The Ogham Day: Bathe, Lays, Farin’…

Traditionally, since the Auricept na N-eces came to light, the so-called tree ogham has been foregrounded from all the ogham lists in it, and it is asserted in that text that its list of words associated the letters are the old Irish names of trees.

However, there’s a lot of confusion over which trees (luis= rowan or elm), and not all of them are trees, (ivy, fern) and there seems to be no evidence that any except a few were ever called by these names in any language, let alone Irish, so there’s a reason to doubt the accuracy of the Auricept. Nobody knows who the contributors to it were, but they don’t appear to have been consistent in their evidence about it.

I suspect that no Irish person ever called a birch tree ‘beith’ until those who (mis)translated the Auricept put it into their lexicon – nor was the Irish word for an oak tree ever dur, dara or dor.Informed by scholars, native speakers from each area assumed that such tree names must have been current in some other area and so accepted them as valid, because there it was in the dictionary.

So what if they’re not trees? The key will be not in the spelling, which in old texts is likely to be idiosyncratic, culture specific and sometimes arbitrary, but in penetrating the spelling to reach the pronunciations that they’re attempting to represent. What if the ogham Beith were pronounced as it’s spelt: ‘B-ei-th’, like the English word ‘bathe’ and actually meant ‘bathe’ as in wash? After all, it’s very likely that where no hard and fast spelling rules apply (and they don’t seem to in the Auricept) people are spelling phonetically.

You could object that the Auricept predates the formation of the English language from Germanic dialects by a good few centuries. I would reply that the actual age of the Auricept is not known, any more than the exact age of our only remaining examples of the Germanic dialects of old English, but has only been guessed at by scholars who used unintelligibility as a measure of age, without considering that a text may simply have been in a dialect not known to the scholars concerned, separated from known dialects not by time but by contemporary linguistic difference that had more to do with geographical distance than temporal. The actual text is not that old, and the current dating of its content is highly suspect.

So what if you found that, by assuming the spelling to be practically phonetical, almost all the other words in the beith luis nin list also spell English words – albeit  archaic ones, except for two that spell Irish words? Then you’d probably want to object that this is a text from Ireland, the text it’s embedded in is in Irish and wouldn’t have included lists of English words, but however hard you wished, there they’d still be, not able to be interpreted successfully or convincingly as a tree list, but deliciously happy to be construed as a list of mainly English words with a couple of Irish ones, and not just a random list, but a list denoting a sequence, undeniably a logical one, representing nothing more nor less than a children’s school-day timetable – or in olden day English, an Hour Receipt.

You might argue that the similarity of these words to English words, while undeniable, is pure coincidence; and that’s okay, except that they form a list of activities and they occur in a logical sequence, making a viable time-table. The probability that this could happen by sheer coincidence is vanishingly small. The odds against it are vast.

Since the universal phonetic alphabet is practically unintelligible to lay readers, and anyway tends to obscure relationships between words rather than illuminate them, and is overkill at best where languages that are now extinct are concerned, I’m using my own simple techniques based on English spellings (for English words), which will be intelligible to English speakers anyway. I apologise to non-English speakers, but most people will be able to follow me.

When I was five years old I learned to spell using a system called Phonics, in which each letter of the alphabet was named according to its usual sound: ‘A’ was called ‘Ae’ as in ‘a-pple’, ‘b’ was ‘b@’ where @ represents schwa. U for umbrella was called ‘Uh’, which sounded like the vowels of aha! It was pretty loose, but it works so I’m using it. After all our sense of how extinct languages or forms of languages were pronounced is necessarily ‘pretty loose’, and this naïve kind of phonics is after all, pretty much like what the writers of the Auricept used..

This system works well for describing the probable pronunciation of the ogham names as I understand them, so I’m using it here. There’s a lisp to take into account, a glitch associated with the P- Q- problem, there’s a glottal stop, and g’s and h’s are sometimes dropped, and there are some small inconsistencies, but nothing that can’t be accounted for without much trouble. And for reasons that will become clear as we go along, I start with Ailm and her five, not Beith and hers.

