The Ogham (pronounced "Oh-yam") is a Celtic writing system.

According to the medieval "Book of Ballymote" it was invented by by Ogma Sun-Face, son of Breas who "raised four pillars of equal length" on whose faces the ogham was etched.

It comprises three sets of five consonants and one set of five vowels, totalling twenty ogham.

The Ogham "alphabet" follows; each ogham (letter) is associated with a species of tree which is listed.

The ogham can either be used vertically or horizontally; for convenience the horizontal form is used here. When using the ogham vertically, rotate clockwise, (ie:above becomes right).

The -xx-'s represent the engravings for the letters. Each 'x' is a cut made either above (-'-), below (-,-), diagonally through (-/-) or vertically (-|-) through a central line.

---,--- B Beth     Birch
---,,-- L Luis     Rowan
--,,,-- F Fearn    Alder
--,,,,- S Saille   Willow
-,,,,,- N Nion     Ash

---'--- H Huath    Hawthorn
---''-- D Duir     Oak
--'''-- T Tinne    Holly
--''''- C Coll     Hazel
-'''''- Q Quert    Apple

---/--- M Muin     Vine
---//-- G Gort     Ivy
--///-- NG Ngetal  Reed
--////- Z Straif   Blackthorn
-/////- R Ruis     Elder

---|--- A Ailm     Silver Fir
---||-- O Onn      Gorse
--|||-- U Ura      Heather
--||||- E Eadha    Poplar
-|||||- I Idho     Yew

The Ogham(pronounced ow-am) was the sacred alphabet used by the druids in ancient Celtic times. The alphabet was based on the kinship of the Celts with the trees; each letter in Ogham correlates to a certain tree. The language was used largely for divination(and still is by some pagan and Wicca groups). The tree that each letter was linked to had certain properties, which were used to foresee and clarify events, much like tarot cards.
Ogham was read vertically, reading the leftmost column first, from top to bottom, followed by the second column from the left, from top to bottom, and so on. In appearance, Ogham was a series of vertical lines, with horizontal or slanted lines emerging from one or two sides.

The Ogham Alphabet is believed to have been devised by the Irish somewhere between the first and third centuries AD. Some of the surviving samples place its primary use to the Christian period, however some Celtic scholars believe it is much older.

Some of the existing samples seem to suggest that it was primarily used on grave and boundary markers. Additional evidence also suggests that it might have been used by Druids for recording tales, history, poetry, and geneology.

The name Ogham was derived from the Celtic god of literature and eloquence, Ogma, who is credited with its invention. The letters of the Ogham are constructed using a combination of lines placed adjacent to or crossing a midline. An indiviual letter may contain one to five vertical or angled strokes. Vowels were described as a combination of dots. The midline was most often the edge of the object on which the inscription was carved. Ogham writing is read top to bottom, left to right.

In keeping with Druid concepts, each of the Ogham's twenty letters bears the name of a tree. For example:
A- Ailim (Elm)
B -Bithe (Birch)
C -Coll ( (Hazel)

This is not all that surprising until one realizes that not all of the twenty plants used by the Ogham were found in the Celtic world of the British Isles. This lends some credence to the theory that Ogham predates the first century AD and the letters depicted were best represented by the plant life found near the Rhine River, home of the Iron Age, that is regarded as being ancestral to the Celts.

There are over 350 verified examples of Ogham writing surviving today.They exist in the form of standing stones concentrated in Ireland but also scattered across Scotland, the Isle of Man, South Wales, and Devonshire. Similar markings, dating to 500 BC have been found in standing stones in Spain and Portugal. Similar markings were also found in France on the Coligny Tablet. Last but not least, similar markings have also been found in West Virginia, leading to some speculation that the Celts may have come to the New World as early as 100 BC.

Ogham is an alphabetic script devised to write a very early form of Irish. Monumental Ogham inscriptions are found in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England and on the Isle of Man. Many of the Scottish inscriptions are undeciphered and may be in Pictish. It is probable the Ogham (or the Old Irish Ogam) was widely written in wood in early times. The main flowering of classical Ogham, rendered in monumental stone, was in the fifth and sixth centuries. Such inscriptions were mainly employed as territorial markers and memorials; the more ancient examples are standing stones.

