Clans and Families
of Ireland and Scotland IV. The Kingdom of the
Picts: Christianity, Paganism and the Making of Gaelic Scotland
special case of the Picts of Alba can best be understood in terms of their singular
material culture, the Pictish symbol stones. There are three types, Classes I, II and III.
Class I stones are mostly undressed boulders and free-standing stones, often associated
with pre—Celtic religious sites and comprised of incised, stylized zoomorphic figures
(animal totems) including snakes, La Tène spirals and interlace, and uniquely Pictish
symbols. The Pictish symbols include a moon crescent surmounted by a "v-rod,"
that is is, a kind of stylized "bent spear" in the shape of a "v,"
which seems to represent the refraction of moonlight, perhaps in terms of dynamic or
sexual energy. Along with the moon crescent appear the matrilineal symbols of the mirror
and comb, and a radial La Tène disc which may represent the sun, since two discs are
elsewhere linked under a superimposed double v-rod in the shape of a "z," again
represented as a bent spear. Sometimes this z-rod is superimposed over an
Whether as grave-markers or as memorial stones, these symbols are pre—Christian, and
may mark sacral dynastic interaction between the Cruithne and the first patrilineal
(sun-worshipping) Celts in Scotland, the Erainnian Scots of Dal Riada.
These symbols are also found on Pictish
silver jewelry (silver = moon, gold=sun). Jewelry was a formal mark of status in
lndo-European society; it is therefore possible that the pagan symbols on Pictish jewelry
mark a type of ceremonial bride-price for aristocratic or dynastic marriages. Whatever the
case, pagan symbols are combined in the Christian period with the distinctive Pictish
cross-slabs of Class II. Class II stones are cut and dressed, with one side supporting a
Pictish version of the Celtic Cross, while on the other side appear the Pictish symbols,
along with various human processional scenes. This is an overt example of classic
syncretism, showing the reconciliation, or at least coexistence, of pagan and Christian
belief. Class III stones are cross slabs without symbols, and represent a departure from
the distinctively Pictish style.
These three classes of stones match periods
in the development of Scotland. The Christian period follows the Class I period about the
beginning of the seventh century, inaugurating Class II. In fact, the Pictish expertise
with zoomorphic figures in the Christian period indicates direct Pictish influence on
"Irish" illuminated gospel manuscripts (this could have been accomplished
anywhere in the Celtic church, from Lindisfarne in the south to Iona or even Applecross in
the North). In any case, Gaelic penetration of Pictlãnd had begun in the pagan period.
This early contact is reflected in Old Irish literature, which records a number of Pictish
kings at Tara, the sacred pre—Celtic site of the Irish sacral High-Kingship. Picts
also appear early in the Heroic literature and in the royal genealogy of the Eoganacht
Gaels in Munster. From the Irish point of view, there was a cultural and tribal continuum
between Ireland and Pictland, based upon the common ethnicity of the Cruithne in Ireland
and Alba. This continuum was further reinforced by the early fifth century establishment
of Gaelic-speaking Erainnians in Argyle
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