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Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland
IV. The Kingdom of the Picts: Christianity, Paganism and the Making of Gaelic Scotland

into the otherworld at lakes and streams, or else on faerie-hills under cromlechs (dolmans) or inside souterrains (underground chambers).

The otherworld of faerie-maidens (Gaelic "sidhe," pronounced "shee") was part of a dawn or pre—Christian religion that included sacral kings, sun gods and ancestor worship, "gessa" or taboos, moon goddesses, fertility cults, divine heroes, nature worship, druidic oak groves, and goddesses presiding over rivers and lakes. Other aspects included head-hunting and the cult of the head (the Gaelic sun-god, the god of wisdom, is named after the head in its capacity as the seat of reason), ritual triads (things done three times: St. Patrick railed against sun-worship and made use of the three-leaf clover to demonstrate the trinity for his pagan Irish audience), sacred tribal animal totems and shape-changing (werewolves count here, as does the raven, in which form Odin presided over battles), votive offerings in wells (holy wells are still associated with healing and prophecy), burnt offerings and human sacrifice.

For their part, the Picts shared in this common northern tradition, and yet by the seventh century there were differences which made the Picts unique. For one thing, Christianity came later to Pictland, and labored harder in establishing itself there than it had in Ireland or Northumbria. But the real roots of the Pictish difference lay in the continued manifestation among them of elements once common all over the North, and in Ireland as well. Chief among these was the non—Indo-European custom of matrilineal succession (passing royalty through the female line) and the presence of an active pre—Celtic population among the Picts, the last of which were the Atecotti ("very old ones") in the far north. The Picts, as Cruithne in the Gaelic tribal scheme, had followed the pattern of intermarriage with the native pre—Celts as had the Cruithne of Ireland. However, by the first century A.D., none of the other tribal groups of Gaeldom appear in Alba, and the Erainnian Scots did not establish themselves in Argyle until the sixth century. Therefore the Cruithne remained in Alba for hundreds of years essentially as a prototypical [La Tene] warrior aristocracy over an apparently larger pre—Celtic population. In the absence of Celtic reinforcement in the intervening centuries, both the P—Celtic language of the Picts and the non—Indo-European language of the pre—Celtic Atecotti (recorded on ogham stones) survived intact well into historical times. The Cruithne in Alba adopted the matrilineal system of the "very old ones," along with their reverence for the mother-goddess. The system was foregrounded in Pictland, but elements of the cult of the mother-goddess (essentially a neolithic fertility cult) remained in medieval Ireland in the ritual matings of patrilineal Celtic dynasts with white mares symbolizing the land of Ireland: Mother Earth. This symbolic act was the remaking of the original mating of the Celtic male sun-god with the mother-goddess of pre—Celtic Ireland. The Pictish difference was that Pictland maintained the original pattern of matrilineality. Meanwhile, the famous Atecotti merged with the Cruithne about A.D. 600.

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