A gold coin on a light background. A stylized man's head, in profile, with flowing hair, fills almost the entirety of the coin's face. Some scrollwork appears near his mouth. There is no text.

An introduction to Ogmios

A week ago, Three Cranes Grove celebrated the autumn equinox, which is also the anniversary rite of the grove. As is customary for 3CG, we honored Teutates, the Gaulish god of tribal protection and the patron of our Grove. In many ways it was quite similar to last year’s rite, but in one specific way it was very different for me: instead of simply attending, I was to have a role in the rite. At the liturgy planning meeting, I had volunteered to call on the spirits of inspiration. This being a Gaulish rite, I knew that I would call on Ogmios, the Gaulish god of eloquence.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. For one, I didn’t know Ogmios. I knew of him, vaguely, under both his Gaulish name and his Irish one, Ogma, but I’d never prayed to him, never made an offering. But further, it’s hard to get to know Ogmios. As an Irish god he appears fairly regularly, but very little of his Gaulish lore remains. We have a second-century record from the Greek satirist Lucian, as well as some coins and sculptures of uncertain figuration (and a couple of curse tablets), but that’s about it. Luckily, what’s there is plenty evocative: a figure of eloquence and command over the folk, a smiling face with chains of amber and gold leading from his pierced tongue to the ears of his eager followers. The Irish Ogma takes the epithets grianainech and milbél, ‘sun-face’ and ‘honey-mouth’, both of which seem applicable to this charismatic leader of oratorical skill.

As a poet, I wanted my invocation to be not only heartfelt, but also skilled in its own right. As druids we believe in sacred reciprocity, a gift for a gift. While the gods are more powerful than we are, and so their gifts are more bountiful, it’s still fitting that our gifts to them be made holy by our own efforts. I have near my desk a copy of Calvert Watkins’ How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics, which I checked out months ago and have barely cracked. But in those pages I did find brief descriptions of Old Irish rosc, which is a bit of a catch-all category for kinds-of-poetry-not-otherwise-named. While I’d love to say I spent weeks learning about rosc, I’ll admit that I mainly skimmed to find a structure for my praise-poem. (Though I do mean to return, I hope with the guidance of Ogmios, to the subject and the language.)

Through the writing process, I eventually settled on a hybrid accentual-alliterative verse form that mimics the spirit of Old Irish rosc while taking lessons from my own modern studies. I delivered my invocation, voice shaking only slightly (though I kept my eyes fixed on a rafter beam), and poured my offering of honey, oil, whiskey, and rose water onto the fire, its golden liquid burning with a blue flame and a sweet scent to carry my prayer to Ogmios’s ears. I pray that this be the beginning of a long relationship with the honey-mouthed god of letters and oratory; as I have given, so may I receive.

Invocation to Ogmios
Mike Bierschenk, 2015

Hail, honey-tongue, hearer of heartfelt overtures, Ogmios, orator!
Open our ears to ancient echoes of sweetness and singing. O speaker
of spirit and skill, send us resounding in the ways of the wise and well-spoken.

May our words waft on feathers of flame;
may our singing sweeten the gifts of the gods;
may eloquence enter the prayers of the people —

Ogmios, inspirer, accept our offering!

[ll. 1-3: seven alliterative beats, divided 4|3; the 3-beat thematic consonant continues in the next line
ll. 4-6: four beats, divided 2|2, without enjambed thematic consonant
l. 7: four beats, all single alliteration
In most alliterative poetry, including this, all vowels alliterate with each other.
]

—–

Header image: Gold coin of the Parisii, Paris, 2nd century BCE. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Accession Number: 17.191.121. Licensed under the Met’s “Open Access for Scholarly Content” program.

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