Sacred geography – Picts – Citadels 01 – Mither Tap
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
A citadel is a fortress protecting a town, sometimes incorporating a castle or palace. As a part of the sacred landscape it is often a combination of a whole host of other symbolic features – the island, the wall, the levels and layers, the palace and so on. Example citadels include Mohenjaro Daro in the Indus valley or even Macchu Pichu.
In order to explain the importance and symbolic features of the citadel it is easier to use an example and the one we have chosen in the Pictish sacred system is Mither Tap.
Bennachie is a range of hills in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The peak that stands out the most visually is Mither Tap (518 m, 1699 feet).
Most of the tops lie along an east / west ridge. This alignment is important as it ties in with the symbolism of the cosmic egg with its east west routes and its north south routes.
If we look at a map of the area we can see that it is essentially a symbolic ‘mountain’ surrounded by an egg shaped plain – a sort of Mount Meru of the Picts. Within this egg shaped space there are two very obvious paths running north south and east west. They make both a cross within the cosmic egg and are a cross roads symbolically.
Mither Tap has an Iron Age or Bronze Age ‘fort’ on its summit, which gives it the classification of a citadel.
The entire peak is symbolic, as it is a ‘mountain’ having a barrow on it and which also has a large number of standing stones in the surrounding area. The significance is believed to be connected to the profile of the hill, which is shaped like a female breast, which is reflected in the name "Mither Tap" (Mother Top) - in other words Earth Mother.
There is a Creator and Created. The Created is the Earth Mother and should be paired in symbolism with the Sun and the two paired symbols are the Sun and Moon. This would once have been an immensely important centre of the Moon goddess.
It is impossible to over estimate the importance of this site in spiritual terms. To the Picts it must have represented the centre of the sacred geography, and a place of pilgrimage from far and wide. It would have been made that much more special by the actual forest - mirroring the symbolic forest [as in Dante] that surrounded it. It would have seemd like a Dante'esque journey to get there.
This type of sacred geography is also often shown in T-O maps. One of the very early types of spiritual map, attempting to show the layout of the Egg, was called a T-O map. The following is just such a mirrored landscape and shows a three part division of the egg. The Tarot cards sometimes incorporate the same idea in the use of the orb.
There is one final interesting but speculative aspect about the citadel that is worth considering. Many of the standing stones now found in churchyards re-used as grave markers may once have been signposts to the citadels. Practically all the standing stones are like our motorway signposts - 'go this way for x miles and you will find a broch or a barrow or a round tower'. The cross is no exception especially when it is carved into an egg shaped stone as it is here.
The source of the experiencePicts
Concepts, symbols and science items
Science ItemsSacred geography
Sacred geography - ancient trees
Sacred geography - barrows
Sacred geography - citadel
Sacred geography - cliffs
Sacred geography - crossroads
Sacred geography - cursus
Sacred geography - ley lines
Sacred geography - mapping the spiritual onto the physical
Sacred geography - mark stones
Sacred geography - mountain
Sacred geography - rivers and streams
Sacred geography - sacred grove
Sacred geography - water sites
Activities and commonsteps