OGAM TRACT

 

An edition due to GEORGE CALDER, B.D.

 

EDINBURGH: JOHN GRANT

31 GEORGE IV. BRIDGE

1917

 

Commented version due to Yves Kodratoff

 

My commentaries on Calder’s translations are built on five sources:

Rudolf Thurneysen, A Grammar of Old Irish, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 2003.

MacBain, An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language, on the web at http://www.ceantar.org/Dicts/MB2/index.html. This is a Scottish Gaelic dictionary which contains as well many definitions for Irish, Welsh and Brittonic words (and some misspellings obviously due to the scanning).

Dictionary of the Irish Language, E. G. Quin (Ed.), Royal Irish Academy, 2007. On the web under the name ‘eDIL’ where it can be used page by page only. This dictionary is due to the continuous work of the Irish scholarship starting with O’Reilly’s dictionary (1868) until today’s version, still under improvement, but that was almost completed in 1976. This is therefore a collective work carried over one full century. Obviously, Calder had no access to it. It will be cited as ‘DIL’. When a word found in the Auraicept does not appear in this huge dictionary, this amounts to say that it has not been really used elsewhere. Calder’s understanding is the only one available, and another meaning is quite possible.

J. Vendryes, Lexique étymologique de l’Irlandais ancien, CNRS and Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1974-1996 (available from the last one). This is a very rich edition but it is limited to the letters A, B, C, D, M, N, O, P, R, S, T, U. It will be cited as ‘Vendryes’.

I also currently use the definitions provided by the Auraicept itself and Calder’s glossarial index.

 

My comments are in font New Roman and in between [ ].

 

WHAT are the place, time, person, and cause of the invention of the Ogham? Not hard. Its place Hibernia insula quam nos Scoti habitamus [the Northern island that we Scots inhabit]. In the time of Bres, son of Elatha king of Ireland it was invented. Its person Ogma son of Elatha son of Delbæth brother to Bres, for Bres, Ogma and Delbæth are the three sons of Elatha son of Delbæth there. Now Ogma, a man well skilled in speech and in poetry, invented the Ogham. The cause of its invention, as a proof of his [Ogma’s] ingenuity, and that this speech should belong to the learned apart, to the exclusion of rustics and herdsmen. Whence the Ogham got its name according to sound and matter, who are the father and the mother of the Ogham, what is [shown by]the first name that was written by Ogham, in what letter it was written, the reason why it was written, by whom it was written, and why b precedes every letter, hic uoluuntur omnia [uoluuntur = voluuntur, here are all the desired things].

 

***Ogma’s Ogam*** [this title is added by me]

 

      Ogham from Ogma suo inventore primo [from his first author] in respect to its sound, quidem [indeed, however …]; according to matter, however, ogum is og-uaim, perfect alliteration, which the poets applied to poetry by means of it, for by letters Gaelic is measured by the poets; the father of Ogham is Ogma, the mother of Ogham is the hand or knife of Ogma.

      This moreover is the first thing that was written by

Ogham, auraSuite1.jpg, i.e. (the birch) b was written, and to convey a warning to Lug son of Ethliu it was written respecting his wife lest she should be carried away from him into faeryland, to wit, seven b’s in one switch of birch: Thy wife will be seven times carried away from thee into faeryland or into another country, unless birch guard

 

BB. 309 α 15 [manuscript page of the Irish text]

 

her. On that account, moreover, b, birch, takes precedence, for it is in birch that Ogham was first written.

      How many divisions of Ogham are there, and what are they? Not hard. Four: b five, h five, m five, a five, besides diphthongs.

      How many groups of Ogham? Not hard. Three [Remember that Fenius provides four of them – and you will see that Ogma provides explicitly two only], viz., eight chieftain trees, eight peasant trees, and eight shrub trees. [Irish :“viii n-airigh fedha, / viii n-athaigh, 7 viii fidlosa”. While commenting Fenius’ Ogam, I said that fedha was better rendered by ‘tree-letter’, that airigh comes from aire = ‘which has value’, ‘free man’, ‘chief’. Finally, fidlosa is called lossa fedha by Fenius and Calder then translates it by “herb tree” since lus = herb, genitive losa. He translates it now by “shrub tree”] Eight chieftain trees first: alder, oak, hazel, vine, ivy, sloe, furze, heath. Eight peasant trees, viz., birch, quicken tree, willow, ash, whitethorn, whin [Irish : tinne = holly or spindle-tree. Usually, ‘whin’ means gorse, not holly], apple tree. As to their letters all other shrubs are peasant trees.

      Quot sunt genera [How many are the genres] of the Ogham? Not hard. CL, et figuras eorum et potestates secundum ordinem nuntiabimus nuntiabimus [CL (?) and we shall describe their forms and powers in second]. I shall speak primum [at first]of the woods of the trees whence names have been put for the Ogham letters, secundum alios et alios nominantur [from others and they are named by others]. Query, well then, whence are the Ogham vowels and consonants named? Not hard. Secundum alios quidem [at least from others], it is from the school of Fenius Farsaidh, to wit, the school of poetry which Fenius sent throughout the world to learn the languages. There were five and twenty that were noblest of them so that it is their names that were put for the Bethe Luis Nin of the Ogham, both vowels and consonants; and there were four who were the noblest of these again, so that it is their names that were given to the seven principal vowels: auraSuite2.jpg and they added other three to them so that from these are named the other three diphthongs, wherefore auraSuite3.jpgare classified apart. Secundum alios it is from the trees of the forest that names were given to the Ogham letters metaphorically. Moreover beithe, b, is [named] from the birch of the forest for the first letter on the path of the Ogham alphabet. Luis, 1, that is, elm in the forests.

 

BB. 309 α 38 [manuscript page of the Irish text]

 

Fern, f, that is, alder in the forest. Sail, s, of the Ogham, that is, willow, again, in the forest Nin, n, of the Ogham, to wit, maw of spear, or nettles in the woods. Uath, h, of the Ogham, that is, test-tree or whitethorn, on account of its thorniness. Dur, d, of the Ogham is oak, again, in the forest. Tinne, t, of the Ogham, to wit, holly or elderberry in the forest. Coll, c, of the Ogham, to wit, hazel in the forest. Quert, q, of the Ogham is holly in the forest, or quicken tree, or aspen [Irish: “cairthend no crithach” that is : “mountain-ash or aspen,” not ‘quicken-tree’ which is another name of the aspen.]. Muin, vine, m, to wit, mead [from it]. Gort, cornfield, g, to wit, fir [The Irish is “gort -i- gius”. The word gort designates either “a field of arable or pasture land” or the ivy. Gius is pine-tree. The precise translation therefore is “the arable field or the ivy, that is to say the pine-tree.” There is here an obvious allusion we cannot understand.] Getal, ng, to wit, broom. Straif, str, willowbrake in the forest [The word willowbrake seems to exist in Calder only. Straif is a blackthorn. The word used here in Irish is saildrong. The word drong means ‘a group of a variable number of individuals’. In place of ‘willowbrake’ a better translation is something like “a copse of blackthorn bushes.”] Onn, o, to wit, furze or ash. Ur, u, to wit, thorn. Edad, e, to wit, yew. Ida, i, to wit, service tree [A service-tree is usually a yew but it can also be a rowan-tree, which confuses the issue. The Irish is ibhar, coming from ibrach: ‘rich in yews’ or ‘made of yew’]. Ebad, ea, to wit, elecampane [Irish : elend, elenn = “name of tree, perhaps the aspen”. The plant named elecampane, Innula Helenium, is a large yellow flower. Calder obviously read ellenn = elecampane.] Oir, oi, to wit, spindle tree. Uilleann, ui, to wit, ivy. Pin, io, of the Ogham, pine, again, in the forest. Hence are named caera pinne, goose berries; ifin, again secundum alios is the name of that letter. Emancoll, witch hazel, ae, again, to wit, c doubled according to fact or according to form, to wit, c across c in its form. [In his introduction, Calder explains that the whole thing looks like a handwritten x, such as: ].

