Druids, Ogham and Divination

(copyright by Searles O'Dubhain)
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I hope to lay down a firm framework for our knowledge of Druids through a discussion of their Magical writing, called Ogham, after Ogma - Sun Face, as well as through a discussion of their divination techniques. It is commonly thought that the Druids left no written records of their work. I disagree. Many references exist that contain the poems of Druids, stories about their Magicks, tales of their strategies, their secret lore, their Ogham, their invocations, their victories and their defeats. The major problems with using this information is that it is the product of a long (tho reliable) oral tradition that was finally written down by their antecedents the Culdean Monks and the Scribes of the early Celtic Church. (most probably Druids in hiding). Some of the Irish manuscripts used as references on Druids are:The Book of Armaugh, The Book of Ballymote (A primary source for Oghams), The Tain Bo Cuailgne, The Book of the Dun Cow, The Book of Invasions, The Book of Leinster. Many references to what Druids did are contained within the above books. Much of what the ancient Celts practiced and wrote was symbollic of deeper meanings. Each of these works can be interpreted on many levels. In modern times, Druidry is being studied by several major groups, ADF (Ar Draiocht Fein) and OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids), to name just two. (This was an early discussion of Ogham Divination - circa 1993 or so-.... I am currently presenting a more complete and powerful version in a series of articles being published in the "Journal of the Henge of Keltria.)

Ogham Knowledge

The knowledge of Druids/Wiccans is based upon the Earth and it's power. The knowledge of the Ogham is tree knowledge applied as symbols in the use of Magick and Divination. I'll upload some info on each symbol or group of 5 symbols and show what their meanings are. The Druids were the Shaman of the Celtic Clans (though they did not actually refer to themselves as "Shaman", as far as well know today). They carried the history, the culture and the geneologies of the Clan in their memories. To aidthemselves in remembering this multitude of information, Ogham were used, each Ogham being associated by its beginning sounds (and color, ranking, esoteric meaning, etc...) with the item to be remembered. This is similar to the use of alliteration in today's writings. This practice led to and developed an entire series of different types of Ogham. In this worshop, we will discuss tree oghams and Fionn's Wheel. Ogham ,BTW, is pronounced "O Wam". It's one of those strange Gaelic things! Each Ogham is listed by its ancient Gaelic name, then its modern Irish name and then its Welsh counterpart. The first group of 5 is from the North on Fionn's Wheel. (it is from the Book of Ballymote) 15th century Irish manuscript.


Beth Beith Bedw Birch - The White Tree of Purification, Protection against harm, both physical and spiritual. Deal with/clear away the bad things of life. A new begining. Peasant in class. 24 December-20 January. White.


Luis Caorthann Criafol Rowan - Tree of Life Protection against psychic attack. Develop powers of protection and foretelling. Used in Metal dowsing. Planted around stone circles. Peasant 21 January-17 February. Liath (grey). (also luisne or "red glare").


Fearn Fearno'g Gwernen Alder - "The Red Man" (pranksters, also help one escape the Otherworld) Used in fires to make swords. Frees the Earth from water. Used in Building Foundations because of this fire aspect. Protection in conflicts. Freedom from binding Magicks. 18 March-14April. Crimson or blood red.


Saille Saileach Helgen White Willow or Sally Tree - The growth of lunar power and water. Linking and harmonizing. It's power is greatest at night unless the Moon is visable during the day. Tied to the Moon phases. Protection against diseases. Peasant. 15 April-12 May. Sodaith (Bright or fine).


Nuin Fuinnseog Onnen The Black Ash - The Tree of Rebirth, Links the World of Spirit to the physical. The passage way between the inner world and the outer realms. The keys to the future but only in time. First Chieftan Tree. 18 February-17 March, Necht or clear in color.


Huath Sceach gheal Ysbyddaden - The Hawthorn or Whitethorn The May Tree. The name means "Terrible" , referring to the Destroyer aspect of the Goddess. Unlucky (especially to cut or the blossoms in the house). Rags are tied to its branches as offerings. Protection against all ills Magically. Peasant. 13 May-9 June. Purple (For the Hag/Underworld).


Duir Dair Derwen Oak - The King of TreesThe Oak King. Magickal strength.The doorway to inner knowledge.The ability to see the invisible or be invisible.The ability to bar or open the ways.10 JUne-7 July. Black. Chieftan. Planted in Sacred Groves by the Druids.


