Saille

Willow
Moder Letter: S
Ruler of the 5 Lunar Month
April 15th – May 12th

In divination Saille highlights that we cannot evolve without change. Life often includes lessons and changes which we find unpleasant and distasteful but they are an important part of the human experience. It is important to give yourself time to rest and come to accept the experience you have just had. By steadily internalizing new information and facts allows you to build a foundation and greater understanding. Somethings need to be learned by repetition. Allowing yourself some flexibility in your spiritual life will also allow you to be more flexible in your mundane life as well, this will allow you to appreciate the cycle of life and experience.

Saille – The Irish Ogham by Lunaria Gold

Willow

Family: Salicaceae
Origin: there are several species of Willow including native, non-native and hybridised varieties This post will focus on the native species of Pussy (Goat) Willow. For more detail on other species please visit the Woodland Trust website.
Common names: goat willow, pussy willow, great sallow
Scientific name: Salix caprea

Most commonly found in damp ground, such as by lakes or open stretches of water, mature pussy willow trees can grow up to 10m in height and live for up to 300 years.

Unlike most willows the leaves are oval rather than long and thin and these appear after the formation of emergence of catkins. Individual trees produce a single type of flower, male and female, and rely on pollinators such as the purple emperor butterfly for cross pollination.

The bark is grey-brown and develops diamond-shaped fissures with age. Twigs are hairy at first but become smooth, and can appear red-yellow in sunlight. Male catkins grey, stout and oval, becoming yellow when ripe with pollen whilst the female catkins are longer and green. As the flowers develop into fruit the downlike seeds are dispersed on the wind or amongst the parent tree’s roots as the branches droop to the ground.

Correspondences

Planet: Moon
Element: Water
Gender: Feminine
Themes: Resonance and harmony
Stone: Moonstone
Birds: hawk, Snowy Owl
Color: Silver
Deity: Hekate, Cerridwen, Selene, Brigid
Sabbat: Beltane

Magical Uses

Saille Saille Saille
Saiii Illl Saiii Illl
Sss Sss Saiii Illl
Saille Saille Saille

Suggested Galdur

Willow is strongly connected to the moon so willow wands are well suited to any ritual invoking lunar energies or for journeys into the subconscious and/or Underworld.

Willow can help in the understanding of ancient teachings, helping the student make inspired leaps of imagination. Through the willow the student can access the emotion underlying the wisdom, helping them access this information in their own time.

Sleeping with a willow wand or charm will aid you in connecting with your dreams, increasing their potency and deepening their meaning. By studying these dreams with an open mind may result in revealing and healing emotional problem which are causing tension in your life.

Given its connection to mourning, willow is particularly effective when such things are cause by grief and loss. In this case the person in mourning may wish to carry a willow charm or talisman on their person.

Talking with a Willow – PA Carson

Mythology and Literature

One of the beliefs of the witch hunters of the medieval age was that the Willow was the tree held most sacred by Witches. This was in part because of it’s long association with healing but also because of its connection with goddesses such as Hecate, Goddess of Witchcraft and teacher of the sorceress Circe.

Later western traditions show willow as a sign or omen of unlucky love and the sadness of parting, particularly when a parting was brought about because of war. The sprigs of weeping willow were worn in the hat or pinned to clothing, evoking the image of the wearer being bowed down in their grief.

Connected to this, crosses made of willow were made for Palm Sunday and each pew was adorned with a piece of willow for the congregation to take away with them. The drooping branches foreshadow the loss which is to come but their green shoots serve to remind the bearer that new life is soon to emerge. 

Who is she adorned in moonlight’s veil –
This beauty with skin so fragile and pale?
I see her within a dream surreal,
Weeping by the willow tree.

Weeping by the Willow Tree – Excerpt Written by Adam M. Snow
Foster Hill Road Cemetery – Bedford

Sources and Further Reading

Learn Religion – Ogham
Ogham Lyberty
Living Library
The Goddess Tree
Eco Enchantments
Tree Symbolism
Trees for Life
Woodland Trust
White Dragon
Eden

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Fearn

Alder
Modern Letter: F
Ruler of the 4th Lunar Month
18th March – 14th April

In divination Fearn reminds us that we are all individuals. Pay attention to what makes people around you them, and allow them to see the unique qualities that make you… you. These are the qualities that will draw people to you as an advisor and counselor. Make use to utilise these special qualities, particularly your intuitive nature as is sometimes easily overlooked. The role of the mediator is to be a bridge between two opposing positions or people, follow your instincts and be the voice of reason.

Fearn – The Irish Ogham by Lunaria Gold

Alder

Common name: Alder
Scientific name: Alnus glutinosa
Family: Betulaceae
Origin: native

Alder is a tough tree. Water loving, it’s wood will not rot when waterlogged, rather hardening and becoming stronger. This means that it a natural colonizer of wet, marshy areas where it improves soil quality and prevents erosion but it can be found on the edges of mixed woodlands as well.

With a conical shaped canopy, mature trees grow to a height of around 28m and live approximately 60 years. The bark of the tree is dark and fissured, prone to lichen in damp conditions, and twigs can be identified by the light brown stem which turns red towards the end.

The Alder carries both male and female flowers in the form of catkins. Female catkins are rounded / oval in shape and turn from green to a open woody cone after seed dispersal and remain on the tree all year around. Male catkins are more pendulous and turn from green to yellow on pollination.

Black Alder Fruits – Nennieinszweidrei

Correspondences

Planet: Neptune
Element: All Elements
Gender: Masculine
Themes: Release, Shield and Foundation, Determination, Discrimination and Inner Confidence, Royalty
Stone: Amethyst, Lapis Lazuli
Birds: Hawk, Seagulls, Raven
Color: Purple
Deity: Bran, Apollo, Odin, King Arthur
Sabbat: Spring Equinox / Ostara

Magical Uses

Fearn Fearn Fearn
Fee Aaaa Rrrn Fee Aaaa Rrrn
Fe Fe Fe Arn
Fearn Fearn Fearn

Suggested Galdur

An equal armed cross of alter wood, decorated by female catkins, makes an effective harm to help balance emotional energy and promote inner sight. Smaller crosses can be carried on the person whilst larger ones make for pleasing decorations.

Wands made of Alder are particularly effective for work with the Fae and Otherworld as it can act as a portal for such beings. As such it is important that the wand be covered when not in use. It is also advisable to make such wands from windfall rather than cuttings as much misfortune may befall someone who harms an alder tree.

Whistles made from alder wood can be used to control the four winds and command the attention of spirits.

The sap of the alder tree is a bright red colour. Traditionally used as a dye the colour is used to represent life and can be used as an alternative to red ochre.

Charms for alder wood can use used in magic to protect the heart and chest as well to invoke qualities such as charisma, confidence and bravery whilst at the same time protecting against unwanted influences from magical and mundane sources.

Mythology and Literature

Given its unique qualities when waterlogged Alder was a preferred building material for underwater foundations, such as pilings in bridge building. This mirrors the story of Bran the Blessed, the giant who used his body to bridge the dangerous waters of the river London.

It is also in the tale of Bran that we can see the association of Alder with oracle’s and with divine punishment as the head of Bran, which was separated from his body following his death, prophesied for seven years until it was buried under Bryn Gweyn, the White Mound, which is now the modern site of the Tower of London. One of Bran’s prophecies had been that whilst ever his head remained buried the land would be protected from enemies and plague. Legend has it that King Arthur, inadvisable, dug up the head to prove he was a true King of the Britons leading to the first incursion of the Saxons.

By the lake or river-side
Where the Alders dwell,
In the Autumn may be spied
Baby catkins; cones beside —
Old and new as well.
Seasons come and seasons go;
That’s the tale they tell!

After Autumn, Winter’s cold
Leads us to the Spring;
And, before the leaves unfold,
On the Alder you’ll behold,
Crimson catkins swing!
They are making ready now;
That’s the song I sing!

The Song of the Alder Fairy by Cicely Mary Barker
The Aldar Fairy – Cicely Mary Barker

Sources and Further Reading

Learn Religion – Ogham
Ogham Lyberty
Living Library
The Goddess Tree
Eco Enchantments
Tree Symbolism
Trees for Life
Woodland Trust

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Leeds Tarot – Part 3

As a way of connecting with the energy of the tarot I decided to look for examples of the the Major Arcana in the world around me. Concentrating on sculpture and architecture I’ve scoured the city of Leeds looking for the energy of the Major Arcana in my every day surroundings. I have tried to be quite vigorous in my parameters.

The sculpture/building has to be located in Leeds or at least have had an LS postcode. Some picks were at the forefront of my mind but others were more subtle and may not make sense in their own historical context. The important thing was that when looking at the image the energy of the Card was invoked, regardless of how daft it might appear on closer examination. I should also note that not all of the sculptures are available to visit in person because they were temporary or historical art installations that are no longer available to visit in person.

The Devil

The Devil – Escape Room World of Escapes

The Tower

Lifting Tower – Wellington Place

The Star

Morn’ Alfred Drury – City Square Source

The Moon

Minerva by Andy Scott- Briggate – Source

The Sun

Arthur Aaron War Memorial – Source

Judgment

War Memorial, Victoria Gardens – Source

The World

Atlas House – Source

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Luis

Rowan
L        
Ruler of the 2nd Lunar Month
21st January – 17th February

In divination Luis reminds us to be aware of, and trust in, your intuition. You need to be able to distinguish between good from bad so keep your wits about you to avoid being taken in by the sweet words of others or a false sense of security. All these skills are available to you, but Luis reminds you to make full use of them. Keep true to your beliefs and ideals and grounded in times of doubt and you will be protected from emotional, physical or spiritual harm. Be not afraid.

Luis – – The Irish Ogham by Lunaria Gold

Rowan Tree

Common names: rowan, mountain ash, witch wiggin tree, keirn, cuirn
Scientific name: Sorbus aucuparia
Family: Rosaceae
Origin: native

The Rowan tree is another pioneer species and can be found all over Asia and Europe. There are a variety of sub species worldwide but in the UK sorbus aucuparia is most common and easily recognisable with its bright white flowers in spring and rich red berries in later summer / early autumn.

The common name of mountain ash derives from the similarities between the leaves of the rowan and that of the ash tree, with “mountain” recognising that it prefers the well-drained soils of mountain areas. That being said the Rowan is not a picky species, and is happy to grow in full sun or partial shade and it is also commonly found lining suburban streets.

Mature trees can grow to 15-20m in height (depending on species), reaching their mature height in 20-30 years, and can live for up to 200 years.

Rowan is a very important food source throughout the year. In spring some species of caterpillar feed on the leaves whilst in autumn others feed on the berries.

The dense cluster of white, five pointed flowers are important for pollinating insects such as bees. It is interesting to note that the flowers are hermaphroditic, containing both male and female parts. On successful pollination the flowers turn into bright red berries which are an important autumn resources for songbirds such as the blackbird, mistle thrush, who disperse the seeds in return.

Rowan berries can also be eaten by humans – though it is not advisable to eat them raw. They are sour but rich in vitamin C, and can be used to make a tart jams, flavour gin and make for a light and fragrant fruit tea when brewed.

Rowan Tree – alcija

Correspondences

Planet: Sun / Moon
Element: Fire
Gender: Hermaphroditic
Themes: Protection, inspiration
Stone: Tourmaline
Birds: Duck, Quail
Colour: Green
Deity: Lugh,  Dagda, Brigid, Cerridewn, Thor, Hecate/ Hekate, Virgin Mary
Sabbat: Imbolc, Candlemass

Magical Uses

Luis Luis Luis
Luuu Iiiis Luuu Iiiis
Lu Lu Lu Lu Iiiis
Luis Luis Luis

Suggested Galdur

Rowan trees were traditionally planted by a garden gate to protect against unwanted visitors and witches.

You can also bind the rowan twigs together with red thread into a solar cross or pentagram to make a mighty protective talisman for your home, car, or your desk or locker at work.

Protective amulets can be made from rowan by cutting in protective bind runes into a disk or twig and wearing them about your person.

Hang a string of rowan berries by your door to repel malign influences.

Cure an illness by making a small slit in the bark of the rowan trunk, taking a hair from the sick person and pushing it into the cut. The illness will heal with the bark.

