings.” Ériu 39 (1988): 127–68. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30024135.
  • McManus, Damian. “Ogam: Archaizing, Orthography and the Authenticity of the Manuscript Key to the Alphabet.” Ériu 37 (1986): 9–31. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30007985.
  • McManus, Damian. A Guide to Ogam (Maynooth Monographs 4, 1991)
  • McManus, D. (1989): 'Runic and Ogam letter-names: a parallelism' in D. Ó Corráin , L. Breatnach , K. McCone ) (eds) Sages, Saints and Storytellers (Celtic Studies in honour of Professor James Carney. Maynooth Monographs 2, pp 144-8.
  • Oldham, Thomas. “On Some Stones with Ogham Characters.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836-1869) 2 (1840): 513–17. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20520184.
  • Poppe, Erich, “Writing systems and cultural identity: ogam in medieval and early modern Ireland”, Language and History 61:1-2 (2018): 23–38.
  • R. A. Stewart Macalister. “4. External Evidences Affecting the Problem of the Age of Ogham Writing in Ireland.” Man 2 (1902): 6–7. https://doi.org/10.2307/2840556.
  • Rhys, John, and William Stokes. “On Irish Ogam Inscriptions.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Polite Literature and Antiquities 1 (1879): 298–302. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20489964.
  • Rhys. “Notes on Ogam Inscriptions.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 33, no. 2 (1903): 113–18. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25507286.
  • Rhys. “The Tullaghane Ogam-Stone, Co. Mayo.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 31, no. 2 (1901): 176–78. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25507133.
  • Ryan, John. “Eoin Mac Neill 1867-1945.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 34, no. 136 (1945): 433–48. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30100064.
  • Sims-Williams, P. (1992): 'The additional letters of the Ogam Alphabet', Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 23, pp 29-75.
  • Sims-Williams, P. (1993): 'Some problems in deciphering the early Irish Ogam alphabet', TPhS 91, pp 133–180.
  • Stifter, David. Ogam: Language, Writing, Epigraphy (AELAW Prensas de la Universidad de Zaragoza, 2022)
  • Todd, James Henthorn. “On an Ogham Inscription.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836-1869) 2 (1840): 410–11. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20520171.
  • Westropp, Hodder M. “On Ogham Pillar Stones in Ireland.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 2 (1873): 201–5. https://doi.org/10.2307/2841167.
  • Duffy, Seán. “Antiquarianism and Gaelic Revival in County Louth in the Pre-Famine Era.” Journal of the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society 21, no. 4 (1988): 343–68. https://doi.org/10.2307/27729650.

 

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OGHAM - Quick & Easy Reference Guide

>>> Free PDF Download

 
In this Guide you will find a brief history of the Ogham, and the Ogham letters laid out across two A4 sheets, for easy printing and quick reference or reminders as you learn.
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