 

*** Morann Mac Main’s Ogam (“briathairogam”) *** [this title is added by me]

 

      Word Ogham of Morann Mac Main here. Feocus foltchain, faded trunk and fair hair, that is for birch, b, in the Word Ogham, because names which Morann gave of himself to the Ogham letters, these are they which take the effect of letters in the Word Ogham. Feocus foltchain for b, for these are two aspects of the birch, and it was hence put for the Ogham letter which has taken a name from it.

      Li súla, delight of eye, that is luis, quicken tree, 1, to wit, the flame.

      Airinach Fian, i.e., shield [or forefront] of warrior-bands, i.e., shield for fern, f, with him owing to [aigiseom = aigid (it gives honour) seom (‘with it’) = ‘owing to’] their redness [ndergi comes from derge (red, reddish, blood coloured)] in the same respect [aenrian = oen (one, the same) rian (the sea, the way)]: or because the alder, the material of the shield

 

BB. 309 β 6 [manuscript page of the Irish text]

 

was from fernæ given to the Ogham letter which has taken a name from it. Airenach Fian, i.e., shield, that is fern, f, with him.

      Lí n-aimbí, hue of the lifeless, i.e., hue of one dead, to wit, am for denial, so that he is not living but is dead. Lí n-aimbí, again, to wit, that is sail, willow, s with him, and hence it was put for the Ogham letter.

      Cosdad sida, [costud = ‘action of putting things in place, to check them’] checking of peace, that is nin, ash, n: it is the maw of a weaver’s beam as applied to wood: a sign of peace is that. A checking of peace with him is that from the ash of the weaver’s beam.

      Conal cuan, pack of wolves, to wit, that is uath, thorn h [Calder translates here ‘uath’ by ‘thorn’ while its meaning is ‘terror’ which fits as well in the context], for a terror to any one is a pack of wolves. Conal cuan said of the Ogham h, owing to the affinity of the name, for they are a thorn, in the same way.

      Ardam dossaibh, [ard = ‘not in contact with the ground’ and, figuratively: noble, protecting. dos = lush tree. I’d then rather translate by ‘the lush trees the furthest from the ground’], highest of bushes, that is dur, oak, d, with respect to its wood in the forest.

      Trian, t, another thing the meaning of that to-day.

      Cainiu fedaib, fairest of trees, that is hazel, c, owing to its beauty in woods.

      Clithar mbaiscaill, shelter of a hind, i.e., a fold [the text says: buaili translated by Calder as ‘fold’. I do not see any other possible meaning to buaili than a modification of búal = healing.]: to wit, boscell [DIL says, boscell = baiscell = bascall = a wild animal, a hind. Calder’s understanding, ‘lunatic’ (and later by McManus as well), is not the one explicitly used in Irish. As an extension to this meaning, it can point at someone who is a bit ‘wild’, thus somewhat unstable], lunatic, that is bas-ceall [bás = death; cíall = intelligence, meaning], death sense, it is then his sense comes to him when he goes to his death. Clithar boiscell, again, that is an apple tree: or boscell, that is, hinds, to wit, they are light [The text says: edruma = ed-ruma, and I guess Calder understood a form of réim = light. The word rúm = ‘inside space’ and a possible function of ed = ‘confirmation of the substantive that follows’, leads to my own interpretation, viz. ‘they stand in the appropriate space’. I agree this is a bit airy of me, it is however more sensible than Calder’s ‘light’]. Clithar boiscell, again, i.e., lunatics or hinds: quert, an apple tree, q, with reference to its letter.

      Tresim fedma, strongest of effort, that is muin, vine, m, with him, i.e., owing to identity of name with muin, back of man or ox, for it is they that are the strongest in existence as regards effort.

      Millsiu feraib, sweeter than grasses, that is gort, ivy, g, with him owing to the identity of the name with the corn-field. When it is in the blade [there is here an obvious pun: fochann is a blade of young corn; fuach is a stanza], sweeter than any grass is that grass, to wit, the cornfield. Hence for that letter in Ogham

 

BB. 309 β 24 [manuscript page of the Irish text]

 

owing to the complete identity of the name between them.

