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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


("the coastland of the Gael") on the west coast of what is now Scotland. Atholl, in Perthshire, one of the original Pictish kingdoms (later an earldom), was actually founded as a result of early Gaelic penetration into the heart of Pictish kingdom. Atholl means "New Ireland," and its foundation is connected with the great eight-century Pictish king Oengus (or Angus), who also gave his name to the Pictish kingdom of Angus (later an earldom and now the county of that name below Aberdeen). The Kindred of Oengus in Atholl maintained a patrilineal identity within the Pictish context, and this identity later translated to the Lennox and relates directly to the "Pictish" segment of the genealogy of the Eoganacht Gaels of Munster. It is possible that Celtic patrilineality was the normal kin group organization among the Picts themselves. Matrilineality was special, and may therefore have been reserved for the sacral kingship. This notion is supported by the Pictish king-lists themselves, for they typically list the father, and sometimes even the grandfather, of the Pictish king, notwithstanding matrilineal succession.

The mirror and comb symbols found on Classes I and II symbol stones show up later in medieval Scottish heraldry. A mermaid holding a mirror and a comb, known to local folklore as the "fish-goddess" of Loch Voil in South Perthshire, appears as the heraldic "beast" on the standard of the chief of the MacLarens, and also as one of the crests in the arms of the Murray dukes of Atholl: The MacLarens represent the Picto-Gaelic earls of Strathearn (southern Perthshire) in the male line, as the Murray dukes do in the female. Another Pictish symbol reappears later in medieval Scottish heraldry, the snake. There is evidence of widespread snake-worship in ancient Ireland and Scotland, and the proverb of St. Patrick "banishing the snakes" appears in this light to have pagan significance. The heraldic use of the snake in the arms of the chiefs of the Clan Donnachaidh, the Robertsons, refers to yet a more ancient proverb. The Robertson’s shield of "three wolf’s heads" is supported by a snake on the left and a dove on the right. This is a symbolic allusion to the proverb which appears in Latin on the privy seal of Alexander III (1249—86): esto prudens ut serpens et simplex sicut columba,esto prudens ut serpens et simplex scut columba, "be as wise as the serpent and gentle as the dove." The columba, or dove, is a play on words, for both Alexander III and the Robertsons belong to the politically important kindred of St. Columba, the great sixth-century saint, who was a prince of the Cineal Conaill in Ireland. The snake is also the heraldic beast of the Rattrays, representatives of the Pictish earls of Mar. They take their name from their barony, Rattray, the seat of which was the now ruinous Castle Rattray (the name is Pictish for "fort dwelling"). Castle Rattray is itself built upon a snake-shaped mound associated by local folklore with pagan snake-worship.

The royal "serpent and dove" proverb above is another classic example of syncretism. It also demonstrates the pragmatic nature of cultural continuity with the Pictish past. Such continuity inevitably gives the lie to any propaganda wherein the later reality of Gaelic instead of Pictish speech in Scotland


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