Irish Tree Language - The Ogham 🌲

We know that trees were important in Irish history and folklore - so important that a law system was created using the trees. Trees were seen as sacred in Ireland, so it would make sense that there is also an ancient written alphabet of Irish that is based on different trees.

This alphabet is called Ogham [OH-um] - and it isn’t a spoken language. Each figure in the Ogham alphabet has a meaning and is tied back to a sacred tree or shrub. Something that not a lot of people know is that the alphabet itself is more accurately referred to as Beithe-luis-nin after the order of the first letters (2). The word Ogham actually refers to the method the script is written in. However, since most people know it is Ogham, that is what I will be calling it.

Let’s have a look at what the Ogham looks like.

The Alphabet

You can see in the image that each letter corresponds to a different symbol that is made up of a backbone or stemline and different dashes. Not every symbol is known for sure because ancient history is hard to decipher sometimes.

"The characters are made up of between one and five lines or scores relative to a stemline, generally vertical on stone using its natural angle or edge, with two of the groups distinguished by the orientation of the scores to the stemline. The third group transverses the stemline diagonally and the fourth group consists of one to five scores or notches on the stemline. " (1)

Carved up the left-hand side is a dedication to an Irishman: MAQQI DECCEDDAS AVI TURANIAS, ‘belonging to Mac Deichet Uí Thorna’. The final two words identify this man as a descendant of Torna, which is possibly a reference to a long-gone local dynasty. (3)

How was it used?

As you can see, this method of writing is not very practical. Ogham writing was traditionally read vertically from bottom to top! I couldn’t imagine writing like this, let alone reading it. Historically, this method of writing was used for the inscription of names on gravestones. This is why we often only see Ogham on stones.

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Image Credit: Spirit of Old

What about today?

In modern practice, Ogham can be used to inscribe words on candles, carvings, are creating sigils. There is also a method of divination that uses Ogham staves, similar to that of casting runes. Since each Ogham letter has a meaning on its own, this makes it an ideal divination tool.


Did you know you can write your own name in Ogham? Click here and put in your name, then share the picture with us! Here’s mine :slight_smile:

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(1) https://ogham.celt.dias.ie/menu.php?lang=en&menuitem=03
(2) https://www.ancient.eu/Ogham/
(3) https://www.historytoday.com/story-ogham

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Oooh I didn’t know that!! I guess my tombstone would need to be really tall!

I noticed that Spirit of Old sells the Ogham staves. It would be interesting to know what is the meaning of each letter for divination.

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This is fascinating, @MeganB! :heart_eyes: I feel like Ogham is something that I must’ve seen during my travels in Celtic areas or regions with Celtic influence (Ireland, Scotland, NS Canada, and perhaps Iceland or even the Boston area) but never would’ve picked up on because I didn’t know about it- until now! :grin:

I was so excited to find my name in Ogham- this is so cool! :star_struck:

Brianna Celtic Oghram

I really enjoyed learning about Ogham, thank you so much for sharing! :heart:

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I actually plan on going through each one :slight_smile: So stay tuned for that! Also, your name probably would have been translated over into Irish, so maybe it would have been shorter? I don’t know lol I know “John” translates to “Séan”, but some names don’t have an Irish translation.

You might have, especially if you visited some museums. As far as I know, the most common places to find Ogham stones are Ireland and Wales, but a lot of the ones that are still standing are actually on private property! You have to get permission from the landowners to go see them if they’re still standing.

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Capture

So cool! Thanks for this…never knew about this.

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