According to Irish myth the Tuatha Dé Danann’s arrival in Ireland was foretold in a vision to the Fir Bolg King, Eochaid. His druid translated the vision and said that the Tuatha Dé Danann were a gathering of ‘a thousand Heroes’.
So what does it take to stand out among so many heroes as to earn the title Champion of the Tuatha Dé Danann? Who could possess the necessary abilities to take up the role of the tribe’s greatest? Who is the Ogham God?!
We need look no further than Oghma.
Who is Oghma in Celtic Mythology?
Oghma comes into Ireland as an immigrant descended from emigrants. He arrives upon the ships following Nuada as the tribe try to find a place for them in their ancient homeland.
Yet he is not just one of the many skilled and talented heroes who make up this gathering, for he is said to be the strongest. Yet it was not this alone which gained him his renown.
The role of the Champion within a Tuatha was one of position and prestige at the upper levels of the tribe’s castes. The champion stood for the chieftain in many affairs but also as a representative of the tribe. Their role was to issue and face challenges, testing for strength and skill. We see Oghma in this role when Lugh comes to Tara for the first time. Lugh is challenged to a feat of strength by Oghma, who throws a boulder through the wall of the feasting hall. Though he doesn’t quite match him like for like, Lugh proves his worth by showing intellect and skill as part of the challenge. He throws the boulder through the same hole the champion had made, and then repairs the damage Oghma has done.
Even before this though, when the failed King Bres ruled Ireland and oppressed the Tuatha Dé Danann, the one person he could not remove from his position of status was Oghma, showing that there was none among the favoured Fomorian’s who could match him.
Oghma was more than just a physical presence in the Tuatha Dé Danann. He was also a notable intellect, as ready with his words as he was with his muscles.
To prove his mastery in this area he created an alphabet, purely to show that he could. This alphabet still carries his name to this day, Ogham. It is said that the Ogham got its name according to sound and matter, who are the father and the mother of the Ogham. Making him the Ogham God, I guess?
The story of the first Ogham that was carved tells us that this script existed as more than just characters in an alphabet. Oghma showed not just his knowledge with sounds, but also how matter could be used to define protections in this world. The first ogham carved was B and it was placed seven times on a birch branch to defend a wife of Lugh from being taken seven times into the Otherworld.
To this day Ogham still exists in the very stones of Ireland and scholars are still exploring and learning more of this ancient God’s creation.
As with many of the early tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann, they speak of conflicts with other tribes as the people first returned to their ancient homeland in Ireland, then needed to defend it against invaders.
From charging the lines of the Fir Bolg with his brothers, The Dagda, Alla and Delbaeth in order to avenge the death of their brother Bres at the hands of King Eochaid, to leading a charge of his people leaving his track marked by pools of crimson blood, Oghma is often found in the fore of such conflicts.
When the second Battle of Moytura is pending, the new King Lugh asks him what he will bring to the battle. Oghma replies;
‘Not hard to say’, quoth he: ‘repelling the king and repelling three enneads of his friends, and capturing the battalion up to a third by the men of Ireland’.
These feats he does perform and he does indeed slay Fomorian kings. Yet it was in the last actions of the Second battle of Moytura that the champion finally fell.
‘Thereafter the battle became a rout, and the Fomorians were beaten to the sea. The champion Ogma son of Elathu, and Indech son of Dé Domnann, the king of the Fomorians, fell in single combat.’
What Does Oghma Look Like?
As with many of the Tuatha Dé Danann, there is little in the way of physical description when it comes to Oghma. A lot of what we do have comes from inferences about their abilities and what is said of them.
Given that Oghma is said to share parents with the Dagda some of his descriptors could apply, and when this is added to the feats Oghma performs we can infer that he is God who is big and broad, with great strength to his form.
When we include his abilities both on and off the battlefield it indicates not just a warrior physique. Though his hands have wielded weapons and boulders, they have also carved the shapes of Ogham into words and imbued the matter with the power and energy of sound. This could speak to an intellectual and artistic aspect to the nature of the Ogham God.
Who is Oghma Today?
For many pagans and even none pagans today Oghma, and his creation in the Ogham, serve as an expression of the multi-faceted nature of Irish deity. He is a God of the creative words of the mind, as much as the physical aspects of the body.
He represents an ideal, standing out over and above the many other heroes and skilled artisans of his tribe as their champion, not just because of his might, but also because of his mind.
Those who seek knowledge in the Ogham, or even knowledge in themselves can find a ready ally in this hero amongst heroes, this Champion of the Gods.
Where To Now?
If you think that Oghma is interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always: