Picts, Gaels, and Scots: Exploring their Mysterious (and Sometimes Mythical) Origins
When the tribe of Chatti arrived in Scotland at the beginning of the Christian era and became the embryonic clan Keith, they assimilated with the people known to us by their Roman name, the Picts. They, however, knew themselves by another name, the Kalti or Kelti. We are aware of this fact from the written work of the Roman scribes, who quite naturally filled in the details of the unknown that they were expected to.
Where the Picts came from and who they were, other than the carvers of often monumental monoliths and the speakers, readers and writers of a script we are still yet to decipher, understand and know, remains mysterious to the masses.
Bearded Pictish warrior from the Bullion Stone, Angus, now in the National Museum of Scotland. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )
Descendants of a Goddess
They themselves believed that they were the descendants of the Goddess Brigid, considered to be sacred and benevolent across the disparate communities of the ‘Celtic’ world. Kenneth MacAlpin, considered to be Scotland’s first king, was a descendant through his mother, as all Pictish kings were, as a consequence of their matrilineal system of inheritance.
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To the Gaelic speakers who had arrived in Ireland, the Picts of what they called Alba (Scotland) were known as the Cruithne, which translates into English as ‘wheat growers’, and that name too was to be found in use in Ireland at that time to describe the non-Gaels. Their land was known as Cruithentuath. The Cruithne had populated Ireland before the arrival in Hibernia of the Gaels from Iberia.
Hand-colored version of Theodor de Bry’s engraving of a Pict woman (a member of an ancient Celtic people from Scotland). De Bry’s engraving, “The True Picture of a Women Picte,” 1588. (Public Domain )
Accounts in the Book of Lecain and Told By Strabo
In the Irish chronicle, the Book of Lecain, it is written that from Noah came Japheth and then father after son, Fathecht, Mais, Buain, Agnoin, Partilan, Luchtai, Cinge, and Cruithne - who himself produced the seven sons, Cait, Ce, Cirig, Fib, Fidach, Fotla, and Fortrem, each of whom were Kings of the seven provinces, or Kingdoms, of Cruithentuath.
The Greek historian Strabo, writing in the first century AD, asserted that the Picts or Kaltis had been displaced to Scotland from the Celtic lands of Gaul, which he called ‘Galati’, by the Samaritans, whose soldiers had invaded from beyond the river Rhine and from the mountains that are now part of Switzerland. In fact, he tells the reader that they had arrived in ‘Celtae Galatea’ from Asia Minor, where they had been known as the Kaldees or Galat from Galatia, the area that was formally the lands upon which the Hittites had built their capital of Hattusa. Are they the same people as the Chaldeans who migrated from the neighborhood of Sumer, north toward Anatolia?
Reconstructed city wall, Hattusa, Turkey. (Rita1234/CC BY SA 3.0)
The Gaels themselves recorded their descent through time in the Lebor Gabala, written in the eleventh century AD. It claimed that their ancestor was a Scythian King, Fenius Farsaid, also a descendant of Japheth and one of the seventy-two chiefs who began the construction of the ill-fated Tower of Babel.
His son, Nel, wed the Egyptian Princess Scota and from that union came the son, Gaedel Glas, from whom came the Gaelic culture and language (one of the original seventy-two tongues that emerged following the curse on the seventy-two chieftains intent on building a tower to talk to God!).
Nel and Scota spent their time in Egypt before they left for Spain, leaving at the same time that the Hebrews departed. Wherever they left to, they brought with them the accumulated knowledge of that civilization.
Scota and Gaedel Glas in a 15th century manuscript of Bower's ‘Scotichronicon’. (Public Domain)
The Hebrew Bible or Old Testament is, of course, where we first read of the Tower of Babel and Japheth, as well as his second born son, Magog. From the Romano/Jewish historian of the first century AD, Titus Flavius Josephus, born Yusef Ben Matityahu, we learn that the Scythians are descended from Magog. Could it be that from the fist born son of Japheth came the Picts and from the second born came the Gaels? The biblical Tribe of Dan has often been connected with the story of Ireland, particularly with one of the founding people of that land, the Tuatha De Danann, which can translate as the ‘tribe of Dan’.
The Tuatha Dé Danann as depicted in John Duncan's "Riders of the Sidhe." (1911) ( Public Domain )
The Dan Hebrews, who occupied a coastal territory in ancient Israel, were mariners and merchants. They were also of the lands of Crete and Greece, from where they left at the time of a famine and the schism within the House of David that saw the ten northern tribes seceding over the ascension to the throne of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, before a reconciliation and the reunification of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. These were concurrent events.
According to history, from the Greek islands they arrived in Denmark, giving that place its name. Interestingly, the peopling of the rest of Scandinavia began at Denmark, for obvious geographic reasons, therefore it would have been possible for the Tuatha De Danann to have arrived in Ireland from the north, as the Irish chronicles inform. Scotland too, is to the north of Ireland.
According to the ancient myths of Ireland, (recorded at different times, in different languages and by different peoples) upon the arrival of the Gaels on the island, Ireland was inhabited by a people who were known to history as the Tuatha De Danann. According to legend, the first Gael ashore was met by the three high Kings of the Tuatha De Danann, MacCuill, MacCecht, and MacGreine, accompanied by their queens.
Oisín and Niamh travelling to Tír na nÓg ("Land of the Young" – an otherworld inhabited by the Irish fairy people the Tuatha Dé Dannan), illustration by Stephen Reid in T. W. Rolleston's The High Deeds of Finn (1910). ( Public Domain )
More Mythical Elements
The story continues that a deal was struck, and the Gaels agreed that they would wait on board their ships anchored offshore, in the meantime one of the queens conjured a tempest with the intention of scattering the invading fleet. However, it abated with the magical words of a Gaelic poet. In the end the surviving Gaels, or Milesians, as they were known to the Tuatha De Danann and to the chroniclers of the time, landed and agreed that Ireland should be split between them; the Gaels taking the ground of the island and the Tuatha De Danann inheriting the underground, where they would continue to live as the fairy people of fable.
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"The Coming of the Sons of Miled", illustration by J. C. Leyendecker in T. W. Rolleston's Myths & Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911. ( The Commons ) The Danann (pre-Celtic “fairy” people) were overthrown by the invading Milesians.
The Tuatha De Danann had themselves invaded Ireland, relieving those they knew as the Fir Bolg, of their command. Scholars assert that the Fir Bolg were the Celts displaced from the area of today’s Belgium, which was being incorporated into the Romanized world. That would confuse things, as the dates for the Roman advance on Belgae are too late to fit. Or are they? Legend asserts that the Fir Bolg were descendants of 5000 people who had originated in Greece and arrived in Ireland from there after first traversing continental Europe as far as the English Channel.
Eternal Symbols and Stories
Were the Tuath De Danann and the Cruithne one and the same people? By becoming the fairies residing in the underworld or spiritual world, they became eternal. Their symbols, names, histories and legends would become part of the high culture of the Gaels of Ireland and remain so, as indeed happened across the water in Scotland, where the spiritual heritage of the Picts or Cruithne was the glue that held together the new society forged by their merging with the Scots of Dal Riata, to create a Gaelic Scotland.
The name Eire, the Gaelic form of Ireland, comes from Eriu, one of the triumvirate of Goddesses of the Tuath De Danann and the wife of King MacCecht. Her sisters Banba and Fotla have given their names informally and poetically, to their land. Fotla was also a son of Cruithne. Could he instead have been a daughter, perhaps more appropriate in a matrilineal succession? Sons and daughters sharing the kingdom.
″The Harp of Erin″ painting by Thomas Buchanan Read. (Public Domain) Erin is a modern variation of Eriu.
The Result of Seven Years of Famine?
Is it not reasonable to suggest that the mass displacement of populations that occurred around the globe, but specifically for this piece, in North Africa, the Levant, Anatolia, and the Black Sea area, during the seven years of famine, between 1703 BC and 1696 BC, was the primary driving force for the settlement of Scotland, Ireland, and much of northwestern Europe, for that matter?
This catastrophic calamity, that was recorded from China to the Americas in literature and in the rings of trees, forced starving Aryans from their desiccated grasslands, over the Hindu Kush towards the civilization of the Indus valley. It drove the Scythians westward too, into Europe and thus creating the Celtic nations of Europe, that over time themselves spread westward until being isolated there millennia later.
Migration and trading routes in the time of the Great Famine of Joseph. (Author Provided)
We can see that the seafarers of the Mediterranean had already established intercontinental trade routes. The builders of the monuments of the Middle East had already navigated the northern European coastline. It doesn’t stretch the imagination to see the connection between the Levantine leviathans and the Pictish stones at Callanish, both constructed to monitor and honor the sun and its cycle. It seems that the ancestral origin myths, retained and remembered by the modern Scots and Irish, are borne out.
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A Fusion for Familiar Faces?
In my recent article, ‘Names from the Near East’, it is asserted that there was a fusion between the Hittites of Anatolia and the Picts. Were they already familiar with each other from their shared time together in the Middle East, the crucible of modern civilization?
Each of the original waves of invaders of what would eventually become the British Isles, launched themselves from the Mediterranean. It seems that they moved because famine had caused the collapse of their societies. City states were collapsing. Civilizations too. Sumer, like it’s teacher, Harappa, also collapsed at this time, perhaps forcing its most famous son, Abraham, credited with teaching science to the Egyptians, to begin the migration that would allow him to fulfil his God-given duties to teach.
‘Abraham's Journey from Ur to Canaan’ (1850) by József Molnár. (Public Domain)
The first to reach those windswept northern shores built the structures that allowed civilization to exist, specifically to track time. Each of the civilizations in that area at that time were polytheistic, sun worshippers. They had emerged from the same root, one teaching the other and pushing knowledge of the material world further along the road of discovery. They brought all their knowledge and customs with them. They also brought their spiritual inheritance and it has never left us.
Top Image: Detail from a frieze in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Queen Street, Edinburgh. Source: rampantscotland.com
By: Steven Keith