OGMIOS-OGMA

The Gaulish Hercules who was evidently identical with the god Ogmios. Musee Granet, Aix-en-Provence

The god 'Hercules' from High Rochester (Bremenium), Northunberland. Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle upon Tyne

A Celt, in a discussion with Lucian, explained how the Celtic Ogmios, personifying the power of speech was represented by Heracles rather than Hermes. This Celt made various references to Greek myths in the course of the conversation. - John Rhys, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic Heathendom, London 1898.

Stranger, I will tell you the secret of the painting, for you seem very much troubled about it. We Celts do not consider the power of speech to be Hermes, as you Greeks do, but we represent it by means of Heracles, because he is much stronger than Hermes. So if this old man Heracles, the power of speech, draws men after him, tied to his tongue by their ears you have no reason to wonder, as you must be aware of the close connection between the ears and the tongue. ...In a word, we Celts are of opinion that Heracles himself performed everything by the power of words, as he was a wise fellow, and that most of his compulsion was effected by persuasion. His weapons ... are his utterances which are sharp and well aimed, swift to pierce the mind: and you too say that words have wings.

From Miranda Green, Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, pp 165-166, 1992

Osismian Stater, Allen fig 23 Osismian Stater, DT 6555, my collection
Do these Northern Gallic coins depict the inage of Ogmios with fibures chained to him as Lucian describes or do they symbolize the Cult of the Severed Head, depicting a warrior with trophies hanging from his horse? I would suggest they represent both, as the Celts were wont to do.

 

"Ogmios We know of the god Ogmios from the writings of Lucian of Samosata, a Greek author who wrote during the 2nd c. AD. Ogmios was apparently equated with the Classical demo-god hero HERCULES. Lucian describes a picture of Ogmios which he saw in Gaul, when residing in Gallia Narbonensis, perhaps around Marseille: he was depicted with bow and the club normally associated with Hercules, but instead of the powerful god of Graeco-Roman mythology, Ogmios Hercules was portrayed as an old man, bald and burnt by the sun. Curiously, the god in Lucian's picture drew behind him a happy band of men who were attached to him by thin gold chains linking their ears to the tip of his tongue. Lucian was informed by a Gaulish acquaintance that the Celts associated eloquence with Hercules, because of his strength. Apart from Lucian's testimony, Ogmios is invoked on two lead defixiones or curse tablets from Bregenz on Lake Constance; on one of these, Ogmios is requested to intervene and lay a curse on a barren woman so that she would never marry.

Two features, apart from the name, may identify the Romano-Celtic Ogmios with the Irish god mentioned in the early literature, known as Oghma. Not only was Oghma described as a 'strong man', like Hercules, but he was credited also with the invention of ogham, a system of writing which consisted of horizontal or slanting strokes and notches cut on stone or wood and branching out on either side of a vertical line or corner."

From Proinsias Mac Cana, Celtic Mythology, pp 35-36, 1996

A lead tablet from Bregenz, Austria, on which a jealous women tells her lover to go to Ogmios
Transliteration, obverse Transliteration, reverse

 

Gaulish Ogmios-Hercules: Irish Oghma

"According to Lucian, who wrote during the second century A.D., Hercules was known to the Celts as Ogmios. He describes a Gaulish picture of him armed with his familiar club and bow but portrayed uncharacteristically as an old man, bald and grey, with skin darkened and wrinkled by the sun, more like Charon than Hercules, and drawing behind him a joyful band of men attached to him by thin chains which linked their ears to the tip of his tongue. By way of elucidation, Lucian quotes a Caulish informant who explained that his fellow Celts did not identify eloquence with Hermes, as did the Greeks, but rather with Hercules because he was much the stronger. The existence of Ogmios is further confirmed by two defixiones, inscribed tablets on which he is besought to wreak a curse on certain individuals.


Albrecht Drürer, Ogmios the god of death as Hermes

If these few materials are to yield anything of their original total significance, it seems essential that they be considered in conjunction with the Irish traditions of the god Oghma, sometimes qualified as grianainech, 'of the sun-like countenance'. It is not at all certain that the form Oghma is the regular Irish reflex of a Celtic Ogmios, but, nevertheless, the consensus of opinion is that the two names must be identified in terms of mythology and some have resolved the linguistic problem by assuming that Oghma is a borrowing from Gaulish Ogmios rather than a cognate. Not merely is Oghma known as a trénfher, 'champion', literally 'strong man' but he is also credited with the invention of the Ogham letters, a system of writing based upon the Latin alphabet and consisting of strokes and notches cut upon wood or stone, in its attested form it came into use about the fourth century A.D., but almost certainly it continues an older system of magical symbols.

Much has been written and many theories formulated about Ogmios and Oghma, especially with reference to the enigmatic vignette by Lucian. But all one can say with certainty is, first, that Lucian's Ogmios appears to govern by the power of the spoken word, and, secondly, that his identification with Hercules -- together with the character of the Irish Oghma marks him out as the divine champion. Beyond this one must risk the errors of speculative interpretation if one is to come closer to the patterns of thought represented for the Celts by Ogmios-Oghma. Perhaps the most interesting and, despite its highly speculative character, the most persuasive of the interpretations so far advanced is that of Françoise Le Roux, which has the considerable merit that it is based on a close analysis of a wide range of early Irish material. According to Mlle Le Roux, Ogmios- Oghma is the god who binds, like the Indian Varuna, a character which manifests itself for example in Lucian's description and in the binding force of the magic ogham symbols as used by Cú Chulainn in Táin Bó Cuailnge to stay the advance of the Connacht army. She also accepts the older view of Ogmios as a psychopomp leading souls from this world to the other. This rests mainly on Lucian's testimony, though one should perhaps add that divinities of death are commonly conceived (like the Indian Yama) as binding gods; in other words, they bind and carry off the dead."

From JA MacCulloch, The Religion of the Ancient Celts, pp 75-76, 1911

"Another son of Brigit's was Ogma, master of poetry and inventor of ogham writing, the word being derived from his name.' It is more probotble that Ogma's name is a derivative from some word signifying "speech" or "writing," and that the connection with "ogham" may be a mere folk-etymology. Ogma appears as the champion of the gods,' a position given him perhaps from the primitive custom of rousing the warrior's emotions by eloquent speeches before a battle. Similarly the Babylonian Marduk, " seer of the gods," was also their champion in fight. Ogma fought and died at Mag-tured, but in other accounts he survived, captures Tethra's sword, goes on the quest for Dagda's harp, and is given a síd after the Milesian victory. Ogma's counterpart in Gaul is Ogmios, a Herakles and a god of eloquence, thus bearing the dual character of Ogma, while Ogma's epithet grianainech, "of the smiling countenance," recalls Lucian's account of the " smiling face " of Ogmios. Ogma's high position is the result of the admiration of bardic eloquence among the Celts, whose loquacity was proverbial, and to him its origin was doubtless ascribed, as well as that of poetry. The genealogists explain his relationship to the other divinities in different ways, but these confusions may result from the fact that gods had more than one name, of which the annalists made separate personalities. Most usually Ogma is called Brigit's son. Her functions were like his own, but in spite of the increasing supremacy of gods over goddesses, he really bever eclipsed her."

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The Coins of the Ancient Celts, Allen, DF, EUP, 1980, ISBN 0852243715, D. Nash (ed)