I know a beautiful, quietly ferocious trapeze artist called Lindsay. She has many tattoos. I haven’t paid much attention to the detail of them previously but yesterday she told me that the marks on her fingers are tree ogham scripts.
The tree ogham was a celtic system used by the ancient druids to encode their wisdom as far back as 700 bc. The symbols formed an alphabet but they also had deeper meanings and could be used as secret code. The main use of tree ogham now is by neo-pagans for divination.
The letters themselves were called feda “trees”, or nin “forking branches” due to their shape. Many of the letters also represent trees, and are carved onto sticks from those trees to be used as divination tools.
Lindsay has the ogham for hazel, yew, willow, rowan, oak, heather, birch, grove and ocean tattooed on her fingers because she likes the symbolic meanings of those letters.
The Ogam Tract credits Ogma mac Elathan (Ogmios) with the script’s invention. Ogma was skilled in speech and poetry, and created the system for the learned, to the exclusion of rustics and fools. The first message written in Ogam were seven b’s on a birch, sent as a warning to Lug mac Elathan, meaning: “your wife will be carried away seven times to the otherworld unless the birch protects her”. For this reason, the letter b is said to be named after the birch, and In Lebor Ogaim goes on to tell the tradition that all letters were named after trees…