Make a Set of Ogham Staves

01
of 01
What are Ogham Staves?

Ogham_1500
Patti Wigington

Ogham History

Named for Ogma or Ogmos, the Celtic god of eloquence and literacy, staves carved with the Ogham alphabet has become a popular method of divination among Pagans who follow a Celtic-focused path. Although there are no records of how staves might have been used in divination in ancient times, there are a number of ways that they can be interpreted. There are 20 original letters in the Ogham alphabet, and five more that were added later on. Each corresponds to a letter or sound, as well as a tree or wood. In addition, each of these symbols has come to be associated with various meanings and elements of the human experience.

Catherine Swift of History Today says, "Dating ogham is difficult and often problematic: although the alphabet itself was created rather earlier, the evidence suggests that the surviving inscriptions of ogham in Ireland belong predominantly to the fifth and sixth centuries... Ogham was developed during the Roman Empire and demonstrates the spread of its influence far beyond the imperial frontiers; the fact that ogham has five vowel symbols (although Gaelic has ten such sounds) is one of the reasons scholars believe that the Latin alphabet, which also uses five vowels, was an influence on the invention of the system. Ogham was not a single, fixed system and the surviving stones show modifications, as new symbols were invented and older ones were lost."

Traditionally, Ogham is credited to Ogma Grian-ainech, who was known for his poetic eloquence. According to legend, he invented this form of alphabet to show everyone how linguistically gifted he was, and created Ogham as a form of communication for the most learned members of society.

Judith Dillon of OBOD says, "At its most simple, the symbols of the alphabet, like those of other early divination systems, spell out a guide through the world of manifestation, the material world of the Mothers. They then provide a return into the World of Time after passing through the dark. At its most complicated, the alphabet contains sophisticated mathematics and alchemical secrets."

Make Your Own Staves

To make your own set of Ogham staves, start with sticks or twigs in even lengths. You'll need 25 of them, or 26 if you want to include a "blank" Ogham. If you have trouble finding sticks that are the right size, you can use dowel rods cut to short lengths. About 4 - 6" is a good size for Ogham staves. The ones in the photo are made from apple branches.

Sand the bark off the sticks so that they're smooth. Inscribe each of the sticks with one of the Ogham symbols. You can do this either by carving them into the woods, painting them on, or using a woodburning tool. The ones in the photo were made with a woodburning tool, which cost about $4 at a craft store.

As you're carving your staves, take the time to think about the meanings of each symbol. Don't just burn them into the wood; feel them, and feel their magic energy being imbued into each stave. The act of creation is a magical exercise in and of itself, so if possible, do this within a magical space. If you can't fire up a woodburning pen at your altar, don't worry - turn whatever work space you choose into a temporary altar setting. Make a point of holding each stave in your hand, before and after you've inscribed it, and fill it with your own power and energy.

When you're done, be sure to consecrate your staves before you use them the first time, just as you would a Tarot deck or other magical tool.

There are a number of methods to reading the staves for divination, and you can figure out what works best for you. Many people like to simply keep their staves in a pouch, and when a question comes up that needs to be answered, they place their hand in the bag and pull out a designated number of staves. Three is a good number to use, but you can pick as many or as few as you like. As you pull each stave out of the bag, use the information at the Ogham symbol gallery to determine its divinatory meaning.