The Ogham Stone - An Introduction to Ogham

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[picture of ogham inscribed pillar-stone] The marks on the edges of this pillar stone (left) are characters from an alphabet that was used in fifth-century Ireland.
Known as ogham, the 25-letter alphabet was supposedly inspired by Ogma, god of eloquence.





[ogham alphabet key] Shown at right is a key to ogham: its consonants and vowels can be identified by the number, position, and direction of their notches.

The letters consist of one to five perpendicular or angled strokes, meeting or crossing a center line.

The form of the letters allows them to be carved easily on objects of wood or stone, with the edge of the object forming the center line.


standing stone, Ireland This is a standing stone (galla'n) on Dingle Peninsula, Ireland.
(photo courtesy " The World of Celtic Art)
link to almost 80 photographic examples of ogham inscribed stones


[vowels as dots] The vowels can be written with dots like this....

[vowels as lines]
...or as lines crossing the middle divider, like this.



[BACK TO TOP]
beth-luis-nion graphic This inscription says "beth luis nion";* this is a name of the ogham alphabet and, somewhat like the word "alphabet", comes from the names of the first, second, and fifth letters (remember: read from the bottom up).
* NOTE: "BETH" is also spelled (perhaps more accurately) "BEITH." 

There is a more modern custom of orienting the writing by placing it on its side, like this:
[horizontal beth-luis-nion]
        B     E      T       H            L      U      I      S             N      I      O    N

This is a "ogham line" showing all 25 "letters" of the Ogham alphabet:
[ list of all 25 characters ]


The following image of a Ogham wheel is a segment from the 14th-century Book of Ballymote, a manuscript that contains a collection of Irish sagas, law texts, and genealogies, as well as a guide to the ogham alphabet. Much of the information available on ogham has come from this manuscript (currently housed in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin) and this information is thought to have been copied from a much earlier 9th century manuscript. It is from this text that the descriptions of Ogham characters have largely been drawn.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO VIEW THE ENTIRE PAGE.
[section of page 360 from BOOK OF BALLYMOTE]




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Last Major Update: 05/07/99; Minor Updates: 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005 This page has recieved a Doras award. Visit the Doras Celtic internet directory.