Ancient Scotland does not start with a study of Celtic Scots, but with the Picts. The Picts were an ancient Folk that inhabited Northern Scotland prior to the migrations of the Scots from Ireland. The Picts were named after the Latin word for painted, “pictii”. These were a fierce, pagan Folk that fought back the Romans for nearly 200 years until finally succumbing to Christianity in around 530 AD. This was when the Scottish migration began. For many years after the migration Scots and Picts lived together, but the Maternal Royal line of succession became cumbersome for the Scots. This line of succession was through the female line in brothers, nephews, and cousins. It was a mixing of the 7 Pictish Royal families that the Kingship was chosen. The Scots wanted only Paternal heirs to inherit the throne, so in 845 AD the Son of a Pictish Princess named MacAlpin. MacAlpin claimed the throne and killed all the royal houses of the Picts. This was the end of Pictish culture and the beginning of Scottish Heritage. More then likely the remaining Picts were absorbed into Scottish culture. The Scots we see today are simply a blending of two cultures. In the following, the reader will be led through Ancient Scottish Culture.
Life in Scotland
The largest unit of Scottish society was the Clan. The Clans were the tribes of Scotland. They were comprised of first the immediate family: Mother, Father, and Children. As they grew they became extended families that lived on Clan territories. These Clans were fiercely independent. No one told a clan what to do. The clans were also very loyal to their clans. So loyal were they, that regardless of fault, the members of clans stuck with their family in disputes. This was both a strength and a weakness. Their strength was bonds of family they built. No one went without in the clan, everyone helped each other out. If a family met disaster, they could fall back on the clan for help. The weakness was that if someone in the clan had done some wrongdoing, the clan, for good or ill, would stand behind the perpetrator. Also, blood feuds between clans went on for generations often losing sight of what they were feuding. Regardless these were strong families, which made for a strong Folk.
The Scots lived much like any other ancient European culture. They had Farms and lived in farmhouses from wooden planks and wickerwork, with the roof being of thick thatch in the shape of a dome. If wood were sparse the structures would have been made of stone. The hearth was the family’s focal point. This was where meals were prepared and eaten. Also, this is where many social interactions took place. The Scottish home was that of warmth and family dedication.
Each member of the family was important. Everyone shared the chores and upkeep of the farm. Farms haven’t changed much over the many centuries. The Scots had many animals and crops that kept them busy during the day. Instead of cows or other large animals of the Americas, the Scots had sheep. Sheep still are a major farming industry from lamb meat to lambs wool in Scotland. Tending these flocks was quite an art. The men of the farms were able to move large herds with only a staff and sheep herding dogs. These amazing dogs were highly trained and with simple hand movements (by the farmhand) could round up the sheep in no time! This farming distinguishes the Scots. The Father of the clan also had to take care of all Farming duties. From planting the crops to mending fences, roofs, or building structures for the family Farm. The Fathers daily life was his family’s farm.
The Mother of the house did what women have done throughout the centuries, she raised and taught the children, made the clothing, tended the house, and in her husbands absence, she ran the farm. Scottish, as well as all ancient societies, set the standards for how to use every part of their nature to efficiently run the home. The techniques for making soap, spinning wool, weaving, knitting, dying the wool, and basically surviving without modern necessities, were all handed down through the generations of ancient women. They began the arts we do for hobbies today. The Mothers life was her family’s farm.
The Scottish women brought us a unique pattern of weaving called the Tartan. In the wet climate of the British Isles, wool was essential to staying dry. The ladies of the house would tightly weave the spun wool from their sheep into what is called a tartan pattern. This proved highly effective against the moist Scottish land. Eventually this became an art form and soon families (they called clans) became identified with certain colors of tartans. These industrious women found many ways to dye their wool with herbs, berries, and tree bark. These very practices can be found in later descendents such as the pioneers, or colonial families. The Mothers daily life was her family’s farm and the creating a home.
The children of the house were many times extra hands around the Scottish farm. This was engrained in their culture. They were given jobs appropriate to their age and like today these jobs helped them slowly gain responsibility. Eventually they attained their title of adulthood through their abilities. Their deeds made them men and women not the number of years that passed in their life. This was an important concept in the family; people were measured by their deeds. This included the children. The children’s daily life was becoming an adult in the footsteps of their mother and father!
Highland games were the “play” time for the families. They played such games as Caber toss, shot put, and hammer throws at “Highland Gatherings”. Whole families enjoyed these events.
The Picts were Heathens for many years, but with the coming of the Irish Scots, within a few hundred years the Picts converted to Christianity. The Picts have left many Cairns (ritual temples) in Scotland. They were their places to honor their Gods and Goddesses. Christian Scots were very devout. They didn’t work on Sundays. They spent their day with their families reading the Bible and reflecting. Many a feud was starting by differing interpretations of biblical stories between clans. The Scots are/were said to be more religious then English.
Clearances and Crofting
From the time of the Pictish/Scottish blending, they folk of Scotland lived on these farms raising their crops and tending their flocks. Many Scots either rented their land from landowners or had their own clan territories. This ended with the introduction of “Clearances”. This was a barbaric practice where wealthy landowners started to evict tenants and burn belongings of those tenants in order to use their land for large scale farming and sheep herding. This led to the mass migrations of Scottish Folk to the Americas where they took up the same lives they had in America. Some Folk stayed and started crofting.
The evicted tenants were pushed onto barren land, called crofts. They tried desperately to keep up their lively hood on these crofts, but found that they had to supplement their incomes with fishing and kelping. Many ended up leaving Scotland as well.
The Scottish Folk have had a rather turbulent past. Much blood has been spilt on Scotland’s soil. They fought over much of what many Europeans have fought over: living space, religion, and profit. This has been tempered by a strong Folk that had strong family bonds forged by strife. They emerged as stout and hardy people that created a thriving culture here in North America. We see their contributions in such folk as the pioneers. The Scots (as well as other ancient European societies) have set the standard for their later descendants. Their abilities in making wool, farming, weaving, and living have been handed down through countless generations. Many have forgotten our ancient ways. Look to the story of the Scots to relearn our beautiful and rich Scottish Heritage!
Resources: World Book Encyclopedia; Scotland