Beth – Birch
New beginnings, purity, renewal, birth, changes ..
One of the first trees to colonise the land after the last ice age, the birch tree was thought to embody the life giving spirit of the ‘Earth Goddess’. Birch is also known as ‘the Lady of the Woods’.
The silver birch was believed to have been a portal to the ‘other-world’ and is associated with the ancient Welsh goddess Arianrhod.
Luis – Rowan
Protection, inspiration, magic ..
Also known as ‘mountain ash’ this beautiful tree can thrive at much higher altitudes than many others and so was seen to be closer to the Divine by the ancient Celts.
A member of the rosaceae family with tiny ‘pentagrams’ seen on its berries, it has long been associated with magical protection.
Associated ancient deities are Rhiannon and Brighid – ‘Goddess as protector, the Lady of the mountains’.
Fearn – Alder
Guidance, confidence, a shield, ‘the Sage’ ..
Once used to make the shields of ancient Celtic warriors, the alder represents strength and courage, as well as guidance and wisdom.
The wood of this tree is also very water resistant and was used in the buildings of crannogs, the ancient lake dwellings of Ireland and Scotland.
The deity associated with Fearn is the god Bran, the ancient guardian of Britain whose head is said to be buried at the White Mount in London upon which the Tower of London is now located.
‘Saille – Willow’
Intuition, divination, dreams, emotions ..
Often to be found growing in or near watery places, Saille is associated with the emotions, the power of the moon, enchantment and witchcraft.
Using psychic power to commune with those in the ‘other world’ was, for the ancient Celts, a very normal part of life, and those with the gift of ‘the sight’ were highly respected in their communities.
The Celtic moon goddess Cerridwen represents the divinity of Saille.
Nuinn – Ash
Change, order, harmony, balance ..
Known as a ‘World Tree’ due to its great height – ‘Yggdrasil’ in Norse mythology.
Nuinn is also associated with the magician and ‘shape shifter’ Gwyddion and the Celtic sea god Manannan.
Druids’ wands were often made of ash wood and it is said that Saint Patrick used a stick of ash to drive the snakes out of Eire.
Huathe – Hawthorn
Obstructions, obstacles, being held back ..
Huathe has long been regarded as a tree of enchantment, a ‘fairy tree’ associated with the ancient virgin goddess Olwen.
Solitary hawthorn trees or bushes are often to be found near wells and springs which the Celts saw as entrances or portals to the magical ‘Other-world’.
The famous ‘Glastonbury Thorn’ is a hawthorn.
Duir – Oak
Protection, strength, nobility ..
Duir is ‘King of the Woods’, sacred to the Druids and the Celtic god of ‘perfect knowledge’ – Dagda.
The roots of the oak tree were said to run as deep into the ground as its branches can grow up in the air, therefore Duir was thought to exist in the ‘Other-world’ as well as this world.
It is said that Merlin practised his magic in a grove of oak trees with an oak wand.
The oak as well as being a noble tree also represents hospitality which is why so many pubs and inns in Britain are named ‘The Royal Oak’.
Tinne – Holly
Challenge, spiritual testing, defence ..
Associated with the tools of the ancient Celtic warrior, weapons were forged in a fire of holly and the wood was also often used for making chariot shafts.
Tinne also represents the ‘Holly King’ who is said to rule over the ‘dark half’ of the year, from Midsummer to Midwinter with Duir representing the ‘Oak King’ who rules the first ‘light half’ of the year.
The Celts regarded the oak and the holly as ‘opposites of the same’, the dual aspects of the ‘Sun God’.
The ancient Irish deity Lugh is one of the several hero-figures identified with the ‘Holly King’.
Coll – Hazel
Wisdom, divination, inspiration ..
Hazel is the Celtic tree of ‘inspired knowledge’.
The mythical ‘Salmon of Wisdom’ is said to have acquired its knowledge by eating nine hazelnuts which fell from nine hazel trees surrounding the ‘Well of Wisdom’.
Hazel trees often grow by water which has long been associated with intuition – dowsing rods are often made of hazel wood.
Ancient Celtic deities which represent the qualities of Coll are Mannanan Mac Lir and Brighid, ‘goddess of inspiration’.
Quert – Apple
Health, healing, love ..
‘Avalon’ translates as ‘island of apples’ and is, in Celtic myth, ‘the land of youth and immortality. Therefore apples were considered to be ‘the food of the gods’.