      Luth legha, a physician’s strength, that is broom, ng, to wit, because it is strength with the physicians, and there is an affinity between cath, panacea (?) and getal. [The word cath does not mean ‘panacea’ but ‘fight’], and getal, broom. [The complete Irish sentence is: “Luth legha getal sen -i- ar is luth lasna leigib, 7 coibnius etir cath 7 getalLuth = power of moving, vitality ; legha (líaigh, genitive leagha) = ‘physical and spiritual medical doctor’, healer) ; getal = broom or letter ‘ng’; sen = ancestor, an ancient one; however: sén = the sign, the soothsayer, the incantation, the success ; ar = a preposition meaning “so says he”; is = is ; luth (see above) ; lasna = ‘with the’ ; leigib = ‘of the healers’ ; coibnius = kinship, affinity ; etir = ‘generally’, and étir = strong ; cath & getal (see above). I thus propose a slightly different translation: “The healer’s vitality, broom and letter ‘ng’ are a sign of it, they are, it is said, the vitality going with the healers and there is a strong affinity between the fight and the broom.” I guess that Calder did not imagine the healer’s work as a fight (against sickness).]

      Tresim ruamna, strongest of red [red dyeing], to wit, that is str with him in Ogham. Straif, sloe, according to fact; for in the sloe red for dyeing the things is stronger, for it is it that makes the pale silver become azure, making it genuine (?)silver [The ‘?’ is Calder’s. The exact meaning of decht is somewhat unclear. It can mean ‘refined or hammered metal’]. It is it which is boiled through the urine into the white gold so as to make it red. Tresim ruamna is the sloe according to fact. Hence it was put in the letter named str, owing to identity of name between them, i.e., straif is the name of each of them.

      Tinnem ruccæ [tinne or tinde = letter ‘T’ or holly; also: a rod of metal, an ingot, un mass of melted metal, metal, salted pork, a music instrument], intensest of blushes, that is ruis, elder-berry, r, to wit, from the reddening or shame according to fact, for by r it is written, and it is a reddening that grows in a man’s face through the juice of the herb being rubbed under it. Tinnem ruccæ, an ingot of a blush, again, said of the ruis, elder-berry, from shame or from reddening, for it is by r that it is itself written.

      Ardam iachtadh, loudest of groanings, that is wondering, to wit, that is ailm, fir, a, with him; for it is ailm or ‘ a man says while groaning in disease, or wondering, that is, marvelling at whatever circumstance.

      Congnamaid echraide [Calder’s translation: helper of horses. McManus’s translation: wounder of horses. That it might be possible to oppose so strongly on the meaning of congnamaid is explained as follows. This word can be understood as coming either from con-gní (it helps) and congnam (providing help), or from con-goin (it pierces, it wounds) and congnaid (one who pierces, wounds). It is clear that Calder used the first derivation while McManus reads congnaid. The context obviously supports McManus. Personal remark: Calder’s translation seems to me a typical example of 19th c. anthropocentrism. The horse is here to help humans and the wheel helps the horse to help the humans. To be humorously flattering to McManus, he seems to be more prejudiced towards the correctness of the Irish grammar than towards anthropomorphism.], helper of horses, to wit, the onnnaid of the chariot, i.e. the wheels, to wit, that is onn, furze, with him, for it is by onn, o, that the wheels of the chariot are written. Aliter, comguinidech, equally wounding, i.e. whin. Hence it was put for that letter which is named onn, o, owing to identity between them, for onn is a name for each of them; and it is from whin that the name onn was put for the Ogham letter secundum alios [from the others].

 

BB. 309 β 47 [manuscript page of the Irish text]

 

      Etiud midach, robe of physicians, to wit, cath, panacea (?). Hence it was put for getal, broom, ng. [The manuscript comes back to ng for this one sentence. Remember that the word cath does not mean ‘panacea’ but ‘fight’].

      Uaraib adbaib, in cold dwellings to wit, that is ur, fresh, with him, for from uir, the mould of the earth is the name uaraib adbaib. Hence it was put for the letter named ur, heath, in Ogham, owing to identity of name between them, to wit, each of them is ur, and it is written by u.

      Ergnaid fid, distinguished [or discerning, clever] wood, to wit, that is aspen with him, for ergnaid fid is a name for the trembling tree. Hence it was put for the Ogham letter named edad, aspen, for hence was edad, e, put for it.

      Siniu fedaib, oldest of woods, to wit, that is idad, yew, with him; for siniu fedaib is a name for service-tree. Hence it was given to that letter in Ogham named idad, yew, i, for hence the name idad was put for it; for idad, yew, is a name for ibur, service-tree [Calder calls ‘service tree’ the yew-tree. DIL says that idad is “a tree, probably the yew,” and ibar is “yew-tree, yew-wood, things made in yew-wood.” I thus propose to reverse Calder’s translation: “Siniu fedaib, oldest in the forest, to wit, idad (a tree, probably the yew with it; since siniu fedaib is name of this tree. Hence it was put for the Ogam letter named idad for hence it was idad since ibar (yew) is a name for idad]

      Snamchain feda, most buoyant of wood, to wit, that is ebad, aspen, with him, for fair swimming is wood: to wit, that is a name for the great raven. Hence it was put for the letter named the Ogham ebad, for é is a name for salmon, and it is written by ea like the alphabet of the fauna: i.e., by stag (deer), eo by eonasc (ousel).

      Sruitem aicdi, most venerable of structures, i.e., oir, oi, spindle tree, according to fact. Hence it was put for the letter owing to the identity of the name that is between them, to wit, oir is the name of each of them.

      Tutmur fid uilleann, juicy wood is woodbine [For these who, like me, did not know: woodbine is honeysuckle or, more generally, any climbing plant], that is woodbine with him, for it is a name for honeysuckle. Hence it was put for the Ogham named woodbine, ui; for hence was woodbine put for it, for it is a name for honeysuckle.

      Millsem feda, sweetest of wood, that is gooseberry with him, for a name for the tree called pin is milsem feda. Gooseberries are hence named. Hence it was put for the letter named pin, for hence pin, or ifin, io, was put for it.

 

BB-310 α 19 [manuscript page of the Irish text]

 

 

      Luad sæthaig, expression of a weary one, i.e., ach, ah! uch, alas! that is emancoll, ae, with him, for emancoll is taken for ach, though it may be taken for something else.

Finit Word-Ogham of Morann.

 

*** The Ogam (“briathairogam”) of Mac ind Oic *** [this title is added by me]

 

      Alphabet of word-oghams of Mac ind Óic here below.

      Glaisium cnis, most silvery of skin, to wit, that is the birch of the Ogham from birch of the forest, for hence birch, b, was put for it; sic in reliquis sequentibus.

      Cara ceathra, friend of cattle, to wit, elm. Cara, to wit, dear to the cattle is the elm for its bloom and for down [‘down’? canach = catkin, “for down” -> for its catkins]. Hence it was put for the Ogham luis, quicken tree, 1, for hence was quicken tree, 1, put for it. [Irish: “Tucad uad-side for luis in ogaim, ar is uad tuccad luis fair.” As you see, Calder always translates the letter name, here luis, by the tree name, instead of leave there the letter name, as the Irish text allows us to do. This avoids some absurdities such as in Ogma: “elm is a rowan.” Here are the words you have to know: side reinforces the word it; fóir, fáir ‘a dwelling place’ (the exact meaning is context dependent; tuccad, tucait, the cause; then aui = poetical inspiration, and its genitive is written uadh in the Auraicept. Calder chose to see ‘uadh’ the conjunction = because of, but this meaning is invariant (= no change uadh). A word for word translation would be a slightly ridiculous ‘because of the cause …’ Here is my translation: “The cause of a proper poetical use of luis in the Ogams is the place of luis in poetical inspiration.”]

      Comet lachta, guarding of milk, to wit, that is the Ogham alder, f, from alder of the forests, for it is it that guards the milk, for of it are made the vessels containing the milk.

      Luth bech, activity of bees, to wit, that is willow, s, for its bloom and for its catkin. Hence it is put for the cognate Ogham letter.

      Bag ban, fight of women [bág = boast, promise, threat ; also: fight, warring qualities; bán = pure, white. Of a fight: bloodless. I thus propose: ‘bloodless fight’ or ‘just a threat’], to wit, ash, n, of weaver’s beam, i.e., maw of weaver’s beam. Hence for its cognate letter.

      Banadh gnuisi, blanching of face, to wit, fear, huath, h, for blanched is a man’s face when he is encompassed with fear or terror. Hence for the Ogham letter owing to identity of name between the same two, to wit, uath stands for each of them.

      Gres sair, carpenter’s work, to wit, oak, d. Hence it was put for its cognate Ogham letter.

      Smir guaili, fires of coal [smér = ‘the fruit blackberry’ or fire, embers, a meaning existing in dictionaries only. Hence Calder’s translation that may mean: ‘embers of coal’. However, smir = ‘marrow’ (meaning chosen by McManus in his rendering of these two words); gúal = coal ; Hence: “marrow of coal”], to wit, that is holly. Hence for its cognate Ogham letter, i.e., tinne, t, secundum alios; for tindi is a name for holly, ut alii dicunt.

 

BB. 310 α 36 [manuscript page of the Irish text]

 

      Cara bloisc, friend of cracking [the noise], to wit, coll, hazel, c. Hence for its cognate Ogham letter.

      Brigh an duine, force of the man, to wit, queirt, q, apple tree. Hence for its cognate letter.

      Arusc n-airlig [árosc = way of speech, judicial restriction; airlech = act of put down, slaughter] condition of slaughter, to wit, a man’s back, m. Hence for its synonymous letter.

      Med nercc [Calder does not translate ‘mednercc’. DIL cites this kenning without translation. med = balance, weighting measure, nercc =?. McManus solves this mystery by proposing: med -> ined -> inde -> inne = ‘the most central part’, thus for mental matters: 1. real value, 2. meaning, and for physical matters : 1. centre, 2. heart, 3. richness; nercc -> erc = 1. sky, 2. spotted ; 3. spotted fish (salmon or trout) ; 4. spotted cow; 5. lizard ; 6. bee; 7. deception. McManus proposes the translation “a proper place for the cows.” Many others are possible, such as ‘heart of the beehive’, ‘middle of the sky’ etc.], to wit, ivy, g. Hence for its synonymous letter.

      Morad run, increasing of secrets, to wit, sloe, str. Hence it was put for its synonymous letter.

      Ruamna dreach, redness of faces, to wit, sap of the rose [sug = juice, sap, vigor; rós = wooden hill, small seed, water plant, good health, (imported meaning) rose.] which causes the redness of the faces, so that blushing is in them. Ruamna dreach, again, said of the Ogham ruis, elder, r, from the blush or from the reddening, for it is by elder, r, it is itself written.

      Tosach fregra, beginning of an answer, to wit, that is ailm, a; for the first expression of every human being after his birth is a.

      Fethim saire, smoothest of work, or fedem, to wit, onn, stone, o.

      Silad clann, growing of plants, that is ur, heath, u with him, for it is uir, the soil of the earth, that causes the growing of the plants that are put into it. Growing of plants, again, said of the soil of the earth, is said of the Ogham letter which has taken the same name with it, to wit, each of them is ur.

      Coinainm carat, synonym for a friend, to wit, aspen, e, in the forest. Hence for its synonymous Ogham letter.

      Crinem feda, most withered of wood, or sword, to wit, service tree [yew-tree], i. Hence for the Ogham letter, which has taken a name other than it, to wit, idad, yew.

      Cosc lobair, corrective of a sick man, to wit, woodbine [woodbine normally is any climbing plant, not the aspen] for the Ogham letter, which has taken a name other than it, to wit, ebad, aspen, ea.

 

BB. 310 β 1 [manuscript page of the Irish text]

 

      Li crotha, beauty of form, to wit, heath. Hence for its synonymous letter, to wit, the Ogham oi.

      Cubat n-oll, great equal-length, to wit, woodbine, i.e., honeysuckle. Hence for the Ogham letter which it has taken from it, to wit, woodbine, ui.

      Amram blais, most wonderful of taste, to wit, pin or ifin, gooseberry. Hence for the letter that has taken its name from it, to wit, pin or iphin, io.