Ancient Lines II: The Mess of Ogham

A Need for Untangling

We have already looked at how the Ogham runes might be used as an inspirational tool for creative writers (see Ancient Lines for Modern Writers). This time, however, I am going to write about the origins of Ogham; the historical facts about this fascinating, and ancient, runic system, and all the myths that have grown like pernicious weeds around it since.

Ogham, today, is chiefly used by neopagans as a divination tool, and not as a writing system, which was its original purpose. Whilst there is ongoing scholarship about Ogham, this necessitates both an understanding of Old Irish (as few can; I am self-taught), as well as the painstaking transcription of ancient stones and manuscripts, damaged by time. Owing to the highly technical nature of the research, there is less momentum in the field. Where Ogham really finds its life, nowadays anyway, is with neopagans (often to the chagrin of Celtic linguists). Most neopagan usage can be traced back to the wild musings of Robert Graves (1895-1985) in his seminal work The White Goddess (1948).

I do not say ‘wild musings’ lightly. The majority of what Graves claimed about the Ogham system, and its divinatory connections to the ancient Celts, came from a heady combination of poetic fabrication, mixed with scant scholarship sources that have since been dispelled. For example, Graves argued that there existed cryptic (exceedingly cryptic) allusions to the Ogham alphabet in the 11th-century poem The Song of Amergin (Book of Invasions; see White Goddess p.206). However, no connection exists between them…

The Ancient Lines series continues with Part III: The Ogham Legends.

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Image © The Rune Workshop

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