Fern - Alder || Learning Ogham

Next up on our ogham journey is Fern. Not sure what ogham is? Here is a quick refresh…

Ogham is an ancient Irish inscription alphabet that was used to inscribe headstones and other important markers. In mythology, it was created by the God Ogma (OH-muh) to warn Lugh about a plot to steal his wife. Today, Ogham is used in magic and divination.

If you want to learn more about what ogham is in general, I wrote about that here: Irish Tree Language - The Ogham :evergreen_tree:

I also have a video explaining the origin story of ogham that you can watch here: What is Ogham? || Ancient Irish Alphabet and Divination Tool [CC] - YouTube



Fern (fur-n) is the thrid fíd in the ogham alphabet. It is associated with only one tree, the alder tree. Historically, the alder tree was used to make shields, bowls, and buckets. In Ireland, we would probably see the common or black Alder, (Alnus glutinosa). It is a hardy species that can grown on sheltered mountainsides, lake shores, and wet, sandy soils. The fid is written with one vertical line and three perpendicular lines across, only on the right side. I have included a picture of the fíd at the bottom of this post for you to see.

The word fern is related to the Welsh word gwern(en) that points to the Alder tree. The letter for fern is V as well as F. The word oghams, phrases that are connected to each fíd, include the following:

  • airech fían: shiled of warrior bands, vanguard of warrior or hunting bands
  • comét lachta: guarding of milk, milk container i.e. a bowl
  • dín cridi: shelter of the heart, protection of the heart

When we look back at The Ogham Tract, we can see how these phrases come into play.

Airinach Fian, i.e., shield of warrior-bands, i.e., shield for fern, f, with him owing to their redness in the same respect: or because the alder, the material of the shield was from fernae given to the Ogham letter which has taken a name from it. Airenach Fian, i.e., shield, that is fern, f, with him. The Ogham Tract

It is important to recognize the value of milk and cattle in ancient Ireland. Warriors in Ireland, even Kings, were cattle-lords. This means that it was their responsiblitiy to protect the cattle they had and, in turn, protect the livelihood and lives of their people. Cattle raids were a very common activity, and the Táin Bó Cúailnge, Cattle Raid of Cooley, is one of the most famous. Connecting the warrior aspects of this fíd to the protection of cattle, shields, and bowls will help later on when we look at the divinatory meaning of this fíd.

The Alder Tree

The Alder Tree itself is indigenous to Ireland and is found in many places throughout Europe. They tend to be deciduous trees, though there are some exceptions. Their leaves are alternate, simple, and serrated. The flowers are what we call catkins, long pieces of string-like material with small flowers attached. The male catkins are longer than the female catkins, and both can grow on the same tree. They are commonly gound by water, though they can grow on mountains and in sandy soil.

According to some sources, the catkins of some alder species can actually be eaten and may be rich in protein. They are reported to have a bitter, unpleasant taste, though they are more useful for survival than anything. Note: Please don’t eat the leaves of a tree if you are not 100% certain they are edible. Alder bark also contains an anti-inflammatory chemical called salicin which is then metabolized in the body to make salicyclic acid. Some Native American cultures used red alder bark to treat poison oak and other skin irritations.

In Divination

According to Weaving Word Wisdom by Erynn Rowan Laurie, this fíd is connected with all manner of protection, but it is heavily connected with those that protect using a manner of force, like police or fire fighters, or those that act as shields for others, like political protestors placing themselves in harm’s way or eco-activists chaining themselves to drilling equipment.

“Fern is also a fid that implies emotional shelter and protection. The warrior protects what is loved, and the container protects what is held within it. The word ogam “protection of the heart” powerfully links this fid with emotional strength and guarding yourself or others from potential emotional harm.” Weaving Word Wisdom by Erynn Rowan Laurie

This is also a fíd that can change depending on any other surrounding feda. For example, if it is paired with a more difficult fíd like Ceirt, it may be a warning to guard yourself against manipulation and abuse. If it is surrounded by more positive feda, it can suggest that you are emotionally protected, your emotions are hidden, or you are sheltered in a space where you feel safe.

Here are some keywords I’ve come up with in my studies for Fern in regard to divination.

  • home protection
  • physical shelter and proteection
  • a representation of those that serve and protect in any capacity
  • emotional protection and vulnerability
  • maintain emotional integrity
  • power over emotions
  • containing emotions
  • emotional examintation
  • guarding what you love
  • protection from illness

In a magical sense, this fíd can be used for any manner of protection. It is especially good for emotional protection, so if you have a tendency to get overwhelmed in highly emotional situations, you may consider using fern as a sigil. It can also be used to help protect you in dangerous situations, healing of disease, and warding off illness. It may also be used to help maintain emotional stability. As someone that deals with mental illness, this part intrigues me, though I have yet to try it.

At the end of every fíd in her book, Erynn has questions and linked concepts to think about for each one. For fern, she writes the following…

Question: How do I shelter myself? What do I contain?
Linked Concepts: Physical and emotional protection, walls, containment, warriors or the military, hunters and the hunt, preparation and being prepared.


Sources and Further Reading

Celtic Ogham Symbols and Their Meanings
The Ogham Tract
Weaving Word Wisdom by Erynn Rowan Laurie
CoFord Connects - Common alder as a forest tree in Ireland


:open_mouth: Wow! Thank you @MeganB for this info. Bookmarking now… :smiley:


You’re so welcome! I’m glad it was helpful :blush:


I just drew this card the other day. The Information on the tree & ogham & meanings with the cards is a great starting point for these posts. Thank you for the filling in blanks so to speak. :smiling_face: