The Celtic Lore of Tree Signs

Have you ever wondered where fortune telling originated from or how far back it goes? In researching my novel, The Sun Palace, (to be published Oct. 1st) I found some interesting ideas used in ancient rituals by Druids, the practice of Ogamcasting.
Ogam reading is the ancient Celtic belief of using trees and tree signs for both telling the future and writing short messages, which has been documented in Irish and Norse mythology. The trees themselves have significance; the signs represented by vertical and horizontal marks with crossbars inscribed on standing stones or timbers that, unfortunately, have long rotted away. The god, Ogma€”in Irish mythology, one of the ancient Tuatha d© Dannan, created the ancient alphabet to reflect these signs. What was truly amazing was not that the tree-marks had meanings, but that they were tools in Celtic divination used by a class of wise men, judges, or magicians of that time called Druids.
There are twenty-four basic letters. Twenty of those signs refer to trees or plants and their corresponding meanings. A stone, spear, sword, or cauldron represents the last four letters. It would take much longer to explain each individual letter, as each one is complex and far-reaching. For further reading check out, Ogam The Celtic Oracle of The Trees by Paul Rhys Mountfort.
There are several forms of spreads or castings using Ogam letters, for which the Druids consulted before giving advice. The one I chose to portray in my novel, The Sun Palace is called The Three Weaver’s Spread; ironically, one of my characters is also a wool weaver.

Below is a scene in The Sun Palace where Geileis, a woman in sixth century Ireland is enlisting the aid of her chief Druid, Amorgin to win the love of her new husband, Arguis.
Amorgin uses the Three Weavers Spread to guide Geileis.

The Druid nodded. €We must consult the elements,€ he said, rising.
Her stomach clenched into a fist. €The elements?€
€The Lore of Trees. You must know what they predict.€ He waved a bony finger at her. €Though I must warn you, if you are wrong, and he does indeed love you, casting a spell or giving you a wee charm could have the reverse effect on you both.€
€Well I have to do something,€ she cried, frustrated. €Tell me what to do, Druid.€
€First, unbind your hair.€
€My hair?€
€Aye. The reading will be more accurate if we give the illusion that you’re still a virgin.€
Was there no end to her humiliation? She bit back the words as she reached behind her head. Untying the leather thong, she loosened the ruddy locks from their confinement. With a flick of her wrists, she fluffed them; they fell in waves over her shoulders and breasts.
The Druid nodded his approval.
€Now what?€
The Druid reached inside the neck of his robe, brought out a bag looped around his neck and placed it on the table between them. It was covered in whitish grey hairs. €The crane bag,€ he announced.
Geileis stroked the bag with her fingertips. It was soft and smooth as fine silk, about the length of her forearm and packed solid.
He pulled the drawstrings open, turned the bag upside down, and shook. Out dropped nine Ogam sticks on the table with a thunk. Carved from yew; each piece of wood was etched with a small tree sign, the cuts dyed black by oak galls.
She stared at the sticks dubiously, heart in her throat. What would she do if the reading revealed her worst fear, and Arguis had indeed fallen in love with another? And if it wasn’t the wet-nurse Arguis lusted for, then whom? He’d already sired a child, little chance he was celibate.
The Druid dropped all the wands back in the bag, except for one. €We’ll only need three,€ he said. He held up the single wand. €And this one, for the theme of the Reading.€ He slid it toward her, leaving it in the middle of the table. €Heather,€ he announced, answering her unasked question. €Tis the sign of love and fertility. You could save yourself a lot of trouble by lying side by side in a bed of it, you know.€
She gave him a look that said, if I could do that I would not be here!
He shrugged and pushed the bag toward her.
€Tis your fate, not mine. Tis you who be drawing the wands.€
She held the bag up with two fingers and stared at it warily. €What do I do?€
€Draw the first one,€ he said encouragingly.
She reached into the bag, fingers fumbling over the smooth wooden surfaces. They were warm and radiated a sort of energy, she guessed from resting against the Druid’s skin. Her finger settled around the first wand and she took it out of the bag.
€Now set it over to the right,€ he instructed, gazing at the wand as she did so. The hearth was right behind him. The flames sparked like bits of marble; they glittered from the limestone walls behind his head. He rubbed his beard thoughtfully. €You’ve drawn the wand of the Spear,€ he said, his face passive.
Somehow, that didn’t sound good to Geileis. €What does it mean?€ she wanted to know.
He patted her hand, reassuringly. €Energy and potency. It usually pertains to a male or the masculine force of accomplishment€”or it could be an exaggeration.€
€A what?€
€Exaggeration,€ he repeated. €Overwhelming ambition, Battle-lust or enslavement even.€
€I’m confused. Does this pertain to Arguis or to me?€ She was afraid to hear his answer.
€Are you ambitious, lass?€
She thought of her business dealings with the monks. She always gave them a fair price, but looming wool took much time, and the tribe of Uisneach took precedence over any extra cloth she would relinquish in trade. The monks’ robes were nearly rags by the time she had enough cloth to trade. Guilt ridden, she’d always given them a bit more than she felt she should have. She shook her head. €If the sign of the Spear does not pertain to me then it must refer to my husband. Is that who you mean?€
He was yawning frequently and his eyes watered. €If€”he be your true love, or it could be another other male as well.€
€I would hope,€ she interrupted. “It has to be Arguis, for I can think of no one else, Druid. What sort of sign is it, exactly?€
€That is your future,€ he replied.
She picked it up and looked at it more closely. It seemed filled with the very energy he’d spoken of for it grew warmer as she held it, as if melting in her hand yet it was hard like a hearth stone. She placed it back in position.
He pointed to the Wand of Spear. €But it means naught until you’ve drawn the rest of the wands. Then we will know how they all affect each other.€
His eyes had grown heavy, his voice weak with fatigue. €Take out the wand of your Present. This one will tell you what you want to know.€
She hesitated, and then reached inside the bag. The next wand was even warmer than the first, like a fresh burned bannock stinging her palm.
€Place it below the Heather wand,€ he instructed. €But don’t turn it over just yet.€ He cleared his throat and then, swiveled around sharply as if something had caught his attention.
He shrugged then turned back around. €Now take out the last one and place it to the left, face down again. This is your past.€
With all the wands retrieved, Geileis relaxed against her chair as he turned over the Present wand. It was marked with dark lines, one horizontal and four lines set vertical below it like a table with four legs.
€Ash,€ he said, simply. €Should come as no surprise to you.€ He leaned across the table. €It is your present state of affairs you know.€
€I see,€ she said though she did not see at all.
€The ash is the tree-sign for change, transformation, and melding your own reality to your own ends.”
So it was true. She could change things if she must. €But that’s exactly€”” She broke off. “That’s why I’m here.