Ogham: Divination

One area of the craft that arouses much interest among ‘normal’ people is the telling of fortunes. Now divination is much more than simply attempting to predict the future. It is equally used to seek answers to current questions or even to understand the past.
Just as there are many uses to which we might put divination there are equally many methods. We have Tarot, Runes, crystal ball and even reading the tea leaves. One method that is less often seen used and one that, perhaps can claim to be a little more ‘native’ is that of reading Ogham sticks.

So what exactly is Ogham?

The Ogham alphabet consists of letters made from short tally-marks on a straight line. One mark for B, two marks for L, three for F
Each tally is called a “few” and each group of five is an “aicme.” The line that they’re written on is called the Druim.
Dots are frequently used between words, spaces between letters. The first aicme is for the Labials, the next for Dental and Aspirant letters, then the Gutteral sounds, and finally the Vowels.

For Example

How does the Ogham divination work?
Basically, almost anything that began with that letter in Ancient Irish could be associated with that tally: Birds, Bodies of Water, Herbs, Stones, Tools, and even Saints. There’s a Saint’s Ogham where each letter corresponds to a Saint’s name.
You could come up with a Gods and Goddesses Ogham too. Think “A is for Apple, B is for Ball, For example we might Equate Bwith Hecate or Hathor as this tally translates to the Letter H
In The Scholar’s Primer, an old Irish manuscript, these associations are called “kennings.” A way to tell what was an original kenning and those added by modern practitioners is to check to see if that association starts with that letter in ancient Irish. If it doesn’t, it’s modern.
Being modern however isn’t bad, these associations are often much better if they mean something personal to the user.

There is a fifth aicme which seems to have been added after the development of the first five and seems to equate to language attributes that were developed as the spoken language of the time become more complex.

In the Irish tale, Tochmarc Etaine, `the Wooing of Etain,’ a Druid named Dalan used a method of Ogham divination to find where the God Midir had taken Etain. He cut four wands of yew on which he cut three Oghams, and with themhe found the “eochra ecsi (`keys of divination’?),” with which he was able to discover that she had been taken to the Sidhe-mound of Breg Leith, where Midir dwelt .

According to the Roman historian Tacitus, a similar method of divination was in use in Germany in the 1st century CE . He describes how the Germans would:

cut off a branch of a nut-bearing tree and slice it into strips; these they mark with different signs and throw them completely at random onto a white cloth. Then the priest of the state, if the consultation is a public one, or the father of the family if it is private, offers a prayer to the gods, and looking up at the sky picks up three strips, one at a time, and reads their meaning from the signs previously scored on them. If the lots forbid the enterprise, there is no deliberation that day on the matter in question; if they allow it, confirmation by the taking of auspices is required.

There are very few instances of divination by Ogham in the old lore. Some scholars will tell you that “Ogham was never used for divination,” and then they’ll politely add “but some modern people use it for that, and it seems to work for them.”

However, when Midir abducts Etain, the Druid Dalan discovers where she is by using ogham although we don’t know precisely how Dalan did his divination.
There is also a sheep bone from a 10th century fortress with an Ogham inscription on it. It was quite possibly used for divination, in a way similar to the way Dalan used the yew rods.
So, there is anecdotal evidence that Ogham was used for divination. And, there’s St. Columba’s proscription on “lots” (which most people take as a reference to tree letters).
There’s not much else.
The Roman writer Tacitus reports that Germanic tribe did divination in much the same way- by writing symbols on staves of wood and tossing them on a white cloth and seeing where they landed.
They were probably using Norse runes, but they could have been using Ogham. We don’t know.

A better way is a method called “Coelbreni.” Sticks with Ogham runes cut on them are tossed on the ground, and divination is obtained from the way they fall.
One way you could do this would be to draw three circles on the ground, representing the past, present and future, or the three worlds of land, sea and sky, or the three kindreds of Ancestors, Nature Spirits and Gods. And you can divide those circles into sections, if you wish. Toss the sticks marked with Ogham in the air and see which lands where.

Making a set of Ogham sticks is quite easy.

First obtain 20, or 25, if you want to use the additional aicme.
I found that ice-lolly sticks seem to be the best size to work with for a first attempt.
You then scribe a centre line down the length of the stick and from that line scribe the required number of tallies on the line.
I also put the Irish name of the letter and the tree association on the bottom of the stick.
This makes interpretation easer. You could of course use any ‘kenning’ that you felt happy working with.

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