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Observations placeholder

Totem group – Picts – 00 Tattoos



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

The tattoos the Picts used were, like all tattoos of this time a symbol of kinship – the totem group,-  furthermore they appeared to be made using red ochre, which has symbolic significance. 

T C Lethbridge – Painted Men
tattooing in ancient Europe appears to have taken the form of the clan animal or symbol.  Even some Greek clans were tattooed in this way. Some of the Highland clans were certainly totemic.  We have the Epidii (the horse people), the Orc people (the tribe of the boar), while Clan Chattan (the men of the Cat) remains to this day and gave its name to Caithness.

According to Gildas writing in the sixth or seventh century AD, the men generally wore beards and didn’t wear that many clothes ‘all the more eager to shroud their villainous faces with bushy hair than to cover with decent clothing those parts of their body which required it’

T C Lethbridge explained this rather strange description by noting that there is the possibility that the Picts tossed away some of their plaids in battle, firstly in order to display their somewhat intimidating tattooed body, and secondly to make sure they weren’t encumbered by the fabric as they fought.  Gildas would only have heard about the men in battle, because that is the only time they were encountered by invaders.  The effect must have been similar to a Maori Haka.

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items


Totem group

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps