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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


Warfare was constant and built into the system. The warband was required for the protection of the king and hence of the kingdom. The king kept his warband in bread and beer, distributing heirloom swords, gold and silver rings, and other favors as he was blessed with booty in war. The fame of a king attracted bold warriors to his hail, but success built upon success, and keeping an effective warband meant using it to gain more treasure. Treasure in this Heroic context meant weapons and war gear as much as it meant gold, and the best heirloom swords were beautifully worked in gold and red enamel, in addition to being deadly weapons tried and proven on the battlefield.

At the mead bench, the king and warriors were entertained with beer and impromptu formulaic compositions on traditional themes, such as the Anglo-Saxon story of Beowulf or the British Y God oddin. Such heroic tales set the pattern of Heroic society, for their heroes typically lived richly and died in lasting fame. In the mead hall, inspired with beer and tales of glory, the king’s warriors pledged themselves to "never desert him in war." This initiated a friendly competition for bolder and more specific pledges of martial action in support of the king, bringing mirth and comradeship to the mead bench, and treasure to the warriors involved. A good king was liberal with his gold, while a good warrior was unrestrained with his pledges. However, such pledges were socially binding, and the only excuse for not fulfilling one was to die in the attempt; otherwise he lost prestige, reputation, glory, money and even membership at the bench. A warrior without a lord was a lonely man indeed.

Heroic society in the seventh century was based upon Indo-European continuity with late Iron Age cultures in the North. The tradition giving it its identity was tribal, Heroic, aristocratic, military, preiiterate (oral) and pre—Christian (pagan). The pagan aristocracies saw themselves as descended from incarnations of their respective "god of the otherworld." For Anglo-Saxons, this genealogy would typically include Woden (Odin), the god of wisdom, or Scyld, as a protective shield and fertility god to his people. Other Celtic and Anglo-Saxon deities had the power of the muse over various areas of human endeavor, just as tribal kindreds tended to stay within their hereditary occupations. Later kindreds had their patron saints, one of the many examples of syncretism and continuity between the old and new religion.

Heroic society was aristocratic, stratified along a caste system similar to and cognate with that of Aryan (Sanskrit) India. Cognate Indo-European descent accounts for similarities in religion between Hinduism and the pagan cults of north Britain (and between these and the Persian Mithraism and Zoroastrianism). Pagan belief in an afterlife was strong and dualistic. However, Indo-European dualism was fatalistically expressive of the struggle between good and evil; it did not emphasize a dualism of spirit against flesh as did JudeoChristian tradition. The Heroic oral-literary tradition often had events in this world and in the otherworld of the spirit easily intermixed in a single continuous narrative. The heroes of these are found passing through doorways


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