Thursday, September 15, 2011


Associated with: Irish and Scottish mythology, possibly Gaulish as well
Also known as: Oghma, Ogme, Ogmae, Ogmios (spelling is not a strength of the Irish language)
Earliest recorded mention: c. 1000 CE, although based on a much older oral tradition
Major texts: Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of Invasions)

Once upon a time, giants and heroes walked the earth. Among them were the Tuatha Dé Danann, the people of the goddess Danu, who captured Ireland from the Fir Bolg. I've never been quite clear on what was wrong with the Fir Bolg; maybe nothing, it was just that the Tuatha Dé Danann were so great. In the original stories, they were almost certainly gods, possibly gods brought over and adapted from the religious practices of Gaul (modern France). When it came time to write the stories down, however, the people who knew how to do that were Christian monks. Mindful of the first commandment ("you shall have no other gods before me"), they turned gods into heroes, something less than divine but still something more than ordinary human beings.

Ogma was a great champion, sometimes linked to depictions of Hercules because of his feats of strength. With his brother (or in some stories, father) the Dagda and his half-brother Lugh he is one of the "three gods of skill." Besides his strength, he is known primarily as a great orator and the inventor of the Irish written alphabet, called Ogham in his honor. The customary epithets for Ogma are "sun-faced" and "honey-tongued."

It's a major turning point in any society's development when it begins to value eloquence as much as physical strength, and the introduction of a written alphabet just about defines civilization. Say what you like about our current President, but I see value in having a head of state who can deliver a good speech when he needs to.

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