Tinne Cuileann Celyn Holly - "Fire"The Holly King. Balanced Strength and Power.Unification, Fatherhood, Rebirth.Fire, strength, boldness.Peasant. Temen (grey-green).


Coll Coll Collen Hazel - "By the Power of Three Times Three"Discovery, Druidic Herald wands "Word Wisdom".Used as A Magick Shield in warfare (Fionn's Shield).Water Witching forked rods.Nut-Brown.


Muin Muine Vine - "The Vernal Equinox", "The First Harvest". Chieftain, 2 September- 29 September. Mbracht (variegated). The Magickal ability to roam widely and to gather. Assimilation leading to inner development.


Gort Eadhne'an Eiddew Ivy - "The Second Harvest" 30 September - 27 October. Gorm (blue). scarcity in unfavorable situations. Changes necessary for growth. All things are tied to the Earth. Transformation by being rooted in the Earth.


Ngetal Giolcach Cawnen Reed - "The Tree of Scribes", Used to make pens and Welsh plagawd (paper). 28 October - 24 November. Thatching, mats, baskets. Insulation, Enclosure, Covering. Preserver of Knowledge, Maintainer of Order. Nglas (glass green or yellowish-green).


Straif Drai'on Draenenwen Blackthorn - "Tree of Punishment and Strife" Peasant. Staves of Magickal Power. Draoi (Wizard), Drai" (Druid). Power in Visible and Invisible Worlds. Use to overcome resistance to One's will. Sorcha (bright colored) or purple-black.


Ruis Trom Ysgaw Elder - "Tree of the Cailleach (Hag)" , ru'isce (a violent attack, a blow, a throw). Irish Witches rode Elder sticks instead of brooms. Three fold aspects of Time, Existence, Goddess. Ogham of Timelessness or unity of all time. Balance in threes. Rocnat (roebuck red). ... (MORE OGHAM WILL BE POSTED as soon as my fingers cool off!)

This information would be used in divinations and in casting spells. It would also be used to mark pathways for Spiritual journeys into the Celtic Otherworld. The first use of Oghams was on Birch for instance and it was interpreted by the Irish God Lugh to mean that a Magical attack was going to be made upon his wife. He took precautions.

Fionn's Wheel

Fionn's Wheel is a diagram found in the Book of Ballymote. It shows all 25 Oghams arranged around a series of concentric circles This diagram can be used to divine paths necessary for "Pathworking", a very powerful shamanic/Magical technique. I have identified the meanings of each Ogham on the paths (using the correspondences from Nigel Pennick mostly). Each Ogham's meaning can require at least a workshop of it's own to fully cover. I offer these here to show what can be done with Oghams:

An Roth de an Bealach (The Wheel of the Ways) The Northern Path is first. (from outside to inside) An Cosa'n do Sla'n (The Way of Protection) The White Tree of Purity The Tree of Life The Red Man The Moon The Keys to the Future

This is the first path on Fionn's wheel. It contains the first 5 Oghams B L F S N. This path is first because it teaches the new student how to protect him/herself from Magickal harm. Any way, the first step was Purification, followed by gaining an ally in "the Red Man", a being kind of like Coyote in Native American workings. The tree of life is there as well (this could be what Susan saw in her dream) The Moon represents the protection of the Goddess. When the inner level is reached the student gains the keys of knowledge but not the wisdom to use them. Another journey must be made. That is the next path.

This Path contains the Ogham EBA: An Cosa'n de Fe'ile (The Way of Ritual) The Sacred Grove (Imbolc)

This path requires an understanding of the major Religious festivals of the Celtic year begining with Imbolc ... The new beginings ... The festival of Brighid. It also requires one to perform such a ritual.I thought Samhain was the beginning of the Celtic year?It's the begining of the Celtic year but not necessarily the begining of the study of Celtic religions.Imbolc ... is the start of this path of wisdom?... or study on fionn wheel, right?The study of all the major festivals is the second path The symbol is actually the Grove. The most powerful Magick in the Druid rites was The victory of life over death, the renewal of the wheel of the year, the marriage of the Cailleach to the Oak King or Cernnunos. That would not be an appropriate start point for begining the study of Druidic Magicks. (Before a student can begin Magical work, the ability to shield and protect oneself must first be developed. This is why the first way studied is the way of protection. The next step to performing or learning occult wisdom would be in a protected environment, such as rituals or Circles. What better ritual for a fresh start than Imbolc which is symbolic of New Beginings and the Quickening of Life? Samhain is actually the end point of the year and represents the culmination of the Druidic Mysteries. Samhain is the begining and the ending of the Celtic year. It is the time when the God of the Underworld marries the Goddess as the Morrigan. The new God or the Sun is not yet reborn until the Winter Solstice. The Celts began their days at sundown. It is not surprising that they began their new year with the end of the last harvest. The period between Samhain and Imbolc is the dark part of the year and is therefore like the night before the day. During this period preparations were made for the onset of winter and the coming spring planting.) The next path to aid us in becomming more enlightened is the Eastern path on the wheel. This Path contains the next 5 Oghams H D T C Q:

An Cosán do Fios
(The Way of Wisdom)
The Cailleach, The Oak King, The Holly King, The Three Times Three, The Tree of Eternity
This Path contains the next 5 Oghams M G NG STR R:
An Cosán de Deis
(The Way of Balance)
The First Gathering, The Second Harvest, The Tree of Scribes, The Tree of Punishment, The Triple Goddess
This Path contains the Ogham UI:
An Cosán de an Fhírinne
(The Way of Truth)
The Ancient Knowledge (Lugnasadh), The Inner Mysteries
This Path contains the next 5 Oghams A O U E I:
An Cosán de an Saol
(The Way of Life)
The Tree of Regeneration, The Tree of Continuous Fertility, The Morning Dew, The Preventer of Death ,The Tree of Life and Death

The Three Illuminations

What follows is about Druidic methods of divination: Western (read Druidic) meditation was usually done for divination and foretelling the future. This process was called by many names: Tenm Laida, Dichetal Do Chennaib, and Imbas Forosna. Tenm Laida (Illumination by Song) is an altered state usually achieved by chanting or singing of a repetitive pattern. This can also include drumming and dancing. These activities synchronize the body and mind to an external rhythm allowing us to cast off the chains of normal existence. This allows one to float at peace within the song (dance, beat, mantra, etc.) This is a strictly Druidic or Shamanistic practice even though it may look like TM.

Dichetal Do Chennaib

Dichetal Do Chennaib (Cracking open the Nuts of Wisdom) is a state achieved by relaxation and clearing the mind in a Ritual environment. It usually involved using some Magickal implement such as a knife, a sword or a staff to touch a subject (usually upon the head) or involved the handling an item so that the diviner could discover what secret knowledge was contained within it. This information could be events from a person's past life, a detailed history of who and what had happened to an object or how and why the subject was being hexed or spelled. I know this sounds like ESP but it was enhanced through Ritual and relaxation techniques. I believe that Dichetal Do Chennaib is the proper state for performing Ogham divinations as well. More on this later.

Imbas Forosna

Imbas Forosna (Illumination) was a form of altered state used by seers and bards to create or see visions. The Druid would be totally isolated from all sensory inputs, sounds, lights and feelings. This was usually a very dark room or a covering of hides. The Druid would attempt to float and relax. When in the proper state he/she would signal for the hides to be removed or he/she would open the door out of the Darkness. The sudden, instantaneous transition from Darkness to Light would cause him/her to see visions or to spontaneously utter poems, prophecies or to achieve a total Awareness of the secret Knowledge of their Surroundings. This sensory deprivation forced oneness upon them and caused them to become centered and to float. It was their Ultimate Meditation technique.

The Druids also used music, colors, trees and numbers to alter theirconsciousness. They were familiar with the Pythagorean Mysteries and may have actually been the source of them! Druids shared IndoEuropean roots with the Indian Brahmans but I don't have any hard data to support any similarities in their practices.