AILM AND HER FIVE

AILM is the first two syllables of aliment, pronounced as in aliment, and meaning aliment. The children’s day starts with breakfast.

ONN is Iron (some people still pronounce it like that in rapid speech). It’s the only puzzling one, so bear with it. I suspect it is an iron oven. The breakfast fire has heated the oven and the bread is put in.

UR is ‘Hair’. Perhaps it was brushed and plaited.

EADADH is a variant of the Irish ‘Eadach’ meaning cloth or clothing. The children get dressed.

IOHO is another Irish word: DHEOCHA, a old plural form of Deoch (a drink), meaning drinks. The modern plural is deochanna. It’s initial letter is lenited (mutated) here, perhaps because it is feminine and followed the definite article when first transcribed. The H is a soft version of the Gaelic ch. In Irish, Dh is pronounced as Y for Yellow before an ‘e’ or an ‘i’. So DHEOCHA woud be pronounced very like YOHO, here spelt IOHO. Gives new meaning to ‘Yoho ho and a bottle of rum’ doesn’t it! But let’s hope our little ógs had hot milk and honey, perhaps with an egg in it – an egg n-og?

BEITH AND HER FIVE

BEITH now means Bathe – that’s what the children do next.

LUIS according to the phonics method is ‘L-UH-I-S’ which we would pronounce somewhere between ‘Lies’ and ‘Lays’. That’s interesting because both mean stories that are not (necessarily) true or are not believed. From the ‘Lays’ of the Minstrels (which may have been true but declared false by a dominant culture) we get the word ‘lies’ meaning falsehoods. While waiting for the time of departure, the children are kept warm and out of mischief singing over their school songs perhaps for the entertainment of their younger siblings.

FEARN is ‘Farin’ ‘, which means travelling, in this instance, to school.

SAILLE is these days usually pronounced as if Irish: S- O- L- Y- A. According to the phonics method it would be pronounced SA+I+LL+E, close to SALLY as in SALLIES AND JESTS. That word is related to the English words ‘soldier’ and ‘sailor’ and is probably derived from a word ancestral to both. The best translation might be ‘sallies’, as in ‘sallies and jests’ where ‘jests’ retains its original meaning ‘jousts’ – in other words, military training.

NUIN is pronounced N-UH-IN, with a glottal stop between the vowels: Nu’in’. That’s ‘Nothing’ with the ‘g’ dropped. Rest after strenuous exercise.

HUATH AND HER FIVE

HUATH. This one comes to us from a different speaker, a lisper, and uses a different phonetic, but the logistics of the day are becoming clear and it’s fairly obvious that it’s a lisped ‘horse’. After a rest, equestrian training follows foot quite logically.

DUR is ‘door’, using the same phonetic as the above. Perhaps the children lined up outside the door to wait for the teachers as they still do in modern schools.

TINNE is the Irish ‘Tine’ meaning ‘fire’. It is derived from the English word, TIN, meaning sheet metal, not specifically the mineral tin iteself. A large tin stove served as a fireplace – still often does in some situations. As soon as they got inside they lit a fire in the tin to warm the class room, just as they did in winter when I was a child, before most schools had central heating.

COLL is ‘school’. It’s the base of the English College, the Irish Coláiste, and the ‘chool’ part of ‘school’.

QUERT: This one is caught up in the P-Q- wrangle. There is already a hard ‘c’ in the ogham and so there’s no need for a ‘q’; but there’s no ‘p’ whatsoever. The ‘u’ is there only to support the ‘q’ as it would be in modern English. ‘QUERT’ should obviously be ‘PERT’. And that’s a variant of ‘part’, meaning ‘part company’ or ‘depart’ – which is just what the children would do after school.

MUINN AND HER FIVE

MUINN is ‘m+uh+inn’ with a glottal stop between the vowels (see NUIN): ‘mu’inn’ meaning ‘mutton’, denoting a substantial dinner of cooked meat.

GORT means ‘garden’ in some variants of old English. Perhaps they put in an afternoon’s work or so after dinner working in the community garden.

NGETAL is an eclipsized ‘getal’ which is really ‘gcetal’, itself an eclipsized ‘cetal’ meaning ‘kettle’ – a large cooking pot or cauldron in the olden days rather than the familiar tea-kettle for boiling water in of today. No doubt the children’s supper was served from it, and again, it’s in logical sequence with the previous activities.

STRAIF is not ‘strife’ but ‘straw’. This is an old form of the word, retaining evidence of its kinship with the word straight, the gh having evidently once been pronounced ‘f’ as in ‘enough’, not ‘ch’ as in ‘loch’. (It’s also related to strap, stripe and strip.) It’s the straight part of a cereal plant. Straw was used for bedding, so these children, having had their supper, ‘hit the straw’, or in other words, they go to bed.

RUIS is ‘r-uh-is’, which rhymes with ‘luis/lays/lies’ and means ‘rise’, again the most logical next activity of the ogham school child’s day.

I realise it presents a few challenges to orthodox views of the evolution of the English language, in implying that chronologies might be askew but I can’t see that justifying not giving it careful consideration. The chronologies are after all, decidedly askew.

More important to many people will be the implications for the use of the ogham as a divinatory tool. If the ogham names are not the names of trees, the trees have been dragged in by mistake, and that will have magical implications. If the collective will of many diviners has a magical force, and surely it will have, then the tree ogham as a divinatory system is in no danger, being independent of historical fact. My insight is that it is a firmly established, reasonably effective, fully functional magical system that needn’t fear the research that inevitably reveals the erroneousness of its origin.

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4 thoughts on “The Ogham Day: Bathe, Lays, Farin’…

  1. This is a creative idea, but it’s clearly a new invention. What I don’t understand is why you chose to support it with blatantly incorrect information rather than simply accepting it as a personal invention with pride. Beith is indeed the Gaelic word for birch. Bilingual carvings confirm a phonetic value of [b]. The modern English word “bathe” would be rendered as “beid” in Old Irish, but remember that modern English pronunciation has changed considerably; a form that old would be more like “bad”. I could go through your entire ogham day like this. On the other hand, young scholars of ogham or druidry may not have the same linguistic background, and you’re feeding them false information. The ogham has been many things over the ages. It is indeed an organizational tool, and from that purpose a system for learning, divination, creation and communication. It can be anything you want, but please be clear to your readers that this is what YOU want ogham to be. Y gwir yn erbyn y byd.

    • it’s not really a personal invention. the irish language has received words from the Dictionary of the Irish language. it was popular with reconstructionists after the ossianic literature inspired young scholarly families of its day. so was the ogham and most ogham inscriptions are obviously from that time and part of a reconstructionist thing.
      i think the presence of the th of beith is there because it was once pronounced. it would have been pronounced like the english word bathe.
      you could go through the whoe ogham, but you would only reiterate existing dogmas, which i am questioning.
      imo young scholars of celtic history and old celtic languages should encounter as many different opinions as possible, to enable them to make up their own minds. you wouldn’t want them led or driven blinkered to the one opinion considered valid by academics who were driven blinkered to it in their turn.
      i’m not so much feeding them as sharing my opinion. otoh, academics have always made ‘claims’ that change as new data becomes available or new insights occur. this is not called ‘feeding them false information’.
      this is not ‘what i want my ogham to be’, it is certainly true that if treated as english words not irish tree names, you get a school children’s time table. and ‘auricept’ is homophonic with ‘hour-receipt’ and ‘na n-ecces’ means of the school children.
      but thank you for your time and courtesy.

  2. Let’s assume your hypothesis is true, and that the Auraicept is indeed an Hour Receipt. The words “hour” and “receipt” came to English from the Old French sometime after the Norman Invasion of 1066. It wasn’t until the 1600’s and 1700’s that English spellings were modified to reflect their earlier Latinate roots. So, “receite” became “receipt”, with silent “p”, to reflect the root of the word in Latin “recipit”. In other words, we should probably assume that this Auraicept was written during or after the 1600’s — nearly a thousand years after the time period generally accepted by scholars. If this is true, then all the Old Irish literary sources that reflect the same information as the Auraicept must have also been invented at that time as well. Otherwise, they would have already existed in the past to support standard scholarship concerning the ogham. Thus, these Ossian-enthralled scholars of the 1600’s had to (A) relearn Irish as it had been spoken a thousand years before their time, (B) create an entire corpus of literature using manuscript techniques that had been outdated by hundreds of years, (C) travel throughout northwestern Europe to create fake ogham carvings on stones, often using forms that dated to nearly continental Celtic times. But, to what end?

    If “ioho” is meant to be a phonetic transcription of “*dheocha”, with a pronunciation like /yokh-ah/, why is it written in the text as “idad”? How were they able to figure all these things out given that their only source of such information was the corpus of literature that they had invented themselves?

    Can we also touch up our etymologies? In the phrase “sallies and jests” — “sallies” is from an Old French word for “jumps” and its root is not related to “soldier”; “jest” is from “geste”, Old French for an act or a deed and is unrelated to “joust” whose root originally meant “placed side by side”. The words “straight, straw, strip” etc. are likewise unrelated. Or perhaps they are, in which case our Ossian lovers must have invented an even larger corpus of literature to cover their trail, and spread it all over Europe over the course of many hundreds of years.

    Why do you wish to discredit the Auraicept? Is it the tree list that you’re worried about? If so, you have nothing to fear! The “tree list” is but one of over a *hundred* correspondances proposed by the Auraicept. The Auraicept is a “scholar’s primer” because it is meant to show how the ogham could be used to organize learning: trees, birds, colors, verses, poetic skills, tallies, and so on. Can the ogham be “bathe, lays, farin'”? Certainly! It can also be “blackbird, lion, fish” and “big, long, fierce” and “beginnings, light, feelings”. The names that we modern people have taken from the Auraicept in reference to the ogham are just the beginning. Had we all been bird lovers, perhaps we would have chosen the Bird Ogham to be the scholarly names. But due to the old association of Celtic paganism to trees, it’s the Tree Ogham that won the contest of names. But a single notch to the right of an upright line was so much more than “beith” or “birch” (or bathe) to the users of the ogham.

    Are you worried that the Auraceipt jeopardizes the ogham as a tool for magic or divination? If so, then you should not want to discredit it and its connected literature. Those texts are the only sources that gave rise to a magical use of ogham. If they are frauds, then all of our magical knowledge concerning the ogham is certainly fraudulent as well.

    When I pull out my “beith” stave, I see that it is one notch to the right of an upright line carved on a small stick of birch. My first thought, however, is “beginnings”. That fact that it is Beith or Birch is simply part of a visual and mnemonic association with this meaning of beginnings. It could just as easily be written on a white stone — Irish ‘bán’ — and then I would think of this beginning as happening from a Blank slate. Or it could be written on a Black stone, and I would think of this beginning as arising from primordial darkness. Or it could be a picture of a Bird, and I would imagine a bird taking flight for the first time. Or it could be a picture of my Bathtub, and I would think of the shower that I take every morning.

    You don’t have to discredit the Auraicept or revise it to prove any of the real points that you wish to make. After all, without the Auraicept, we would’ve never had the idea of doing anything with the ogham other than cutting marks on stones. You don’t have to stretch time or scholarship to make your point, but can rather use the Auraicept as proof that you have the right to use alternate associations or create your own. One of my lifelong goals has been to create a cursive ogham for the purpose of drawing beautiful magical text. It goes against all the reality of the original carved ogham, but the Auraicept showed me that ancient scribes played with similar ideas long before my time.

    There’s a text by a man named Iolo Morgannwg called “Barddas”. It’s as fraudulent as they come, and yet it is still appreciated by all sorts of secular and pagan organizations. Why? Because in all these invented lines there are many seeds of thought, and the scope of our human knowledge is fed by such seeds. Is the world really divided into three concentric circles as he claimed? No, but it’s certainly a beautiful way to consider our metaphysical existence. In fact, without Barddas, druidry might still be nothing more than secular fraternal organizations as it was during the reconstructionist era. The thing is, people didn’t *really* appreciate the beauty of Barddas until *after* they figured out how fraudulent it was; it was only then that people began to look more deeply for the seed thoughts within.

    Rather than this post, where you have worked so hard to refute, I would much rather see you create and take ownership. That is a true gift of any mage. The ogham tells many stories, and I would rather read your stories than trace your etymologies. Below, for example, is the ogham journey as I see it. When I use the ogham for magic and divination, these are the unique thoughts that guide me. I would love to assume that the originators of the ogham had hidden this journey within their system, but for now I will accept it as my own. But I can say that without the Auraicept and all its correspondances, I could have never seen this journey.

    * * *

    We begin (beith) as a traveler, young and flexible like the birch. But we begin with nothing, and our only security is perhaps a tiny light (luis); it’s our only consolation in this unknown, just as the rowan provides berries for cattle in winter. We turn inwards to face our fears and realize our strengths like the alder (fearn) that rises up from murky waters, we reach out into our imagination as thoughts drift like fronds of the willow (saille) and we realize that this journey will be achieved through acts and deeds, and we can arm ourselves with the weapons made from things like the tough and sturdy ash (nion).

    But as soon as we take that first step of confidence, we find ourselves tangled in hawthorn (huath) and chased by hounds. We can turn around, or we can stand firm and tall like the oak (duir) and draw from all our skill. We realize that action is one thing, but defense is another; we must be like the holly (tinne), standing ready without our own thorns. We are beginning to build knowledge by synthesizing our knowledge and our real-life experiences, like the salmon of wisdom who enjoys the nuts of the hazel (coll). We are learning to look ahead, to keep ourselves strong and make smart choices; this dangerous world also provides for us in things like the fruit of the apple (quert).

    The fears are fading away, and our small steps are becoming great accomplishments achieved through great labor, just as the vine (muin) is turned into wine. We are beginning to look at this world with more confidence to see its beauties with a gentle perseverance, just like the ivy (gort). We see the reed (ngetal) growing from the decay of the swamp and learn that we can heal and renew ourselves likewise, but we are not invincible. As we shove through the grove of blackthorn (straif), we remember that we still have to make sacrifices and take on pains. Things will drive us to anger and turn us as red-faced as the elder (ruis), but we don’t have to give in.

    Now is the point of surprise. We can stand in awe of ourselves, of the courage and strength we have learned, like the proud and lofty fir (ailm). We are now, like the gorse (onn), masters of painful thorns and beautiful flowers. We may still be small, but as we begin to join with others, we become a force of creation that spreads, like the heather (ur). We were once the flexible young birch, and now we are aspen (edhadh), of the same species and yet so changed within and without. But as we tire of these great heights, we realize that all of this has been nothing but a precursor. Another journey still awaits, and it is to be found once more in the depth of the forest, in the dark places where the roots and branches of the yew (ioho) frame the gateway to another world: the space of rebirth between metaphysical life and death.

    * * *

    I wish you all the best in your journey. There are times when we must all face this point where our inner wit and creativity, our Awen, brings us into conflict with the concrete world of time, space. We grow up indoctrinated to trust academia, which relies so much on time and space, only to see those facts change with new research. I suffered within that world for a very long time. It’s that horrible age when you’ve become so used to eagerly awaiting Santa Claus at Christmas but have learned enough to realize that sure an old man in a reindeer-drawn sleigh couldn’t possibly visit every house on earth in a single night. For a time, we even try to justify the possibility. Books, movies and stories feed us hypotheses to quiet our doubts and satisfy our curiosity, but one day, no matter how hard we believe, Santa doesn’t visit us anymore. The world would be so much more beautiful if Santa was presented as a story. There would be none of that arguing for and against. We might say, “Santa is a story we invented to teach generosity. Perhaps you can invent your own version.” Druidry taught me to live in that kind of world. I don’t try to fight against dogma but rather show what can be accomplished when we step outside of it.

    Scholarship changes, very much indeed. We now know from physics that all sorts of impossibilities are theoretically possible. We live in a world where teleporters are becoming a remote, but still less impossible, possibility for example. Perhaps Santa has something similar, something that lets him stretch the boundaries of time and space to visit every house in one night. One day, in fact, such a device may even exist. But Santa will not be real. At a certain point, we have to let go of some hypotheses as ideas that must be proven. It’s okay for an idea to be something entirely new and independent of anything else.

    The presumptions that you make in phonology and etymology are the same kinds of things that the Auraicept is full of. In other words, you are using the same tools as they did when they created their own dogma. It’s like arguing the case for or against Santa; the only way to do so is in citing the story of Santa, which we know to be false.

    One of my students, 18 years old in fact, once caught an oven on fire because the internet said that “microwave safe” was the same as “oven safe”. It was such a foolish mistake to us adults, but really, how would he know? There are many confusing facts in the world. We must be careful to not add to them, especially here on the Internet.

    We can do that in part by carefully choosing our words. There are times when you use hypothetical wording, but that’s not always the case. For example, you state that “beith” and “duir” are lexical implants, and that such words probably didn’t exist in Old Irish until scholars implanted them. Yes, words have been added to Irish by many means, but we can easily see what’s new and what’s original by looking at other lexicons. How is it, then, that all Celtic languages have always shared similar words for birch and oak? How did these scholars manage to change the vocabulary of the entire realm of Celtic-language speakers – the rich scholars and poor peasants alike? Are you willing to make that claim – that your Ossianics in fact wrote *all* Celtic literature? In fact, we can see the root for “beith” in all Indo-European languages, so I suppose those scholars must have really been able to change the vocabulary of all of Europe. That’s the *only* way that you could make the claim that Old Irish speakers never knew “beith” or “duir” until your supposed lexical implantation of those words. Otherwise, for example, they might have picked up the word from the Welsh, Germans or Russians at some point. You make the claim that “auraicept” was pronounced as “hour receipt”, and yet you don’t mention the fact that there isn’t a single instance of the use of C among speakers of Celtic-languages to represent the sound /s/. You say that the tree ogham list is presumed to be words for trees, but you don’t mention that the Auraicept is full of glosses meant to clarify these lists and at certain points even point out that the scholars weren’t sure of the exact meaning or interpretation themselves. For example, “luis” (rowan) is indeed *not* an Irish word for rowan. The scholars saw the word “luis” akin to the word for “shining” or “flame” and explained that, in my own wording: “luis” is the delight of the eye, i.e. rowan due to the beautify of its own berries. You see? The knew “luis” wasn’t an actual tree. They simply associated the term “luis” with the rowan because they thought of bright rowan berries shining out in the winter. At this point, even today’s scholars have accepted that only a handful of the “trees” in the ogham tree list are actually words for trees. The writers of the Auraicept never claimed them to be; it was amateur occultists and historians who created this tradition by picking and choosing from the Auraicept.

    Do you see how much information you’re either assuming on the part of your readers or masking from them? If you want to expose young scholars to a variety of opinions, why are you hiding things from them? If you don’t want them to follow dogma, why are you leading them blindly? You’re telling them all about Santa without pointing out that he’s a story. You’re telling them that oven-safe things are also microwave-safe, without mentioning that it’s only true for certain things like Pyrex. The difference is that we’re not talking about childhood dreams and kitchen safety. We’re talking about people’s spiritual growth and development. Those who study the ogham to that end deserve whatever clarity we have to offer.

    I don’t hope to convince anyone of anything in these comments. I simply mean to open as many doors as I can, so that those who read your post will at least know the breadth of its hypothetical nature. If I had read your post as an 18-year-old, with no knowledge of ogham or linguistics, I would have appreciated the logical argument that you present. There’s so much that you claim to know. I might even structure my entire spirituality around this post. And one day, many years later, I might eventually see enough other information to find this world crashing down around me.

    I went down that road once. I was taught – from books even – that the Picts had their own runes and that there were no women druids. I was taught incorrect grammar of Irish and incorrect pronunciation of Welsh. I spent years unlearning claims that, now, I don’t even understood were made in the first place. Here I am again, and if I cast one single light on this, then I am content.

    I’ll leave with a direct link to the full bilingual text of the Auraicept itself, so that other readers of this post and our comments will have access to the fullness of both its beauty and its preposterousness.

    https://archive.org/details/auraicept00calduoft

    • i am preparing my answer to your wonderful long comment, and i appreciate the time and effort you’ve given it. i hope to take only a few days, to do it justice.

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