When an apply is cut crosswise a ‘pentagram’ is revealed which pagans, both ancient and modern believe, shows, that apples are also a fruit of ‘the Goddess’.
Quert is also believed to be representative of our hearts and emotions .. of love and generosity of spirit. The associated Celtic goddess is Cerridwen.
Muinn – Vine
Unity, work completion, festivity ..
Muinn can refer to all ‘vine like’ bushes or brambles, the connection to a grapevine was probably a late one for the Celts, with vines not being introduced to Britain until the Roman era.
The spiralling vine, which features often in Celtic art, is symbolic of the intertwining of the conscious and unconcious mind. The drinking of alcohol was thought to provide divine inspiration and wine especially so with the grape vine’s ability to grow so high above the trees that support it.
Grape vines need to be meticulously cared for if we want them to bear fruit and/or produce wine, great patience is needed to receive a good harvest. Muinn suggests the realisation of personal projects as well as inner development.
The ancient Welsh moon goddess Cerridwen is linked with divine inspiration and so connects with Muinn.
Gort – Ivy
Restriction, binding, tenacity ..
Associated with the ancient Celtic earth goddess, as well as the planets and stars, Gort represented the ‘knowledge of the universe’,
Evergreen ivy is an incredibly powerful plant, ruthless in its tenacity, using other plants and trees to support its growth, until it constricts them to death, it can even kill the mighty oak!
The Welsh goddess Arianrhod is the deity for Gort, her heavenly abode was said to be the constellation Corona Borealis.
Ngetal – Broom
Healing, cleansing, strength ..
As the name of this ‘tree’ tells us, its long flexible branches have long been used in the making of besoms and brooms.
The association with witches or ‘wise women’ links with the clearing, cleansing, healing and protective properties of Ngetal.
Broom represents the clearing out of inner negative energies and is known as ‘the Physician’s Strength’, reminding us that we need to shed the emotional baggage, bad habits and fears that hold us back physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually if we are to bring harmony into our lives.
An associated Celtic deity was the god Cernunnos, ‘the Horned One’.
Straif – Blackthorn
Negativity, pain, conflicts ..
Said to be the ‘sister tree’ of the hawthorn/whitethorn, Straif was thought to rule the ‘dark half’ of the year – Huathe, the ‘light half’ .. similar to the ‘Holly and Oak Kings’.
Straif literally translates as ‘strife’ and so was associated with misfortune and negative forces. The thorns of this shrub were once used as weapons known as ‘pins of sleep’, having been tipped with poison before piercing the victim.
The Cailleach, the ‘Divine Hag’ and the Morrigan, the ‘Phantom Queen’ are the ancient Celtic deities associated with Straif, which was not all about evil but also signified protection, transformation and awakening – the breakdown of old things to make way for the new.
Ruis – Elder
Karma, regret, the inevitable ..
The Elder represented the ‘Earth Goddess’ in all her aspects – as maiden, mother and crone – especially ‘the crone’ who was said to guard this tree and bring bad fortune to anyone who dared to cut it down!
The ancient Celts therefore connected Ruis with death and the ‘dark mysteries’ .. as well as regeneration because death for them simply meant a transition from one realm of existence into the next.
The Celts also believed that one should die with dignity and honour which connects with the ideas of karma and evolutionary change.
Ailm – Pine
Purification, elation, experiences ..
Ailm was connected with the sun and the midwinter solstice, the birth of the ‘sun-child’, the winter born ‘God-King’.
The fiery brands which our ancestors used to make torches were most often made of pine and the fragrant burning wood was also used for purification rituals.
Pine cones were used in ancient fertility rites and the tree itself was also sacred to the goddess Druantia, ‘Queen of the Druids’.
Onn – Gorse
Vitality and optimism ..
Gorse with its vibrant yellow flowers was linked to the sun and the ancient solar deity Lugh, a god of light and knowledge, inspiration and ‘many arts’.
This evergreen shrub can be found in flower all year round so was also a symbol of continuous fertility to the Celts.
Onn also provided them with a very useful fuel and helped make up the Beltane fires through which their cattle were driven every year in order to purify and protect them.
Ura – Heather
Love, passion, partnership ..
The glorious sight of heather in bloom raises the spirits and to the ancient Celts this flowering season was a time of rejoicing and indulgence, both beer and honey were made from heather flowers.
