I've decided to embark on a project this summer, with the over-arching goals improving my botany, personalizing some of my take on CR, and trying to decide if & where Ogam has a place in my practice. I've gone back & forth as to whether to post about it & ask for feedback, but curiosity has overcome reluctance, & here it is. Background:
I'm a land manager for a prairie restoration, & am completely infatuated with the field of restoration ecology. In the face of mind-numbing destruction of the 'natural' world, for me it is one of the few places where I can feel productive & genuinely good about the work I do. As I've developed (or tried to develop) a CR-based spirituality, I've come to realize how similar (in some ways) the fields are. Prairie in the States is close to an extinct ecosystem; any restoration is more truly a re-creation. We go off the fragments of native, never plowed or grazed (known as 'virgin' in the field) habitat, along with the accounts of early explorers, & make our best guesses as to what it truly means to be a prairie.
As far as the project: Ogam. It has the appeal of helping one who is spiritually inept become slightly more articulate. It appeals to my fascination with language. AND, as an added plus, even though it is most truly a Gaelic system, and I would be something of a Welsh Reconstructionist if I were more ambitious, the scattering of ogam stones around Dyfed & Gwynedd allows me to claim some cultural veracity. I had the brain-child of an idea (& later realized I first came across it in Erynn's book, forgot about it, & then though it up again half a year later as 'my own') that I could attempt to spend a full growing season connecting the ogam 'alphabet' to the prairie botany I love so much, & meld (weld?) cultural & ecological systems to begin moving towards a fulfilling system of ritual.
The gross methodology is to spend several sessions meditating with each plant during the plant's time of flowering, both to ascertain the plant's willingness to work with me & the appropriateness of the pairing. I chose to not use plant suggestions from the Scholar's Primer, as even the closest options (Nin as nettle, Gort as ivy), really fit the prairie paradigm. When possible, I tried to use plants that were as close as possible to those suggested (Nin as Indian Hemp, which is similar from the ogam's connotations). Information about the ogam is primarily drawn from Erynn's book, with some information (mostly about the forfeda I'm choosing to use) from other sources. As I just hinted... I'm planning on using two of the forfeda, Uillend and Pin, to fill out the Welsh alphabet.
Here are the pairings & reasonings:
Beith with Arabis lyrata (Lyrate rockcress): Found of sterile, exposed soil, particularly on open sand dunes. The ability to be one of the first to establish on these soils, and the loneliness individual plants have fits Beith's primacy. One of the earliest bloomers, and with bright white, not overly showy petals an appropriate color.
Lus with Rosa carolina (Pasture rose): Rich red color & pregnant potential of rose hips, and rose-hip tea fits the herbal connotations. PROBLEM: Cattle really don't like it. Like really. Also, it doesn't burn particularly well...
Fern with Gentiana andrewsii (Bottle gentian): The flower is bottle-shaped, and only the largest and strongest pollinators (bumble-bees) can force their way inside. Fits protection aspect.
Sail with Hibiscus laevis (Halberd-leaf rose-mallow): Wetland plant associated with open water (for us where high water table forms ponds in shallow depressions). Large, showy flowers tie in with honey word ogam. Underground connotations, plus personal connotations of this plant with Autumn & senescence (we always collect the seed in late Autumn)
Nin with Apocynum sibiricum (Indian Hemp): Used to make cordage, appropriate for Nin's communication & weaving connections.
H'uath with ______. I'm choosing not to name this plant, because doing so would make my work-place fairly obvious to anyone in the field. It's a native plant that acts invasively because of circumstances. The plant has the potential to take over thousands of acres if conditions are right.
Dair with Quercus palustris (Pin Oak). The only tree in my 'prairie ogam', only because oaks are so characteristic of prairies. I chose Pin Oak because of it's wetland habitat, and for me wetlands are liminal (fitting some of Dair's liminal connotations) places, not really earth or water.
Tinne with either three-way sedge or downy sunflower. I'm torn on this one... I really connect with the letter, but am having problems narrowing down the plant pairing. At this point, I'm going to try both & see how they feel. Three-way sedge strongly fits the word ogam's breaking into threes and color connections of silver-grey. Downy sunflower fits grey colors (herbaceous parts) and bright yellow of forge (flower itself), as well as fitting some of the 'mastery' connotations (based on how successful composites (a group of wildflowers) are in prairie settings.
Coll with Silphium terebinthinaceum (Prairie Dock): One of my favorites, like all Silphiums has an amazingly deep taproot, drawing water from far down in the water table as an adaptation to droughty summers. Deep wisdom connotations...
Ciert with Rubus spp. (Blackberries, raspberries, etc.): It's beyond me as a botanist to tell between all the Rubus, so I'm using them as a functional group. Fun connections with word ogam (substance of an insignificant person to an all fruit diet, clothing of a lunatic because of thorny nature). From an ecologist's perspective, the brambles (my personal term for Rubus species) play an important role, but can become weedy and crowd out other native plants given the right (or wrong) circumstances.
Muin with Pedicularis canadense (Wood-betony). The plant is a hemiparasite, meaning that it does photosynthesize, but it parasitizes the roots of other plants to flower (some hemiparasites are obligate, meaning they must parasitize other roots to flower, and this is one of those). Direct root connections fit well with the communication aspects of Muin. So does the relationship between Wood-betony and other plants; it negatively effects the plants it parasitizes (primarily grasses), BUT reduces grass height to allow many other plants to thrive.
Gort with Ceanothus americanus (New-Jersey Tea): Gort is problematic for me because it's connections of a garden/ pasture (place secured from wildness) are so antithetical to what the prairie is. Regardless, as it's name suggests, New-Jersey Tea can be brewed as a tea, fulfilling the herbal connotations. It also suffers heavily from deer browse, and often only grows well in areas deer can't get to, connecting back to the 'safe-haven' concept.
Ngetal with Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly-weed): Like all milkweeds, it has toxic sap but has been traditionally used in herbal remedies. Butterfly-weed in particular has been used in medicine, filling nicely the wound-charm motif.
Straif with Lithospermum canescens (Hoary Puccoon): The colors fit perfectly. Sulfer's yellow is found in the bright yellow flower petals, and the red color ogam is found in a red dye made from the seeds. The word ogam about secrets is also pertinent from a restoration perspective.... the plant has been notoriously hard to cultivate from seed, but germination improvements were made when we realized we needed to abrade the seed coat with sandpaper. Thus, the keeping (and occasionally releasing) of secrets.
Ruis with Andropogon gerardii (Big Bluestem): The archetypal prairie grass. The green-purple seed heads fit well the color ogam, and watching big blue burn in a prairie-fire fits the role of consuming passion amazingly well.
Ailm with Bidens cernua (Nodding beggar-tick): Accidental namesake of my avatar; this bidens is an annual, meaning it lives for a single year, and colonizes bare soil left behind when water levels seasonally recede. It often grows in dense patches, and the bright yellow of a few acres heavy with Bidens is the equivalent of a visual scream (we debate whether it's a cry of joy or of rage within our office... personally I think Joy, but either fits).
Onn with Desmodium canadense (Canadian Tick-trefoil): The seeds are one of the best at hitching a ride with passing mammals... they're coated with a thick 'fur' of sticky hairs that allows them to almost jump from the plant. Fits the travel paradigm well.
Ur with Lupinus perennis (Wild Lupine): As a member of the bean family, lupines are known for intimitaly tied with the soil and the communities in it. In addition, lupines need a certain level of disturbance (usually through fire) to maintain a presence in an ecosystem. Although fire brings with it a great amount of death and pain, it is a completely essential part of prairie ecology. Lupines exist through the death caused by fire, but also herald the life that is tied to it.
Edad with Opuntia humifusa (Prickly Pear): I'm not thrilled with this pairing.... because prickly pear is our only native cactus, for me it is as a 'vision' of desert. The showy flowers and fruits also fit into the visual theme.
Idad with Sporobolos heterolepis (Prairie-dropseed): One of my favorite grasses, Prairie-dropseed is an indicator of high-quality prairie. It tends to increase in dominance as a prairie restoration ages, and for me the sight of prairie-dropseed intricately enmeshed with other native forbs and grasses is archetypal for remnant prairie.
Uillend with Symplocarpus foetidus (Skunk cabbage): The first plant of spring to bloom in our area, Skunk cabbage actually encloses (mostly, there is an opening) it's flower in a fleshy structure and warms the air inside. The air inside can be several degrees warmer than surrounding temperature, and the difference helps waft the rotting-flesh scent of the flower into the air. To me, these plants are actively bringing about spring because of this localized temperature change, which is a perfect fit for Uillend, the elbow or pivot point. Not to mention, the 'fragrance' word ogam is rather fitting, as well :)
Pin with _______: I have no idea yet. I was going to do Indian Painbrush, because it just seemed to fit (it's a stunningly red splash in the prairie), but I had no real concrete reasons until I stumbled on a Native American story where a man asked Deity for a paintbrush to paint a picture of the sunset. After painting, the man discarded his paintbrush on the ground, where the first of these plants sprang up. Fitting for the word-ogam, but it doesn't seem to be personal enough.... maybe.
If any of the above are unclear (either from my closeness to the plants, or my assumption of all of your collective closeness to the ogam), let me know & I can elaborate.
At this point, the places I'm most looking for input are:
-Any connections that you think need work/ don't quite fit what the ogam is.
-Directional stuff for connections (too superficial in some cases?)
-Advice on the process. At this point, I'm looking for at least 3 sessions with each ogam-plant pair, asking mostly about appropriate-ness of pairing, and ways it modifies my understanding of the ogam or plant. Also planning on making a set of bone ogam, carving each one prior to the first session. This seems to... quick, shallow. Any advice?
My apologies for the stupidly long post, I wrote this in a word processor which made things look at least somewhat shorter....
Any input is appreciated!