Ogham is a script, or alphabet, that was developed in Ireland to express the sounds of the Early Irish language. Although much knowledge of these ancient Ogham words has been lost to us, there is still a lot we do know, and can integrate into our daily lives in the modern world.
In this guide, you will discover the history and significance of Ogham words, as well as explore the unique beauty and power they hold. Whether you have a deep interest in Celtic culture, native Irish spirituality, or simply want to expand your linguistic knowledge, the Ogham Academy can provide you with a fascinating introduction to the world of Ogham words.
What is Ogham?
Ogham is not a language in itself, but an alphabet or system of writing that expresses the Irish language, in both it's ancient and modern forms. It consists of a series of lines and notches that are carved into stone or wood. Each line or notch represents a different letter of the Irish alphabet, which is different to the English one you are familiar with.
The original 20 letters, or Feda, in the Ogham alphabet are grouped into 4 sets of 5, called Aicmí.
Ogham is believed to have been developed in (or before) the 4th century Common Era (300s CE) and was most widely used here from the 5th until the 7th century (600s CE), although its legacy continues to present day. It is the earliest form of writing in Ireland and has great historical and cultural significance.
The History and Origins of Ogham
The Ogham script was primarily used for inscriptions on stone monuments, such as gravestones and boundary markers, and may have been a tool of the Druids. Ogham was possibly, if we believe the evidence of Medieval literature, also used to record important information such as genealogies and legal contracts.
The exact dating of when the Ogham was invented remains obscure, unfortunately, though the 'earliest extant specimens of the script belong to the late 4th century' (Stifter, 2022). Stifter provides some interesting arguments for the possibility of a 1st or 2nd century dating, linguistically, but settles with the fact that the absence of archaeological evidence means 'most scholars are reluctant to go back much further than c. 400 [CE] with the invention of the Ogham script'.
The origins of Ogham are still somewhat mysterious, but it is clear that it played a significant role in Irish society and continues to be a source of fascination for scholars and enthusiasts today.
Understanding the Ogham Alphabet
The Ogham alphabet is a unique writing system, 'in that it is three-dimensional and consists of the most basic, almost ornamental signs conceivable, namely strokes and notches, which are arranged along the edges (arris) of stones' (Stifter, 2022). It is read from bottom to top when carved on stones, mainly during the 'classical' period (5th to 7th centuries), and read from left to right in the later manuscript tradition.
While we value the scholarship of the study of Ogham, at the Ogham Academy we also align with the spiritual belief that this native writing system may have been used for magical or divination purposes, at some point in its history.
Understanding the structure and letters of the alphabet is the first step in unlocking the power and beauty of Ogham words, so please do make sure you access the visual aid (free) guide, linked above!
Ancient Ogham Words
With regard to the earliest evidence for Ogham words which is available to us, the stone inscriptions of the classical tradition provide a very sparse dictionary, unfortunately. Ogham stones mostly show personal names, with some variation of son of or grandson of, and the only feminine example that remains to us are found in Wales, where the script migrated with the people.
Most commonly seen are the following generic nouns (source, Stifter, 2022):
- ANM - 'name', or 'soul'
- MAQQI - 'son' (with many variants in spelling!)
- AVI - 'grandson'
- NIOTTA - 'nephew'
- CELI - 'client'
- MUCOI - 'from the sept' (a traditional Irish family group)
A good example of these most ancient Ogham words can be found on one of the earliest intact specimen of the Ogham script, found in Ballinrannig, County Kerry, which reads: CUNAMAQQI CORBBI MAQQ[I MUCCOI DOVVINIA]S, which has been translated to 'of Cunamaqqas Corbas (the name Conmac Corb), son of from the sept of Dovvinia (Duibhne)'.
Of course, these oldest of Ogham words are not of very much use to a modern scholar or spiritual practitioner, unless we are marking gravestones or erecting territorial boundaries. And I mean, you might be, so the best of luck to ya with that!
Moving forward in time, we can retain the essence of the ancestral carvings, by looking to the Old Irish language for words that are useful and meaningful to us today, and transliterating them into Ogham.
Remember, the language is Irish, while the alphabet or script we write it with is Ogham, so it is not a translation of English to Ogham. Rather, we first translate to the Irish language, then write in Ogham.
The Ogham alphabet is not just a collection of letters, but a rich source of meaning and symbolism. Each Ogham word we might use today carries with it a deep significance, and historical nuance, that can be explored and understood by the careful and conscientious seeker.
The Meaning and Symbolism of Ogham Words Today
You can find any word you want in Ogham by using the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language Here to translate a word from English into Irish, and then our Free Downloadable PDF Guide Here to transliterate that Irish word into an Ogham word.
Some popular examples of Ogham words, written horizontally from left to right as per the later manuscript tradition, are as follows:
- Beannachtaí - Blessings
- Draoí - Druid
- Éire - Ireland
- Grá - Love
- Misneach - Courage
- Neart - Strength
- Sláinte - Health
How to Incorporate Ogham Words into Your Daily Life
Once you have learned the basics of Ogham words and their meanings, and how to translate and then transliterate any word with personal meaning to you, from English, to Irish, to Ogham... you may be wondering how to incorporate them into your daily life.
One simple way is to choose an Ogham word that resonates with you and use it as a daily affirmation, or write it on a post it first thing in the morning and stick it where you'll see it all day. Repeat the word to yourself throughout the day, allowing its energy, symbolism, and meaning to guide and inspire you.
You can also incorporate Ogham words into your meditation or mindfulness practice, using them as a focal point for reflection and contemplation. It helps if you can repeat the word in the Irish language rather than English. There is Pronunciation Support Available Here.
Additionally, you can explore creative ways to incorporate Ogham words into your surroundings, such as by creating artwork or jewellery featuring your chosen word. And of course Ogham words are fitting to use in personal spells and charms.
By bringing Ogham words into your daily life, you can tap into their power and beauty, and deepen your connection to the ancient and ancestral Irish wisdom they represent.
OGHAM - Quick & Easy Reference Guide
>>> Free PDF Download
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