The Ogham Alphabet - The Alphabet of Magic - The Foundations of Druid Magic

The Druid Magic Handbook: Ritual Magic Rooted in the Living Earth - John Michael Greer 2008

The Ogham Alphabet
The Alphabet of Magic
The Foundations of Druid Magic

The modern Druid tradition, like most other forms of spirituality, has a wealth of symbols that can be put to work in magic. The three elements and three currents discussed in chapter 1 can be understood and used as symbols, though they also represent real forces that shape the world of our experience. From the beginning of the Druid Revival, though, one particular set of symbols has had a central role in Druid practice.

This is the old Irish alphabet called Ogham (pronounced “OH-um”), one of the world's most eccentric writing systems. Ogham letters are called “fews” (feada in Irish) and consist of four groups called aicme, of one to five tally marks each. There are also five more complex signs, called forfedha (literally “extra fews”), used for sounds that weren't part of the original alphabet. The fews are marked along a line—upward from the bottom on a vertical line, and from left to right on a horizontal one, as shown in Figure 2-1. Awkward on paper, Ogham is quick, clean, and very readable if your writing instrument is a knife and your “paper” is a stick, and even better if you're using a chisel on the edges of a standing stone. All over Ireland, Scotland, and the western parts of Britain standing stones carved with Ogham between the third and tenth centuries CE can still be read today.

The ancient Irish and the Picts—the people who lived in Scotland before the Scots got there—used Ogham fews to write names on gravestones and spells on magical objects. By the tenth century, Ogham had been replaced by the Roman alphabet in general use, but Irish bardic schools kept it alive as a branch of traditional lore for centuries longer, and wove a wealth of symbolism into it. The surviving Irish Ogham treatises connect the fews to trees, colors, and much else, giving them a wealth of possibilities as magical symbols.

Figure 2-1 Ogham Writing


As a relic of ancient Celtic tradition the Ogham found its way into modern Druidry from the very beginning. John Toland, who helped launch the Druid Revival in the early eighteenth century, included references to Ogham in his writings, and many other Druid writers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries discuss Ogham as a Druid alphabet. By the time Druids began developing the magical side of their tradition in the twentieth century, Ogham provided them with an alphabet of symbols as rich as anything in the Western world's other magical traditions.

The twenty-five Ogham fews, along with some of their meanings, appear on the next few pages. More of their symbolism occurs later in this book, and a more complete list of their meanings can be found in The Druidry Handbook. These letters are as important to Druid magic as the letters of English are to reading this book, and the time you spend learning them will not be wasted.



Beith (pronounced “BEH”): the letter B

A few of beginnings and purification, symbolized by the birch tree; the potential for renewal and rebirth in every moment


Luis (pronounced “LWEESH”), the letter L

A few of protection, discernment, and inner clarity, symbolized by the rowan or mountain ash tree; the choice between insight and ignorance


Nuin (pronounced “NOO-un”), the letter N

A few of connection, communication, and magic, symbolized by the ash tree; words and meanings weaving the world together


Fearn (pronounced “FAIR-n”), the letter V

A few of oracular guidance, protection, and transitions from realm to realm, symbolized by the alder tree; a bridge over deep waters, the presence of spirit


Saille (pronounced “SAHL-yuh”), the letter S

A few of grace, fluidity, receptivity, and response, symbolized by the willow tree; moving with the flow of events, releasing fixed forms



Huath (pronounced “OO-ah”), the letter H

A few of patience, restriction, and desire not yet fulfilled, symbolized by the hawthorn tree; a time of waiting, the presence of danger


Duir (pronounced “DOO-er”), the letter D

A few of power, protection, and change for the better, symbolized by the oak tree; the opening of a door and the awakening of strength


Tinne (pronounced “CHIN-yuh”), the letter T

A few of courage, conflict, and opposition, symbolized by the holly tree; challenges that must be confronted head on, a time for decisive action


Coll (pronounced “CULL”), the letter C

A few of knowledge, creativity, and inspiration, symbolized by the hazel bush; a new stage in life, the awakening of intellect


Quert (pronounced “KWEIRT”), the letter Q

A few of delight, celebration, and choice, symbolized by the apple tree; rewards of effort, the opportunity to live more fully



Muin (pronounced “MUHN”), the letter M

A few of insight, intoxication, and prophecy, symbolized by the grapevine; unexpected truths, freedom from the limits of time


Gort (pronounced “GORT”), the letter G

A few of tenacious purpose and indirect progress, symbolized by the ivy bush; a winding but necessary path, entanglements that cannot be avoided


Ngetal (pronounced “NYEH-tal”), the letter Ng

A few of transformation, healing, and swift movement, symbolized by the reed or broom; the flow of time and the transience of all experienced things


Straif (pronounced “STRAHF”), the letter Z (sometimes ST)

A few of hard necessity and inevitable change, symbolized by the blackthorn tree; the influence of fate, no choice but to go onward


Ruis (pronounced “RWEESH”), the letter R

A few of resolutions, fulfillments, and endings, symbolized by the elder tree; the completion of a path, transition to a new state of being



Ailm (pronounced “AHL-m”), the letter A

A few of vision, understanding, and eminence, symbolized by the fir or pine tree; seeing things in perspective, expanded awareness


Onn (pronounced “UHN”), the letter O

A few of attraction, combination, and possibility, symbolized by the gorse bush; life and energy, a rising curve of growth and potential


Ur (pronounced “OOR”), the letter U

A few of power, creation, death, and rebirth, symbolized by the heather bush; spiritual power and creativity, a door opens in the inner world


Eadha (pronounced “EH-yuh”), the letter E

A few of perseverance, courage, and hard work, symbolized by the aspen tree; courage and tenacity in defense, the quest for inner strength


Ioho (pronounced “EE-yoh”), the letter I

A few of enduring realities and legacies, symbolized by the yew tree; that which abides unchanged, the lessons of experience



Koad (pronounced “KO-ud”), the letter Ch

A few of central balance and infinite possibility, symbolized by a grove of many trees; the presence of many factors, the possibility of freedom


Oir (pronounced “OR”), the letter Th

A few of fate, sudden change, and the unexpected, symbolized by the spindle tree; the flash of the lightning bolt, change caused by outside factors


Uilleand (pronounced “ULL-enth”), the letter W

A few of secrets hidden and revealed, symbolized by the honeysuckle vine; the influence of the subtle and seemingly insignificant, hidden meanings


Phagos (pronounced “FAH-gus”), the letter F

A few of learning, guidance, and the wisdom of the past, symbolized by the beech tree; the messages of the past as the key to the future


Mór (pronounced “MOHR”), the letter X

A few of beginnings, endings, and the influence of outside forces, symbolized by the sea; the arrival of a new factor, the workings of destiny