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Ogham: The Mysterious Ancient Irish Script

As much as known by modern scholars, academics and others regarding the ancient Irish script called Ogham, much of it is still shrouded in mystery including a definitive origin. I have been fascinated and studied Ogham for years and still learn more regarding it the more I dig into books and websites I find. I eventually became confident enough with Ogham to not only make divination sets but to actually write in Ogham. So I felt a post about Ogham was definitely needed and I hope you enjoy this one.

Origin Theories

There are four popular theories discussing the origin of Ogham. The differing theories are unsurprising considering that the script has similarities to ciphers in Germanic runes, Latin, elder futhark and the Greek alphabet.

The first theory is based on the work of scholars such as Carney and MacNeill who suggest that Ogham was first created as a cryptic alphabet designed by the Irish. They assert that the Irish designed it in response to political, military and/or religious reasons so that those with knowledge of just Latin could not read it.

The second theory is held by McManus who argues that Ogham was invented by the first Christians in early Ireland in a quest for uniqueness. The argument maintains that the sounds of the primitive Irish language were too difficult to transcribe into Latin.

The third theory states that the Ogham script from invented in West Wales in the fourth century BCE to intertwine the Latin alphabet with the Irish language in response to the intermarriage between the Romans and the Romanized Britons. This would account for the fact that some of the Ogham inscriptions are bilingual; spelling out Irish and Brythonic-Latin.

The fourth theory is supported by MacAlister and used to be popular before other theories began to overtake it. It states that Ogham was invented in Cisalpine Gaul around 600 BCE by Gaulish Druids who created it as a hand signal and oral language. MacAliser suggests that it was transmitted orally until it was finally put into writing in early Christian Ireland. He argues that the lines incorporated into Ogham represent the hand by being based on four groups of five letters with a sequence of strokes from one to five. However, there is no evidence for MacAlisters theory that Ogham’s language and system originated in Gaul.

Mythical theories for the origin of Ogham also appear in texts from the eleventh to fifteenth centuries. The eleventh century Lebor Gabala Erenn tells that Ogham was invented soon after the fall of the tower of Babel, as does the fifteenth century Auraicept na n-eces text. The Book of Ballymote also includes ninty-two recorded secret modes of writing Ogham written in 1390-91 CE. Source

Ogham also is used for divination much like the use of the Elder Futhark Runes with of course their own unique meanings and purpose. This is a source I use and refer to quite often. Ogham Divination

The Ogham Alphabet

The Mysterious Ogham

The Ogham writing system

What is Ogham? A look at the ancient Irish alphabet

Ogham writing

Book Recommendations

Two books I have in my library I highly recommend are below with links to get yourself a copy.

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