An Ogham inspired Divination Mala
For some time I had my eye on this necklace made of Ogham beads. The necklace had the original 20 Oghams and each bead was made from the corresponding wood. These can be purchased from the company Spirit of Old in the UK. For my last birthday my wife purchased one of these Ogham necklaces for me as a gift. I must say it is a very powerful piece of jewelry if one understands the Ogham; though I felt it was missing something. During the many months preceding my birthday I would often look at this necklace online and think about adding other beads to it so I could feel better about calling it 'my own'. I have this odd thing about having custom work; I'm not fond of mass produced items or knowing others wear things that I may own. I had an idea on how I could make this item truly customized and this was my process.
I guess I should back-track a little for those that have no idea what the Ogham is in the 1st place. The Ogham is an early Irish alphabet and simple writing system based on mnemonics. The original script was four sets of five characters. Later diphthongs were used and another set of of five characters was added to correspond with the Latin alphabet of the time. See chart below.
History shows Ogham was used on stones to make property boundaries, graves, and for other mundane purposes. Though the Ogham used on the carved stones is done so in a language not of the time this form of language was being spoken. We know that English comes from Middle English, Old English, and to a West Germanic root from the Anglo-Saxons. The people that carved these stones did so in a Goidelic language not of their time period; it would be like one of us knowing how to speak and write fluently in Old Norse given our language genealogy. The people responsible for the learning and education of this time period draw from a much older root deeply tied to their Pagan spirituality. The older or I should say younger Oghams found tediously sketched on the vellum of such works like The Book of Ballymote come from a much later period in the 1390's and could be argued having nothing to do with the pre-dating rock carvings. Though I personally see a strong continuance in the structure, too much so do dismiss this as coincidence. Oddly enough even the Ogham of the late 1390's contains a great insight into the wellspring of the poetic class of this culture.
The Ogham of Mythology pre-dates the use of carving upon stone & tells us of uses in divination, casting lots, and reading Ogham signs in various stories. It is interesting to note that Ogham letters are called feda, and the consonants are referred to as taebomnai. A series of notches, or letters grouped together is called a flesc. These old names of letters, groups, and consonants give us this connection to the trees. The word flesc means twig, whereas feda means wood, or trees; and the word taebomnai means side of the trunk of a tree. Not hard to see where we have a Celtic tree language of sorts. Who then, in such times before the carving of Ogham stones were the keepers of tree-lore, the older use of a non-spoken language, and held a sacred form of poetic communication? Not hard…For a more in depth look into the Ogham please follow the links I have posted at the end of this piece. One of them is to an insight I posted on this blog last year.
Back to the topic, some may inquire why I am customizing a necklace that was bought for me and why didn't I just make my own? I very well could have made my own being a crafts-person by trade, but sadly some of the trees in the Ogham are not native to the area where I live. The price of this Ogham bead necklace seemed rather expensive, after all is it not just some pieces of wood? I took great curiosity into how they made their product and what would be required for me to try and replicate it if I did have means of gathering wood from non-native trees. This is the labor it took them to craft such art. They had to locate each tree and be able to gather wood from it, with 20 trees that is a lot of work. Care in taking from the tree, cutting a limb, or using a fallen branch. They had to cut and shape the wood into bead size by hand, doing this for all 20 beads. After this they had to sand, continue to size to shape, and hand carve each bead with the correct Ogham symbol onto the corresponding wood. Still not done, they took care in adding a protective coating onto each bead. At some point they drilled a hole through each one and then finally strung it for sale. Yes it may be a beaded necklace of wood, but each bead was crafted with care, gathered and worked on one at a time by hand. This is why the price was expensive, and honestly as a fellow crafts-person, for what work they had to do it is and the attention to detail, honestly it is a very fair price.
I began to shop online, at stores, make lists, and contemplated various kinds of beads to add to this wonderful necklace so I could make it my own. One evening after my birthday I had the necklace on and just happened to be drawing. I decided to sketch out the concept of this design in rough form. I knew what beads I wanted to add at this point, them being of Wood, Bone, Stone, Horn, and Amber. These were the elements that called to me for the desired symbolism I wished to artistically express. Like the Ogham itself that starts with one slash, adding another until there is five notches or slashes, I mimicked this pattern by the following example.
At what I consider to be the starting point of the necklace I began with a symbolic Beginning bead. Since my Ogham necklace came with a beginning and ending bead made of Bog Oak, I used this as 'Bead One' for my pattern. I know you may be inclined to ask why I didnt use Birch (B) for Beith as my 1st bead, and I will cover this in a moment. The Ogham being made up of 5's this also inspired my choice of beads and their groupings such as: wood, bone, stone, horn, and amber. After bead 1, I strung 5 wooden beads to represent the 5 letters of the 1st set. Birch (B) for Beith was my next bead. What I did following this was to add one wooden bead for representation of the one notch that B in Ogham stands for. Following this I added the Rowan (L) for Luis bead. Because (L) has 2 marks to denote its symbol I added after it, 1 wooden bead and 1 bone bead, making 2 beads after Rowan to symbolize the 2 notches that create the Ogham symbol for Luis. Alder being next (F) for Fearn, I added this Ogham bead with 3 beads following it; them being of wood, bone and stone. I think from here you can see what I am doing by adding the Ogham bead and its number of beads after its numerical symbol.
So for the 1st set of B.L.F.S.N. I added a bead until ending the set. When this was complete I strung another set of 5 beads in a row to symbolize the next set of Ogham. Bone came after my choice of Wood for specific reasons. I added 5 bone beads and continued with the 1st letter of the next set which was (H) for uHuath- Hawthorn. Just as in the 1st set I added one wooden bead after this 1st bead of the Ogham set to denote its numerical value of notches. The 2nd bead of this set being (D) Oak- Duir having 2 slashes I also added 2 beads after it being wood, and bone, just as in the previous set. Following this pattern over and over again throughout the entire Ogham was much like climbing a ladder, as you can see in the picture below. Starting to the right (The Dark bead) Which is the Bog Oak, you'll see 5 wooden beads after it, the Birch bead with its ogham, 1 wood bead, The Rowan bead with its ogham, with wood and bone bead before Alder Ogham bead with its wood, bone, stone, etc.
As I ended this necklace with the last 5 beads to symbolize my patter of wood, bone, stone, & horn, I used the amber beads lthe fifth set. Just as in the beginning of my necklace I used a bead to represent 'beginning', I also used a bead after the Amber to 'end' the necklace. I used a different bead here instead of the same Bog Oak one as in my beginning bead. For me metaphorically there is no end, just change and transformation. Something might end, but often times this leads to a new beginning, or a cyclical pattern spiraling on and on. I decided to use a bead I crafted made out of Irish Yew wood for its corresponding attributes in the Ogham that represent such characteristics.
Here is a picture of the complete necklace folded as to fit it in a picture (it is very long otherwise)
The Bog Oak bead for me symbolizes beginning because of its age. As I said above, I could have used Birch (B) for Beith for this beginning bead, as its attributes are close to such representaion. Though for me, I see this Bog Oak bead differently in this situation. It is the oldest bead on my necklace being dated to about 5,000 years ago. This would bring us to the Neolithic period in history. A time when people were building Stonehenge. An Oak tree during that time eventually reaching its end, and being preserved in the bog where no air allows for decay. This bead is a link to the past for me and something to meditate to on.The reasons I chose wood, bone, stone, horn, and amber are as follows. They are personal symbolic representations of time periods, cultures, and important themes that inspire and move me deeply.
The wood(s) seems like our organic past, our spiritual heritage, and scientifically what we used and worked with 1st. Where our homes were as early primates, and what allowed us to grow and adapt. Wood was our shelter, our tools, weapons, where we ate bugs, and found shade from sun and safety from predator. As a modern Druid, trees are very important to me for many reasons, not to mention the Ogham itself.
With Bone, I chose this because after considering wood, what I thought of was our earliest ancestors. Ancestors to me are always symbolically & realistically portrayed by use of bones. It is who we were and what we will be. Bone was also used as a tool for early people and I can only imagine what they thought about, when they thought of death. What did they think of when they saw bones from either animal or relative? This dead animal or even a parent that was here one day and gone the next could have been just a simple thought one day that gave birth to the idea of the 'other world', who knows for certain? The lesson of bone is about mortality, and time. It teaches us that one day we too will be an ancestor, and that our time here is limited; to be ever prudent in our lives choices as we make memories not only for ourselves. This leads me to my next choice which is Stone.
I know I could have swapped Bone for Stone in the order I used, but the reason I put Stone after Bone is because for me, Stones are the Bones of the earth. When I think of stone I am drawn automatically to a certain time period, as in the Stone Age or Neolithic period. Our ancestors during this Megalithic age had a new found passion and desire to leave us something from their culture using the bones of the earth. The mysteries of math, physics, & geometry seem tied to some type of religious connection to light. This light being either solar, lunar, or stellar; for some believe had something to do with death, after life, the other world ie. the land of the ancestors. These people connected the heavens to the earth with use of stone. Large community efforts, standard units of measurement passed down for thousands of years, and a common goal of localized culturally expression to me seems too important not to use in a symbolic form throughout my necklace. I sat upon a large boulder and thought for time, and as I closed my eyes and gave over I had thoughts of stillness, stable and grounding earthy attributes. Ideas, and Images of what might have been for those that worked with stone, those original operative stone masons.
My next choice of Horn was chosen due to how I feel about our historical past again. After considering stone & bone, I felt honoring the symbolism of horn from the animals used in early agriculture was very important as a material for my necklace. Long ago, after the Ice Age we hunted smaller game playing with agriculture for about 5,000 years before becoming proficient at it. It was no longer big game that allowed people to live, nor was the main focus on hunting elk, or deer. Agriculture gave way to domestication of animals, the homestead-farm, trade with foreign people, the development of ideas, and a pastoral mind set. During the Neolithic period, this had to be a very different way of life from a past only known to them associated with hunting and gathering, constantly on the move. The horn for me symbolized this aspect of our history and I wanted to honor those animals that allowed us an easier way of life through times of survival. In the Iron Age the Celts held cattle in high veneration. It was for them more than food, it was a valuable social status animal allowing them a means of monetary freedoms. Cattle were traded, bought, sold, and even stolen on raids. Even today there are many places in America that cattle are worth money, and rich person could be measured by their heard. After my thought process following agriculture during early times, I thought deeply on Art. It was through art that cultural ideas often flourished & became stylized and associated with certain cultures/regions/peoples. When I think of Art the following comes to mind:
Paleolithic Rock Art found in the caves of Lascaux France
The designs of the Bell Beaker-Urnfeild pottery.
The carving of designs outside New Grange
The simple yet highly symbolic patterns found on various Bronze Age artifacts
The Celts of the Iron Age with their amazing art of the Hallstatt & La Tene cultures
The Book of Kells around 800 CE
All of these images and more symbolize art of our early history to me. It was this 'spirit of art' through these examples and cultures I hoped to achieve in my Ogham Mala design.
This kind of art that I think of is often traced back to an early root of our development. With this, there has always been Jewelry in our history; the thing I was crafting here with my beads. I felt it should also symbolize this development of fashion and material used some how. Our early ancestors felt a need to decorate themselves much as we still do, perhaps even for the same reasons? Amber has been used in jewelry for a very long time. I know wood, bone, stone, and horn were also used by various cultures, but the use of amber was used and is still used for decoration and expression in high fashion. There is something about this tree resin that speaks to the nature of primitive yet decorative fashion. If bones are the stones of the earth, then amber is no doubt a stone of the trees.
Baltic Amber is about 40-60 million years old. During the Paleolithic Era (c. 12,000 B.C.) people were using Amber for pendants and other decoration. Later in the Neolithic, there have been finds of amber jewelers workshops. During the 1st-4th Centuries BC, it was the Celtic Tribes who reestablished what would have been to them, ancient trade routes used by people like the Phoenicians for the trade of such goods. Amber has been found all over the ancient European world. The Mycenaean Greek graves show finds of amber as well as in Babylonia, and in Egypt. Amber continued to flourish with the Roman Empire all the way through the Dark Ages, The Teutonic Knights time period through the Crusades. Do you know anyone that wears Amber? I bet they have no idea about its amazing history. Though, perhaps there is some genetic memory that they possess which inspires them to be drawn to this material, either that or its just so very pretty. Either way, Amber was the last element in my collection to address the desire I had for my design.
After completing this design, I counted my beads and the sum was 108. I knew this number sounded familiar but couldn't remember why. I looked up beaded necklaces, prayer beads, and found some very interesting information about why various Eastern cultures use 108 in their prayer beads or japa-malas Here is what I found:
9 times 12: Both of these numbers have been said to have spiritual significance in many traditions. 9 times 12 is 108. Also, 1 plus 8 equals 9. That 9 times 12 equals 108.
Powers of 1, 2, and 3 in math: 1 to 1st power=1; 2 to 2nd power=4 (2x2); 3 to 3rd power=27 (3x3x3). 1x4x27=108
Harshad number: 108 is a Harshad number, which is an integer divisible by the sum of its digits (Harshad is from Sanskrit, and means "great joy")
Desires: There are said to be 108 earthly desires in mortals.
Lies: There are said to be 108 lies that humans tell.
Delusions: There are said to be 108 human delusions or forms of ignorance.
Heart Chakra: The chakras are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-realization.
Sanskrit alphabet: There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.
Pranayama: If one is able to be so calm in meditation as to have only 108 breaths in a day, enlightenment will come.
Upanishads: Some say there are 108 Upanishads, texts of the wisdom of the ancient sages.
Sri Yantra: On the Sri Yantra there are marmas where three lines intersect, and there are 54 such intersections. Each intersections has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti qualities. 54 times 2 equals 108. Thus, there are 108 points that define the Sri Yantra as well as the human body.
Pentagon: The angle formed by two adjacent lines in a pentagon equals 108 degrees.
Marmas: Marmas or marmasthanas are like energy intersections called chakras, except have fewer energy lines converging to form them. There are said to be 108 marmas in the subtle body.
Time: Some say there are 108 feelings, with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future.
8 extra beads: In doing a practice of counting the number of repetitions of the mala, 100 are counted as completed. The remaining are said to cover errors or omissions. The 8 are also said to be an offering to God and Guru.
Chemistry: Interestingly, there are about 115 elements known on the periodic table of the elements. Most of those, around or higher than the number 100 only exist in the laboratory, and some for only thousandths of a second. The number that naturally exist on Earth is around 100.
Astrology: There are 12 constellations, and 9 arc segments called namshas or chandrakalas. 9 times 12 equals 108. Chandra is moon, and kalas are the divisions within a whole.
River Ganga: The sacred River Ganga spans a longitude of 12 degrees (79 to 91), and a latitude of 9 degrees (22 to 31). 12 times 9 equals 108.
Planets and Houses: In astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets. 12 times 9 equals 108.
Goddess names: There are said to be 108 Indian goddess names.
Gopis of Krishna: In the Krishna tradition, there were said to be 108 gopis or maid servants of Krishna.
1, 0, and 8: Some say that 1 stands for God or higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 stands for infinity or eternity.
Sun and Earth: The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance from the Sun to the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun.
Moon and Earth: The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Moon.
Silver and the moon: In astrology, the metal silver is said to represent the moon. The atomic weight of silver is 108.
Numerical scale: The 1 of 108, and the 8 of 108, when added together equals 9, which is the number of the numerical scale, i.e. 1, 2, 3 ... 10, etc., where 0 is not a number.
Meditations: Some say there are 108 styles of meditation.
Breath: Tantra estimates the average number of breaths per day at 21,600, of which 10,800 are solar energy, and 10,800 are lunar energy. Multiplying 108 by 100 is 10,800. Multiplying 2 x 10,800 equals 21,600.
Paths to God: Some suggest that there are 108 paths to God.
Smaller divisions: The number 108 is divided, such as in half, third, quarter, or twelfth, so that some malas have 54, 36, 27, or 9 beads.
Hinduism: 108 is said to refer to the number of Hindu deities. Some say that each of the deities has 108 names.
Islam: The number 108 is used in Islam to refer to God.
Jain: In the Jain religion, 108 are the combined virtues of five categories of holy ones, including 12, 8, 36, 25, and 27 virtues respectively.
Buddhism: Some Buddhists carve 108 small Buddhas on a walnut for good luck. Some ring a bell 108 times to celebrate a new year. There are said to be 108 virtues to cultivate and 108 defilements to avoid.
Chinese: The Chinese Buddhists and Taoists use a 108 bead mala, which is called su-chu, and has three dividing beads, so the mala is divided into three parts of 36 each. Chinese astrology says that there are 108 sacred stars.
Stages of the soul: Said that Atman, the human soul or center goes through 108 stages on the journey.
Meru: This is a larger bead, not part of the 108. It is not tied in the sequence of the other beads. It is the quiding bead, the one that marks the beginning and end of the mala.
Dance: There are 108 forms of dance in the Indian traditions.
Praiseworthy souls: There are 108 qualities of praiseworthy souls.
First man in space: The first manned space flight lasted 108 minutes, and was on April 12, 1961 by Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut.
In Numerology we learn that all numbers can be reduced to 1-9 By taking such dates and reducing them to their base number one can gain insight into something they may be questing for. For example: March 21 1980 (03-21-1980) 0+3+2+1+1+9+8+0= 24. 2+4= 6. Then one would look into the meaning behind 6 and all it represents. The point being, all things can be reduced to 1-9 & that 108 Beads 1+0+8= 9
Suggestions on How to use the Ogham Mala for divination:
This is one of the many ways these could be used. You may design your own pattern, use different beads, or create an entirely new system. There is no right or wrong here, inspiration being the guide, follow yours to suit your needs.
You may simply wear the necklace any way you wish, meditate upon a question and with inspiration simply reach for a bead. If it is an Ogham bead, study all that you can about its meaning. If it happens to be wood, bone, stone, horn, or amber ask yourself how you feel about this material, what it means to you and how it might apply to what your question is.
Lay the necklace upon the ground, an altar, or somewhere sacred to you. Close your eyes and meditate on the thing you require an answer to. With your hands out before you, hovering above the necklace (eyes still closed) reach down and point to a bead. Open your eyes and as above try and discern what this bead is telling you.
You could incorporate a mantra or chant the Awen 9 times all the while your eyes being closed and you shuffle beads through your fingers. Upon completing the chant you may be drawn to a certain abstact image, theme, type of bead, just be open and allow inspiration to fill you. You may also sing or chant the Ogham bead you may be holding as you pass them between your fingers in the same way.
If you would like to offer your own method, design, or interpretation please by all means feel free to share it.
Spirit of Old Shop http://www.spiritofold.co.uk/home.htm They make superior crafted items like wands, ogham and rune sets, and various types of Pendants ranging from Bog Oak, Ice Age Mammoth Ivory, and more!
Bríatharogam "word ogham" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Br%C3%ADatharogam
In Lebor Ogaim ("The Book of Ogams"), also known as the Ogam Tract http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogam_Tract
The Book of Ballymote - Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Ballymote
The Ogham Stone- a website of useful information - http://ogham.lyberty.com/index.html
Omniglot- Basic ogham info - http://www.omniglot.com/writing/ogham.htm
My Other Blog: Ogham and the Celtic Tree Language - http://dreoilin.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/ogham-and-the-celtic-tree-language/
DruidCrafts - My Etsy shop - http://www.etsy.com/shop/DruidCrafts