Ogham Scholarship Questions

I read an article today by Peter Berresford Ellis today, entitled The Fabrication of ‘Celtic’ Astrology. http://cura.free.fr/xv/13ellis2.html

Basically the article talks about Robert Graves’s lack of scholarship in his book The White Goddess, and how the tree calendar and zodiac has no historical pressident. Worse even is the fact that it goes against the work of scholars far more qualified than him. This came as no surprise to me. I know many druid groups do not recommend Mr. Graves work as scholarship.

This article has raised other questions for me that I’m hoping someone wiser and more well read than myself can answer.

Mr. Ellis quotes Professor Robert MacAlister, “the greatest living authority on Ogham”, who wrote Corpus Inscriptionem Insularum Celticarum. He also makes reference to Dr. McManus who wrote A Guide to Ogam. Here is a fairly lengthy quote from Mr. Ellis’s article going into some of the discrepancies in how most of the current books present the Ogham.

“Dr McManus echoes other scholars when he points out that the basic twenty characters of Ogham were not all named after trees. I’ll confine the meanings given by Dr McManus to the letters Graves’ actually uses, which are not tree names.
L = Luis (claimed as a rowan) either comes from luise (flame, blaze) or lus (plant, herb). It is not placed in a context that makes either derivation reliable. N = Nion or nin (claimed as ash) is a fork or loft. H = Uath (claimed as hawthorn) means horror or fear. T = Tinne (claimed as ash and sometimes holly) means a bar, rod of metal, ingot etc. M = Muin (claimed as vine) means neck or throat. G = Gort (claimed as ivy) means a field. R = Ruis (claimed as elder) is from the word for red.
As for the consonant: M = Muin, the vine was not native to Ireland anyway, and when it was introduced, the Old Irish was finchí, a loan word from the Latin vin. The word muin was, as stated, neck or throat, which is still found in modern Irish muineál.
The letter ‘P’ does not appear in Irish until the early Middle Irish period, being adopted from Latin, and is given by O’Flaherty as P Pethboc, claimed as a dwarf elder. Of course, pethboc occurs neither in Old nor early Middle Irish. Peith-bhóg occurs in Early Modern Irish, either as a corruption of a Latin loan word or, as Professor O’Rahilly contends the ‘p’ might be an early modern softening of ‘b’ perhaps from beithe (birch). At least Robert Graves realised the fact that a ‘P’ could not possibly exist in the early Q-Celtic Goidelic form. The famous identification of the two forms of Celtic is P in Brythonic and Q in Goidelic. At least Graves was mindful of his Ps and Qs! But how could he fit P = Pethoc into his thesis? Admitting that it was not an original Irish letter he says (p184) that he believes it simply stood for the Irish NG and arbitrarily substitutes the form nGetal claimed as a name of the dwarf elder.
Curiouser and curiouser! This is a negative, dative and vocative form. According to Professor Meroney: The spelling nGetal points to an original getal, but no such word survives otherwise in Irish.’ Dr McManus however thinks getal was a verbal noun of gonid wounds or slays’. I am of the opinion that this spelling getal, however, points to an original cetal. Already in Old Irish an eclipsed c-appears as g-, compare nach gein [– nach n-cein]. And here 1 will disagree with my learned colleague Dr McManus because he overlooks a word in Old Irish gedal (if the dental d is rendered t) then we do have a word for the broom plant. In gedal, however, Robert has to loose his ‘reed’ and winds up with broom. The Old Irish for a reed is cuisle. It is from this word for reed that we get the word for a pipe and cuisleoir a piper because the reed is the basic component of the pipes. I think even those who are not linguistically minded are wondering why Robert Graves could assert this linguistic conjuring act, changing the spurious P = Pethoc = dwarf elder, to the equally spurious Ng = nGetal = which he claims as ‘reed’? Your guess is probably as good as mine.
We can go on and point to the G whose tree name’ given by O’Flaherty is supposed to be gort = ivy. but the Old Irish word for ivy is eidnen and the word gort actually means a field, as given above.”

So now here is where my questions start. ALL the books on my shelf in regards to the Ogham (and I have quite a few), associate them completely with trees.

Lets take The Druids’ Alphabet by ADF Archdruid, Skip Ellision. The ADF speaks out against Graves’s work. Chapter seven of Mr. Ellision’s book is titled “A Warning About Robert Graves”. Mr. Ellison also sites the same source material from Prof. Robert MacAlister, and Dr. McManis, that Mr. Ellis uses in his article.

See where I’m going with this? Its pretty much consensus that in that Graves+Ogham=Bad. So than why does everyone, including an Archdruid, who should know these things; continue to base their Ogham on trees, something that seems to have absolutely no scholarship behind it?

Has anyone traced the actual roots and meanings for all the Ogham like the ones sited in the article by Mr. Ellis? I really don’t care if they are not based on trees. I would rather be working with a system that is as accurate as current scholarship will allow.

I’m going to have to get the source material and find out.


~ by Solaren on March 28, 2009.

3 Responses to “Ogham Scholarship Questions”

  1. I’ve found these links to Ogham on Wikipedia to be helpful.

  2. I’m not an Ogham expert or even user, but I have a read a number of books on the subject. In my opinion most of the wisdom of Ogham comes from the Cad Goddue, The Battle of the Trees. Whether accurate or not, this is where most researchers get there Ogham information.
    It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Ogham was never meant to be a tree related written language or a divination system of hidden tree wisdom, though I have read examples of both in modern occult literature.
    One book that I think explains the Ogham rather well, as used in modern Occult circles, and may just be another example of wishful thinking is Taliesin by John Matthews, you can read a preview here, and the chapter on Ogham begins on page 211: http://books.google.com/books?id=AZpGUyrI93QC&pg=PA210&lpg=PA210&dq=taliesin+matthews+ogham&source=bl&ots=ngwaZYNMO1&sig=X5MZZ1KOOboqHXFhbdo9Sw85b9Q&hl=en&ei=S-nQSbXwDszR-QaS9LDVBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA211,M1

  3. Thank you for your input. I’ve been doing more reading on the subject and trying to put things in perspective. 🙂

    Yes, I have Taliesin by John Matthews. I have given it a few quick previews. It is definatly in my rapidly growing list of things to read.

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