The script was originally written along the edges of stone where two faces meet; when written on paper, the central stem-lines of the script can be said to represent the edge of the stone. Inscriptions written on stem-lines cut into the face of the stone, instead of along its edge, known as scholastic, are of a later date (post-7th century). Notes were also commonly written in Ogham in manuscripts as recently as the 16th century.

The Ogham alphabet consists of 26 distinct characters (feda), the first twenty are considered primary, and the last 6 (forfeda) are supplementary. The character names used in the Unicode standard reflect the spelling of the names in modern Irish Gaelic, except that the acute is stripped from Úr, Éabhadh, Ór and Ifín, and the mutation of nGéadal is not reflected.

Ogham text is read beginning from the bottom left side of a stone, continuing upward, across the top and down the right side. Monumental Ogham was incised chiefly in a bottom to top direction, thought there are examples of left to right bilingual inscriptions in Irish and Latin. Manuscript Ogham accommodated the horizontal left to right direction of the Latin script, and the vowels were written as vertical strokes as opposed to the incised notches of the inscriptions.


Unicode's Ogham code block reserves the 32 code points from U+1680 to U+169F, of which 29 are currently assigned.

Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics <-- Ogham --> Runic
An Ogham font typically displays all Ogham characters with a visible stemline, representing the edge of monumental Ogham inscriptions.

All the characters in this code block were added in Unicode 3.0

Number of characters in each General Category :

Letter, Other       Lo : 26
Punctuation, Open   Ps :  1
Punctuation, Close  Pe :  1
Separator, Space    Zs :  1

Number of characters in each Bidirectional Category :

Left To Right    L : 26
Whitespace      WS :  1
Other Neutral   ON :  2

The columns below should be interpreted as :

  1. The Unicode code for the character
  2. The character in question
  3. The Unicode name for the character
  4. The Unicode General Category for the character
  5. The Unicode Bidirectional Category for the character

If the characters below show up poorly, or not at all, see Unicode Support for possible solutions.

 

Ogham

     Punctuation

U+1680       Ogham space mark Zs WS
* the glyph shows only the stemline in a "stemmed" style font and is blank in a "stemless" style font
ref U+0020     space (Basic Latin)

     Traditional letters

U+1681   ᚁ   Ogham letter beith Lo L
U+1682   ᚂ   Ogham letter luis Lo L
U+1683   ᚃ   Ogham letter fearn Lo L
U+1684   ᚄ   Ogham letter sail Lo L
U+1685   ᚅ   Ogham letter nion Lo L
U+1686   ᚆ   Ogham letter uath Lo L
U+1687   ᚇ   Ogham letter dair Lo L
U+1688   ᚈ   Ogham letter tinne Lo L
U+1689   ᚉ   Ogham letter coll Lo L
U+168A   ᚊ   Ogham letter ceirt Lo L
U+168B   ᚋ   Ogham letter muin Lo L
U+168C   ᚌ   Ogham letter gort Lo L
U+168D   ᚍ   Ogham letter ngeadal Lo L
U+168E   ᚎ   Ogham letter straif Lo L
U+168F   ᚏ   Ogham letter ruis Lo L
U+1690   ᚐ   Ogham letter ailm Lo L
U+1691   ᚑ   Ogham letter onn Lo L
U+1692   ᚒ   Ogham letter ur Lo L
U+1693   ᚓ   Ogham letter eadhadh Lo L
U+1694   ᚔ   Ogham letter iodhadh Lo L

     Forfeda (supplementary letters)

U+1695   ᚕ   Ogham letter eabhadh Lo L
U+1696   ᚖ   Ogham letter or Lo L
U+1697   ᚗ   Ogham letter uilleann Lo L
U+1698   ᚘ   Ogham letter ifin Lo L
U+1699   ᚙ   Ogham letter eamhancholl Lo L
U+169A   ᚚ   Ogham letter peith Lo L

     Punctuation

U+169B   ᚛   Ogham feather mark Ps ON
* marks beginning of Ogham text
U+169C   ᚜   Ogham reversed feather mark Pe ON
* marks end of Ogham text

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Og"ham (?), n. [Ir.]

A particular kind of writing practiced by the ancient Irish, and found in inscriptions on stones, metals, etc.

[Written also ogam.]

 

© Webster 1913.

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