The meaning of the word agaka therefore isn't so much
"alphabet" as "writing", a stick with Ogam notches conveying a message. The name
Ogam likely comes from oga-ama, ogasun (property, wealth) ama (Priestess,
mother) property of the Priestess, which indicates that the script was
originally designed for use by the clergy of the pre-Christian religion.
Ogam was adopted and further developed by the first monks in Ireland. Our
earliest information indicates that they were not sure as to where Ogam came
from. According to the "Auraicept" the origin of Irish and Ogam must be sought
in the Near East: "In Dacia it was invented, though others say it was in the
Plain of Shinar" (line 1105-06). A "made in Ireland" version is recorded in "In
Lebor Ogaim" in which the inventor is "Ogma mac Elathan who is said to have been
skilled in speech and poetry and to have created the system as proof of his
intellectual ability and with the intention that it should be the preserve of
the learned, to the exclusion of rustics and fools" ( McManus 8.4).
The script was used by the monks as a monument script between 450 and 800
A.D. and they used it for literary purposes between 650 and 900 A.D. Every time
the script was inscribed in stone it must have been used thousands of times on
sticks, for which medium the script was obviously designed. Over 500 Ogam
inscriptions are known from Ireland (collected by R.A.S. Macalister), some 40
from Scotland ( A. Jackson) and a growing number from the east coast of North
The fact that not a single one has been successfully translated is not so
much the fault of the monks who wrote the texts, as of our linguists, all of
whom assumed that the language of the script was Gaelic. However, this
assumption appears to be without foundation, because the syntax of the Gaelic
language in no way lends itself to be written in traditional Ogam.
There are many questions arising as to what calendrical practice was used by
the Celtic people. Regarding this issue there are three primary schools of
thought. These three theories all attempt to offer us a better understanding of
the Celtic calendar. To use the term 'Celtic calendar' is somewhat inaccurate,
as it were the Druids who were primarliy concerned with calendar-keeping.
One of the most commonly accepted beliefs holds that the year was divided
into thirteen months with an extra day or so the end of the year used to adjust
the calendar. This theory states that the months correspond to the vowels of the
Ogham or Celtic Tree Alphabet. For every of the months there was a designated
tree. From this a 'tree calendar' wheel emerged
Most archaeologist and historians accept another calendar. This calender is
represented by the surviving fragments of a great bronze plate, the Coligny
Calendar, which originally measured 5 feet by 3-1/2 feet. This plate, found in
eastern France, was engraved in the Gaulish language (similar to Welsh) in
Roman-style letters and numerals. It depicts a system of time keeping by lunar
months, showing 62 consecutive months with 2 extra months inserted to match the
solar timetable. They appear to have worked with a 19-year time cycle that
equaled 235 lunar months and had an error of only half a day.
The third school of thought is an amalgam of both of the others. The
proponents of this last theory believe that the first calendar pre-dates the
It is from ancient writers such as Caesar that we learn that the Celts were
to have counted by nights and not days and in reckoning birthdays and new moon
and new year their unit of reckoning is the night followed by the day.
Ancient Celtic philosophy believed that existence arose from the interplay
between darkness and light, night and day, cold and warmth, death and life, and
that the passage of years was the alternation of dark periods (winter, beginning
November 1) and light periods (summer, starting May 1). The Druidic view was
that the earth was in darkness at its beginning, that night preceded day and
winter preceded summer a view in striking accord with the story of creation in
Genesis and even with the Big Bang theory. Thus, Nov. 1 was New Year's Day for
the Celts, their year being divided into four major cycles. The onset of each
cycle was observed with suitable rituals that included feasting and sacrifice.
It was called The
Festival of Samhain - linked with Halloween.
The Celts measured the Solar year on a wheel, circle or spiral, all of which
symbolize creation and the constant movement of the universe growth and
To the ancients, the Heavens appeared to wheel overhead, turning on an axis
which points to the north polar stars. At the crown of the axis, a circle of
stars revolved about a fixed point, the Celestial Pole, which was believed to be
the location of Heaven. At the base of the axis was the Omphalos, the circular
altar of the Goddess' temple. The universe of stars turning on this axis formed
a spiral path, or stairway, on which souls ascended to Heaven.
This Sunwise, clockwise, or deiseal (Gaelic), motion of the spirals
represented the Summer Sun. The continuous spirals with seemingly no beginning
or end signified that as one cycle ended another began eternal life. The
spiral's never-ending, always expanding, motion also symbolized the ever-
increasing nature of information and knowledge. Many of these symbols often also
appeared in triplicate, a sign of the divine.
In addition, the seasons of the year were thought to be part of this cycle.