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Celtic Ogham Runes

Ogham Table
   Beth (BEH), birch - The silver birch (Betula pendula Roth) is the most common tree birch in much of Europe. It is one of the first trees to colonize an area after a mature forest is cut; this is probably a large part of its symbolic connection with new beginnings. It grows up to 100 feet high, but is more often found in spreading clumps on sandy soils. The common birch (B. pubescens Ehrh.) is almost as widespread as the silver birch, but grows primarily on acid or peaty soils.--it can reach 65 feet in height.

   Luis (LWEESH), rowan - The rowan, or mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia L.) is related to serviceberries. The red berries were historically used to lure birds into traps, and the specific epithet 'aucupari'a comes from words meaning "to catch a bird". Rowans thrive in poor soils and colonize disturbed areas. In some parts of Europe they are most common around ancient settlements, either because of their weedy nature or because they were planted. Rowans flower in May. They grow to 50 feet and are members of the Rose family (Rosaceae). They are cultivated in North America, especially in the northeast.

   Fearn (FAIR-n), alder - The common alder (Alnus glutinosa (L.) Gaertner) is common along lowland rivers, where it grows with aspens and willows. Like willows, alders sprout from stumps--this allows them to regenerate after heavy flooding. In protected sites they may grow to 65 feet tall. Their leaves are more blunt-tipped than most North American alders, which look more like the grey alder (A. incana (L.) Moench). Like ashes, European alders are not widely cultivated in North American (they are often sold as black alders), but several native species are. Alders are members of the Birch family (Betulaceae).

   Saille (SAHL-yuh), willow - Like North America, Europe is home to a large number of willow species Two common tree willows are the white willow (Salix alba L.) named for the whitish undersides of its leaves, and the crack willow (Salix fragilis L.) for the propensity of its branches to "crack" off (probably another adaptation to flooding). Both species grow along with poplars and alders along lowland rivers. They can reach 80 feet in height, and they both vigorously sprout from stumps. The white willow is sometimes grown in cultivation in North America. Willows are members of the Willow family (Salicaceae).

   Nion (NEE-uhn), ash - the common ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) is a major tree of lowland forests in much of Europe, along with oaks and beeches. It grows to 130 feet in open sites, with a broad crown reminiscent of American elm trees. Ash was and still is an important timber tree, and is a traditional material for the handle of a besom; it is also a popular wood for wands. The common ash is occasionally cultivated in NorthAmerica, and similar native ash species are widely grown as street trees. Ashes are members of the Olive family (Oleaceae).

   Huath (HOO-ah), hawthorn - Like willows, hawthorns have many species in Europe, and they are not always easy to tell apart. All are thorny shrubs in the Rose family (Rosaceae), and most have whitish or pinkish flowers. The common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna Jacq.) and midland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata (Poiret) DC.) are both widespread. They are common in abandoned fields and along the edges of forests. Both are cultivated in North America, as are several native and Asiatic hawthorns.

   Duir (DOO-r), oak - The oak of myth and legend is the common oak (Quercus robur L.). It is sometimes called the great oak, which is a translation of its Latin name ('robur' is the root of the English word "robust"). It grows in the lowland forests, and can reach a height of 150 feet and age of 800 years. Common oaks are deciduous, losing their leaves before Samhain and growing new leaves in the spring so that the trees are fully clothed by Beltane. Common oaks are occasionally cultivated in North America. Oaks are members of the Beech family (Fagaceae).

   Tinne (CHIN-yuh), holly - The holly (Ilex aquifolium L.) is a shrub growing to 35 feet in open woodlands and along clearings in forests. Hollies are evergreen, and stand out in winter among the bare branches of the deciduous forest trees that surround them. Hollies form red berries before Samhain which last until the birds finish eating them, often after Imbolc. Hollies are members of the Holly family (Aquifoliaceae). The common holly is often cultivated in North America, as are hybrids between it and Asiatic holly species.

   Coll (CULL), hazel - The hazel (Corylus avellana L) is the source of hazelnuts (filberts.) The wood of the hazel shrub has been used for centuries in the makeing of wands. It forms a shrub up to 20 feet tall, inhabiting open woodlands and scrubs, hedgerows, and the edges of forests. The filbert nut in North American groceries is Corylus maxima, a related species. The European hazelnut is cultivated in North America, primarily as an ornamental. Hazelnuts are in the Birch family (Betulaceae).

   Quert (KWAIRT), apple - When most of us think of apples, we think of the domestic apple, but the ogham tree was most likely the European crabapple (Malus sylvestris Miller). This tree grows to 30 feet in moist fertile soils in oak woodlands, and has been extensively cultivated. The fruits are small versions of the domestic apple, and also show the pentacle when cut across. Cultivated crabapples in North America are usually Asian species, but this species is a common rootstock for apple trees. Apples are in the Rose family (Rosaceae).

Ogham Table

   Muin (MUHN, like "foot"), vine - The grape (Vitis vinifera L.) is a vine growing as long as 115 feet, in open woodlands and along the edges of forests, but most commonly seen today in cultivation, as the source of wine, grape juice, and the grape juice concentrate that is so widely used as a sweetener. European grapes are extensively cultivated in North America, especially in the southwest, and an industry and an agricultural discipline are devoted to their care and the production of wine. Grapes are in the Grape family (Vitaceae).

   Gort (GORT), ivy - Ivy (Hedera helix L.) is also a vine, growing to 100 feet long in beech woods and around human habitations, where it is widely planted as a ground cover. Ivy produces greenish flowers before Samhain on short, vertical shrubby branches. The leaves of these flowering branches lack the characteristic lobes of the leaves of the rest of the plant. Like holly, ivy is evergreen, its dark green leaves striking in the bare forests of midwinter. Ivy is widely cultivated in North America. It is a member of the Ginseng family (Araliaceae).

   Ngetal (NYEH-tl), reed - The term "reed" is used with great imprecision in North America, but it is clear that the reed of the Ogham is the common reed (Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steudel). This is a giant grass, with stems as high as 12 feet. It grows in marshy areas, where it often forms dense stands. The vertical stems live only a single year, dying in the autumn and being replaced with new green shoots in the spring. The dead stems rattle and whisper in lateautumn winds. In North America it is widespread in cooler climates. Common reed is in the Grass family (Poaceae, or Gramineae).

   Straif (STRAHF), blackthorn - The blackthorn (Prunus spinosa L.) is a relative of cherries and plums, and is the source of the sloe fruit. The fruit has been used for centuries to make a potent alcohol, that was drunk during Pagan rituals in Eastern Europe, and in British Isles. It is a thorny shrub growing to 12 feet, often forming thickets on south-facing slopes. The blue-black fruits are edible, but bitter until after the first frost. Blackthorns are seldom cultivated in North America. They are members of the Rose family (Rosaceae).

   Ruis (RWEESH), elder - The common elder (Sambucus nigra L.) is a shrub growing to 30 feet in damp clearings, along the edge of woods, and especially near habitations. Elders are grown for their blackish berries, which are used for preserves and wine. The leaf scars have the shape of a crescent moon. Elder branches have a broad spongy pith in their centers, much like the marrow of long bones, and an elder branch stripped of its bark is very bone-like. Common elders are seldom seen in cultivation. Elders are in the Honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae).

   Ailm (AHL-m), silver fir - The silver fir (Abies alba Miller) is one of the tallest trees native to Europe, sometimes exceeding 160 feet tall. It is named for its silver gray bark. In its appearance (and in its current, and undoubtedly ancient, use) it is the quintessential Yule tree. It is not a tree of northern regions, however; it is commonest in central Europe and is replaced by other conifers in the north. It is evergreen, and like other firs it produces cones that fall apart while they are still on the tree. Silver firs are seldom cultivated in North America. They are members of the Pine family (Pinaceae).

   Onn (UHN), furze - Furze, or gorse (Ulex europaeus L.), is a thorny shrub growing to six feet tall. It grows in heaths, moors, pastures, and open woodlands. It produces bright yellow flowers around the time of the spring equinox, which were very popular in pagan fertility rituals throughout Europe and the British Isles for many centuries. It is not often cultivated in North America, but is a serious weed in central California and some other areas. Furze is a member of the Pea family (Fabaceae, or Leguminosae).

   Ura (OO-rah), heather - Heather (Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull) is a shrub growing to six feet. It is a major component of the vegetation type called "heath", the source of the term "heathen". It is evergreen, and produces bell-shaped pinkish flowers in the late summer. There are a number of other plants called "heath" or "heather" in the genera Erica, Phyllodoce, and Cassiope, relatives of Calluna, and are similar in appearance. Calluna is cultivated in North America with several Erica species from other parts of the world. Heather is a member of the Heath family (Ericaceae).

   Eadha (EH-yuh), poplar - The aspen (Populus tremula L.) grows to 65 feet along rivers. It sprouts from the base and may form clumps or thickets. The black poplar (Populus nigra L.) reaches 100 feet in sandy and gravely soil along rivers. The white poplar (Populus alba L.) is of similar size and habitat, but is more common in southern Europe. Both species are cultivated in North America (the "Lombardy poplar" is a form of black poplar). The North American aspen (P. tremuloides) is very similar to the European aspen. Poplars are members of the Willow family (Salicaceae).

   Idho (EE-yoh), iodho (EE-woh), yew - The yew (Taxus baccata L.) is a slow-growing conifer, living as long as 1000 years and reaching 65 feet, they are known for their strength and resistance to the cold. It is much less common in recent times because of overharvesting (its hard, springy wood was the source of English longbows). The evergreen needles are very broad, and the seeds are produced in red, berry-like cones. Yews are toxic; one of the toxic compounds, taxol, is an effective treatment for some cancers. Yew is in the Yew family (Taxaceae).

    It has been said that Druids could 'talk' to each other using their fingers to form the runes of the Celtic Ogham. This would keep their conversation secret from the uninitiated.

    These runes could be 'cast' for divination by scratching a straight line in the sand and tossing a handful of small sticks onto it after suitable blessings and/or incantations. This would make a stave of runes that could be read by the diviner.