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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


relatively unchanged in the heart of the common people down to the present day (typical of this spirit of syncretism: St. Columba himself is known to have described Christ as "my druid"). Such enduring syncretism reflects the fact that the cultural aesthetic in the North, the Gaelic Heroic ethos, has a direct qualitative link with the seventh century, and this, as much as anything, set Gaeldom apart from the English-speaking Lowlands after 1124.

Oral forms of traditional narrative have long existed side-by-side with textual forms, the later being more static recordings of the same thematic corpus. The common touchstone between the oral and written forms is not an original composition "written in stone" by an author, but rather the collective cultural mind, the same context from which meaning itself derives: Traditional narratives begin in the mind of a speaker, end in the mind of a hearer and create meaning all in the context of the Gaelic Heroic ethos. The cultural mind, the worldview of the Gael, was at once oral, tribal, and born of the original fusion of the Heroic with the Christian. This is true even today. The Heroic worldview had an aesthetic appeal to the Gael that was in part tied to the continuation of a tribal, pastoral way of life: A sense of place or personal identity for the individual was tied to genealogy, to traditions building steam for a thousand years. Such traditions were ultimately based upon the doings of Heroic ancestors after whose stylized, culturally meaningful example it was understood one should try to pattern his life by analogy. Christianity provided an effective articulatory framework for something powerfully mystical and psychologically deep: the Celtic cult of the ancestral dead.

Orality reflected the ancient, preliterate way of processing information for cultural transmission. This involved much more than memory: It was an exploitation of a preliterate patterning in the mind at the conceptual level. Such cognitive patterning was based upon a conceptual framework hierarchically organized by analogy, for instance, to kinship and genealogy. Stock aphoristic knowledge (proverb and gnome), ironic negative understatement (litotes) and formulaic, culturally meaningful descriptive epithets (including metonyms, cognomens, patronymic epithets and kennings): These occupied a certain level of generality within such cognitive relational systems, and could be grouped paratactically, or developed chronologically in the style of oral narrative. As an example of a stock, formulaic epithet from the Heroic period, let us consider that of Conn, traditional ancestor of the Iron Age royal house of Gaels (of which the O’Neills represent the main stem): This is given in Gaelic as "Conn Cetchathach" which means "Conn of the Hundred Battles." The name is stylized and formulaic, an appropriate Heroic nickname not to be taken literally: The meaning both originates and obtains in the closed system of emic cultural knowledge. In other words, the name is an idiomatic label loaded with cultural meaning. "Of the Hundred Battles" is an appropriate epithet for describing the traditional founding-figure of an Heroic-age royal genealogy. Therefore the phrase "of the hundred battles" means that the traditional


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