Reading sticks

Mar 5, 2010
I really have to thank Feithline for her suggestion of daily divination as part of a spiritual practice. I was working with Tarot cards for a while, but the other day I remembered that I'd bought an ogam set last year, and I pulled that out of the drawer.

Ogam is an ancient Irish alphabet, probably dating to sometime in the Roman period -- that is to say, when the Romans settled in Britain and had the most extensive contact with insular Celtic peoples. It's most often found on single standing stones which are not grave markers, so the suggestion is that the inspiration for them came from inscribed Roman monuments. The manuscript tradition, though, implies that ogam was a sacred alphabet associated with the druí and the filí, the priests and the poets.

I am hugely indebted -- as is the rest of the Pagan and Celtic Reconstructionist community -- to Erynn Rowan Laurie for her work in turning the ogam into a divination system. Her book Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom is absolutely invaluable to anyone working with ogam, Irish traditions, or the difficulty of reconstructing an ancient belief without falling into the same fluffy Wicca-101 systems that do no justice to the original. Yes, I really love this book.

On a personal note, I'm finding the ogam speaks to me much more clearly than the tarot does -- which is hugely desirable for a one-draw-a-day reading, although I can definitely see reasons I'd still use the tarot. I've always been drawn to tarot over other divinatory systems because it's so rich in symbolism, but ogam has that too -- it's just not visual symbolism. There are three distinct kennings that still exist for the ogam. They're not explanations of the system, they're more like mnemonics or koans. I think they read like prose poetry if you read them from beginning to end. But what this means for divination is that each fid -- each symbol -- has at least three more-or-less cryptic associations to draw from, not to mention the literal meaning of the letter name as written in the manuscript (some of which are untranslatable). That's a lot of symbolism to dig through every morning.

And there's another aspect of ogam I've always wanted to poke at, one that Laurie doesn't go into in her book, but that I'm starting to wonder about again. You see, ogam is made up of four sets of five, sets of hash marks really (there is another theory that says that ogam is derived from Roman numerals -- you can see why), distinguished by which way they run across the center line: to the left, to the right, straight across, or across at a slant. I'm discovering a pattern in my draws. (I took this picture yesterday. And this morning, what did I draw? Yep, lus, the last of the two-mark letters.)

Three is a hugely important number in Irish mythology, of course. One is also relevant -- one-eyed figures are very powerful, and often can see things that others can't. Some spells are done with one hand, or standing on one foot. In this context, I think that two might represent a whole -- not a pair or a balance, but a symmetrical unity. That would certainly make sense for my life right now, but I think I need to do a little more work on the subject. (Oh woe, a new topic for research! Whatever shall I do? *hand to head in a dramatic fashion*)

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