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Observations placeholder

Totem group – Picts



Type of Spiritual Experience


Before the Romans or other groups made contact with the Picts, it appears that they had not only worked out a very sophisticated symbol system, - the symbols they used were those of the universal symbol system and thus can be explained, - and an equally sophisticated astronomical system, but they also had:

  • mapped the constellations – and given them symbols.  Here we have a good record as the symbols are still extant on the Pictish stones.  Thus we are able to see the symbol from a stone and by looking at the symbols used for constellations at the time of Ptolemy [who visited the Picts and took some of their ideas with him] map symbol to constellation
  • mapped symbols to the types of sacred geography feature.  Thus there is a symbol for the broch, the wheelhouse, mark stones, round towers and so on, as well as direction finding symbols.  Most of these are recorded on Pictish stones for the obvious reason that they are the means by which site were found
  • mapped a clear list of 12 or 13 Totem groups to symbols for the Signs of the Zodiac – the picture below is an attempt by a modern researcher to recreate them, based on the symbols found on the Pictish stones [although the butterfly and wren symbols do not seem to appear on Pictish stones ] 
  • mapped 7 Totem groups to the Symbolic Planets - this has been a great deal more difficult to unravel and it is clear the cat symbol shown above is a Planet and not a Sign of the Zodiac

We do not know how the Totem groups mapped to the ‘Signs of the Zodiac’ – the types of task in the Great Work.  Nor do we know how the majority of these symbols mapped to constellations.  We believe that before Ptolemy came and the Picts were influenced by the Romans [who were, before the invasion, on friendly terms with the Romans.  Some Romans even visited the Mystery site in Orkney], the mapping to the constellations may have been very different and thus there is no correspondence between the Pictish constellations and the Ptolemy constellations. 

In essence we are trying to unravel a mixed system, before the Romans and Ptolemy came and after contact was made and symbols changed.  The changeover may even be related in some way to what archaeologists term class I, class II and class III stones.


A description of the experience

A totem group of people is a spiritually aligned group of people.  The group of Higher spirits, departed or still living, forms a collective consciousness with more power as a group than it has individually. If a shaman is able to access this collective consciousness as opposed to just his own memory and knowledge he is able to tap into accumulated wisdom – he becomes wiser. In the days before reading, writing and written records, this form of collective knowledge was especially important as it bestowed wisdom unavailable from any other source

The Celtic/Pictish culture was highly advanced in astronomy.  Even famous Romans such as Caesar and Pliny paid them tribute. The Celts were also aware of many constellations and planets that were generally unknown by other groups but they had their own name for them.  The famous first Century BC Coligny Calendar was a highly sophisticated lunar and solar calculator first constructed in 1100 BC and was created by Celtic astronomers.

In the Brehon Laws it is stated that astronomers and astrologists had to be qualified. The degree was called foirceadlaidhe, which was a degree of the fifth order of wisdom and proved ones knowledge of the topic.  In other words, knowledge of the signs and constellations was part of the initiation process into the mystic system, and any stones with these symbols on may have indicated a connection with this fact.

Also of great interest is that there are links between Celtic astronomy and to Vedic cosmology. Ancient Celtic astrologers used similar systems as those of Vedic astrologers.

There appears to have been a correspondence between the signs/planets and the tribes and thus the totems.  Lethbridge suggested one link, but the map below does not mention the Orc people, we think he may mean the Orcades - the Orkneys:

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.

Above:  Celtic tribes including the Pictish tribes

According to Ptolemy's map there are far more than 7 + 12 tribes, but some of these may be sub-groups of the main tribes. 

 Below: Ptolemy's map in detail

Picts as warriors

We can perhaps now see why the Picts were so effective as warriors.

In Search of the Picts – Dr Elizabeth Sutherland
The Picts were brave warriors who painted or tattooed their skins…. Raised great totem poles of stone and knew the seasons and the stars.  They were above all respectful tenants of the natural world….. Nature was both bountiful and terrifying.  They both worshipped it and worked with it .

Amongst themselves the Picts were peaceable and cultured, living a life of the hunter gatherer and farmer.  Professor Colin Renfrew has suggested that as early as 3,000 BC [a time which we have classified as the Ancestors], the Orkneys were populated with dozens of small groups of about twenty people on fairly friendly terms with their neighbours.  But they defended their lands and beliefs with a ferocity that earned them a fearsome reputation as brave warriors - defenders of the faith.  

The suggestion by some historians that they were anything but peaceable, is easily refuted, as to be able to create an army capable of defeating and repelling the Romans required existing sophisticated means of communication, and existing levels of co-operation and links between the different villages 

Picts, Gaels and Scots - Dr Sally Foster
The Alexandrian geographer Ptolemy, writing around 140-150AD recorded as many as twelve tribes inhabiting the region, his sources Included information gathered by Agricola, whose son-in-law Tacitus, the Roman historian, documented how in 83 AD… the tribes  combined against the army of his father-in-law… these peoples apparently had meeting places, were able to muster military forces when required, had widespread contacts and were capable of participating in long distance relationships.

They fought bravely because the world they had created and in which they lived was a golden age.

In Search of the Picts – Dr Elizabeth Sutherland
somehow those days were better, those people wiser and the world a happier place than it is today.  The Mapuches of Chile, the Maoris of New Zealand, the Native American Indians, the Aborigines still hark back to a golden age.  So did the Greeks.  Our golden age was Pictish.

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps