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Picts

Category: Mystic groups and systems

 

The Picts were a branch of the Celts, as such we could have described their symbols and beliefs under the entry for Celts. 

But they provide a vital link between The Ancestors, the Celtic peoples as a whole, and the Freemasons.  There is also a completely hypothetical but rather fun link between the Picts and Atlantis.  As such we have provided this entry in order to elaborate on this.

The name ‘Pictish’ means ‘painted men’ and historians believe it the invention of the Romans.  Eumenius’ writing in praise of Constantius in 297AD mentions the name.  The Picts themselves never called themselves Picts.  The Picts were known to the non Roman world by another name – the Cruithni or Cruithnigh.  The word is pronounced Croonie.  Although this may be coincidental, the word crooner is now used to mean a singer or balladeer, which will have relevance when we look at their language.

Where did they originate?

Raised beaches Treshnish-headland-Mull

T C Lethbridge has hypothesised that the earth’s plates - floating over the inner core of the earth - have not only moved around the globe, but have bounced up and down. 

During periods of glaciation, sea levels fall as water becomes ice.  But this ice may not be evenly distributed on the plate causing it to tip like a see saw, the non glaciated dry earth becomes higher –is raised.

As the ice then melts, water pours back into the sea, the sea levels rise, but at the same time, the weight on the plate becomes more evenly distributed and what was high ground sinks and goes underwater.  As such melting of ice sheets has a more exaggerated effect on sea levels.  Repeated glaciation periods cause repeated up and down movements of the plate, resulting in land repeatedly lost and gained, very evident today in the raised beaches of, for example, the island of Mull. 

Be that as it may, the land to the west of today’s Outer Hebrides was once a vast area of land on which people lived.  The area we now know as the North sea was also land and populated.  But what goes up in Lethbridge’s hypothesis had to come down and as the land to the west of the Outer Hebrides sunk under the sea, the people there were forced to move.  The Ancestors and the Picts are the same people. 

T C Lethbridge – Painted Men

Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan - Highland cattle

Light, sandy fertile plains of machair extended far out into what is now the Atlantic.  The land has sunk several feet since those days; lobster fishermen set their pots where the cattle and sheep used to graze.  Great sand dunes have driven inland, covering the homes, the middens and much of the farmland which were so attractive only 1900 years ago [this was written in the 1950s].  Few of the visitors, who remark on the beautiful colours of the sea in the Sound of Eriskay and the fine stretches of sand from Harris to Barra, realise that these features owe their attraction to the destruction of the fertile lands farmed in antiquity by Megalithic men, by Picts and Norsemen.  Much of the destruction is relatively recent and local people believe that the land has sunk several feet in living memory.  Proof of the sinking can be seen at Lochboisdale and Loch Roag, where the high tide now covers three feet of fresh water peat beds

Dun Bharabhat is an Iron Age Pictish galleried broch situated on the
island of Great Bernera, in the Outer Hebrides, which has sunk under
the water along with the causeway to it

and 

Picts Gaels and Scots - Dr Sally Foster
we can be confident that all these people were simply the descendents of native iron age tribes.

The Picts thus came from the North and West [not from the south as seems to be taught today] as sea levels rose, [for whatever reason] and since the Picts are essentially Celts, we can say that they were one of the groups that gradually moved east and south along with all the other Celts. 

sunken  Pictish decorated stone found in a field in Rothie

But they could in theory have stayed in the west, there was still land, albeit not as much. 

Lethbridge indicates that along with the land sinking, the climate changed too, to one which was cooler, wet, stormy and windy.  Lethbridge developed this hypothesis by looking at the vegetation changes.  He noticed that cremation burials on Eriskay in small cairns originally built on a dry land surface, were then covered over time by 5 feet of peat.  Under these climatic conditions, hay would not dry, corn would not ripen and fishing became more dangerous; reduced to a poorer diet and subsistence living, the people decided to move again south and east. 

T C Lethbridge – Painted Men

Pictish carved stones [as we shall see shortly] were
made long after the creation of wheelhouses and
brochs, and we can see their distribution from this
map

….broch people were apparently called Cruithni and Cruithni is the Celtic name for Picts…. the people once using the brochs of Mull .. were certainly a branch of the broch and wheel-house people of the Hebrides, northern Scotland, the Orkneys and Shetlands…. broch culture slowly crept down the east side of Scotland and completely vanished from its old haunts in the west and north….
The two most complete native traditions, written long after events, are in Gildas and Nennius.  Gildas writing in the sixth or seventh century brings them …. from the North in curraghs [skin boats] across the sea.  Nennius, who is supposed to have written his history about 800AD says that they settled first in the Orkneys and then moved south to conquer a third of Britain, which they still held in his time…. The Irish version of Nennius’ History of the Britons also tells that the Picts came south across the sea from the Orkneys…..

At the time Gildas wrote his description, the Irish were called the Scots and the Scots were called the Picts.  Scotland was actually Pictland!  He also said that they differed from one another in manners, but were equally ferocious in war. 

The link to Atlantis

The Tuatha Dé Danann as depicted in John Duncan's Riders of the Sidhe (1911)

As you will see from the description of the Celts, one of the many theories is that this lost land to the west and north of the Outer Hebrides in what is now the Atlantic, was the mythical lost land of Atlantis.

T C Lethbridge – Painted Men
according to the Book of Conquests, when they [the Picts] were known as the Cruithni they mingled with the Dé Danann and the Fir Bolg.  The Dé Danann were later known as the Sith which is now translated as the fairies.  Some writers have supposed that they had no real existence and were nothing but the ancient gods …… The Dé Danann were famous magicians.

The Distribution of wheelhouses in Western Isles, showing
migration to be westward, as wheelhouses were earlier
structures than the Pictish carved stones

In medieval Irish myth, the Fir Bolg [men of the Bags] are the fourth group of people to settle in Ireland. They are descended from the Muintir Nemid, an earlier group who abandoned Ireland and went to different parts of Europe. The Fir Bolg were overthrown by the invading Tuatha Dé Danann. The Tuatha Dé Danann, usually translated as "people of the goddess Dana or Danu", [the Great Earth Mother ] were, in turn gods in Irish mythology.  With them they brought four famous treasures - a legendary sword, spear a cauldron [called the Coirean Daghda] and the Stone of Destiny [the Lia Fail], which at that time was probably symbolic - the Philosopher’s stone.

Muintir means ‘people of’ and the word nemed means "privileged" or "holy" in Old Irish – again the gods.  The reconstructed Proto-Celtic language root nemos means "sky" or "heaven". In the ancient Celtic religions across Europe, a nemeton was a place of worship (including temples, shrines and sacred natural places).

From this we can see that quite a number of people who appear to have had gifts impressive enough for those who met them to consider them gods, left their sinking land and spread out in the direction of Ireland, various parts of Europe [including Greece] and Scotland, in a sort of fan shaped migration lasting thousands of years.

The spread of the Roman empire at a later date may have forced them to migrate back north again, but the initial direction in the time of myth and the Ancestors was south from the sunken lands.  And at last there is evidence that all this was true - see Doggerland.

For those who may protest at this point and state that Atlantis was west of Spain, or in the Mediterranean north of Libya, we believe there were numerous 'Atlantis's', over time, all caused by changes in glaciation and tilting see-saw plates.  Given that climate change is inducing more melting in Greenland and North America [Canada etc]  and at a startling rate, and Greenland and North America are on the plate upon which America [USA and Canada] floats, then we might hypothesise that today's climate changes will result in an 'Atlantis' as the southern USA, Mexico, the Caribbean etc all sink beneath the waves.  The USA may indeed disappear!

Where did the Picts go?

We can see from the map above that in many respects this question has been answered.  The word 'Picts' simply describes those people of the Ancestor race who we also describe as Celts, who stayed on in Scotland.

In Search of the Picts – Dr Elizabeth Sutherland
One question I always used to ask the children who visited Groam House Museum was ‘Where are the Picts today?’  Some would point to the stones, others to story books, but every so often one would give me the answer I wanted ‘Here, alive and well in us’….  The Picts were a spirited, energetic, red blooded Celtic race, whose genes are in our bodies, whose after children we are proud to be.

Flat Tweed hat [in this case Harris tweed], a tweed jerkin or waistcoat,
knitted wollen pullover, and trousers in this photo cords, but in olden
days leather.  The clothes of the present day Scotsman are little different
from those of his Pictish ancestors

In other words the British are the Picts.  There is a continuous line of descent from the Ancestors in this area, on to the Celts and then the British as a whole.  Whilst the Celts and Picts moved south spreading over the land, invaders such as the Vikings, Angles, Normans and so on, continually bombarded Pictish shores.  But they did not win that often. 

The Picts beat back the Saxon invaders at Nechtansmere, for example.   But in the same way that people invading India had a tendency to become Indian or adopt the ways of the Hindu, the British absorbed their invaders and changed them.   

British culture is largely Pictish and by definition Celtic and Ancestor culture – the somewhat strange sense of humour; the fervent almost fanatical wish to defend their culture; their deceptively quiet and acquiescent demeanor, use of understatement and politeness; their intense dislike of conformity, control, lack of variety and threats to their independence; their general wish [as a people] to avoid conflict, aggression or war if possible; and their love of the countryside and dogs, are all indicators of a Pictish past.  The Germans once believed that the invasion of the UK from the east by Angles, Vikings and the Saxons made the British essentially German.  They started several major wars in Europe on this somewhat mistaken belief.  They were wrong.  British culture is largely Pictish culture.

T C Lethbridge – Painted Men
…the greatest army in the world [the Roman] at the time was frightened by men it probably regarded as barbarous savages.  The spirit of a people does not decay as foreign observers always seems to think it decays.  They mistake the natural laziness and indifference of the British for decadence.  A trail of wrecked empires bears witness to this mistake.

 

 Ptolemy's map of Britain, circa 150 AD, places the Picts in the land veering off at right angles to the north of the country, roughly equating to present day Scotland and covering a slightly larger area than the map shown at the beginning of this entry which was drawn some time later.  

The Mystic system of the Picts

 

Little remains of a written record for the Picts and the record that does remain has tended to be written by sources hostile or at least unsympathetic to the culture and civilisation that they found, like the Romans, Scots [in other words the Irish, particularly the missionary workers from there], Saxons and the Angles.  It is worth noting that the treachery of the Romans must have sent shock waves through the Picts, as at one time Roman initiates visited the great centres of initiation and the Mysteries in for example Orkney.

T C Lethbridge – Painted Men
The Pictones were ancient friends of Rome at the time of Julius Caesar (100BC - 44BC); … Julius Caesar first landed in Britain on August 26th, 55 BC, but it was almost another hundred years before the Romans actually conquered Britain in AD 43.

the only reason Britain was invaded was because a general decided he needed a triumph.

There are a number of ways that we know they had a mystic system of some sophistication and one moreover that encompassed all the facets of truly ancient systems like the Shaivite system

 

We have used the observations to expand on the descriptions of each of these facets grouping the relevant evidence under these main headings:

  • Language
  • Sacred geography
  • Symbols
  • Myths and legends
  • Totem groups
  • Organisation of its society

 In order to understand the observations, the following – true of every mystic movement – needs to be understood

  • Mystic Symbols have a meaning of their own representing metaphysical truths
  • Mapping Mystic Symbols to constellationssome key mystic symbols have been mapped onto the night sky as constellations in order to help people remember them as symbols, aid the teaching of symbols’ meaning without needing pen and paper and to help in navigation.  On Pictish stones, the Constellation symbols are shown to help people locate key sacred sites, along with extra symbols to help in direction finding
  • The Great Work– The Great Work is the plan for the universe’s creation and evolution.  Within this plan are types of task in the Great Work eg communication, design etc [see why are we here]
  • Mapping mystic symbols to types of task  - symbols are assigned to each type of task.  These are known as the Signs of the Zodiac
  • Mapping Signs of the Zodiac to constellations - Signs of the Zodiac with their symbols have been mapped to constellations
  • Totem groups are groups of people whose destiny is to complete one of the types of tasks in the Great Work
  • Totem groups may thus be mapped to Signs of the Zodiac as broad indicators of the roles of clans in the Great Work.  There may be 12 or 13.

The Kingship of Bridei mac Maelchon

The 'conversion' of Bridei

Bridei mac Maelchon’s rule in the context of the Picts’ mystic system was eventually disastrous in its final effects, but was anything but disastrous from a political or economic point of view.

Bridei mac Maelchon (r. c. 550–84) was the first identifiable king of the Picts.  He seems to have exerted wide-ranging authority. His power was based in the kingdom of Fidach, and his base was at the fort of Craig Phadrig, near modern Inverness. Christian missionaries from Iona began the conversion of the Picts to Christianity from 563 in his reign.  St Columba ‘converted’ the northern Picts near Inverness first.  From this moment on we see a wide ranging change in Pictish culture.  Kingship became predominant and the matrilineal system was abandoned and all the mystic symbols, beliefs and understanding was forced ‘underground’.  Why was this change undertaken?

Roman Rule had showed the Pictish Kings that larger kingdoms, even empires, could be carved out under inherited masculine rule.  With larger power bases and thus greater revenue, permanent defensive and attacking armies could be raised, and different sorts of goods and chattels manufactured by more effective divisions of specialised labour . 

Painting by Wayne Reynolds

The threat to the Picts as a whole from invaders was very real - from the Scots in Ireland, from the Vikings, and from the Romans.  There had been famine in Europe, due to unseasonably bad weather and rain, and many were in effect emigrating because they were starving.  Later between 657 AD and 685 AD, the Angles occupied much of what had been southern Pictland and threatened the rest.  After Bridei’s rule, the grandson of King Neithon of Strathclyde brought all the northern kingdoms under his control, he then tackled the Scots, who had invaded and settled in Argyll and to the west, bringing them under control.  Finally he tackled the Anglean threat and defeated them near Forfar in Angus [the battle of Nechtsanmere].  Pictland became united under one ruler, something impossible under the old matrilineal system, as women are hardly ever fighters on the battlefield.  Boudica or Boudicca was a queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire in AD 60 or 61, and her failure and the terrible slaughter of her tribe that followed, might have helped persuade the tribes as a whole that more unity and aggression was needed.

Gold belt buckle from the Viking ship burial
at Sutton Hoo. It has Celtic/Pictish motifs
and was possibly bought or looted from the
Picts

The Picts knew all the dangers of Roman rule, but they had also had a taste of its pleasures – wine, new fashion and different sorts of clothes, jewellery, and other imported goods.  And Bridei mac Maelchon recognised the value of trade, trade protected by an army that could protect the goods as they travelled. 

Bridei mac Maelchon had also seen that the Romans had achieved the seeming impossibility of creating from tribes and cultures with different languages, and beliefs one unified empire, by using religion as the uniting force.  The Romans didn’t actually care what religion it was, but Christianity being new, easy to understand and easy to explain without books was an obvious choice.  During the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (306–337 AD), Christianity began to transition to the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.

St Columba was actually no saint, he was a very astute political operator and the ‘conversion’ process took no time at all because there was no opposition from Bridei mac Maelchon, for whom Jesus would have been another mystic.  The spread of Christianity was quick to follow this ‘conversion’.  St Ninian based at Whithorn in Strathclyde, St Kentigern [or Mungo] and St Rule all entered Pictish lands not long after.   Most of the population resisted and attempted to continue to practise their beliefs but the new hereditary King and the Church were powerful allies.  Gradually the new religion usurped the old.

Picts Gaels and Scots - Dr Sally Foster
The fate of the monk St Donan, killed in 617 by Picts on Eigg, demonstrates that the presence of [the church] was not always welcome

The Lichfield Gospels is an eighth century Insular gospel Book housed in
Lichfield Cathedral. There are 236 surviving pages, eight of which are
illuminated. Another four contain framed text. Peter Lord dates the
book at 730, placing it chronologically before the Book of Kells but
after the Lindisfarne Gospels.

The creation of a kingdom underpinned by the institutionalised Church, did indeed create a stable political base with effective revenue gathering systems for Pictish trade and culture to flourish.  Only some 200 years later elaborately decorated manuscripts appeared and beautiful gold and silver brooches and pins.  Looted ornamental bronze work found in Viking graves testify to a culture with exceptionally skilled craftsmen who produced skillets, buckets bound with bronze, and beautifully ornamented hanging lamps.  The craftsmen were employed by the Church and the King, the skills had probably always existed, but these two institutions created a business by effectively employing their subjects.   But the mystic system all but died.  Or did it?

Persecutions and prosecutions

The persecutions begin - accused by informers, anyone with a grudge or those paid by the Church
to do so and then condemned without trial

We believe that Bridei mac Maelchon had a vision of a kingship able to ‘defend the faith’, underpinned by the spiritual blessings of a Church whose main symbol – Jesus - espoused beliefs that were already part of Pictish culture if the myths and legends are a clue  – ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’, and ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’.   But if you create an institution capable of raising revenue – in this case the Church – you create a power base and it was not long before the Church was vying for power in opposition to the kingships, and ignoring Jesus altogether.

The propaganda was most effective ..... mystics
became 'witches'

By 1170, Henry II of England, expressing his frustration regarding his conflicts with Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury was asking "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?"  And the cry continued until Henry VIII, in the 1500s,  initiated the process of removing Rome’s Papal interference once and for all.  The excuse was refusal of his request for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine.  But as historian A. F. Pollard has rather astutely argued, even if Henry had not needed an annulment, he would have found some way of removing papal control over the governance of England. 

The Church as an institution was brutal in its persecution of those who did not want to be converted or still showed signs of the gifts of a mystic movement.  They employed some subtle approaches.  The fox is one of the signs of the old mystic clans – so ‘fox hunting’ was used as a symbol.  And then there was the burning of the ‘witches’ – the healers, the mediums, the gifted – who posed a real threat to the authority of the Church.

Herdsmen and Hermits - T C Lethbridge
One of the districts where persecutions for witchcraft were most numerous after the Middle Ages was eastern Scotland, north of the Forth, where Chadwick believes the Pictish people established themselves.

burning 'witches'

The passing of the Witchcraft Act 1563 made witchcraft, or consulting with witches, capital crimes. The first major series of trials under the new act were the North Berwick witch trials, beginning in 1589. 

An estimated 4,000 to 6,000 people, mostly from the Scottish Lowlands, were tried for witchcraft in this period, a much higher rate than for neighbouring England. Seventy-five per cent of the accused were women.

Modern estimates indicate that more than 1,500 persons were executed; most were strangled and then burned. The hunts subsided under English occupation after the Civil Wars during the period of the Commonwealth led by Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s, but returned after the Restoration in 1660, causing some alarm and leading to the Privy Council of Scotland limiting arrests, prosecutions and torture.  Although there were occasional local outbreaks of witch-hunting, the last recorded executions were in 1706 and the last trial in 1727. The Scottish and English parliaments merged in 1707, and the unified British parliament repealed the 1563 Act in 1736.

 

Was mysticism lost?

No.  The symbols and symbolism passed to the Freemasons who used it, rather ironically in the decoration of the Churches and Cathedrals.  Furthermore that same group also attempted to combine Jesus’ teachings – the morals of Christianity - with the old Celtic/Pictish mystic system and preserved it [with varying effectiveness], in secret.  Myths, legends and symbolism were preserved in Pantomines, Circus, and singing of Nursery Rhymes poems, stories, and the festivals, which are Pictish in origin – Christmas=Candlemass, Hallowe’en=All Hallows.  Even the use of Easter eggs has its own symbolism.

The final outcome

before.....................

By about the 18th century, Scotland was ruled by hereditary aristocratic landowners who previously had status as Scots Gaelic clan chiefs – the kings of old. On this land were people who were now the tenants of that landowner, paying rent but with no security of tenure.  The Scottish legal system had done nothing to protect the thousands upon thousands of Picts who were now effectively enslaved by their king/clan chief.

At this point in history, the chiefs decided that they would enclose common lands and change from general farming, hunting and gathering to sheep rearing.  ‘The Highland Clearances’ resulted in the eviction of a ‘significant number’ of tenants in the Scottish Highlands a process which was carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries.

...... after

Thousands upon thousands of people were forcibly removed from their homes.  Many died from starvation exacerbated by partial crop failures in 1836 and 1837, and a severe outbreak of potato blight which arrived in Scotland in 1846. This introduced famine of a much greater scale and duration than anything previously experienced. By the end of the year, the north-west Highlands and the Hebrides had serious food shortages, with an estimated three quarters of the population with nothing to eat.

But of those that survived the famine, many migrated south and became the workers and innovators during the Industrial Revolution.  The Clearances also resulted in significant emigration of Highlanders to North America and Australasia. In the early 21st century, the descendants of the Highland diaspora far outnumber the population in Scotland.

Wikipedia has a very interesting list of ‘Famous Scotsmen’, meaning famous Picts, which can be found following this LINK The Great Work is a strange beast to understand sometimes.

References

The section on the Ancestors on this site should be referenced particularly the observations referring to the Neolithic Orkneys [under T].

  • In Search of the Picts – Dr Elizabeth Sutherland [former curator of the Groam House Museum]
  • Painted Men - T C Lethbridge [Honourable keeper of Anglo-Saxon Antiquities, University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Cambridge]
  • Herdsmen and Hermits - T C Lethbridge
  • Picts Gaels and Scots - Dr Sally Foster
  • Early Christian monuments of Scotland – Allen and Andersom
  • McHardy, S. – Wells, Trees and Sacred Groves
  • MacLeod, F – The Healing Wells of the Western Isles
  • Morris, R & F – Scottish Healing Wells
  • Oldham, T – The Caves of Scotland
  • Straffon, C – The Earth Goddess
  • Night Falls on Ardnamurchan - Alasdair MacLean
  • Canna - the story of a Hebridean island - J L Campbell
  • The view over Atlantis - John Michell
  • Quicksilver heritage - Paul Screeton
  • Circles, Clocks, Calendars and Computers – K F Wood [Spring 1970 Journal of the Institution of Post Office Electrical Engineers – N E Region]
  • Pictish symbol stones an Illustrated Gazeteer
  • Index of Constellations - LINK
  • The doggerland project - University of Exeter
  • Global Warming and Lost Lands: Understanding the Effects of Sea Level Rise - by Vince Gaffney, PhD, University of Birmingham, UK

Observations

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