Ura was associated with the ancient Irish goddess Aine who was representative of love, summer, wealth, fertility and sovereignty.
Edhadh – Aspen
Fear, doubt, ‘a shield’ ..
The aspen is a tree which the ancient Celts associated with ‘the underworld’ but they also used its wood to make shields for their warriors, maybe for psychic protection from the fear of death or the ‘unknown’ as well as for the bodily protection it provided.
The Celtic deities whom Edhadh connected with were Arawn, ‘King of the Underworld’ and the goddess Rhiannon. For a time Arawn swapped places with Pwyll, a lord of Dyfed who slept chastely with Arawn’s wife and went on to meet and marry Rhiannon.
An aspen can survive in the most inhospitable of conditions so it represented a challenge to fear and the unknown, inner strength and courage.
Idho – Yew
Transition, renewal, rebirth, ‘a gateway’ ..
The yew tree was a Celtic symbol of eternal life. Not olnly is it an evergreen but it can live for a very long time indeed -the ‘Fortingall Yew’ in Perthshire, Scotland is estimated to be anything between 3000 and 9000 years old!
The ancient druid Dalan is said to have carved his Ogham on wands of yew when searching for Etain (see first page – ‘Ogham Divination’).
The ‘Land of the Dead’ in the old Irish tales of Finn and the Fianna was referred to as the ‘Valley of the Yew’ telling us that Idho was seen as a ‘gateway’ for the dying – as well as ‘rebirth’, whether it was for a life phase, relationship, way of thinking or project coming to its natural end – on the other side of the ‘gate’ were new beginnings!
Cerridwen was the goddess associated with Idho which falls at the end of the original Ogham but begins again with Beth, the birch representing ‘rebirth’ and ‘renewal’.
Five Additions to the Ogham
Later additions to the Ogham of which the five below are considered to be the most important, they are believed to represent sounds missing from the original alphabet.
There seems to be some disagreement or confusion over the symbols and trees with some scholars and diviners choosing to ignore them completely, but here is what I was taught in my studies ..
Koad – Grove
Peace, mysteries ..
Koad is the ‘Sacred Grove’ as venerated by the ancient Celts and the place of worship for their Druid priests.
In these peaceful places where conflicts could be addressed and justice served, everyone involved had a right to speak and state their case, which meant that matters were usually settled quickly and reasonably.
Koad therefore represents the revelation of hidden knowledge and a new deeper understanding.
The Grove was sacred to all deities.
Oir – Spindle
Inner Peace, commitment ..
Spindle is named for its hard wood which was used to make spindles, bobbins and pegs in times past.
As spinning was a communal activity, Oir relates to showing honour and commitment to oneself and others. This naturally brings about inner peace and contentment which, of course, works both ways!
The last Spindle left in the UK is located at Norbury Park in Dorking, Surrey.
Oir is sacred to the old Celtic god Dagda.
Uilleand – Honeysuckle
Living life to the full, search for self ..
Also known as Woodbine, this sweetly scented plant loves to coil around any woody stem it can reach.
In Ogham divination Uilleand represents ‘seeking’ as in finding your path in life .. getting to know who YOU really are and the need to be true to yourself.
Just as the clinging honeysuckle can damage the tree it climbs, so we must be careful in our search or else we may find our self ‘cut down’ and having to start all over again.
Uilleand was sacred to all the ancient Celtic deities.
Phagos – Beech
Wisdom, knowledge, prosperity ..
The first books were written on thin slices of Beech wood and so it is no suprise that Phagos is a tree of learning. Indeed the Swedish word ‘bok’ means both ‘book’ and ‘Beech’.
The ancient Celts made talismans out of Beech wood as they believed it would increase their creative powers and also bring them good luck and prosperity.
Groves of Beech trees have been found in or near important mystical sites like Cerne Abbas and Avebury.
Phagos was sacred to Ogma, a Celtic god of wisdom who is believed to have created the Ogham alphabet.
Mor – The Sea
Travel, hidden depths, the flow of life ..
The only non-botanical member of the (five most important) Forfeda, the few can be carved on driftwood.
The sea has long been associated with hidden depths, the subconscious, our moods and intuition, it can also remind us to ‘go with the flow’ in life but also to ‘navigate to safe harbour’ if we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed by emotion.
Mor was sacred to the ancient god Manannan, son of Lir or ‘Lear’, meaning ‘sea’.