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Avalanche Press - Celtic Age - Roleplaying the Myths, Heroes and Monsters of the Celts by Azamor

Avalanche Press - Celtic Age - Roleplaying the Myths, Heroes and Monsters of the Celts by Azamor


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Published by Jonathan Azamor

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Published by: Jonathan Azamor on Apr 15, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Celtic view of education is
simple: one learns from a master,
through exercises and repetition.
This is how young warriors learn to
wield their weapons, and it is how
bards and druids come to their

Bardic schools exist among most of
the Celtic tribes, though even now
those of Ireland are held to be the
best in the Celtic world. In a few
centuries these will come to resemble
the early Christian universities, with
classrooms and a permanent faculty.
But in this era, the bardic school is a
gathering of students around a mas-
ter who has agreed to teach them.

Masters agree to take on students for
the same reasons 21st Century
academicians will desire graduate


Listed below are the 20 letters of the Ogham
alphabet. They are listed first by the corresponding
Latin letter, then its name, then its pronunciation,
and finally the tree it represents. Properties of each
tree and their significance to the Celts follow
each entry.

First Aicme


Beith “beth”


Held to have a special power over love. Casting
the bark of a white birch into flame or a running
stream might cause one to meet their true love
soon afterwards.


Luis “lu-WEESH” Rowan

Known as the Mountain Ash in the modern United
States, both its wood and its red berries protect
against magic. Forked branches can help find water.
Its wood is often used to carve magic wands and rods.


Fearn “fairn”


A whistle made of alder shoots can be used to bend
the wind to one’s will, or “whistle up the wind.”


Sail “SHA-ill” Willow

Tying a willow shoot in a knot while uttering a
wish may cause it to come true. Willow bark can
also be chewed to reduce pain and headache.


Nion “NEE-on” Ash

Sleeping on ash leaves may bring prophetic
dreams. Favored for rods and walking sticks, ash
is very receptive to magic.

Second Aicme


Huath “OO-ah” Hawthorn

Flowers of this tree can arouse men to great feats
of love-making. The tree is used in love and
marriage spells. Its wood contains great magical
power and is often used for wands.


Duir “dooor” Oak

The most powerful of trees, the king of the
forest and thus the most sacred symbol in the
Ogham alphabet. The gods speak to humanity
through rustlings in the oak leaves, and eating
acorns gathered at night promotes fertility.
Burning oak leaves will purify a desecrated place.


Gora McGahey (order #19251)

students: for prestige and cheap
labor. The more supplicants who
wish to study with a master and the
choosier he or she can be in accept-
ing them, the greater the prestige
gained. And again echoing the prac-
tice of 2,000 years later, mere com-
moners are rarely admitted to bardic
schools; the students must come
from the privileged classes.

A bardic school is conducted by one
or more fili; these can be male or
female, but a mere bard is not
thought fit to instruct. If more than
one teacher is present, the head fili is
known as the ollamh. The tribe
hosting the school provides food and
a building, sometimes an unused hut
within an oppidum or, more often, a
farmhouse outside it. Bardic schools
make bad neighbors since the lessons
are conducted at night. The fili
begins with new students by forcing
them to memorize vast quantities of
epic poems. More advanced students
compose their own to be critiqued by
the fili and the other advanced
students. Through constant work,
and through constant constructive
criticism, the would-be bard gains the
skills necessary to perform the role.

The fili conducting the classes
typically holds a post as chief bard
to the local chief or king. The higher
his or her position, the more prestige
held by the school. Political leaders
see the benefit in a prestigious
bardic school: this yields them
students from other tribes who can
be pumped for information and, if
necessary, seized as hostages.

During the day, the students
perform physical labor to support
the fili who teaches them: tending
farm animals and doing manual
labor. Almost all of them come from
the noble classes and have never
soiled themselves with such tasks
before. This is intended to teach

Ogham (cont’d)

Second Aicme (cont’d)


Tinne “CHIN-yuh” Holly

A phallic symbol for its white wood with faint
grain, holly is used for spear shafts. Holly leaves
and berries can be used in spells to promote sleep
or easy death and can help make a man alluring
to women. It is a symbol of the death and rebirth
cycle of life.


Coll “cull”


A tree of wisdom, eating its nuts can bring insight.
Thesalmon of wisdom caught by Fionn
MacCumhaill became wise by eating hazelnuts
that had fallen into a stream. Fili also eat hazelnuts
to sweeten their poetry. Divining rods are made
of hazel, and it is a symbol of rejected love: to
send a would-be or former male lover away, a
woman hands him a hazel twig (symbolizing that
she has become wise enough to get rid of him).


Quert “kwaart” Apple

Apples and cider are used in some love and healing
spells. They can also be used to remove warts by
rubbing the wart with a piece of apple and then
discarding the fruit. As it rots, so does the wart fade.

Third Aicme


Muin “mun”


This doesn’t grow in much of the Celtic lands, but
it is revered as the source of wine. Intoxication is
a blessing sent by the gods; thus the gods favor
the sources of alcohol.


Gort “gort”


Can be used to flavor ale and is thought to stop
a cough.

NG nGéatal “NYEH-dul” Reed

Sweeping a sacred site with a reed broom purifies
it. Burning reeds can quiet a forceful wind.


Straif “straf” Blackthorne

Symbolic of fate, it is used for harmful magic.


Ruis “ruh-WEESH” Elder

A wand made of elder or playing a flute made of
elder, can help drive away evil spirits or thoughts.


Gora McGahey (order #19251)

humility and to break them of any airs
their birth may have given them. Once
admitted to a bardic school, it matters
not who one’s parents might havebeen.
All honors must be earned, and this goes
against the grain of Celtic culture.
Thus, the severe measures necessary to
bring an end to this arrogant habit.

To emphasize this break with the past,
and to avoid distraction, all bardic
instruction takes place in the dark. The
student must use his or her mind and
not rely on any memory devices or
writing. Fili do not beat their students;
this is not necessary. Wielding the sharp
tongue that allows them to use satire as
a weapon, they can easily humiliate a
laggard with a few choice words.

The course of study lasts for six or
seven years. It is intense, and many
drop out before completing it. Not
everyone has the strength of character
necessary to see the process out to the
end. Those who do not truly desire the
mantle of bard are weeded out along
the way.

In addition to their study of poetry,
students also learn to play musical
instruments, to perform feats of skill
(juggling is highly popular) and study
but are not yet allowed to practice the art of
satire. During their time as students, they are
sent several times a month to perform for local
warriors at their feasts. As they are not yet
bards, they have none of the social or practical
protections of their class. If they do not please
their audience, the drunken warriors may throw
objects at them or beat them, and in a few
extreme cases have been known to kill them.
There is no widespread geis against killing or
otherwise harming a student bard, and like the
full-fledged bard they can command no honor-
price if raped or killed.

To graduate, the new bard must compose an epic
poem of their own. If it does not meet their
master’s standards, they will not have another
chance. To become a fili requires another six
years of study on top of these lessons. Few have
the determination to see this through.

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