by Tracy Boyd

© 2009






The Fool is the embodiment of a cypher in every sense of the word.  He is nothing, a naught, zero, a person without importance, a thing without value, a nonentity.  He is the concealer of the mysteries and the secret writings, the knowledge of which resides in visual form in the Tarot Arcana, and which is meant to be understood only by those who have the key to it, revealed only to those who know the code.  That the sacred Fool possesses the key to such a code is an open secret.  One has only to see through the meaning of the intricate weaving together of the letters spelled out in the riddle of the cypher. (3) 

We are most fortunate to find in the 1JJ Swiss Tarot deck, a Fool who is, him-self, the cypher and key to the theme of the deck.  Because this Fool shows us his hand, one need look no further than this first card, which stands just outside the deck, at its edge, at the very beginning.  This is the usual place of the Fool, and the appropriate place for the Tarot Fool, who, because he is before the beginning of everything, most frequently appears as the first card of the Major Arcana, and is so designated by the numeral Zero.  Although The Fool is sometimes shown as unnumbered, or as the twenty-second card at the end of the atouts or ‘trumps’, his placement before the beginning is his true and rightful place.  For it is he, or occasionally she, who stands at the precipice ready to lead us through the magical journey of the Tarot if we are willing to take the leap.

The job of the Fool is to get right up into your face and stay there until you get it; hitting you over the head with his bauble, if necessary.  This Tarot Fool has left a long trail of single-themed clues for us to find in his card, knowing that the cumu-lative effect would get through (eventually).  And yet, hundreds of years have passed and, as far as we can ascertain, no one has ever deciphered the cyphers hiding in plain sight on the card of the 1JJ Swiss Tarot Fool, at least not in print.  

The 1JJ Swiss Tarot, which is at least “several centuries” old, (4) is purported to be “based on 14th century illustrations.” (5)  Although its first date of publication is unknown, a JJ Swiss Tarot deck published in 1680 by one Ioannes Pelagius Mayer of Konstanz, whose initials, ‘IM’, are imprinted on the shield at the center of the Four of Coins card, is the earliest deck of this type that has survived. (6)  Whatever its actual date of beginning, this deck has a very authentic Pagan feel to it.  Oak leaves and branches, acorns and holly leaves, predominate in many of the cards’ designs in both the Major and Minor Arcana suits.  They are clews dropped here and there along the path of the Tarot journey, to remind us that it is the oak whose door swings open at the summer’s turning of the year to admit the Holly King of the winter season. (7)  And it is the continuous turning of the seasons that is the underlying theme of this deck, and that of many others.

The oaken strands serve, also, as iconographic embellishments to the double J s in the deck’s title, whose letters are presumed by all to stand for Junon (Juno) and her consort Jupiter, the God of the Oak.  Stuart R. Kaplan, the author of the voluminous The Encyclopedia of Tarot, tells us that the presence of these two ancient deities in the early 18th century decks of southern France was the result of “a conciliatory gesture toward the Church,” their inclusion being a substitution for the usual appearance of the cards known as The Pope and The Popess. (8)  How-ever that may be with respect to other decks of that only slightly later period, it would seem not to be the case with this particular deck, whose preference for things Pagan trumps any concern for the Church’s feelings.  In the 1JJ Swiss Tarot, Jupiter is not just one of the cards in the Major Arcana, he is one of its two main protagonists.

We have no doubt that the presence of Jupiter and Juno gave rise to the presump-tion that the paired J s in the title stood for these illustrious deities.  This would have been the intent of a cardmaker who did not wish the esoteric secrets con-tained in these cards to be known to all.  In fact, the first J does, indeed, stand for Jupiter, but not for the reasons one might suppose.  As for Juno being the deity for whom the second J in the title of this deck stands, she is as invisible as the dark phase of the moon over which she rules.  Her image is included in this heliocentric deck only because she is the wife of the all-powerful God of the Oak.  But her inclusion ends there.  Except for a few minor symbolic elements, her presence is not felt, nor would it be of particular relevance within the context of this Tarot deck’s solar focus. 

In an esoteric context, the only “person” for whom this J could stand, who could serve as a partner for the Jupiterian Oak King, and whose prominent presence is the very key to the cyphered message of the deck, is The Fool.  As we shall discover, he is the oak god’s tanist, or second, and twin.  And it is he, not Jupiter’s marriage partner, who is the veiled second J in what is commonly re-ferred to as the “Double J Tarot.”  This twin J does not stand for ‘jester’, for which there is no equivalent word in French that begins with the letter J, nor does it represent the word ‘joker’, which is a very late mid-nineteenth century inven-tion of American cardmakers. (9)  In keeping with the typically clever word-play that characterizes the Fool, there is only one word that it can stand for, and that is the French word jumeau, which means ‘twin’, or ‘double’. (10)

As proof of the defiant, “devil may care” attitude of this 1JJ Swiss Tarot, we have the brazen Fool himself virtually thumbing his nose at the authority of the Church.  The unnumbered card in this deck, which is titled Le Mat (‘The Mad-man’), whom some call ‘Le Fou’, and others, ‘The Fool, (11) and which we shall presume, therefore, to be Zero, announces to the world in no uncertain terms that this is an entirely Pagan pack.  There is nothing Christian about it at all.


Le Mat, our “madman” Fool, is shown dancing towards the left, which is to say, in a widdershins, or counter-sunwise, direction.  His left leg remains firmly planted on the ground.  His right, which is clothed in a red pantaloon emblazoned with a stripe of stylized holly leaves running down the entire length of the seam, crosses over the left, thus creating an emphatic counter-clockwise movement.  From the direction of his dance alone, we are able to ascertain that he is the Holly King, or to be more accurate, we should say that he is the surrogate for this King of Winter who stands opposed to the Jupiterian Oak King, or King of Summer, in the calendar of the Pagan year.

This Winter Fool, were he to be judged on the basis of the fragmentary nature of his costume alone, could be easily mistaken for a Christmas Fool, or Master of the Revels, which further examination will prove that he most certainly is not.  But, perhaps this is the whole idea: to “pass”.  The Church had already succeeded in severing many of the Holly King’s thoroughly Pagan associations simply by calling the holly plant of the winter season, ‘Christmas’. (12)

The typically mismatched, insanely disjointed outfit of such a Christmas Fool, who is, after all, a pre-Christian Pagan relic, is described in a dictionary from 1617:

        His [coxcomb] hood is blue, guarded or edged with yellow at its scalloped

        bottom, his doublet is red, striped across, or rayed with a deeper red, and

        edged with yellow, his girdle yellow, his left-side hose yellow, with a red

        shoe, and his right-side hose blue, soled with red leather. (13)


There is no question, however, that even if our Tarot Fool were to be stripped of his holly-festooned costume, we could be absolutely certain of his Pagan associ-ation with winter and the waning half of the year because of the widdershins direction of his dance.  He dances against the light.  And this is the very definition of widdershins, for aside from its meaning as a movement towards a left, or ‘sinister’, counter-sunwise direction, “in certain circumstances it can be used to refer to a direction which is against the light . . . where you are unable to see your shadow.” (14)  There is nothing sinister about The Fool’s dance; he is merely performing what we might call the winter sequence of the annual procession of the sun across the sky.

This movement of the changing shadows of the sun has been delineated with great clarity and detail by Martin Brennan in The Stars and the Stones: Ancient Art and Astronomy in Ireland.  He explains that

        If the shadows of the sun are correlated over a period of one year in chrono-

        logical order following their curvature they form a double spiral. In winter

        the spiral is counter-clockwise and the coils are wide. The shadows begin to

        straighten as equinox approaches, and after equinox they begin to wind into

        a clockwise spiral and tighten. They contract until the summer solstice and

        the right-hand spiral begins to expand after the solstice, straighten again at

        equinox and return to a left-handed spiral again in winter to continue the

        process perpetually. (15)

The Fools dance is an ancient dance, a dance which speaks to a Pagan audience, a dance that stirs memories of the ancient labyrinthine meanderings performed in imitation of the movements of the sun through its seasons with steps that followed an infinite spiraling path without beginning or end, such as we have just described.  It is a dance that the Church’s clergy condemned so that we might forget the old ways.  They accomplished this by identifying the counter-movements of this age-old homage to the sun as a mark of the “left-hand path” of the witch. (17) 

For a moment in time, the dancing was halted, but it is a dance whose undulating rhythms we remember still – somewhere deep down in memory – a dance we know well.  And, as the audacious Fool tells us, by performing his unchristian widder-shins dance in defiance of the edicts of the Church, the dancing did not stop.  The message of this dance has been preserved in many ways.  We find monumental evidence of these spiraling meanderings of the sun depicted on stones throughout the world.  Those that guard the entrance to Newgrange, the place where the Winter Solstice sun rises again, are perhaps the most well-known of such calendri-cal notations. (18)

This Holy Fool of Winter is singularly unimpressed by the dictates of the Church.  They are of no concern to him whatsoever.  With eyes wide open, he gazes upon us full face, inviting us to join the dance.  In his right hand he holds one of the hall-marks of the magician, a magic wand carved from the wood of a sacred tree for use in the casting of spells.  We would venture an educated guess that our holly-mad Tarot Fool displays a wand cut from a branch of the holly.  To imagine him possessing any other wood as his own would be foolhardy.  And possess it he does, for his emphatically firm grip at the center of the holy wand makes it clear that this is his very personal instrument of power. 

We have seen the force of such a wand in the ancient Homeric stories of Hermes and Circe, (19) and in the stories that appear throughout the literature of Ireland, where it is shown that the Druids employed the yew, hawthorn, and rowan for their wands.  Their Gaulish cousins appear to have favored oak for their instruments of shamanic magic-making. (20)  And, following in the footsteps of this long tradition, we find in the poetry of William Butler Yeats, numerous mentions of the hazel wand as a source of poetic inspiration and an instrument of magic. (21) 

The Holly King is The Fool in the Oak King Jupiter’s Tarot deck, not only because he is the outsider in Jupiter’s season of the oak, but because he is the tan-ist, or second in succession in the line of kingship.  A quick perusal through the voluminous pages of Frazer’s The Golden Bough will show that the tanist also figures as the substitute or stand-in for the king when the subject of beheading arises.  Except for the obvious seasonal differences, one would be hard-pressed to delineate the distinctions between the Holly King and the Oak King, who rule the waning and the waxing halves of the year respectively.  Our confusion is explained by the fact that these antagonists of Winter and Summer are not only opposites; they are also twins who ceremoniously exchange places with one another as the season demands. (22) 

We are reminded of the Green Knight who arrives at the Midwinter court of King Arthur with a “holly-bundle”  in one hand, “and an axe in the other(23) to present a challenge of ritual combat to Arthur, the Oak King.  Sir Gawain steps forward as the king’s stand-in for the semi-annual duel that always, and for all eternity, ends in a beheading whose outcome is “predetermined”. (24)

The antagonism between Summer and Winter is an archetypal theme that is played out in a variety of guises in much of ancient and Medieval drama, epic verse, and story-telling.  It has been established, also, as one of the principle bases for the Comedy of the ancient Greek theater (25) in which the Fool plays center-stage. (26)  There are so many instances of seasonal “ritual patterns in literature” that a full recitation of their enactments would be a formidable, if not impossible, under-taking. (27) 

In the single example of the Battle of Winter and Summer, or of Holly vs. Oak, that we here cite, the 14th century alliterative verse of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, man and nature exist in an inseparable unity.  The huge man who “green all over glowed . . . both garments and man,” (28) is a tree (and a fairy) who walks and talks.  As we have noted, the illustrations on which this Tarot deck is thought to be based are of this same period. (29)  We should not, then, be too surprised to find the perennial dance of the opposing seasons as its opening theme.  


But the dance is just the beginning.  In the likely event that we may have missed the significance of its left-handed motion, our Tarot Fool proffers another clue in the cryptic gesture of his left hand.  With palm facing out so all the world can see, his upraised thumb, forefinger, and little finger sign a message in a secret speech intelligible to anyone who can read it.  The arcane mystery of its meaning is pro-tected by a veil of secrecy from anyone not in possession of the key to its code. 

In our search for that key, we encountered several possibilities that were considered and then quickly discarded as unsuitable solutions.  Before we began our search in earnest, we had already rejected the throwaway line by Stuart Kaplan who, describ-ing the same gesture in a later “Double J Tarot” deck by another cardmaker, said that Le Fou (The Fool) was “making a sign of mockery” with his left hand. (30)  Among the more serious considerations there were two, which we share so that the first can be laid to rest by interpreters of the Tarot, and the second, used only as a secondary means of amplification rather than a solution to the message. 

In the first instance, it has been said that the enigmatic position of the hand of The Fool appears to be a variant of the famous gesture made to avert the ‘Evil Eye’, the mano cornuta, or ‘horned hand’, most often thought to represent the horns of the bull.  But the mano cornuta makes no sense within the symbolic context of the Tarot itself.  Our doubts were confirmed by Frederick Thomas Elworthy, the definitive authority on the use of gestures of the hand as amuletic devices against the Evil Eye, who offers an exacting description of what, precisely, constitutes the ‘horned hand’.  It is made, he says, in one way only: with “the index and little finger extended, the middle and ring finger clasped by the thumb.” (31)  The posit-ioning of our Fool’s prominently outstretched thumb is nowhere to be seen in this requisite position.

The second, while not the solution, was most illuminating.  Having turned to occult interpretations of the individual fingers of the hand for possible clues, we redis-covered Cornelius Agrippa’s famous 1531 reproduction of the hand showing the planetary rulers that are assigned to the fingers and the palm for purposes of divination and character reading in the practice of palmistry.  The astrological symbols that are mapped out on the hand in this, and other, illustrations of the Medieval period, show that “Venus ‘rules’ the thumb, Jupiter the first finger, Saturn the second finger, the Sun [Apollo] the third finger, and Mercury the fourth finger.” (32)   


(After: Martin Brennan) (16)

There is an overall consistency in the way schematic archetypal systems play out across diverse disciplines.  Our interest was peaked by the attribution of the fore-finger to Jupiter, not only because the ‘Jupiter finger’ is raised in The Fools hand, but because Jupiter, the King, is the subject of our Tarot deck.  Addition-ally, we discovered that another name for the ‘Saturn finger’ is “the Fool’s-finger”. (34)  This was, to be sure, another of The Fools very enticing clues, but it was by no means the solution to his message.  We would have to wait until we could put all of the pieces of the puzzle together before we could come to an understanding of the full implication of these fascinatingly identified fingers as they applied to our Tarot Fool’s hand.  At least we knew that we were on the right track.

Then we chanced upon a now much-reproduced drawing in Robert Graves’s The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. (35)  It is an image of a left hand on which an unintelligible alphabet is laid out on each of the fingers and the thumb.  The alphabet that Graves has superimposed on the hand, is that of a long-forgotten sacred language of the Druidic bards known as Ogham (pro-nounced ohm, (36) the ‘a’ being not quite heard, but subliminally audible, never-theless). There it was.  Everything clicked.  This was the key to the seemingly impenetrable open secret that is literally spelled out in The Fools left hand.   


Cornelius Agrippa, De occulta philosophia, 1531 (33)

We had first to digest the startling revelation that The Fool of our Tarot deck was a Druid.  This is not such an odd overlay as one might think.  In point of fact, the historical background shows them to be a perfect confluence of char-acters.  The disdain of the Druids for the new Church was rivaled only by the Christian hatred of the Druids, whose arcane wisdom was anathema to the doctrines of the Church. 

The Christian diatribes against the Druids often took the form of ruthless and puerile ridicule, (38) qualities that we associate with the archetypal Fool himself.  The formerly honored Druids were ridiculed to such an extent that, not only were their finely-honed skills trampled upon and defiled, but by the time the Christians were done with them, their very existence had even been called into question. (39)  They are, to this day, not a subject to be brought up in casual conversation unless one wishes to incur peals of laughter.

Among the most favored of hostile insults, which are scattered throughout much of the late Christian literature of Ireland, was the purposeful “intermingling” of two entirely unrelated words, namely, “drui [, which] means ‘druid’ and druth

[, meaning] ‘buffoon’.” (40)  The usual translation of the word druth, which is rendered interchangeably as “‘fool’ or ‘madman’ (in the sense of inspired mad-ness or inspiration),” (41) is a seamless match to the Druid-Fool in our Tarot deck, whose title, Le Mat, has the identical and indistinguishable meaning of ‘fool’ and ‘madman’. 

Given the context of these warring faiths, we might ask whether there is not an oblique reference to the Christian insult – a slap in the Church’s face, if you will, on the part of the Druid who has the last laugh by parading as The Fool, all the while divulging his wisdom to the world.  His message has gotten through the enemy lines.  We wish to join him in silencing any trace of laughter that may be lingering in the air, by setting the record straight as to the what the Druids knew. 

We could sum up what they knew in one word.  Everything!  At least everything of consequence.  One would be hard-pressed to find a course of study superior in quality to the exceptionally rigorous program that was undertaken by a young Druid, one which was occasionally open to girls as well as boys. (42)  The exhaus-tive Bardic curriculum spanned a grueling twelve-year minimum period of study, the particulars of which are beyond impressive, especially in view of the fact that the teachings were transmitted orally.  Nothing was written down. 

In addition to Philosophy and Law, including Bardic Law, these wizards of the word in-training were called upon to commit to memory one-hundred-fifty Ogham alphabets of various kinds, the rules of grammar, glosses upon words, Prosody, over one-hundred orations, ‘The Secret Language of the Poets’, ‘The Four Arts of Poetry’, and virtually all of the sacred poems and tales of Ireland.  These included an unspecified number of “specified poems” in addition to those 108 specified, and some 690 tales in addition to a further number of unspecified tales.  The numerous topographical stories from the Dindshenchas (‘The Lore of Places’), a compilation of the histories of virtually every sacred site of con-sequence in Ireland, were also required to be learned by heart. (43)

And as if this were not challenge enough, by the end of this period of intensive learning, the initiate was expected to have gained a proficiency in the mystic arts of poetic and prophetic inspiration. (44)  The magical means by which such illumi-nated inspiration was achieved is said to have been ritually accomplished by the mastery of the “three songs.” (45)  These are known by the names of Teinm Laeghdha, Imbas Forosnai, and Dichetal Do Chennibh, “translated by [Kuno] Meyer as ‘illumination of song’, ‘knowledge which illuminates’, and ‘extempore incantation’,” respectively. (46)

The ways in which these magical songs were actualized is much debated.  We do know that were used for mantic purposes. (47)  We have touched upon Teinm Laeghdha, or Laida, in “Titania, The Queen of Faerie, and The Druid Tom Thumbe”, and barely scratched the surface, at that. (48)  Suffice it to say, that these songs are the most mystical, mysterious, and complex aspects of Druidic divination and poetic inspiration, requiring, perhaps, a lifetime of study.  They are far too convoluted to unravel in this present article, so we will leave it at that for now. (49)

Returning for a moment to our discussion of the word drui (‘Druid’), we note that distinctions have been made between its meaning, which is generally under-stood to be a generic description of a priest of the Druidic religion, and that of

the term file, which is a more specific qualification meaning ‘poet’, or ‘bard’, ‘judge’ or ‘legal advocate’.  We make no such distinction, preferring to use these appellations indiscriminately and interchangeably.  The lines are somewhat blurred to begin with, and this is so because, in actuality, they seem to coexist within the same person.  But, we must be somewhat more specific about the word file, the meaning of which sheds some light on the relationship of king, or some-times queen, and Druid. 

        [‘File’ is] a word which for want of a better equivalent we must translate

        ‘poet’, though in doing so we must empty the English word of most, if not

        all, of its natural associations. ‘Weaver of spells’ is, perhaps, a more accu-

        rate equivalent: the file was much more magical than literary in his duties.

        The chief poet (ardfhile) of a king was no mere poet laureate. He was a

        personage who was believed to possess supernatural powers, which it was

        his business to exercise on behalf of the king whom he nominally served.

        We say nominally served, for we are often uncertain which is to be regarded

        as master and which as man. (50)



What we know of the Druidic language and its numerous Ogham alphabets is recorded in some great detail in the Medieval Irish Book of Ballymote, which was assembled in 1391.  The book is a collection of texts, which are transcriptions from much older manuscripts that set forth the rules pertaining to the use of some one-hundred-fifty variations of the prime alphabet known as Beth-Luis-Nion, or ‘B-L-N’. (51)  The most well-known of the numerous alphabetic variants, which was its original form, (52) is that which is commonly referred to as the “alphabet of trees.” (53)  It is so called, not for its “branch-like” letter forms, as some have suggested, (54) but because each of its letters actually stands for a tree or a bush or shrub. 

In view of the fact that the literal meaning of the word Druid is ‘Wise in the Way of Trees’, (55) we should not be surprised in the least to find that an arboreal alphabet serves as the Druids’s central means of communication.  A cursory in-spection of any ancient magical alphabet will reveal that it is a vast repository of esoteric wisdom. (56)  The “primarily magical” alphabet of the Druids (57) is no exception.  The whole mystery of the world is to be found therein.

The spoken names of the letters of the Ogham alphabet are described in the Book of Ballymote as “fitted with acrophonic names of trees.” (58)  There we read, for example, that B is for Beth (Birch), L is for Luis (Rowan or Mountain Ash), F is for Fearn (Alder), and so on, for each tree-letter of the alphabet, to the end.  By employing this means to identify each of the letters with its homophonic, or ‘same sounding’, tree, the whole language has a single voice with which to sing in unison with the universe.  This is the esoteric purpose of language in its most sacred form.  The poetic singing of the trees is a more immediately audible form of the more distantly remote notion of the “music of the spheres”, wherein each planet creates its generally unheard vibrational note in the octave as it whirls in infinite space. (59)

In furtherance of this idea, we note that Sean O’Boyle, a well-known collector of traditional Irish songs, (60) introduced a very thought-provoking theory about the uses of Ogham in his book, Ogam: The Poets’ SecretIt was his position that “Fionn’s Ladder”, one of the many diverse cryptic varieties of Ogham, was written as a form of musical notation to delineate the fingering positions of the entire range of the Irish harp.  He was of the belief, also, that these harmonic notations constituted the whole key to the language. (61)

The Ogham alphabet is comprised of fifteen consonants and five vowels.  Reading from left to right, the Beth-Luis-Nion, or ‘B-L-N’, Tree Ogham Alphabet reads like this when it is spelled out in its four-line frame of five tree-letters per hori-zontal line:


SUPERIMPOSED ON THE HAND (After: Robert Graves) (37)

This was its more concealed original form:

Ogham’s leading scholar, the great linguist and interpreter of Ogham, R. A. Stewart Macalister, upon whom all subsequent studies of the language have relied, reproduced the alphabet in The Archaeology of Ireland in 1928 as it appeared in the largely inaccessible medieval Irish texts. (63)  In this landmark book, Macalister rightly argues that the numerous Ogham alphabets were in existence as the foundation of a rigorous and strictly oral literary tradition long before the art of writing, in large part because “the traditional sacred literature had taken shape before the invention of writing.” (64) 

As proof of this thesis of the memorization of sacred Druidic “texts” by aural means, Macalister cites the first century B.C.E. writings of Julius Caesar, whom he accurately dubs “the arch destroyer of Celtic Civilization on the Continent of Europe.” (65)  Caesar’s observations of the instruction of the Druid initiates of Gaul, which were acquired at first-hand, are recorded in his excep-tionally admiring discussion of the enemy in his Commentaries of the Gallic Wars and Civilization (Commentarii de Bello Gallico et civili). (66)  The Roman conqueror’s open admiration and awe of his subjects stands in sharp contrast to those denigrating glimpses of the Druids offered by the revisionist Christian tale-tellers of much later times. (67) 

According to Caesar’s testimony, the initiate was charged with ”learning by heart a great number of verses, in which the teaching was enshrined.  These were imparted orally, never written.” (68)  Caesar states unequivocally that “the Druids believe that their religion forbids them to commit their teachings to writing.” (69)  To quash any false notions that the Druids were forced to rely on the complexities of memorization for reasons of illiteracy, he emphasizes the fact that they conducted the business of secular life in fluent Greek letters. (70) 

Macalister suggests very plausible parallels with such learning by oral trans-mission in other sacred traditions, particularly with that of the passing on of the “Vedas in India [, which] were preserved in memory in a like manner for at least a thousand years” before they were written down in Sanskrit. (71)  Striking similarities are evident, also, in the physical characteristics of the Ogham and Sanskrit alphabets.  This is shown in the separation of vowels from consonants, and in the way in which their groupings of letters are arranged, by similarity of sound, or by cognate relationships, which provide oral and aural clues to aid the initiate in the memorization of sacred material. (72) 

In doing so, a kind of resonance is created in the sounding of the words which has a very musical ring to it.  On the surface, this harmonic after-effect acts as an ingenious aid in the memorization of language, but in the language of the sacred, there is always a hidden and higher purpose.  According to the ancient Vedic texts of India, the creation of the world is attributed to the intonation of “the one profound and all-embracing vibration of the sacred sound OM,” (73) which existed before the beginning.  This is what is meant by the “hearing” of the Vedas, during the recitation of which, the whole world comes alive in the resonating intonations of the one sound. (74)  Undoubtedly, the poetically in-spired Druid experienced the singing of the trees in the reciting of the ancient verses in the same way as the Rishis heard the sacred word. 

Like all bards, these masters of mysterious words must have taken enormous pride in committing to memory the vast compendium of wisdom that resided in their verses.  The recitation from memory of a colossal number of verses is a very long and proud tradition, and there is a most amusing and illuminating brag from the mouth of the great poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, a claim whose meaning scholars have argued about for years, and one which sheds some very direct light on this issue of literacy.  In about 1198, and for several years thereafter, Wolfram composed “24,810 lines in rhymed couplets” (75) for his Parzival, which contained virtually all of the known wisdom of his time.  And yet he boasted within the body of that very magnificent and complex text, that no one should “considered it as a book,” because, he said, “I don’t know a single letter of the alphabet.” (76) 

The tenacious insistence upon the transmission of sacred teachings by oral means, even long after the ability to commit such teachings to writing has occurred and, regardless of whether those teachings take the form of ritual belief or sacred story, is widespread and well-known.  The oral tradition is highly resistant to change, not only for reasons having to do with a refusal to interfere with the intrinsic order of ritualistic patterns, but because the writing down of these things changes everything, often acting to spell the doom of the very thing that such recording purports to preserve. 

The commitment to memory, as opposed to the writing of Ogham’s sacred teachings, was in no way an exceptional phenomenon.  Macalister assures us that

        The finger-alphabet and the traditional language in which the druids com-

        municated their inviolable secrets to one another were wrapped in an aura

        of secrecy and magic by their very nature: we may be sure that Ogham

        was never written at all until druidism was breaking down. (77)

Macalister is unwavering in his certainty that “the manual signs were not reproduced in writing until the very end of the time when they were in use.” (78)  He bases this sound statement on the age-old practice of the concealment of sacred knowledge from outsiders, but he takes it one step further.  He contends that, not only was the written form of Ogham very late, (79) but that Ogham “was never intended to be written at all.” (80)  And this is proved, he informs us, by the fact that there is not a single “specimen of Ogham writing,” (81) by which he means writing of the literary variety, “anywhere on the Continent.” (82)  

Aside from the Old Irish texts in which examples of various Ogham alphabets and styles are recorded in the Book of Ballymote and elsewhere, and the occasional note between fellow Druids, the only evidence that we have of Ogham in written form occurs in fragmentary inscriptions on stone monuments and boundary markers, which are strictly non-literary in nature.  What has been gleaned from these fragmentary markings has provided all that is known about the ancient tongue of Primitive Irish, “the oldest known form of the Goidelic [Gaelic] languages,” which was spoken until sometime in the sixth century of the common era, when it was superseded by Old Irish. (83)

Long after it had died out in general usage, the Druids continued to use the old language that for so many centuries had been the foundation of their sacred learning.  Thus did it become, what Macalister has called, a “secret language”, (84) with which “a druid . . . wheresoever in the Celtic world he might find himself, could shew, among his other credentials, a mastery of an ancient speech, known only to those of his own order.” (85)  But secrecy seems to have been the whole idea behind Ogham from its inception.  The Book of Bally-mote itself reveals that Oghma, the “God of Eloquence”, (86) “much skilled in dialects and poetry, invented Ogham for signing secret speech known only to the learned.” (87)

It is a remarkable happenstance, indeed, that we should find a member of this privileged group imaged as a Fool who is communicating veiled secrets in this presumed-to-be extinct language on a seventeenth century Tarot card.  The Druids seem not to have vanished from the earth as we have been told they had.  There are clear and present traces of them in many out-of-the-way places.  One just has to know where to look and how to read the messages encrypted between the lines.  The popular tales of the early part of this same century, which was a time when stories that had been passed along in the great oral tradition now started to appear in print, are virtual fonts of previously guarded Druidic wisdom.  The story of Tom Thumbe, which we have scrutinized in some detail in another article, is a prime example of the survival of the Druids long after everyone had counted them for dead. (88) 

A most interesting note about the use of the Ogham script that Macalister drops, almost in passing, is that “many of the old story-tellers of the folk were familiar with it, and scribbles in which it was used are often to be found in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century MSS. [manuscripts] which they have left behind.” (89) 

As for the lack of evidence for a body of literature in written Ogham, he puts forward a further argument, an argument that is as unimpeachable as his others, that in its written form the sacred Ogham alphabet is of little use because it “is probably the clumsiest on earth.” (90)  For this reason, Macalister explains,


        It could not have been used for anything but the shortest of notes; and

        there is every reason to believe that when it was so used, it was with a

        magical or a secret intention. The Book of Ballymote tract . . . justifies

        us in assuming this to be the case, by presenting us with a large number

        of variations on the simple theme of the alphabet itself. These are crypto-

        graphic, contrived to increase the difficulty of reading the message if it

        should fall into unauthorized hands. (91) 

The original single-row of notched runic-like markings, which were drawn below, above, diagonally through, and straight through a horizontal line, were abandoned – much to the dismay of the Druids – when the alphabet was first set down in written word-form.  The markings were now laid out as letters within a framework of four rows with five letters in each row, such as we have shown above.  The closely-held secrets of the nondescript notched lines were thus revealed to show the letter for which each immediately identifiable tree or bush stood.

Continuing with this thread of sacred secrecy, Macalister goes on to say what he believes was Ogham’s real use:

        Though ill-adapted for literary purposes, the standard Ogham alphabet

        could have been used with ease and economy of effort, in manual ges-

        tures: I am convinced that it was primarily invented for secret communi-

        cation in the presence of non-initiates by means of such gestures. (92)  

Just on the face of it, without having to delve any deeper, this would seem irrefutable.  Begging the question, despite the obvious, an alternative use for such manual gestures has been put forward by another highly regarded Celtic scholar who is a shamanic practitioner.  Caitlin Matthews, based on a mis-understanding of a discussion in Robert Graves about the tips of the fingers, has proposed that the filid, or ‘poets’, employed the fingers of the hand as a mnemonic aid in the dredging up of their enormous collection of sacred knowledge, much of which was incorporated and concealed within the cryptic Ogham alphabet. (93)  

While a mnemonic use is entirely possible in the context of mantic practice, this theory does not take into consideration the fact that only the very tips of the fingers, never the joints of the fingers, were used for the purpose of getting in touch with such magical inspiration.  We look to Robert Graves, himself, for clarification: 


        It is less likely that a mnemonic trick involving the use of the finger

        alphabet was used than that the poets induced a poetic trance by treating

        their finger-tips as oracular agents . . . . (94)    

We hope that we have laid to rest the unfounded connection between Druidic mantic ritual and the finger-alphabet that has been so widely promulgated.  With unclouded vision we shall be better able to see that there is no question that the most obvious and indispensable usage of the fingers of the hand as they pertain to the Ogham alphabet is as a secret sign language.  Macalister had been telling us this all along.  He was the first to notice that

        the Ogham letters are quite suitable for spelling out words and sentences

        by means of finger-signs. The number of the groups of scores, from one

        to five, irresistibly suggests the hand and its fingers. All these letters . . .

        can be made with one hand or with both, held in various attitudes, and

        with as many fingers outstretched as may be required. (95)

Graves duly notes that it was Macalister who devised the idea that the alphabet of “four sets, each of five characters, . . . represented fingers used in a sign language.” (96)  Paraphrasing the method of communication proposed by Macalister, he explains that in order “to form any one of the letters of the alphabet, one needed only to extend the appropriate amount of fingers of one hand, pointing them in one of four different directions.” (97)  

The poet is inspired by the linguist’s insight, even going so far as to map out the alphabet on the hand exactly as Macalister has described it.  But he dis-agrees as to the method of its use, and so constructs his own version of how communication between Druids might have been implemented when they employed ‘Palm of Hand-Ogham’, as it was called when applied to the hand.  Graves envisions “the left hand as a key-board, like that of a typewriter, with the letters marked by the tips, the two middle joints, and the bases of the fingers and thumb.” (98)  To convey a message, letters would be indicated on this “finger key-board,” (99) by “touch[ing] the required spots with the forefinger of the right hand.” (100)  

With the letters of the alphabet so conveniently superimposed on the hand, we can read the palm as if it were a book.  Reading horizontally from left to right, we proceed line by line, beginning with B (Beth) at the tip of the thumb, and continuing through the order of the alphabet until we reach I (Idho) at the base of the little finger.  Like so:


(After: R. A. S. Macalister and Robert Graves) (62)

Using Graves’s “score”, we can visualize the relationship of the Ogham letters to the hand of our Tarot Fool who has, however, simplified both scholars’ theories by eliminating the need to point.  He merely holds up the fingers that point the way to his message.  “Reading” the letters indicated by his upraised thumb, forefinger, and little finger, we are presented with some fascinating possibilities.  To begin with, given the certainly not coincidental fact that the first three letters that crop up on the very tips of these three digits are B, L, and N, we would be complete fools’ asses not to recognize that the Druid masquerading as The Fool is making a blatant announcement of exactly who he is by proclaiming his knowledge of the secret Ogham alphabet of Beth-Luis-Nion, or ‘B-L-N’.  

The joints of the fingers, which contain the remaining consonantal letters, some of which have a direct bearing on his shorthand message, we will take up momentarily.  But, for now, we move down the hand to the all-important vowels located at the bases of the fingers, where a most substantive message is to be found.  It should be obvious to any scholar of the sacred, whether a Druid, or not, that the vowels would probably contain the deepest meaning, for they are the most sacred elements of sacred language.  This is why the vowels are never written or pronounced in Hebrew, and why vowels are set apart, or sanctified, in many other ancient languages.

We can see plainly enough that the vowel-bases of the extended thumb, forefinger, and little finger signify Ailm (A), Onn (O), Idho (I).  But the solution to that part of the puzzle is not sufficient for us to understand the message encrypted in these tree-letters.  We shall have to take another step,

a leap into the precipice, if you will, in order to decipher the multi-layered meanings of the letters themselves.


To do so, we must rely, once more, on the wisdom of our modern poet, Robert Graves, who, in his quest to solve the sacred riddles of the ancient bards, has fitted-out the language of the trees into a calendar of the seasons.  He accomplished this extraordinarily difficult task by carefully threading his way through the intricacies of the numerous mythological nuances of each of the Ogham trees, and then weaving their seasons into a calendrical whole that corresponded to the sacred period of a ‘year and a day’.

Despite some criticisms of overreaching from time to time, and the occasional error, the fact remains, that everything which this poet has set down is based entirely upon the ancient and Medieval associations that reside in the myths and literature, the seasons and the rites, of Ireland and Wales.  One needs the vision to see these things that others would pass by.  Without Graves’s calen-dar of trees we would see nothing at all in the Tarot Fool’s hand but an empty gesture. (102)

The five vowel-trees of A-O-U-E-I stand on their own in Graves’s “calendar of seasonal tree-magic”, as they were originally intended to do when the sacred Ogham alphabet was devised. (103)  Whereas, the consonants spell out the story of the year in some great detail, the vowels sum up the essence of the whole in a kind of abbreviated, but intense, shorthand.  The sacred vowels are complete in themselves as arboreal equivalences, and perhaps also as sound equivalen-ces, of the stations of the solar year. 

We begin the decipherment of all that is contained in The Fools hand, of both the message that is spelled out in the A-O-I cypher of his upraised fingers, and of the hidden contribution to the whole meaning of that message, which is made by the fingers that he holds down.  The five vowels are here presented in their proper A-O-U-E-I sequence.  We will note also, where relevant, how the planetary rulers of the fingers play a hand in the scheme of things. 


The length of the calendar is “‘a year and a day’,” (104) that period of time so well known in myth for the accomplishment of an heroic task.  The number

of days in the Beth-Luis-Nion tree-year would be, therefore, “364 days plus one.” (105)  This time span, as Barbara Walker has brought to our attention in her richly detailed book, The Secrets of the Tarot: Origins, History, and Symbolism, is “the lunar year of 364 days (thirteen 28-day months) plus one more day to make 365.” (106)  In Graves’s calendric framing of time, the mythically renowned extra day, which floats in a ‘neither here nor there’ realm of possibility, (107) falls exactly on “the day after the winter solstice when the hours of daylight begin to lengthen again.” (108)

One has the impression from the instances of its many appearances in litera-ture, that the extra day exists in a timeless zone somewhere between the end and the beginning, but it is here nailed down with pinpoint accuracy in real time.  Like the Tarot Fool himself, this extra day is really before the begin-ning, the next day being the real first day of the year, and so, we must ascribe the very same attributes to the mythical day as we have to The Fool.  It is really the Zero of the calendar.  But Graves calls this nowhere day “the first day of the year,” (109) and assigns to it the first Ogham vowel, A (AILM) (Silver Fir). (110)  The equivalent first consonant, B, or Beth (Birch), stands for the first “real” day of the year. 

The Silver Fir was the original species of fir that was traditionally brought into the house at Christmas time.  Here is yet another instance of the Christianizing of Pagan days, for

        when the [European] practise of setting up evergreen trees originated in

        pagan times, . . . [it] was associated with the Winter Solstice, around

        December 21. Tree decoration was later adopted into Christian practise

        after the Church set December 25 as the birth of Christ, thereby sup-

        planting the pagan celebration of the solstice. (111)

A few paragraphs later, this same anonymous author of a recent article on the Christmas tree, only grudgingly admits to the indisputable Pagan basis of Christmas customs by blaming their “alleged pre-Christian roots” (112) on 19th century scholars!  The writer says:

        Christmas traditions in general have often been associated with paganism

        in 19th century scholarship. Robert Chambers in his 1832 Book of Days

        notes that the festivities of Christmas originally derived from the Roman

        Saturnalia, had afterwards been intermingled with the ceremonies ob-

        served by the British Druids at the period of winter-solstice . . . . (113)

One thoroughly Pagan custom of the winter season which did not get taken over by the Church, although it did find its way, with great dignity and respect, into the Cathedral at York, and other lesser parishes, was the British Druids’s much disputed New Year ritual of laying on the high altar the sacred plant commonly known as ‘All-heal’ or mistletoe. (114)  At the very moment of its bearing fruit, this especially sacred plant seems to have been the focus of a very public rite, a rite which both honored the old half of the year, and cele-brated the birth of the new. 

        When the end of the year approached, the old Druids marched with great

        solemnity to gather the mistletoe of the oak, in order to present it to

        Jupiter, inviting all the world to assist at this ceremony with these words:

        ‘The New Year is at hand, gather the Mistletoe’. (115)

Although it is not found as standing for any letter of the Ogham alphabet in this calendar of trees and bushes, the very mystical mistletoe is silently un-derstood to be extraordinarily symbolic of the wintry extra day of the year. (116)  This is its true place, for it is ‘neither this nor that’. (117)  Its exclusion stems from the fact that the mistletoe is neither a tree, nor a bush, but rather, a parasite which attaches itself to the oak tree, the two, thereby, “becoming one” with the other. (118)  

And, whereas the sacred oak is identified with the culmination of the waxing year, which, at its moment of fullness at the Summer Solstice, opens the door to the dying portion of the year, (119) the mistletoe represents “the waning part of the year.” (120)  Thus, “the conjunction of mistletoe and oak refers to the whole course of the sun from its infancy at the winter solstice to its prime at the summer solstice and back.” (121)   

The symbolic marriage of the sacred mistletoe and oak found a place in the hearts of lovers, which is why we find it during the Christmas/New Year’s season hanging from the lintels of doorways, where, under its magical luminescent presence, kisses are exchanged, either by choice or by accident.  By some strange merging of universes, the corresponding place on the hand for the sacred vowel of the extra day is at the base of the thumb, which is ruled by Venus, the Goddess of Love, who will take you to that floating indefinable day faster than you can think.


Another day of beginnings, the absolute zero point of the year, is acknowl-edged in the tree alphabet-calendar by the second vowel O (ONN) (Furze). (122)  This day, which is shown at the base of the forefinger, marks the Vernal Equinox of Spring, generally falling on or about March 21st.  It is the first of the four cardinal points of the year, marking the exact point at which the sun rises exactly due East at zero degrees, zero minutes, zero seconds in the con-stellation of Aries. 

This moment in time is the critical marker for the establishment of any solar calendar.  In the long view of things, the Vernal Equinoctial Point, as it is known, is also the determining astronomical factor in the reckoning of the Astrological Ages, the 2,160 year periods of time that each of the twelve signs of the Zodiac occupies in turn as the constellations move in a counter-clock-wise motion against the sun.  A complete cycle of this backwards-moving Procession of the Equinoxes is 25,920 years. (123) 

The Vernal Equinox (‘equal night’) is the exact point at which the sun crosses the celestial equator in spring, making the hours of daylight and those of dark-ness exactly equal.  This day lies at the absolute center between the solstices of winter and summer.  Immediately following this equinoctial event, the spi-raling shadow of the sun appears to straighten, and then cross over, altering its motion from a counter-clockwise winter direction to a “right-handwise”, (124) or clock-wise, summer direction.  This equinox of spring thus marks the beginning of the summer trajectory which will culminate at the Summer Solstice of June.  This apparent movement of the sun is the opposite of what we have described in tracing the winter path of The Fools dance.   

In palmistry, the forefinger denotes Jupiter.  Thus, it has come to be called the ‘Jupiter Finger’.  This is the finger of authority and power, the finger with which we point, and that which we use to make declarations and pronounce-ments, or accusations and scoldings, more effective.  In the astrology of the ancient world, the planet of expansive beneficent plenty and joviality was always named for the king of the gods.  We still call that planet ‘Jupiter’, after the most powerful god of the Roman pantheon, Iuppiter, or Jupiter, the god to whom the oak tree was sacred.  Such consistency of meaning extends, also, to the Ogham hand, where we find the place of Jupiter’s mighty oak, as signified by the letter D (Duir), ‘Oak’, located at the first joint of the fore-finger.  

In the course of our inquiries, we chanced upon a most fascinating image of a Fool in the likeness our own Fool, who, with a single forefinger, pointed to the devolution over time of the 1JJ Swiss Tarot deck.  In a deck published between 1885-1887, of essentially the same design as the Double J Tarots, Le Mat is shown holding “a spiked club” in his right hand, while the left hand, in the manner of our Fool’s gesture, displays but one finger. (125)  Of course, you guessed the wrong finger!  The one that is held high is the powerful Jupiter-finger, which, in the company of a sacred wand that has morphed into an instrument of brutality, speaks loudly enough.  The final blow is delivered with this deck’s removal of the Jupiter and Juno cards, which have been replaced by the original figures of The Pope and The PopessThe good news is that this rogue deck, unlike our own, has not been reprinted.


The third Ogham vowel, U (URA) (Heather), (126) is found at the base of the middle finger, one of two fingers of The Fools hand that he holds down.  It is the vowel of the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, but the date that Graves assigns to it is June 24th, the day of Midsummer, not the actual day of the solstice, which usually falls on the 21st.  There is method in his madness of attributing this day to the middle finger, for it is commonly known as the ‘Saturn finger’, or “the Fool’s-finger”, (127) and this is the day which is completely given over to what Shakespeare has described as “midsummer madness”. (128) 

But on this day of foolery and mayhem, The Fools middle ‘Fool-finger’ is nowhere to be seen.  There is no need for him to hold this finger aloft.  He himself stands for this day.  For in the seamless pattern of symbolic sacred meaning, we find the Ogham letter Tinne (T) ‘Holly’, located at the first joint of the middle finger of the hand, standing for the Holly King. (129)  He parades before us, very full of himself, strewn with holly leaves.  He has just killed the Oak King. (130)  The Holly King reigns now.  But not for long. 

The king’s wheel is always turning, and in this month of June, when the sun reaches its most intense peak of illumination on the longest day of the year, Jupiter’s reign comes to an end.  Because the word Duir means both ‘oak’ and ‘door’, (131)  June is known as the ‘Month of the Door’ as well as the ‘Month of the Oak’.  The June solstice is the ‘Door of the Year’ through which the Oak King, in all his flowering abundance, passes, standing aside for his twin and successor, the Holly King. 

This transfer of power is such a natural progression of events that, as scholars of the Ogham alphabet have remarked, the letters D (Duir) for Oak, and T (Tinne) for Holly “were originally more or less interchangeable.” (132)  And so, the Holly King, in turn, will meet his death when the light begins to grow and the Oak King, once again, resumes his place of power as ruler of the waxing year.  Theirs is the perennial Battle of Winter and Summer, which will continue until the end of time.  


The Autumnal, or Fall Equinox, which is the complement to the Vernal Equinox, occurs on the opposite side of the year, on or about the 21st of September.  This equinox (‘equal night’) marks the exact point at which the sun crosses the celestial equator in the fall, thus making the hours of daylight and those of darkness exactly equal on this day which lies at the absolute center between the solstices of summer and winter.  Immediately following this equinoctial event, the spiraling shadow of the sun again appears to straighten, and then cross over, altering its apparent motion from a clockwise summer direction to that of the counter-clockwise winter trajectory, which will reach its lowest point at the Solstice of December.

This day of seasonal change, whose place on the hand is at the base of the ring finger, is represented by E (EADHA) (Aspen), the fourth vowel of the Ogham alphabet. (133)  Although the fall switching point between the solstices is not visible in the gesture of The Fools hand, it is precisely where the Tarot Fool finds himself dancing: in a left-handed widdershins direction, his body twisted by the force of the counter-movement.  His dance is a reflection of the change that is occurring in the light.  By no strange coincidence, the ring finger of the The Fool is held down, hidden, because it is the digit which represents the Sun (Apollo), whose light will now begin to wane. 


“The last day of the year, the eve of the Winter Solstice,” (134) which is the shortest day of the year, is identified as I (IDHO) (Yew), a magical tree associated with death, witchcraft, and sorcery. (135)  How odd, then, that we should find such an abundance of these trees in churchyards. (136)  One of the most obvious reasons for the presence there of the exceedingly wide-girthed, and therefore, very old, yews, is supplied to us by a label describing such a tree at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, which very straight-forwardly informs us that:

        The Druids regarded the yew as sacred and planted it close to their tem-

        ples. As the early Christians often built their churches on these conse-

        crated sites, the association of yew trees in churchyards was perpetuated.


Virtually every part of the Yew tree is deadly poisonous, both in itself, and of its usage.  Aside from its primary use in the context of funerals, the making of bows from its wood, as well as bow-staves (138) whose tips were then dipped in the poisonous juice of its berries (139) for guaranteed effect, would seem to justify its connotations with death.  But this ancient evergreen tree is not only a bringer of death.  It is, at the same time, a symbol of immortality.

As regards its alliance with sorcery, we may remember the enchantment of Caer Ibormeith (‘Yew Berry’), (140) the irresistible, nearly unobtainable, swan-maiden in the early Old Irish story of The Dream of Oengus (Aislinge Oenguso).  She, too, had powerful associations with the last day of the year.  But, in the older Celtic calendar, this last day was celebrated, not at the Winter Solstice, but at the time of Samain (‘Summer’s End’), the Festival of the Dead, which we now call Halloween. (141)

This raises the question of what particular calendar the Druid-Fool upholds in his succinct consideration of the year.  Clearly, his time-keeping is regulated by the thinking of the old Celtic calendar, whose division of time is strictly split into “a fundamental duality” of opposing halves of dark and light. (142)  This “alternation of opposites, [of] light and darkness, warmth and cold, life and death,” (143) comprises the essence of his schema.

But in this early natural calendar, based purely upon the growing seasons, and not upon the earth-perceived position of the sun, the solstices are not the turn-ing points of the year marking the beginnings of summer and winter.  In that reckoning of time, “the first of May is the Calends of summer, the first of November the Calends of winter, and these two festivals divide the year into two seasons of six months each.” (144)  In the oak and holly-strewn 1JJ Swiss Tarot deck, the solstices of winter and summer, falling on or about the 21st of December and June, respectively, are the indisputable points of beginning of the two opposing seasons. 

While there are no Celtic festivals that pay tribute to the solstices and equi-noxes, (145) there can be no doubt that the Druids, who were thoroughly versed in matters of the heavens, were on very familiar terms with these universal divisions of the year.  There is more than a hint of this astronomical knowl-edge in The Dream of Oengus (Aislinge Oenguso), which was first set down by Christian clerics in the 8th century, but whose oral dissemination dates to much earlier times. (146) 

The Dream is not just a faerie story, although that is exactly what it is; the archaeological record backs up much of what it has to tell us. (147)  It appears to be an historical record also, as is true of so many other “myths”, for in its telling, we are meant to understand that despite a full knowledge of the ob-servable movements of the sun, the old agricultural calendar is still para-mount. 

This tale, which contains strong elements of Druidism, (148) is an anthropo-morphized solar myth about the life-and-death struggle of the sun at the most critical point of the year, the time of Samain.  The setting for all of this is Brugh-na-Boinne, the palace of the sun-god on the River Boyne.  If one were to travel the world in search of an ideal site from which to observe the apparent motions of the sun, a more perfect place than this would be hard to find.

This place of observation, which is at the very center of the story, as it is at

the very center of Ireland in the Valley of the White Cow, is the Neolithic complex that encompasses Newgrange, whose primary axis is meticulously “aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise.” (149)  And although we are not told in so many words, we know that this is precisely where the sun rises out of its death-like winter sleep, entering the darkened chambers of Newgrange and filing them with its reawakened light at the moment of the Winter Solstice. (150)  

Brugh-na-Boinne is the perennial backdrop in all of the mythology of Oengus.  This makes all the more remarkable one of the greater claims to

fame in the account of his birth, that his father, the Dagda, has made the sun

to stand still on Samain, when time itself is said not to exist. (151)  Within the context of the story of his coming into being, this is an astonishing enough feat, but given the fact that the word solstice, from the Latin sol, ‘sun’, plus stit- (from the verb sistere), ‘stopped, stationary’, has the literal meaning of the ‘sun standing still’, we must pay very close attention to this accomplish-ment.  In the real world, this can only happen on the solstices of winter and summer. 

The astronomical basis of the twice-yearly solar phenomenon of the solstices is explained in one of the more brilliant articles in Wikipedia by an, unfortunate-ly, anonymous author who has detailed both the astronomical and the world-wide celebratory aspects of the Winter Solstice.  We learn, in language that any non-scientist with a keen sense of observation of the natural world can comprehend, that:

        On the night of winter solstice, as seen from a northern sky, the three

        stars in Orion's Belt align with the brightest star in the eastern sky Sirius

        to show where the Sun will rise in the morning after winter solstice.

        Until this time, the Sun has exhibited since summer solstice a decreasing

        arc across the Southern sky. On winter solstice, the Sun ceases to decline

        in the sky and the length of daylight reaches its minimum for three days,

        during which the Sun does not move on the horizon. After such a time,

        the Sun begins its ascent into the northern sky and days grow longer.

        Thus the interpretation by many cultures of the Sun reborn and a return

        to light. This return to light is again celebrated at the vernal equinox,

        when the length of day equals that of night. (152)

Astronomical evidence to the contrary not withstanding, implicit in the pro-clamation that the head of the faerie tribe has caused the sun to stand still on Samain, the last day of the year, the day of the sun-god Oengus’s conception and birth, is a reaffirmation that, regardless of what happens at the solstice of winter, the most sacred day of the year shall remain, forever and always, Samain

There is strong evidence to suggest that the witnessing of the returning of the light at Newgrange was a secret shared only among initiates of the mysteries of the sun-cult of Oengus. (153)  In 1699, many untold centuries after Newgrange had fallen into disuse, the massive entry stone, whose spirals remember the dance of the sun, was unearthed by laborers rummaging for rocks.  When the local inhabitants of the countryside were queried as to what they might know about this immense megalith, they knew only one thing: that it was Oengus’s home. (154)

At some unknown point in time, the inclusion of the solstices and equinoxes became the defining moments of the general calendar in use throughout Europe.  Even so, the old traditions of Samain held firm.  We know that the Julian Calendar of 45 B.C.E. set the date for the Winter Solstice at the 25th of December. (155)  We know, also, that many centuries later, when the Church finally settled on a date for the birth of their sun-god, it took full advantage of this dating.  Although other explanations for the selection of the 25th have been advanced by Christian scholars, they are not as convincing as the more than obvious correspondence with the Winter Solstice, the first proponent of which was Isaac Newton. (156) 


As Christianity forced its will on the world, the Church fathers, determined to eradicate all traces of joyous Pagan pandemonium, set themselves the onerous task of rearranging the timing of the sacred Pagan festivals and the renaming of their days. (157)  While denouncing the unchristian practices, they simultane-ously embraced the gist of these age-old, deeply ingrained celebrations which, if they were permitted to be observed at all, were to be celebrated with proper Christian decorum.  Needless to say, this took a long time.

The solstice-identified Holly Fool of our most unchristian Tarot deck is barely distinguishable from the Christian, more “traditional”, notions of what such a “foolish” character is about.  His unprecedented public display of inviolable Druidic secrets, divulged under this cover, suggests one thing: that if you are a Druid in hiding, you blend in.  No one had a clue.

But there are some things that one can never give up, that can never be taken away, that cannot be handed over to anyone just for the asking.  One of those things is the gift of prophecy.  There is an interesting story about this in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. (158)  Hermes is the eternal youth who is old before his time.  Within hours of his birth he knows what he wants to be when he grows up.  He wants to be Apollo.  What he covets most is his skill in the art of prophecy. 

This is a child who schemes and plots and cheats to get what he wants.  And so, before the dawning of his second day, Hermes announces that if his wish is not granted by his father Zeus, he will take it by plundering the riches of Delphi, the seat of his brother Apollo’s oracular empowerment.  Apollo is already exasperated with this trickster-god’s nefarious deeds, and so drags him, kicking and screaming, before the council of the gods to settle their many disputes.

After he is made to swear an oath that he will nevermore steal from Apollo what is rightfully his, an enchanted Apollo, charmed by his sweet song, and by the gift of his seven-stringed lyre, declares his eternal love for the child, and bestows upon him the prized caduceus, which is a very, very, magical wand.  But Apollo must deny this willful child what he desires most of all.  The God of Prophecy explains to Hermes that he will allow him "only to be an omen for the immortals." (159)  Hermes will not be granted his wish to learn the man-tic art of sooth-saying (manteien) because, as Apollo explains in so many words, “It is not lawful for you to learn it, nor for any other of the deathless gods.(160)  It is Apollo’s privilege alone among all the gods. (161) 

By a not so strange, not so coincidental coincidence, the little finger is thought to represent the god Mercury, the Latin name for Hermes.  The place on the hand for the Ogham vowel I (Idho), is at the base of that little finger, which is sometimes called the “ear-finger”, or the “auricular-finger”, of inspiration and prophecy, because it is used to amplify the hearing of prophetic wisdom by its insertion into the ear(s). (162)   

The Druids must have admired the inspired skills of Hermes as herald and counsel to the gods.  They were much like him.  And what Druid would not stand in awe of Hermes’s ability to make the footprints of the cattle he has stolen walk backwards to avoid detection of the theft?  Which, it is to be noted, is accomplished before he has received the gift of the magic wand! 

The Druids, in fact, so adored Hermes, whom they called by his Roman

name, that Caesar could say with certainty that, he was “the god they rever-ence[d] most.” (163)  

And, while this occupier of their lands could see that they had “very many images of him,” (164) he missed the most obvious and essential sacred attraction of the Druids to this god, namely, his consummate magicianship.  He says only that “they regard him as the inventor of all arts, the god who directs men upon their journeys, and their most powerful helper in trading and getting money.” 

(165)  Elsewhere, it has been said that this god was “the inventor of language” and, as the word hermeneus (‘interpreter’) demonstrates, also its interpreter. (166)  These, too, are attributes that would appeal to the Druids for whom the exacting precision of words was so essential.

But there was another highly esteemed god of the Gauls of whom it was said, “His weapons are his utterances which are sharp and well aimed, swift to pierce the mind.” (167)  The god whose words are like an arrow hitting its mark is Ogmios, a god of great strength who is most often likened to Hercules.  But what distinguishes him from his brutish counterpart is his use of language, for he is said to have accomplished his great feats by “the power of words” alone. (168)  In this respect, the attributes of Hermes and Ogmios are indistinguishable, a fact that seems to have escaped all but a handful of scholars, some of whom have noted this essential and illuminating connection with little enthusiasm. (169)

But one can read clearly enough, in a most informative article on, of all things, “Trees and Plants”, in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, that there is a long-established connection.  “The culture-god of the Celtic world has been identified with Mercury, and with the Gaulish deity Ogmios, the god of eloquence and wisdom. . . . In Ireland he ap-pears as Ogma, one of the ancient Goidelic group of the Tuatha De Danann.” (170)

This Irish god, Ogma, or Oghma, a patron of poets who is likewise known as the ‘God of Eloquence’, “much skilled in dialects and poetry,” (171) is the inventor of the sacred language of Ogham.  Mirroring his Gaulish equivalent, he is similarly the strongman and Hercules-like champion of his tribe, a warrior widely known for his masterful use of speech.  But he has a gentler side than Ogmios, for he speaks with smooth, ‘Honey-Mouthed’, (172) sweet-sounding words.  There is an echo here, of the baby Hermes who enchanted the sun-god Apollo with his sweet song.

Oghma’s formal title, Oghma Grianainech, ‘Sun-Face’, is an apt description not only of his countenance, but serves as an allusion to his distinguished solar family tree.  We have seen that his brother, the Dagda, head of the faerie tribe of the Tuatha De Danann, is among the greatest of all sun-gods; his nephew, Oengus, greater still.  His niece, Brigid, whose priestesses kept her eternal flame burning at the Druidic grove at Kildare for hundreds and hundreds of years, an honor gratefully assumed by the nuns of the Church, is the most beloved of all the goddesses in Ireland.  Among her many provinces of ruler-ship, Brigid is, first and foremost, the Goddess of Poetry. (173) 

And there is Oghma‘s son, the celebrated Druid, Cairpre, known for his mastery of the poetic art of “sarcastic and scorching verbiage, which . . . enabled the bard to disfigure his opponents physically by utterance of terrific jibes alone.” (174)  He is most famous for having thrashed Brigid’s unworthy husband Bres with such searing words that blotches broke out upon his face. (175) 

Of course, there is an otherworldly quality to all of this.  We are, after all, between worlds, even if our feet are planted firmly on the ground.  But, like the god whom the Druids worshipped above all others, these ‘Weavers of Spells’, (176) on whose word kingdoms rose or fell, lived in a permanent atmosphere of liminality, floating between the shamanic world of dream and vision and the world of earthly reality.  Hermes is a traveler between worlds, a god of boundaries who knows no bounds, an ‘Escorter of Souls’, (177) and "conjurer of the spirits of the dead." (178)  As Hermes Propylaios, he is the one who stands ‘Before the Gate’ that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead.

This quicksilver messenger of the gods for whom the little digit is named has much to do with the last day of the dying year.  He is the aggelos (‘angel’), who, as Rainer Maria Rilke, a poet’s poet who is intimately acquainted with angels, reminds us, is of an order of beings who make no distinction between the living and the dead.

        . . . And it’s hard, being dead,

        and full of retrieving before one begins to espy

        a trace of eternity.–Yes, but all of the living

        make the mistake of drawing too sharp distinctions.

        Angels, (they say) are often unable to tell

        whether they move among living or dead.  The eternal

        torrent whirls all the ages through either realm

        for ever, and sounds above their voices in both. (179)


With the deciphering of the cyphers we have solved the mystery of the gesture of The Fools hand that announces the theme of the 1JJ Swiss Tarot deck.  We now see that the signing of the thumb and little finger, signifying the first and the last of the sacred vowels, the Alpha and Omega, if you will, the alphabetic equivalent of all Beginnings and Endings, Firsts and Lasts, is a repetition and amplification of the movement of The Fools dance. 

The dance’s portrayal of the sacred mystery of the spiraling cycles of life and death visible in the annual journey of the Sun, describes the cyclical destiny of the king himself, who is but an earthly reflection of that light.  The raised forefinger, which has such ancient associations with Jupiter of the Oak, is a “personification” of that king who stands between the First and the Last. 

Gazing upon this card, we now see that we are here in the presence of a master of the word; a poet and singer of song who, without uttering a word, quite literally sums up the essence of All and Everything in this single sacred gesture. 






1.  Le Mat(The Fool) of the 1JJ Swiss Tarot Deck. The artist of this deck is anonymous. The oldest of the surviving Double J decks was published by the cardmaker, Ioannes Pelagius Mayer, in Schaffhausen in 1680. Of the known subsequent publishing history, a later version, in which Le Mat was titled Le Fou, was published between 1831-1838 by Johann Georg Rauch, who produced another nearly identical deck in 1865.  Between 1885-1887, another cardmaker issued a substantially altered deck based on the original 1JJ Swiss Tarot drawings.  In no way could this be considered a Double J deck because, not only has Le Mats left hand been altered, but the Jupiter and Junon cards have been replaced with the original Pope and Popess cards.  AG Muller & Cie of Schaffhausen is the cardmaker for the cards that are in use today, which is a true Double J deck. The copyright for the original artwork for this image has expired and is now free content in the Public Domain.  The image published here is based on a similar Le Mat published in 1974 by AGMuller and distributed in the U.S. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  However, it is not the same card as that which license is claimed by US Games Systems.  Our Fool has been altered and reconfigured exclusively for this website.

2. William Shakespeare, As You Like It. III.ii. 5.

3. Cypher is an alternate spelling of cipherThis entire opening paragraph is a play on the various meanings of the word cipher found in Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition. (Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Co., 1959), p. 264. 

4. S. R. Kaplan, Tarot Cards For Fun and Fortune Telling: Illustrated Guide to the Spreading and Interpretation of the popular 78-card Tarot 1JJ deck of Muller & Cie, Switzerland. (Stamford, CT: U. S. Games Systems, Inc., 1970, 25th Printing, April, 1988), p. 7.

5. Samuel Weiser Distribution Catalog 1993. (York Beach, ME.: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1993), p. 225.

6. See: Stuart R. Kaplan, The Encyclopedia of Tarot. (Stamford, CT: U. S. Games Systems, Inc., 1978, Sixth Printing, 1988), Vol. I, Preface, p. xii.  See, also, Catherine Perry Hargrave, A History of Playing Cards: And a Bibliography of Cards and Gaming. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000, unabridged republication of 1966 Dover edition of an unabridged reprint of the original 1930 edition published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston), p. 262.

7. For a detailed discussion of the interactions of the Oak King and the Holly King at the pivot-point of the year, see: Tracy Boyd, “Titania, The Queen of Faerie, and The Druid Tom Thumbe” under the heading: “The Thumb in the Pudding” at <www.sacredthreads.net> 

8. Stuart R. Kaplan, The Encyclopedia of Tarot, op. cit., Vol. I, preface, p. xii.

9. Catherine Perry Hargrave, A History of Playing Cards: And a Bibliography of Cards and Gaming, op. cit., p. 189.

10. I am indebted and deeply grateful to Dr. Lois Oppenheim, Professor and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ, for this invaluable French connection.

11. For a discussion of the sometimes seamless connection between the Fool and the Madman, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Daunce of Nine-Men’s Morris and The Boundaries Between Worlds” under the heading: “The Fool’s Dauncers” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

12. See: A Dictionary of Plant Lore. Roy Vickery, Compiler. (Oxford: Oxford University Press Paperback, 1997), “holly”, p. 179.

13. W. Carew Hazlitt, Faiths and Folklore Of the British Isles: A Descriptive and Historical Dictionary . . . .  Two Volumes. (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1965. Reprinted from the revised 1905 Edition originally issued in 1870, based on an 1813 compilation by John Brand, The Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain), “Fool (Christmas)”, Vol. I, p. 241, quoting Minshew’s Dictionary, 1617.

14. <www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Widdershins>

15. Martin Brennan, The Stars and the Stones: Ancient Art and Astronomy in Ireland. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1983), p. 190.

16. This illustration is based upon Martin Brennan’s diagram in The Stars and the Stones: Ancient Art and Astronomy in Ireland, op. cit., p. 190.

17. See: Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1983), “widdershins”, p. 1076. See also, Barbara Walker’s crucially insightful remarks on the lemniscate in the Tarot deck in general, in Barbara G. Walker, The Secrets of the Tarot: Origins, History, and Symbolism. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), pp. 35-37.

18. See: Tracy Boyd, “The Mythic Ground of the Longing for Wisdom and Love in William Butler Yeats’s The Song of Wandering Aengus” under the heading: “The Meaning of the Time” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

19. See: Tracy Boyd, “Teiresias, The Androgynous Seer: A Question of Balance” under the heading: “The Hermetic Evolution of the Serpent-Twined Caduceus”, and Tracy Boyd, “Circe’s Circle of Oaks At the Edge of the World” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

20. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1999, An unabridged republication of the work as published by Rider & Co., London and New York, n.d.), p. 27, citing A. MacBain, Celtic Mythology and Religion. (Stirling, 1917), p. 81.

21. See: Tracy Boyd, “The Mythic Ground of the Longing for Wisdom and Love in William Butler Yeats’s The Song of Wandering Aengus” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

22. See: Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974; 7th Printing of Amended and Enlarged Edition of 1966), pp. 176-81.

23. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. J. R. R. Tolkien, Trans. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1975), stanza 10, line 4; stanza 10, line 6, p. 30.

24. Theodore H. Gaster, Editor’s Forward to Francis Macdonald Cornford, The Origin of Attic Comedy. Edited with Forward and Additional Notes by Theodore H. Gaster. (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books/Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961), Foreword, Part I, p. xiv.

25. See: Theodore H. Gaster, Editor’s Forward to Francis Macdonald Cornford, The Origin of Attic Comedy, op. cit., Foreword, Part I, pp. xiv-xv, and all of F. M. Cornford’s text following.

26. For a discussion of the Fool’s role in this play of the seasons, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Daunce of Nine-Men’s Morris and The Boundaries Between Worlds” under the heading: “Fire Rites” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

27. Theodore H. Gaster, Editor’s Foreword to Francis Macdonald Cornford, The Origin of Attic Comedy, op. cit., Foreword, Part I, p. xiv.  Gastor’s lucid Foreword (pp. xiii-xxvii) provides a brief, but impressive overview of the numerous instances of such “ritual archetypes” (p. xiv) in literature that have been postulated by a host of dedicated and revered scholars.

28. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo, op. cit., stanza 7, line 20 . . . stanza 8, line 1, p. 28.

29. Samuel Weiser Distribution Catalog 1993, op. cit., p. 225.

30. Stuart R. Kaplan, The Encyclopedia of Tarot. First Printing. (New York: U. S. Games Systems, Inc., 1986), Vol. II, p. 364, illus., p. 365. According to Kaplan, this deck was published by Johann Georg Rauch sometime between 1831-1838. The author also shows another Double J deck published by Rauch in 1865. (Illus., Vol. II, p. 366.) Although their Fools are titled “Le Fou”, (The Fool) in lieu of Le Mat, they are nearly identical to our Fool in every other respect.

31. Frederick Thomas Elworthy, The Evil Eye: The Origins and Practices of Superstition. (New York: The Julian Press, Inc., 1958; Originally published London: John Murray, 1895), p. 260.  For a general discussion of the Evil Eye as it pertains to the Goddess, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Eye Goddess and The Evil Eye” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

32. Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, Amulets and Talismans. (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1968), p. 402; Robert Graves has given extensive interpretations of these deified fingers in his The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., pp. 196-198.

33. Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, Amulets and Talismans. op. cit., p. 402.  Wallis Budge, who is more well-known for his tireless work on Egypt than for his profound knowledge of the occult, reproduces this illustration, which was previously presented in Cornelius Agrippa, Magische Werke, Vol. ii, chap. xxvii., p. 160, of the German translation, Berlin, 1921. The magical text was originally published by Agrippa in 1531 under the title De occulta philosophia, where this diagram first appeared. 

34. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 196.

35. Ibid., p. 115.  The drawing that first appeared in the 1946 edition of The White Goddess was original to Graves. 

36. <www.MaryJones.us/essays/ao.html>

37. The drawing that is reproduced here is an altered version of that which appears in Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 115.

38. See: R. A. S. Macalister, The Archaeology of Ireland. (New York: Arno Press: A New York Times Company, Reprint Edition, 1977. First published London, 1928; Second edition, revised and rewritten, 1949; Reissued 1972 by Benjamin Blom, Inc.), p. 343.

39. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 41.

40. R. A. S. Macalister, The Archaeology of Ireland, op. cit., p. 343. Macalister’s full discussion of this matter on pp. 367-68, is quite illuminating.

41. John Matthews, The Druid Source Book. John Matthews, Compiler, Editor. (London: Blandford Press, 1997), Introduction, p. 8.

42. R. A. Stewart Macalister, The Secret Languages of Ireland. (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1937), p. 11.

43. John Matthews, Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman. (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1991, 2002), pp. 121-22, citing Eugene O’Curry, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish. 3 Vols., Williams & Norgate, 1873, and Patrick Joyce, A Social History of Ancient Ireland. 2 Vols., Longman, Green & Co., 1903.

44. Ibid.

45. Nora K. Chadwick, “Imbas Forosnai”, in Scottish Gaelic Studies. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1935,) Vol. 4, Part 2, unpaginated, p. 5. Most of Chadwick’s brilliant writings on this and other sacred subjects, have been long out-of-print, and are nigh impossible to access.  Those of us who cherish the ancient wisdom are indebted to Molly Kathryn Mc Ginn (formerly Ni Dana), who has transcribed Imbas Forosnai in its entirety and reprinted it on the web at <www.geocities.com/athens/delphi/4715/imbasforosnai.html>

46. Ibid.

47. Ibid., unpaginated, p. 1.

48. For a brief discussion of Teinm Laeghdha, or Laida, see: Tracy Boyd, “Titania, The Queen of Faerie, and The Druid Tom Thumbe” under the heading: “The ‘Salmon of Knowledge’, The ‘Hazel of Wisdom’, and The ‘Thumb of Knowledge’ ” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

49. While you are waiting, although there are certain points in the article with which we disagree, having to do with the use of finger joints rather that tips of the fingers for mantic inspiration, see an illuminating discussion of these arts by shamanic practitioner, Caitlin Matthews, “The Celtic Art of Divination”, which is a section in Chapter 8, “Prophecy and Divination”, in Caitlin and John Matthews, The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shaman’s Sourcebook. (Rockport, MA: Element Books, Inc., 1994), pp. 240-253.

50. R. A. Stewart Macalister, The Secret Languages of Ireland, op. cit., p. 11. This is a relatively inaccessible book, whose entire first chapter is devoted to Ogham, pp. 1-36. John Matthews has reprinted this chapter in its entirety in his invaluable The Celtic Seers’ Source Book: Vision and Magic in the Druid Tradition. Edited and Selected by John Matthews. (London: Blandford, 1999), pp. 198-220.  All quotations cited in the present article are from the original publication of 1937.

51. For examples of the script, see: Ibid. To view the actual Book of Ballymote, see: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Ballymote>

52. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 200.

53. R. A. S. Macalister, The Archaeology of Ireland, op. cit., p. 333.

54. Ibid., p. 332.

55. For a discussion of the etymology of Druid, see: Tracy Boyd, “Titania, The Queen of Faerie, and the Druid Tom Thumbe” under the heading: “Tom Thumbe’s Irish Beginnings” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

56. See: Nigel Pennick, Magical Alphabets. (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1993), passim.

57. R. A. S. Macalister, The Archaeology of Ireland, op. cit., p. 337.

58. Ibid., p. 332.

59. For a very informative discussion of the sounds of the planets’ orbits, see: Hans Cousto, The Cosmic Octave: Origin of Harmony. Translated by Christopher Baker and Judith Harrison. (Mendocino, CA.: LifeRhythm, 1988.

60. See: Craig Cockburn at <https://listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind9609&L=irtrad-l&D=0&T=0&P=36005>

61. See: James MacKillop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998), “ogham”, p. 310, citing Sean O’Boyle, Ogam: The Poets’ Secret. (Dublin: Gilbert Dalton, Ltd., 1980). Sean O’Boyle’s (1908-1979) much sought-after book was published posthumously, and has been long out-of-print. See also: “Cryptic Varieties”: No. 1 Aradach Fionn/Fionn’s Ladder at <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Lebor_Ogaim>; and, Searles O'Dubhain’s very interesting website devoted to the musical resonances of Ogham, and the musical training of the Druids at <http://www.summerlands.com/crossroads/library/celticmu.htm> “Fionn’s Ladder is one of the 100 "scales" of diverse cryptic varieties of written Ogham contained within the Book of Ballymote in the text known as In Lebor Ogaim (The Book of Ogams), or the Ogam Tract. We note that the word scale is derived from the Latin scala, meaning ‘ladder’.

62. This illustration is based upon notched Ogham alphabets reproduced in R. A. S. Macalister, The Archaeology of Ireland, op. cit., p. 329, and in Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 114.

63. First, in The Archaeology of Ireland in 1928, and again, in 1937 in The Secret Languages of Ireland, whose first chapter is devoted entirely to Ogham. See: Chapter 1, “Ogham”, pp. 1-36.

64. R. A. S. Macalister, The Archaeology of Ireland, op. cit., p. 328.

65. R. A. Stewart Macalister, The Secret Languages of Ireland, op. cit., p. 1. An impressive collection of Classical authors, Caesar among them, who wrote little bits and pieces about the Druids is collected, mostly in condensed form, by John Matthews in The Druid Source Book, op. cit., pp. 15-25.

66. See: Gaius Julius Caesar, De Bello Gallico, VI.14.

67. See: R. A. S. Macalister, The Archaeology of Ireland, op. cit., p. 343.

68. Ibid., p. 328.

69. Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul. S. A. Handford, Trans., 1951, Jane F. Gardner, Revision, 1982 (New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1982), Book VI.14, p. 141.

70. R. A. S. Macalister, The Archaeology of Ireland, op. cit., p. 328.

71. Ibid.; and R. A. Stewart Macalister, The Secret Languages of Ireland, op. cit., pp. 5-6, where he deals with this subject at some length; and Ibid. p. 20, where Macalister discusses striking phonetic similarities between the Sanskrit Devanagari script and the Ogham alphabet.

72. R. A. S. Macalister, The Archaeology of Ireland, op. cit., pp. 333-34.

73. Lama Anagarika Govinda, Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism: According to the Esoteric Teachings of the Great Mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. (York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, 1969), p. 22.

74. For an in-depth discussion of the one sound, see: Tracy Boyd, “Wind Over Water: The Breath of Creation” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

75. Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival: A Romance of the Middle Ages. Translated and with an Introduction by Helen M. Mustard and Charles E. Passage. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., and Random House, Inc., Vintage Books Edition, 1961), Intro., p. xi.

76. Ibid., Intro., p. xix; and Book II, p. 65.

77. R. A. S. Macalister, The Archaeology of Ireland, op. cit., p. 337.

78. Ibid., p. 332.

79. Ibid., p. 337.

80. Ibid., p. 332.

81. Ibid.

82. Ibid.

83. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primitive_Irish>

84. See: R. A. Stewart Macalister, The Secret Languages of Ireland, op. cit., Chapter 1, “Ogham”, pp. 6-8.

85. Ibid., pp. 7-8.

86. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 23.

87. Steve Blamires, Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham. (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1997), p. 12, translating the quotation from the Book of Ballymote.  The author discusses Ogham, Oghma and his Gaulish equivalent, Ogmios, on pp. 12-16.

88. See: Tracy Boyd, “Titania, the Queen of Faerie, and the Druid Tom Thumbe” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

89. R. A. S. Macalister, The Archaeology of Ireland, op. cit., p. 329.

90. Ibid., p. 330.

91. Ibid.

92. Ibid.

93. Although there are certain points in her article with which we disagree, some of which are enumerated here, shamanic practitioner, Caitlin Matthews, presents an illuminating discussion of the Druidic mantic arts in “The Celtic Art of Divination”, which is a section in Chapter 8, “Prophecy and Divination”, in Caitlin and John Matthews, The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shaman’s Sourcebook, op. cit., pp. 250-51, and pp. 240-253 passim.

94. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 198. Italics mine.

95. R. A. Stewart Macalister, The Secret Languages of Ireland, op. cit., p. 19.

96. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 114, referring to R. A. Stewart Macalister, The Secret Languages of Ireland, op. cit., although neither text nor page is cited by Graves.

97. Ibid.

98. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 114.

99. Ibid., p. 115.

100. Ibid., p. 114.

101. Ecclesiastes 3:1. King James Version.

102. The entire outlined contents of this complex calendar appear in Appendix I at the end of the Notes to this article.

103. R. A. Stewart Macalister, The Secret Languages of Ireland, op. cit., p. 20.

104. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 167.

105. Ibid.

106. Barbara G. Walker, The Secrets of the Tarot: Origins, History, and Symbolism. (San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1984), p. 15.

107. For a brilliant discussion of this place in sacred time and space, see: Alwyn and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1961), pp. 345-46.

108. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 185.

109. Ibid., p. 191.

110. Ibid., pp. 191-92.

111. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_tree>

112. Ibid.

113. Ibid.  This paraphrasing of Robert Chambers is from his entry for December 25th, Vol. II, p. 745, and pp. 744-46, passim. Chambers, who was one of the most illustrious and most obsessively accurate chroniclers of such things, compiled his magnificent Book of Days from eye-witness observations and accounts previously recorded by many thousands of people over many centuries, and additionally, from an impressive roster of impeccable sources, not the least of which was William Shakespeare.  See: R. Chambers, Editor. The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in Connection With the Calendar.  Two Volumes. (London and Edinburgh: W. & R. Chambers, 1862-1864.) Republished in its entirety, with a new Introduction by Tristram Potter Coffin. (Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc., 1990).

114. W. Carew Hazlitt, Faiths and Folklore Of the British Isles: A Descriptive and Historical Dictionary . . . . , op. cit., “Mistletoe”, Vol. II, p. 413, and pp. 412-13, passim.

115. Ibid.  Another mistletoe-cutting ritual, this one, of great pomp and ceremony, which included the sacrifice of two white bulls, is said to have been celebrated about six weeks after the New Year at the rising of the new moon of February at about the time of Candlemas (Imbolc). This is the rite which is recorded in Pliny the Elder’s first century C.E. Natural History, or Naturalis Historiae, XVI, 95. The Druids’s deep and abiding association with the mistletoe is remembered in the famous image of the Druid priests cutting the mistletoe from its parent oak with a golden moon-shaped sickle.

116. Gertrude Jobes, Dictionary of Mythology Folklore and Symbols. (New York: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1962,) “alphabet, Druidic”, Part 1, p. 75. She identifies this day as falling on December 23rd, but, of course, the dating of the extra day is entirely dependent upon the date on which the Winter Solstice falls in any particular year.

117. Alwyn and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales, op. cit., p. 345.

118. Gertrude Jobes, Dictionary of Mythology Folklore and Symbols, op. cit., “mistletoe”, Part 2, p. 1111.

119. For an in-depth discussion of this solstitial event, see: Tracy Boyd, “Titania, the Queen of Faerie, and the Druid Tom Thumbe” under the heading: “The Thumb in the Pudding” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

120. Gertrude Jobes, Dictionary of Mythology Folklore and Symbols, op. cit., “mistletoe”, Part 2, p. 1111.

121. Ibid.

122. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 192.

123. For an in-depth discussion of these issues, see: Rupert Gleadow, The Origin of the Zodiac. (New York: Castle Books, 1968).

124. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 35.

125. Stuart R. Kaplan, The Encyclopedia of Tarot, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 383, illus., p. 382.

126. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 192.

127. Ibid., p. 196.

128. William Shakespeare, Twelfth-Night; or, What You Will, III.iv.54.

129. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 179.

130. Ibid., p. 186.

131. Ibid., p. 176.

132. Steve Blamires, Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham. op. cit., p. 41, and pp. 41-42, passim.  See also, Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 180.

133. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 193.

134. Ibid., p. 194.

135. Ibid., pp. 193-94 passim.

136. See: W. Carew Hazlitt, Faiths and Folklore Of the British Isles: A Descriptive and Historical Dictionary . . . . , op. cit., “Yew”, Vol. II, pp. 668-670 passim.

137. A Dictionary of Plant-Lore. Roy Vickery, Compiler, op. cit., “Yew”, p. 411, quoting Label at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Surrey, October 1993.

138. See: W. Carew Hazlitt, Faiths and Folklore Of the British Isles: A Descriptive and Historical Dictionary . . . , op. cit., “Yew”, Vol. II, pp. 668-670 passim.

139. See: A very informative article by Geoff Boswell, “Notes on The Yew: Taxus baccata As Honoured By the Druidic Order of the Yew” at <http://druidnetwork.org/articles/theyew.html> He mentions the poisoning of the arrow tips, as does Graves, who gives the actual recipe! See: Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 194.

  1. 140. Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition. (Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1996; Originally published in 1967), p. 305.

141. The reader will find an in-depth discussion of these subjects, and a re-telling of The Dream of Oengus, in Tracy Boyd, “The Mythic Ground of the Longing for Wisdom and Love in William Butler Yeats’s The Song of Wandering Aengus” under the heading: “Aengus, Master of Love” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

142. Alwyn and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales, op. cit., p. 83. For a lucid explanation of the two divisions of the old year, see also pp. 83-89, passim.

143. Ibid., p. 84.

144. Ibid.

145. See: Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, A History of Pagan Europe. (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1999), p. 91, and pp. 89-91 passim.

146. For an in-depth discussion of the dating of this early Irish story, see: Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition, op. cit., p. 305.

147. See: Ibid., pp. 302-311 passim.

148. See: Tracy Boyd, “The Mythic Ground of the Longing for Wisdom and Love in William Butler Yeats’s The Song of Wandering Aengus”, especially under the headings: “The Hazels of Poetic Wisdom and The Salmon of Knowledge”, and “The Waters of the Left-Hand Path” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

149. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_Solstice>

150. See: Tracy Boyd, “The Mythic Ground of the Longing for Wisdom and Love in William Butler Yeats’s The Song of Wandering Aengus” under the heading: “The Meaning of the Time”, at <www.sacredthreads.net>

151. Ibid.

152. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_Solstice>

153. See: Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, Inc., First Printing, June 1966, First published in this form by Oxford University, 1911), pp. 409-26.

154. See: Martin Brennan, The Stones of Time: Calendars, Sundials, and Stone Chambers of Ancient Ireland. (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1994), pp. 18-23.

155. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_Solstice>

156. See: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas>

157. For a look at how the Church obfuscated some of these festivals, see: Tracy Boyd, “Titania, the Queen of Faerie, and the Druid Tom Thumbe” under the heading: “The Thumbe in the Pudding” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

158. The Homeric Hymn to Hermes, in Hesiod The Homeric Hymns and Homerica. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Trans. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, The Loeb Classical Library, 1914-1954), pp. 362-405.

159. Ibid., line 526, p. 401.

160. Ibid., lines 534-35, p. 403.

161. A fuller version and discussion of this story is presented in: Tracy Boyd, “Teiresias, The Androgynous Seer: A Question of Balance” under the heading: “A Complementary Pair of Androgynes” at <www.sacredthreads.net> The same article has discussions throughout on Hermes and his caduceus, as does another article: Tracy Boyd, “Circe’s Circle of Oaks At the Edge of the World” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

162. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 196.

163. Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul, op. cit., Book VI.17, p. 142.

164. Ibid.

165. Ibid.

166. Karl Kerenyi, Hermes: Guide of Souls: The Mythologem of the Masculine Source of Life. Murray Stein, Trans. (Zurich: Spring Publications, 1976), p. 88.

167. Steve Blamires, Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham, op. cit., pp. 15-16, directly quoting Lucian of Samosata, an Assyrian satirist who was traveling in Gaul in the 2nd century C.E.

168. Ibid.

169. See, for example: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogmios>

170. Thomas Barns, “Trees and Plants”, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. James Hastings, Ed. 12 Volumes + Index. (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, no date, c. 1912), p. 456, and pp. 448-457 passim.

171. Steve Blamires, Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham, op. cit., p. 12, translating the quotation from the Book of Ballymote.

172. James MacKillop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, op. cit., “Ogma, Oghma, Ogmae, Ogme”, p. 310.  One of Ogma’s epithets is Cermait, or ‘Honey-Mouthed’.

173. For a detailed discussion of Brigid’s roles, see: Tracy Boyd, “The Keepers of the Flame: Part II. Brigid’s Fires of Beginning” under the heading: “Illuminating Brigid’s Fires” at <www.sacredthreads.net>.

174. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., pp. 60-61.

175. For more on this spell-binding subject and the results of such curses, see: Tracy Boyd, “Titania, the Queen of Faerie, and the Druid Tom Thumbe” under the heading: “Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum . . .”; Tracy Boyd, “The Mythic Ground of the Longing for Wisdom and Love in William Butler Yeats’s The Song of Wandering Aengus” under the heading: “The Waters of the Left-Hand Path” at <www.sacredthreads.net>; Lewis Spence, The Encyclopedia of the Occult. (London: Bracken Books, 1994), “Celts”, p. 97; Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., pp. 60-61; and James MacKillop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, op. cit., “glam dicenn”, p. 224.

176. R. A. Stewart Macalister, The Secret Languages of Ireland, op. cit., p. 11.

177. Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States. Five Volumes. (Chicago: Aegaean Press, Inc., MCMLXXI), Vol. 5, p. 22.

178. Karl Kerenyi, Hermes: Guide of Souls: The Mythologem of the Masculine Source of Life, op. cit., p. 44.

179. Rainer Maria Rilke, “The First Elegy”, in Duino Elegies. J. B. Leishman and Stephen Spender, Translation, Introduction, Commentary. (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1939, 1967), lines 77-84, p. 25.

180. The Way of Chuang Tzu. “Free interpretative readings” by Thomas Merton. (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1992), pp. 112-113.  “In My End Is My Beginning” is Merton’s title for Chuang Tzu’s “Heaven and Earth”, a literal translation of which is found in The Writings of Chuang Tzu, Book XII, Part II, Section VIII at <http://nothingistic.org/library/chuangtzu/toc.html>  The original line: “In my beginning is my end.” is from T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, “East Coker” I.1.




Graves has based this calendar on a substantially different Ogham Tree Alphabet than that which he has applied to the fingers of the hand that we have shown here. (1) The source of his magical creation, a somewhat late and therefore questionable version of the alphabet recorded in the 17th century, ostensibly from records extending to the 13th, and whose veracity Macalister had warned him not to rely on, (2) is comprised of thirteen, not fifteen, conso-nants.  More importantly, the source presumes that because the alphabet was known as Beth-Luis-Nionits first line letter sequence should read ‘B-L-N-F-S’, regardless of the fact that the order which appears throughout the Book of Ballymote, and elsewhere, is B-L-F-S-N’. (3)  

We have preserved the more fully documented, and, we believe, correct, B-L-F-S-Nsequence in our interpretation of the Tarot Fool’s message.  The order of the letter sequence of the sacrosanct vowels A-O-U-E-I, which is the main concern of our inquiry, remains unchanged in Graves’s “calendar of seasonal tree-magic.”  In point of fact, the thirteen lunisolar months repre-sented by the thirteen consonants are meant to be separated from the vowels, standing alone in their own sequential order to represent the full circle of the year. 

The calendar presented here is that of Robert Graves’s alone.  It is a creation based entirely upon the scholarship and vision of this illumined poet.  The associations that he has assigned to the stations of the year, their tree-letters, and calendrical occurrences, are enumerated in precise detail in The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. (4)  We have gathered the abundance of wisdom presented there and laid out his Tree Alphabet Calendar in a more understandable list form.  In addition, we have taken the very unorthodox liberty of grouping the vowels and consonants together as they occur in their proper seasonal order so that an immediate gestalt of the year can be seen in true perspective. 

Obviously, the calendar list is meant to be envisioned in the mind’s eye as a circle – the circle of the year that is the journey of the sun-king as he makes his revolutions through the matriarchal lunar year.  Keeping that in mind, one would see the calendar as moving clockwise from the top, beginning with the extra day of the year.  In either case, the chronological order would occur in the following calendrical tree-month sequence:






Beth     Dec. 24-Jan. 20.    The Birch of parthenogenic beginnings.            

Luis     Jan. 21-Feb. 17.     The Rowan Tree of Life.               

Nion    Feb. 18-Mar. 17.    The water-loving Ash.


Fearn    Mar. 18-Apr. 14.    The fire-loving Alder.       

Saille    Apr. 15-May 12.    The Willow Queen of the Underworld.

hUath    May 13-June 9.      The enforced chastity of the May Queen’s

                                                  briared Hawthorne.    

Duir      June 10-July 7.       The Mighty Oak, King of all the Trees. The

                                                  Month of the Door.



Tinne    July  8-Aug. 4.      The New Year Holly King.

Coll      Aug. 5-Sept. 1.      The Hazel Tree of Wisdom.

Muin     Sept. 2-Sept. 29.    The Vine of Exhilarating Joy.



Gort      Sept. 30-Oct. 27.     The Dionysian Ivy of Intoxicating Resurrection.

Ngetal    Oct. 28-Nov. 24.     The Dwarf-Elder, or Reed Scepter of Kingship.


Ruis      Nov. 25-Dec. 22.     The Elder Tree of Crucifixion, Doom & Death.






1. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974; 7th Printing of Amended and Enlarged Edition of 1966), p. 165.

2. Ibid., pp 116-17.

3. For a thorough discussion of this issue, see: Steve Blamires, Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham. (St. Paul, MN.: Llewellyn Publications, 1997), p. 39.

4. Robert Graves’s datings and symbolic interpretations are to be found in great detail in: Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., pp. 165-194.

5. Ibid., p. 194.

“These trees shall be my books.”

Shakespeare (2)