A Pictish Church? Who Were the Picts, Part 2
A wee disclaimer: this is an OPINION piece. Educated opinion, but no intention to be preachy about anything. In the end, even I as a psychic have to interpret my insights and findings with basis on my own worldview and life experience. Everyone does, regardless of scholarly authority (which I lack, but it doesn’t mean I don’t read papers). My intention here is to offer my view, not to attack anyone else’s. At most, I am suggesting that a lot of historians have their own bias, and this is plausible, as it’s human nature. I’m happy to justify in the comments all the claims I didn’t justify exhaustively here (ye know, this is a blog post, not a book. Please understand). I am making no careless or empty claims.
Were the Celts always pagan?
There are many tales and a lot of speculation on how Irish and Scottish pagans converted to Christianity. We already know these peoples were never conquered by the Roman Empire, which first brought Christianity to western Europe in the 5th century AD. So if neither Picts or Gaels ever needed to submit to the Roman decrees, and were thus free to practice their own faith, why did they convert?
I will tell you what the spirits tell me, and it may be controversial: they didn’t exactly convert. They remained animistic as always, but simply included Biblical stories in their existing faith and turned deities into saints, in order to appeal to their now Christian neighbours and stay trading with them as always. The synchretic Church, or Celtic Church, survived until around the 8th century. (Some of its traditions survive to date, just have a look at St Brigid’s day). Eventually, the Pope became very iffy about the popularity of this weird spin-off Christian movement that was independent from his empire, and decided to put an end to it.
The Pictish Church fell gradually, but surely: not because of the Gaels from Ireland (well, they were allies of the Picts) but as a result of wealthy British families who had strong ties with the Roman Catholic clergy establishing themselves in Scotland and imposing submission to the Christian imperialism that would gain even more popularity in the Middle Ages. Gradually the Picts were pushed to the margins of society, and so was their Church.
A gravestone next to my house. There’s Pictish heritage in Ireland too (or at least “muses” inspiring modern artists)!
I honestly think the story above makes a lot of sense, though I am 100% sure most historians will call it blasphemy. But here is the elephant in the room: the common narrative that I see in books, papers, etc on the early history of Christianity in the British Isles has no hard facts behind it, so whoever accuses me of “knowing nothing” actually doesn’t know that much more. This narrative is mostly based on educated guesses (the Celts didn’t write their history down), and there may be prejudice and stereotypes against the Picts in it, dating back to Roman propaganda. Nobody will ever admit they still believe in Roman propaganda in the 21st century, but the reality is a lot of people still have internalised it. I am here to prove it, and encourage you all to evolve past it. It’s been almost 2,000 years, ye know? Time to forget certain preconceived notions.
The ogham treaty (above) in the Book of Ballymote was the work of a “Christian” monk – which doesn’t mean he wasn’t pagan. It doesn’t strike me as a “savage” or “war-based” doctrine.
The Common Narrative, and why it is not the absolute truth
Here is the common narrative I see in academia:
A monastery stood in Iona (presumably Pictland?) run by “Irish” monk. This monastery probably held important manuscripts such as the Book of Kells that were were [partially] made. This so-called Celtic Church was founded by St. Columba, who is credited with converting the Picts to Christianity in much the same way St. Patrick is believed to have converted the Irish at least a century before, a tale we now know to be more legend than fact.
Like St. Patrick, much speculative history makes up St. Columba’s “life and legacy”. More likely many missionaries, over a longer time-frame were responsible for the conversion). The Celtic Church thrived and some renowned priests ended up studying in Iona. At some point in the 8th century. it fell and the monasteries were abandoned. The reason why it fell is unknown and we just don’t talk about it because there lies madness. Want some tea? .
So eventually, all of Northern Britain became Catholic, and Dál Riata (the Gaelic part of Scotland) united with Pictland under the common kingdom of Scotland. It is probable that Cináed Mac Ailpin who ruled this new kingdom. According to folklore, Mac Ailpin killed all the Pictish royals in one feast, that now we know is unlikely to be true, But we can all agree that he favoured Gaelic culture over his Pictish heritage. The Pictish language and native beliefs died within one generation, or so the story goes. (And I am accused of making bold claims?).
Phew! It was a bit painful to go through it, as I tend to shake my head every second sentence. Because I cannot prove all my objections to the narrative above, I’ll stick to telling you why I don’t trust *some* of these assumptions.
The Picts didn’t stop existing once they became Christian, ye know.
This is a comparison I made between the Book of Kells and a Pictish stone in Scotland. Clearly there is influence in the overall style. The style is considered “insular”, with similar manuscripts being produced all over Britain and Ireland during the Pictish period – or were they all from Pictland, sold to monasteries overseas?
Anyway, I am not here to dispute the origin of a given manuscript – I have no dogs in this fight. All I’m saying is that if you’re going to claim, in an academic paper (or in an online course by TCD), that a manuscript did in fact come from Iona (as is the case with the Book of Kells), then at least credit the Picts. They didn’t stop existing once they became Christian, ye know. I don’t get it why everyone finds it so necessary to say that “there were Irish monks in Iona”. Yes, there probably were, fair enough, the Gael and the Picts were allies since forever. But this is a monastery in Pictland, therefore it’s Pictish. Not Irish.
The Irish were foreigners there. Scotland as we know it didn’t exist yet. Pictland is the placename you’re looking for (or probably Dál Riata, but still strongly Pictish in terms of culture – even Northern Ireland had “Cruithin” living there. Why wouldn’t an island in Scotland). So let’s give credit where it’s due.
But Meron, why do you care? I care because today’s historians go roundabouts and make a lot of effort to avoid saying “Picts” and “monastery” or “Picts” and “international trade” in the same sentences. The Picts simply cannot be civilised people who knew how to read and write (be it ogham, or gospels in Latin…) and had diplomatic relations, apparently! They are only ever identified as isolated barbarians too savage for the Romans to tame, and I find this mindset… prejudiced (not to mention extremely untrue).
The Picts Deserve Credit
Here’s the deal: either we admit the Picts converted, OR we stop calling Christian stones “Pictish”. Pick one, not both. I suggest the former). The mentions of Picts in academia drop dramatically once you move on from the Roman period to the Christian period in British history, and I honestly cannot see a rational reason for it. Unless you’re reading about a specific stone slab out of historical context (coz ya know, apparently the Picts made Christian stones in this separate timeline that is never to be contextualised in history for some reason?), you won’t ever see Christians existing in Pictland. And when you do, you see gems like the following, in bold:
“How did Columba see Christ? Ian Finlay suggests that because of his pagan heritage he could think of God only in symbolic terms […] Perhaps he saw Christ as a latter-day Cú Chulainn with his warrior band of angels storming through the heavens to attack evil in the form of monsters and devils wherever it was to be found”.
(Sutherland, Elizabeth. In search of the Picts, 1994, p. 48)
I believe this to be a very unnecessary, stereotypical assumption, dear Ms. Sutherland. The pre-Christian Celts of Britain had more going for them than just warfare. When studying Pictish stones, you see a remarkable majority of them show something other than warfare. Regardless, everyone keeps seeing the Picts as a war-obsessed nation because of Roman propaganda: their attempts to conquer Pictland weren’t successful, so they had to invent this image of “savage, invincible barbarians” in order to feel better about their failure. We do not need to perpetuate the stereotype any longer.
Resistance against imperialism
I believe the Pictish Church fell because it resisted imperialism, and I have the proof to support my view.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t personally be in favour of stealing gravestones, or altar pieces from churches, or any other devotional artpiece, to use as a floor slab in my kitchen. Clearly whoever used the Pictish stone had enough funds and authority to do it, and did it on purpose. It seems to me like a statement, to teach those pesky Picts a lesson.
I haven’t been successful yet in finding information about why and how the castle in question was built – but the scarce mentions to the name Woodwrae (or Woodwray, depending on the source. All seem to indicate British loyalists who had “friends in high places” in the clergy. This pretty much confirms that at least in a specific place in Aberlemno, what I have been told by spirits makes sense. I rest my case. Welcome to disagree regardless.
I am no Christian, but many of the spirits I work with are Christian Picts. We work in perfect harmony, even when it comes to personal beliefs. Contrary to what certain people want you to believe, the early Celtic Church was a lot more tolerant to synchretism than *any* contemporary Christian institution. I respect these Christians very much, especially because I am with them in the resistance against imperialism. Are you?