Rowan Cross with Bells – Pinterest

Mythology and Literature

The Rowan Tree, sometimes called the Witch Tree, is held to be one of the most sacred trees in Scottish folk tradition. In this tradition the timber, bark leaves and flowers may only be harvested and cut at certain time and only for sacred purposes in part because of the tree’s association with the Goddess Saint Brighid. As if to strengthen this association rowan wood has been traditionally used to make spindles and spinning wheels, a craft associated with this patroness of spinning and weaving (amongst other things).

Some sources maintain that the word “rowan” comes from the Norse word “rune” manning charm or secret, whilst others maintain that the word derives from Scottish, effectively meaning “the red one”. There are arguments to be made for both positions, with the wood being used to create rune staves, or as the base for rune sets, as well as being associated with red thread in magical practice. Whatever the case the wood of the Rowan has been used in the process of divination, be that as a charm to increase psychic powers or as a rod used to divine for precious metals in the same way hazel is used to locate hidden water sources.

In Greek Mythology the origin of the rowan berries can be found in a tale where Hebe, goddess of youth, lost her magical chalice to demons through her inattention. To ensure that the God’s would not loose access to its rejuvenating power Zeus sent his eagle to recover it and a fight ensued in which many feathers, and much blood, were shed. Where the two fell together a Rowan tree sprang up, blood red berries nestled amongst the feather like leaves.

The protective quality of Rowan cannot be understated and it has a long and still popular history of being used as a way of protected against witches and enchantment. There are many reasons for this, ranging from the tiny five pointed star (pentagram) found on each berry and the association of red with protection. Crossed twigs, bound in red thread with little crowns of berries have been a standard charm for both herd, home and person throughout the ages for as an old Scottish rhyme suggests “Rowan tree and red thread make the witches loose their speed”.

Oh rowan tree, oh rowan tree,
Thoul’t aye be dear to me,
Entwin’d thou art wi’ mony ties,
O’ hame and infancy.
Thy leaves were aye the first o’ spring,
Thy flowr’s the simmer’s pride
There was nae sic a bonnie tree,
In all the country side.
Oh rowan tree.

Except Lady Carolina Nairn, 1766-1845

Sources and Further Reading

Learn Religion – Ogham
Ogham Lyberty
Living Library
The Goddess Tree
Eco Enchantments
OBOD – Trees
Tree Symbolism
Trees for Life
Woodland Trust
Love The Garden

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Leeds Tarot – Part 2

As a way of connecting with the energy of the tarot I decided to look for examples of the the Major Arcana in the world around me. Concentrating on sculpture and architecture I’ve scoured the city of Leeds looking for the energy of the Major Arcana in my every day surroundings. I have tried to be quite vigorous in my parameters.

The sculpture/building has to be located in Leeds or at least have had an LS postcode. Some picks were at the forefront of my mind but others were more subtle and may not make sense in their own historical context. The important thing was that when looking at the image the energy of the Card was invoked, regardless of how daft it might appear on closer examination. I should also note that not all of the sculptures are available to visit in person because they were temporary or historical art installations that are no longer available to visit in person.

Strength

Orpheus Harewood House

The Hermit

Faith – Monument to Sam Wilson by Edward Caldwell Spruce, Lawnswood Cemetery

Wheel of Fortune

The Human Spirit – Faith Bebbington, Nuffield Hospital

Justice

Leeds Crown Court Bronze Cube – Richard Kindersley

The Hanged Man

Levitating Woman “The Dreamer” – Leeds University

Death

Death– Monument to Sam Wilson by Edward Caldwell Spruce, Lawnswood Cemetery

Temperance

Benevolence– Monument to Sam Wilson by Edward Caldwell Spruce, Lawnswood Cemetery

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Beithe

Birch
B        
Ruler of the 1st Lunar Month
24th December – 20th January

In divination Beithe indicates that it is time to shed any negative influences or behaviours which may be around you. This may relate to your own patterns and actions or those of people around you. Instead of being dragged down by the negative begin to focus on the positive things you have in your life. This will help to further manifest these things in your life. Hold your desire firm in your mind to ensure that is stand out from other distractions. A period of spiritual, emotional and physical regeneration may be needed after a time of desolation, allow yourself time to concentrate on this renewal.

Beithe – The Irish Ogham by Lunaria Gold

Birch Tree

Common name: Silver Birch
Scientific name: Betula pendula
Family: Betulaceae
Origin: native

Silver birch is a striking, medium-sized deciduous tree. Though they are relatively short lived trees but when mature they can reach 30m in height, forming a light canopy with elegant, triangular leaves which hang from delicate branches. The bark sheds easily and trees often become black and tagged at their base. Once mature the white bark sheds layers like tissue paper and becomes black and rugged at the base.

Another species native to the British Isles include Downy (Betula pubescens). Dwarf birch (Betula nana) can be found in the Highlands of Scotland. The birch tree is often refered to as pioneer species as they are quick to colonize newly opened areas of land. They were amongst the first species to colonize the UK after the end of the Ice Age and they are found all over the northern hemisphere in one form or another, speaking to their diversity and adaptability as a pioneer plant.

Correspondences

Planet: Venus
Element: Air, Water
Gender: Feminine
Themes: Renewal, Protection
Stone: Crystal
Birds: Eagle, Pheasant, Egret
Colour: White
Deity: Freya, Brigid, Blodeuwedd, Venus, Lugh,
Sabbat: Winter Solstice

Magical Uses

Beithe Beithe Beithe
Beee Eeeeth Bee Eeeeth
Be Be Be Be Eeeeth
Beithe Beithe Beithe

Suggested Galdr

Brooms made of Birch twigs can be used to drive out the spirits of the old year and to ‘beat the bounds’ of property for protection.

The birch is sometimes used by the shaman to climb the sky ladder to make contact with the Gods of the Air.

Write a wish upon the papery bark of the Birch tree and burn it to make it come true. As an alternative to a yule log wrap a white candle in birch bark.

Birch wands are best used in in spells for inspiration and protection, and the bark makes a good addition to incense intended for use in purification rituals. Steep bark and leaves within water a use as a cleansing wash.

Carrying birch upon your person will prevent kidnapping of the individual by the sidhe, or the Faerie Folk. This will also protect you from malignant intentions. Placing a bough by your door will also protect against ill wishing visitors.

Mythology and Literature

The Birch is a feminine tree, associated with many different Goddesses and female mythological figures. In Norse mythology Birch is associated with Frigg and Freya, whilst in Welsh mythology is is the tree of Blodeuwedd, wife of Lleu Llaw Gyffes. In Ireland it is Lugh, the equivalent of Lleu Llaw Gyffes, that receives the first message written in Ogham; a warning that his wife would be lost if not protected by Birch. On the other hand, and in Russia, it is the witch Baba Yaga that is associated with Birch trees. The birch wood is her home and a silver birch twig broom the manner in which she hides her passing.

The association of Birch with the fertility of Beltane and with protection extends to the both the nursery and cowshed. A barren cow herded using a birch stick was believed to become fertile whilst an animal already with calf would be assured a safe and healthy birth. In the home cradles, toys and nursery decorations were often made of Birch in the belief that these would protect the infant from harm, be that from ill health or from the malignant influence of Faeries.

Birch is often used within the celebration of the four fire festivals, Imbolc, Beltane, Samhain and Yule. Generally speaking birch is used within the balefires associated with these events, either as fuel or as the method of lighting it as a symbol of new beginnings. More specifically it is included as one of the woods from which the Yule log is traditionally made and is also used as the maypole during the celebrations of May Day.

I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches 
up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, 
till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top 
and set me down again.
That would be good 
both going and coming back.
One could do worse than 
be a swinger of birches.

Birch Trees by Robert Frost

Sources and Further Reading

Learn Religion – Ogham
Ogham Lyberty
Living Library
The Goddess Tree
Grove and Grotto
Eco Enchantments
OBOD – Trees
Tree Symbolism
Woodland Trust

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Leeds Tarot – Part 1

As a way of connecting with the energy of the tarot I decided to look for examples of the the Major Arcana in the world around me. Concentrating on sculpture and architecture I’ve scoured the city of Leeds looking for the energy of the Major Arcana in my every day surroundings. I have tried to be quite vigorous in my parameters. The sculpture/building has to be located in Leeds or at least have had an LS postcode. This means I have gone as far a field as Harwood House but ruled out more fertile options as Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Forbidden Corner.

This has been a little limiting, not helped by the travel restrictions of the las 16 months. Some picks were at the forefront of my mind but others were more subtle and may not make sense in their own historical context. The important thing was that when looking at the image the energy of the Card was invoked, regardless of how daft it might appear on closer examination.

For example, my choice for the Hierophant was the image of Minerva from the Abtech House frieze. There is absolutely no connection intellectually between the card and the Goddess but the symbols she carries and the context of the overall frieze screams Hierophant energy to me.

I should additionally note that not all of the sculptures are available to visit in person because they were temporary or historical art installations that are no longer available to visit in person. Also their connections to the city are limited to the fact they were displayed here at one time or another, Some will represent children of the city but in most cases they were the picks of the artist or benefactor.

The Magician

Explorer John Cabot – Roundhay Park Source YEP

The High Priestess

Temple Works, Holbeck – caradoca

The Empress

Queen Victoria – 61 New Briggate – Google Maps

The Emperor

The Black Prince, City Square, Leeds – Source

The Hierophant

A detail of the frieze on Abtech House, 18 Park Row – source

The Lovers

Leeds Lantern Festival Canal Gardens – Vicky Newton

The Chariot

The White Horse – Rupert Till
Horsforth Roundabout, source

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Ogham

Origins

Ogham is an early medieval alphabet from Ireland which is presumed to have been the written language of the druids. The etymology of the word remains unclear though the idea that it originals from the Old Irish og-úaim, meaning ‘point-seam’, is preferred as it is consistent with the idea that the runes are incised into stone or wood using a sharp implement or weapon and are intended to be read along a seam.

Scholarly Origins

There are two main schools of thought among scholars as to the motivation for the creation of ogham.

Firstly, that it was created as a cryptic alphabet which only the Irish could understand and would be unrecognisable to those with knowledge of the Latin Alphabet (ie the Romans). Under this explanation Ogham is basically a secret code allowing Irish scholars, rulers and druids to communication about political, military or religious matters without the enemy understanding.

Alternatively, some scholars suggest that the script was invented by the first Christian communities in early Ireland, out of a desire to have a unique alphabet for writing short messages and inscriptions in the Irish language.

There is a third, and less accepted, explanation for the origins which suggests that the language was created out of a system of hand signals, either as a military or social sign language. This is based on the idea that each group of signs is five in number and that the combination of left and right hand would be able to produce all 20 of the original signs. Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of evidence to the contrary and this theory has largely been put aside by the academic community.  

Legendary Origins

Similarly, there are two legendary accounts of how Ogham was created, one which finds its roots in Irish pagan mythology and a second based in Christianity.  

The Ogham Tract records that the Ogham was created by Ogma, the God of Speech and Poetry from the Tuatha Dé Danann, as proof of his ingenuity. This written language was to belong to all learned men of Ireland (but not rustics nor foreigners). The tract refers of Ogma as the father of the Ogham alphabet and his knife (or hand) its mother. The name Ogma is believed to originate from the Indo-European root “ak-” or “ag-” meaning “to cut,” which refers to the method in which ogham was incised into stone and wood. Ogma often appears in myth with his brothers Lugh and the Dagda as the three Gods of Skills (trí dée dána) and the first message in Ogham was passed between Ogma and Lugh. This consisted of seven B’s which was to mean “your wife will be carried away seven times to the otherworld unless the birch protects her”. For this reason, the letter b is said to be named after the birch, and the Ogham Tract goes on to tell the tradition that all letters were named after trees.

The second explanation lies in the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel and comes from as early as the 11th century folklore sources. According to these sources both Ogham and the Gaelic language were drawn out of the fall of Babel after the legendary Scythian king, Fenius Farsa visited the tower to coordinate a study of all the new languages of the world. Though by the time Fenius Farsa arrived the dispersal had been completed he sent our his scholars and companions to survey the languages. After 10 years of study Fenius Farsa took them best elements of each language to create the Bérla tóbaide “the selected language” and various subsets, using the Ogham as the written expression of his perfect language. Rather than trees the 25 characters were said to be names for his 25 scholars and companions.

Archaeology

The Ogham inscriptions that survives to this day are divided into two broach categories.

Orthodox Inscriptions (roughly 4th to 6th centuries AD) are inscriptions on stone monuments whilst Scholastic Ogham (roughly 6th to 9th centuries AD) is usually found in Christian monastic manuscripts such as the previously mentioned Ogham Tract.

Dating Ogham often relies on the surrounding archaeology or what it is written upon and given the destructive nature of many dating methods, and the fact that stone inscriptions are often found in isolation, obtaining those dates can be difficult to impossible.

There are roughly 400 surviving orthodox inscriptions on stone monuments throughout Ireland and western Britain; the bulk of which are in southern Munster. The largest number outside Ireland are in Pembrokeshire, Wales but inscriptions can also be found in England (mainly Cornwall, Devon, Hampshire), Scotland (Argyll, Bridge) and the Isle of Mann. Wider appearance of ogham could be taken as an indication of Irish settlements, or certainly a group of people in the area who could read and understand ogham.

Ballaqueeney Ogham Stone Inscription reads Bivaidonas, son of the tribe Cunava

The vast majority of the inscriptions consist of personal names relating either to claims to land or memorialising of warriors and they use a series of formula words, usually describing the person’s ancestry or tribal affiliation. The formula words used are
MAQI ᚋᚐᚊᚔ – ‘son’
MUCOI ᚋᚒᚉᚑᚔ – ‘tribe’ or ‘sept’;
ANM ᚐᚅᚋ – ‘name’
AVI ᚐᚃᚔ – ‘descendant’
CELI ᚉᚓᚂᚔ – ‘follower’ or ‘devotee’#
NETA ᚅᚓᚈᚐ – ‘nephew’
KOI ᚕᚑᚔ – ‘here is’ (equivalent to Latin HIC IACIT). KOI is unusual in that the K is always written using the first supplementary letter Ebad. ᚕ[k], [x], [eo]Éabhadh

The Beith-luis-nin

The word ogham refers only to the form of letters or script, and there are a number of ogham scripts which are referenced in the Ogham Tract, but the one we are most familiar with as an alphabet are known as the Beith-luis-nin. Like the modern “alphabet” being derived from the Greek letters alpha and beta this script is named for the first two letters – Beith and Luis.

The ogham alphabet originally consisted of twenty distinct characters (feda), arranged into four family sets or aicmí (plural of aicme “family”; similar to the aett of the Norse runes) which are usually named for the first letter of the aicmi.

These groups are;

B Group – Right side strokes Aicme Beithe
H Group – Left side strokes  Aicme hÚatha

M Group – Across strokes  Aicme Muine
A Group – Notches (vowels) Aicme Ailme

A fifth set containing five (sometimes six) additional letters known as the forfeda (sing. forfid) which brings the alphabet up to a full 25-character set. Their name derives from fid (“wood”, a term also used for Ogham letters) and the prefix for- (“additional”) and they mainly appear in the scholarly tradition, indicating they are a later addition after the peak of ogham usage to cover additional sounds which may have been missing from the original alphabet.

Magical Uses

Incantation

Those familiar with the Norse tradition of Runes will be aware of the practice of Galdr – breaking the name of the rune into its sounds and syllables and creating sound combinations to use as a chant which is then recited as the rune is draw. This process both raises energy and draws the energies of the rune into the space.

The same process can be applied to the Ogham, though there is no formal set of Galdr as is associated with the Runes. Fortunately, Galdr is flexible and it is possible to develop your own though for example a Galdr for Duir night be;

Duir Duir Duir
Dooo Ahhh Iiiirr
Du Du Du Du
Duir Duir Duir

“Fewsets” / Using Ogham as a magical language

The alphabet can be used to code words, phrases or acronyms in a way that they cannot be easily read. The script can be written in linear form, starting from the bottom of the seam and read upwards. Where there are multiple seams, they are read from left to right and the start and end of a text is denoted with a decorative Y.

Another way to arrange the script is a circular fashion around an object or central concept. In orthodox script the seam of letters can be carried up and over an object, still read from left to right, again starting at the bottom left however in a circular arrangement the reading can be started at any point read from the left.

From this point there are a number of ways the fewset could be used. For example – writing the name of a period on to a wand of wood appropriate to the purpose could then be struck against them to achieve a physical effect ie set a curse, apply healing etc (force required varies according to purpose). Alternatively, a written charm (word or phrase) could be placed within a sacred location with petition to obtain a blessing or magical effect.

Fionn’s Window/Shield       

Fionn’s Window is a graphic representation of the Beith-luis-nin which appears in the Book of Ballymote (circa 1390 AD) as well as the Ogham Tract. The circular pattern invokes the central pole used to uphold a houses roof and the circular house at large, and it is also similar in appearance to the central trunk of a tree (think world tree/axis mundi). The best understanding of the Window is as a representation of the Celtic Underworld.

Fionn’s Window can be used magically in a number of different ways in addition to as a divination casting circle, such as a way of generating sigils in the same way as the Rose Cross Sigil Wheel and other similar wheel generators.

A number of complex spiritual journeys have been developed by modern writers, for example in Ogham and Coelbren: Keys to the Celtic Mysteries Nigel Pennick lays out a six stage spiritual journey through which Celtic magical and religious practice could be explored.

Another inspiration looks to the Settling of the Manor of Tara myth as way to journey to wisdom. In this system, expanded from a lecture by Ellen Evert Hopman, the four aicmí are assigned to directions with the North associated with warriors and battle, East with abundance and prosperity, South with music and creativity, West with knowledge and intellect and the centre with sacred space and kingship.

Divination

The Ogham can take any number of forms but the most common is in the form of finger length casting sticks (also fidh or “fews”). The individual ogham are inscribed into a stick of their own associated wood or a neural wood such as pine and then cast within a circle inscribed upon a casting cloth or even the ground. Divination circles can be incredibly simple – for example only read those that fall within the circle, or be more complex with areas of the circle being designated for particular concepts. The casting circle can double as the carrying case of the ogham but more commonly they are contained within a separate container ie pouch or bark box to enable the process of drawing ogham unseen.

There is also a booming trade in artistic Ogham divination cards which can be used in the same way as any oracle or tarot deck using similar placement methods.

Casting – One Example

Let’s look at one example of a casting method using Fionn’s Window as the basis of a casting circle.

Arrange the Window in the B Group in the North (or at least at the point furthest away from you the caster. Blind select seven fews whilst concentrating on the question at hand and then spin around three times before “tossing” the seven fews towards the centre of the wheel.

Using a blank chart make a note the name, position and orientation of each of the fews, so that they can be read deosil (clockwise) from the north, from the outside to the inside.

The “fews” towards the centre represent the future and those towards the outside the past. Crossed sticks conflict, parallel sticks compliment or enhance whilst stick laying across to ogham on the Wheel have combined effect and meaning. Any sticks not on the Wheel are ignored.

The chart should be read as a dynamic story, either on its own or in combination with the results of two other casts performed in the same manner. The relative agreement of the three charts determines the degree of certainty in the outcome or whether or not there is some room to be influenced to a preferred outcome. 

Variations

Because of the longevity of the ogham script there are a number of variations which occur in the scholastic text, leading to come confusion in ascribing trees to particular letters. This is in part due to the changes in flora which took place over time. For example, the Vine was not originally present in Ireland and Wale is early ages CE and so Muin was originally associated with the Bramble. By the time the Book of Ballymote was written they had been introduced as part of wine production and the association shifted from Bramble to Vine. 

Aicme Beithe and hÚatha © Victoria Newton
Aicme Muine and Aicme Ailme © Victoria Newton
Forfeda © Victoria Newton

Modern interpretation has also had its impact. The New Age movement has caused the ogham to travel far beyond its European homelands and a process of naturalising association to local flora. This is particularly the case in America, with substitutions for native trees being made where the European association is not present.

Addition, a modern desire to respect the “druidic” origins of the Ogham has also had its impact with the sacred plant Mistletoe occasionally finding its way into divination sets. In some cases, mistletoe is substituted for Heather to incorporate it within the existing symbols but is also sometimes added separately as a “blank” ogham given that is does not formally have a symbol associated with. 

Ogham Calendar – Historical or Not?

Here is where I burst some bubbles.

There is no evidence that the Celts ever named their months after trees.

This tradition of association grew out of Robert Graves book The White Goddess by conflating the known Celtic lunar year with the first 13 letters of the ogham alphabet. Whilst The White Goddess is still considered required reading for people interested in the development of modern paganism it is a book which needs to be approached with a great deal of caution. Whilst Graves was known to regularly reach out to traditional scholars, he would often disregard their input if it didn’t match the theory that he had in mind. The Celtic Tree calendar is a prime example.

The concept of the tree calendar did not originate with Robert Graves and he was basing his work on the writings of 19th century antiquarian Edward Davies, in particular his review of the16th century history of Ireland called Ogygia. This was flawed in any number of ways, starting with the idea that the documents refer to calendars at any point, and the entire theory had been dismissed by one of the greatest scholars of the times… Graves’ own grandfather Charles Graves. The elder Graves had once been a President of the Royal Irish Academy and leading authority on Ogham and his opinion was still held as correct by scholars Robert Graves approached when writing The White Goddess. This includes one Dr Robert MacAlister who took pains to point out the obvious family feud. For another scholarly take on the validity of Celtic Astrology read The Fabrication of “Celtic” Astrology by Peter Beresford Ellis.

This didn’t really make an impact and thus The White Goddess birthed a whole New Age industry including a series of “Celtic Moon” names which mirrored the North American system, fantastic art and an alternative Zodiac.

That being said, the Celts did have a calendar prior to, or at least independent of, the Romans. We know that the Cross Quarter Days (Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasadh) were held in particular regard, with the solstices and equinoxes recognised to a lesser extent.

Evidence for this can be found in the existence of the Coligny calendar.

This Metonic calendar (synching both solar and lunar calendar) is a series of bronze tablets dating from the first century BCE showing the names of the month given in Gaulish. Whilst there is some Roman influence on the tablets (roman numerals are used) it is presumed that this was an early record of a much older calendar method which was shared across the “Celtic” world.

The calendar consists of 12 months plus an intercalary month which was added ever 2 1/2 years in a 25-year cycle to ensure that the calendar remained in sync. Unfortunately, there is no full clarity on what the various Gaulish words for the months mean, or even what period of time they are associated with. Some scholars start the calendar in November, others in May, even June or December depending on the presumed meaning of individual words. The lack of agreement on how the Gaulish months line up with the modern / Gregorian calendar means that the Coligny calendar will not be replacing the Celtic Tree Calendar anytime soon.

New Age Calendar

With all that being said the concept of the Celtic Tree Calendar is a lovely new age concept, blending the pagan love of the natural world with the tracking of seasonal and moon cycles. As a modern calendar there is no reason not to engage with it, so long as you are doing so with the understanding that it is in truth modern.

13 Celtic © Victoria Newton

Engaging with the calendar can be as simple as the following the 13 lunar months, as per Graves, or become more complex, linking the remaining 7 letters/trees with seasonal celebrations and the so called “year and a day” concept. A lot of great artwork has been created to share a given expression of the Ogham calendar but I personally love this artwork by Yuri Leitch.

This is an example of a more complex calendar. It draws together multiple calendars including the seasonal sabbats, zodiac with decans and the Gregorian calendar whilst at the same time bringing together the 13 moons and 23 of the Ogham Trees.

Yuri Leitch explains the image as follows;

Inner Wheels
1 – the single point, centre of all things
2 – the spiral stirring within the cauldron
3 – the Triskelion, the three maidens attending the cauldron
5 – the Rose, the Queen of every hive
8 – the Fire Festival (seasonal sabbats)
13 – the Ogham Lunar sequence as per Robert Graves

Outers Wheels
Current calendar months
The Zodiac Signs and their decans
The 23 Ogham Trees in their natural order.

Closing

I will be making individual posts for the first 20 ogham letters, with a view that I will provide information on the Forfeda either individually or in a combined post, depending on how long it takes to organise the information available. These posts will end up in the menu.

In the meantime here is some recommended reading.

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The Oracle of the Ephesian Grammata

In Hekate and Her Words of Power I touched upon a form of divination which makes use of the Ephesian Grammata.  I came across this method in Ephesia Grammata: Ancient History and Modern Practice by P.Sufenas Virius Lupus and though usage I have refined my understanding of each word and its meaning in a divinatory setting.

Whilst I do recommend that you purchase yourself a copy of this book (which is reasonable acquisition at £7) I wanted to share where I have taken the basic outline provided by P.Sufenas Virius Lupus and hint at where I am planning to take it in the future.

Creating an Oracle

P.Sufenas Virius Lupus Suggests a number of ways to divine using the Ephesian Grammata including using ostraca, dice, astragali. These suggestions also include using only 6 of the Grammata, dropping Endasion, or adding an eighth outcome in the form of Mene (ME the Moon) as a counterbalance to Damnameneus. Personally I use ostraca in the form of seven wooden discs with the letters of the Grammata written upon them. You could do this with seven pieces of stone from your garden or a more meaningful place, or even make them using polymer clay or similar craft material.

I personally like using the seven words as it allows for two clear and complimentary pairs, both straight up yes/no and “in your hand/in the hands of others”, as well as three flavours of “maybe”. This means that up until now I have not used dice in this form of divination but I recently got my hands on a d7 dice. Now I have that I am going to start experimenting in building greater depth of meaning by designing a divination chart, probably based in the planets, with an aim of bringing greater depth and meaning to my work.

Phrasing a Question

The Ephesian Grammata is perfect for divining the form of your devotional and ritual journey but it can also be used to obtain guidance as to whether or not a petition or request for aid has been accepted or rejected. The best way to use the Ephesian Grammata is to phrase questions in terms of yes/no outcomes.

For example;
“should I do X in rituals honouring {deity}?”
“does {deity} want X object/offering?”
“has my petition been heard?”

Given that the number of possible outcomes the responses received are somewhat more nuanced than simply “yes/no” and require a degree of interpretation, discernment and additional divination to obtain a clear answer. Additional questions and rolls will reveal more detail. For example, if you have asked “should I recite the Orphic Hymn to Hekate in ritual?” and you draw Lix you may interpret this as meaning “yes, that is a good start but develop the idea further” you might follow up with the questions “should I sing the Orphic Hymn to Hekate in ritual?”. A positive oracle be revealed (be that be Damnameneus, Asia or Endasion) you could then incorporate a sung version of the hymn such as the one offered by Mellissa of the Bee’s. If a clear negative response is received then the matter needs further thought.

Meanings of the Grammata

Lets start with some similar interpretations and then drill in a little deeper.

NumberWordLetterShort Interpretation
1AskionAKEmphatic No
2KataskionKAUncertainty
3LixΛΘFoundations
4TetraxΤΘDelays
5DamnameneusΔΜEmphatic Yes
6AsiaΑΙHand of Man
7EndasionΕΝHand of the Gods

Fairly straight forward.

  • There are two possible outcomes which offer a clear yes or no answer.
  • There are a further two outcomes provide a degree of depth to the interpretation, for example where there may be delays or a material / physical dimension but which suggest a generally positive outcome.
  • There is then one outcome which implies general uncertainty.
  • This leaves two outcomes which indicate whether or not the hand of the divine or the hand of man is at play. With these two the positive or negative nature of the outcome will be apparent based on the wording of the question, the situation under scrutiny and further divination.

Lets drill a little deeper (I will keep the allocated number and word in the table for clarity)

NumberWordLong Interpretation
1AskionShadow-less/Darkness – the absence of light and by extension hope. This is a clear and negative answer to the question asked.
2KataskionShadowy – the presence of obscured light. This response may indicate that the outcome is uncertain or there is a need to rephrase the question and cast again.
3LixEarth – the presence of, or need for, strong foundations and the material resources to ensure a favourable outcome. In matters relating to physical, material and financial matters may be interpreted as a positive response.
4TetraxSeason/Year – the influence of time on the matter at hand. This may be an indication of that matters will resolve positively in time, possible resolving within the period of a season or a year. It may also indicate that delays are in play and must be overcome to increase clarity in response.
5DamnameneusSun – the presence of light, removing all forms of obscurity and ambiguity. This is a clear and positive answer to the question asked.
6AsiaLogos/Truth – the application of reason and logic is necessary in the matter at hand. The emphasis is placed upon the querent to ensure the outcome but the nature of the outcome is not guaranteed.
7EndasionKindle in Light- this answer implies the presence of, or need for, external and divine forces too ensure the desired outcome. Undertake additional divination and perhaps devotional work to request divine aid in this matter.

If devotional work is in progress or has already been undertaken this may be taken to indicate that the ritual has been accepted and aid will be granted.

You can already see some hints of depth and the possibility of relating this divination to the more mundane aspects of life. It is my hope that by introducing a casting chat or some other form or mat I can widen my application of this divination method.

A Note on Endasion

P.Sufenas Virius Lupus offers three possible interpretations  for Endasion and recommends that the individual use their intuition and own discernment to obtain meanings from. These are;

  • “Somewhat Rough/endasus” This may imply there will be difficulty in achieving the outcome.
  • “Kindle in, light / endaio” This may imply that there will be external forces at play in achieving the outcome.
  • “Distribute / endaio” This may imply that the outcome may require divine aid and that an offering is necessary to ensure the desired outcome.

I don’t actually perceive these as being mutually exclusive and have found that it is possible to hold all three in a single understanding, using intuition and additional divination to narrow in on the answer being given.

This sits with me in the form of the following rational;

To overcome something difficulty (rough) you often need the light (hope) kindled by the divine.

As such my short and long interpretations blend these meanings, though I have settled upon the terms “kindle in light” as representing the longer interpretation and the short hand of “Hand of the Gods” to off set Asia as the “Hand of Man”.

Mileage may vary so I’d like to again recommend that if you are interested in using the Grammata as a form of divination you purchase the book yourself and put in the practice yourself.

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Hekate and Her Symbols

Hekate is depicted alongside a number of different objects and symbols both in antiquity and modern usage. Each have their own associations in addition to relating to Her many roles and identities in some way. 

Many statues of Hekate, both modern and archaeological, show her as a triformis goddess with or six hands in which she hold a variety of cult items. Depending on the arrangement of the of hands and items may be held in pairs with a total of three different objects or there may be a total of six different items being displayed. 

The most common combination of objects are the Cord, Dagger and Torch. Depictions of Hekate carrying these items can be found in any new age store however the surviving depictions found in museums and on coinage most commonly date from the 2nd-3rd CE, placing them within the Roman era such as the votive relief statue of Hekate which can be viewed in the Varna Archaeological Museum. Other important symbols associated with Hekate include Key’s and the Strophalos of the Chaldean Oracles with all of the objects associated with Her having their own meaning and relevance to Her. 

The Cord

Cords appears in many magical and esoteric traditions, such as Alexandrian and Gardnerian Wicca, as part of initiatory processes and as a significant ritual item. In of itself the cords represents connections both on the physical level as well as a spiritual one with the act of cutting cords being one of separation. Ritually the cutting of cords physical and spiritual symbolise the ending connections which may be perceived as unhelpful to the practitioner. Conversely tying knots in cords, and indeed joining two ends of a cord together, represents the forging of connections. 

The most manifest example of the Cord can be found in the placenta, the cord which binds the body of a new born child to its mother. This cord is cut shortly after birth, allowing the new-born baby to take its place as a separate individual on a physical level. On a metaphysical level the cutting of the placenta represents the separation of the spiritual being from its progenitor, separating it from the etheric realms and grounding the spirit into the physical form. 

The concept of threads being associated with life and death is best seen in the Three Fates of Greek mythology. The Three Fates Clotho, she who spins the thread of life; Lachesis, she who measures its length to determine how long one lives; and Atropos, she who cuts the thread thus ending the life of that mortal. This concept still exists today in the concept of the silver cord. In metaphysical and new age understanding the spirit or astral self is secured into the mortal body by a single silver cord and once it is cut the spirit of the person is free. The preservation of the silver cord is central to practices such as astral projection but in the case of death it is said that this is the cord which is cut to release the spirit to continue its journey after life.  

The cord can also be found within the hangman’s noose, a symbolic representation of the fragility of life. Some modern depictions of Hekate incorporate this item into their imagery representing the power and control of the Goddess over life and death as well Her association with the restless dead, commonly identified as the spirits of criminals and suicides.   

As the Goddess of Transitions, bearing both the epithet Kurotrophos (nurse of the young, sometimes interpreted as midwife) and Psychopompe (soul-guide), and as the Goddess of the Chaldean Oracles responsible for bringing to birth the Ideas of the First Father Hekate has a strong association with cords and rope and is often depicted as carrying or wearing them. Modern Hekatean Devotees recognise cords as being symbolic both of the symbolic and spiritual cords of birth and death as well as more generally representing a transition between one state or another. Some devotees recognise the cord as being the connection between themselves as a Devotee and Hekate as well as a connection between all devotees. 

The Dagger/Knife

Daggers are a tool common to most forms of witchcraft, the most recognisable examples being the Athame and Boline of Wicca. In these traditions the knife or dagger represents power and authority in addition to being a practical tool on the physical and metaphysical planes and the relative uses of the athame and boline reflect this. The athame is a ritual knife or dagger used to direct and sever energetic connections as well as inscribing symbols in energy. A symbol of power and dominance it is never used for the mundane purposes of cutting. On the other hand, the boline is purely practical, used in the preparation of herbs and other materials as well as for the cutting and scribing physical material. 

Just as cords hold a connection to the process of birth and death so too do knives. Originally a sharp blade would be used to sever the placental cord and by extension they can also be used to part the silver cord of the soul. Here too Hekate’s epithets of Kurotrophos and Psychopompe as does her role as the Chaldean Goddess. She is also linked to the mundane use of the knife in the preparation of herbs and gathering of plants as the Goddess of pharmacopeia. For this reason, Hekate is depicted alternatively carrying a straight bladed knife associated and a crescent or sickle blade, better suited for harvesting. 

Modern devotees view the dagger as representative of Hekate’s ability to bring change to their lives and her authority over the dead and have at least one knife which they use in their devotion to her. As well as being a practical tool and consistent with her role as Goddess of Witchcraft and pharmacopoeia. The knife is also emblematic of her liminal

The Torch

The Torch, sometimes identified as a burning brand, candle or lamp, is a recognisable symbol of occult knowledge and divine wisdom. Hekate is commonly depicted carrying one or two torches in ancient artwork and statues however modern depictions draw on other fire related objects and images. 

In witchcraft fire is viewed as an agent of transformation on both the spiritual and physical planes. Just as a forest fire will clear the ground to allow and encourage new growth it is also used to bring about new beginnings in magical associations. Fire is also cleansing, removing things that no longer serve a purpose from our lives and on occasion transforming them into a new state of being which is more beneficial. Both of these functions

Just as with the Knife and the Cord this object can be related to Hekate’s role as Kurotrophos. Fire is used both to heat cleansing waters and to purify metal objects, both of which were used in the process of assisting a birth. The so called “light at the end of the tunnel” associated with death and rebirth is also linked to the process of childbirth. One of the first sensations that a new born baby experiences is often the bright light of the world and this “light at the end of the tunnel” at the entrance/exit of the “womb tomb” is often described as being the light of Hekate’s Torch. 

Fire is also associated with occult and spiritual mysteries, being seen as representative of divine and spiritual wisdom. As the Goddess of the Chaldean Oracles Hekate is identified with the divine fire both as the intellectual fire of the Father and the material fire from which creation is created. The Flower of Fire, a phrase appearing in fragments 34, 35, 37 and 42, is identified both with Hekate as a fiery divine being who brings life into the cosmos and with the divine thought of the Father.

Of Her other epitaphs associated with fire Phosphoros (light bringer) is one of the most popular amongst Devotee and is often linked to her identity as a guide and psychopomp. Other epitaphs which relate to this particular role include Pyrphoros (light / torch bearer) and Lampadephoros (Lamp/Torch bearer). Lampadephoros can also be translated as “She who warns of night time attack”, consistent with averting epitaphs such as Apotropaios (Averting, Averter).

Deeper Dives

I’ve previously posted on Hekate’s associations with Crossed Keys and the Strophalos, please check out these posts for more detail. You may also be interested in my post of Hekate and Childbirth in relation to the Cord, Knife and Torch.

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