Casting the Fidh

To perform an Ogham divination requires us to be clear about the purpose or object of the divination before begining. Focus the purpose in your mind before starting meditation and/or Circle casting. I find that working within a Magical Circle tends to prevent outside psychic influences but don't believe it's absolutely necessary to use a Circle. The form of divination used is Dichetal Do Chennaib. What we will be doing is casting sticks, fidh or "fews", upon a casting cloth. The sticks are about finger length in size and carved with Oghams for each of the 25 symbols. (I prefer to work with woods that are the actual woods used for each Ogham symbol where possible. Obviously, some "Crane Bag" symbols are not trees and will have to be carved on some neutral wood or other substance, shells or rocks for instance. I use Ash or Oak for any substitutions.) The casting cloth is a representation of Fionn's Wheel and can be multicolored (as in the GIF), plain (Black and White) or just drawn on the floor or ground. I like to make the outer Circle about my height (in my case 6'2" but use what is suited to you). I orient the Wheel with the "B" Ogham to the North. I stand on the South side of the Wheel facing North about 3 feet back from the "M" Ogham. Place the Oghams in a bag and then randomly select 7 of them. Closing your eyes, spin around three times while blanking your mind from everything but your purpose. At the end of the third spin toss the 7 "fews" into the air about 3 feet above your head and towards the center of the Wheel. Once they have settled out immediately read the arrangement of the sticks. Write this down. Also record the relative orientations and postions of the "fews" upon the Wheel. Try to write down your general impression as well. Pick up the cast sticks and return them to the bag. Repeat this process twice more so that a total of three readings is available. One throw each for the Otherworld, the Middleworld, and the Skyworld.

You should now have three Wheel/Ogham Divination charts that have the relative positions of 21 Ogham on them. Interpret the Ogham based upon the correspondences I referenced previously. (These Ogham references came from Nigel Pennick's Book "Magical Alphabets". The actual meanings for the Oghams are from the Bardic/Druidic traditions as passed dowm by the Clan Bards of the O'Flahertys). I use the correspondences that "feel" right to me. You should do the same. No one set of correspondences is the absolutely right one to use. The above correspondences just hang together better in my own mind. The basic technique to reading the tale of the sticks is to read then deosil (clockwise) and from the outside to the inside. The "fews" towards the center represent the future and those towards the outside the past. Any sticks not on the Wheel are ignored. Crossed sticks conflict. Parallel sticks compliment or enhance. Sticks laying on Ogham of the Wheel have combined effects. The interpretation is not hard and fast. I read the symbols as a "story" that is dynamic. I take all three divinations together. If they have no correllation at all, I ignore the results and try again. Sometimes A divination is not possible. I'll try at least three times to get results. The relative agreement of each of the Three Wheel/Ogham charts determines the degree of confidence one can have in the readings, from utter certainty to total confusion! (reminds me of Sex for some reason but that's another story! I guess the point is that such Powers and their use are not instantaneous or easy to realize at times. Sometimes it's easy and other times it's impossible no matter how much you try!) This entire process of interpretation is very similar to: Palmistry, Tarot, Astrology or Runes. They are all basically the same, taking seemingly random or (at least) uniquely individualized instances from a person's life and attempting to give them meaning. Such events are based upon how they relate to Magical symbols and patterns. What is actually occurring within this process is that the left brain is gathering facts from the cast patterns that are configuring the mind and Spirit. This allows the right brain to make a "Salmon Leap" to intuitive insight or Illumination. This is Dichetal Do Chennaib or "cracking open the nuts of Wisdom" at its finest.

Some Parting Comments

After the divination is finished, dismiss your Circle and fold or erase your casting Wheel or cloth. Store them separately and away from normal life until they are to be used again. I recommend a wooden or cedar chest. Use whatever represents peace, quiet and solitude for you. What have we found from this discussion of Druids, Oghams and divination? We found that Information exists concerning Druid Oghams in the ancient 7th and 8th century writings of Irish monks-Druids. We disovered that Fionn's Wheel can be used as a divination casting cloth and as a "map" for "Pathworking". We suggested that the Ogham correspondences can identify unique ways to Magical knowledge and insight. Most of this information came from oral Druid histories that were finally written down in the first millenia by the Druid remnant and Culdean Monks. I admit that some of my presentation has been colored by my interests in other forms of Magic such as Runes, Tarot and Astrology. I have made every effort to go to an ancient textural source when available. At the very least, I have referenced modern writers that base their work upon ancient verified Druidic works. In our future investigations into Druidic practices and Magick, I hope to continue using the same techniques to discover or rediscover the Mysteries of the inner Druidic Knowledge. Key words to look up and understand for this Workshop and the next: Shamanism, Pathworking, Magick, Oghams, Druids, Culdee, Celt, Fionn, Archtypes, Jung, Vision Quests, divination, meditation, Bards, Invocation, Circles, spirit guides. During the discussion of Fionn's wheel we will primarily address archtypes, symbols, Magick and Shamanism as well as Pathworking.

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