Heather Beer



[page lost and rewritten from memory]

From the bonny bells of heather,
They brewed a drink lang syne
Twas sweeter far than honey
Much stronger still than wine
They brewed it and they drank it
And lay in blessed swound
For days and days together,
In their dwellings underground

R.L.Stevenson. Heather Ale

According to legend, The Picts had a secret recipe for a kind of beer made from Heather.

A bit of background:
During the Roman era, the area of Britain that we call Scotland was inhabited by an alliance of tribes that called themselves "Caledones", but are more commonly called by their Roman nickname "Picti" or painted people, because of their love of tatooing and war paint (probably woad). The Picts lived mainly as semi-nomadic pastoralists, herding cattle. There is some (controversial) evidence that they were matriarchal. This evidence is mainly from myth, but historical evidence shows that few if any Pictish kings inherited the crown from their fathers, or pased it onto their sons. Sceptical historians suggest that they may have had a kind of elected monarchy. Myth suggests worship of a supreme moon goddess, matrilinear inheritance
* and exogamy (the Pictish kings apparently all married Irish women).

During the Roman era, a tribe from Northern Ireland invaded the west of Scotland. These people called themselves Dalriads, but the Romans called them "Scota" meaning "the people across the ditch". The ditch was the Antoinine wall, a earthwork built between the firths of Clyde and Tay, sometime after Hadrians better known wall. The Scots were settled farmers, whose principle crop was barley. The Scots worshipped a sun god and had patrilinial inheritance.

The Scots were exhausting and acidifying the soil with their farming methods. This meant that their barley fields, that provided them with food and (in a good year) beer, were steadily turning into heather moorland. The idea of beer made from heather must have seemed very attractive.

The Picts refused to reveal the recipe though and one chief, Niall of the nine hostages, died rather than reveal the recipe. In Dumfries and Galloway, it is said that an elderly nurse threw herself off a cliff rather than reveal the recipe.

The Picts were eventually conquered by their Scots. Leaving behind a large number of carved stones**, that frequently show "feminine symbols" such as the mirror and comb, as well as crescents, broken spears, and a strange beaked creature known as the "water-elephant", that may represent a dolphin. The mirror and comb symbols have been used as evidence for Pictish matriarchy, but feminists may see this as a moot point.

Several recipes exist for beer flavoured with heather. Bruce Williams of Glasgow markets one of them as Fraoch. I feel that the legend refers to an alcoholic drink made from heather as its main ingredient.

I think I have the answer to this riddle.

HAve a think about it and then scroll down for my answer









I think that the Picts used bees to collect the nectar from heather flowers and make it into honey. The honey would then be mixed with water and fermented into mead. Thus "beer" from heather.

Bees are a good symbol for a matriarchal society. But is there any evidence that the Picts kept bees?

The history of beekeeping has been revised a lot in recent years. It used to be believed that the Greeks invented beekeeping c.300 B.C Since then a beehive has been found in Germany dating from 3000 bc. There is also evidence of beekeeping in Minoan Crete (another possibly Matriarchal people) and Egypt***. Researching further I found out about a bronze age barrow in Fife (the Pictish heartland) that was found to have a high concentration of pollen in one part of the tomb. The pollen was mainly from flowers pollinated by bees, including linden trees that are not native to Scotland.
Archaeologists believe that the tomb had contained an offering of honey, or more likely mead, imported from somewhere to the south, maybe Northumberland. Mead can be made from wild honey, and this may have been the earliest alcoholic drink. The archaeological evidence suggests that mead was being drunk in Caledonia, centuries before the conflict of the Picts and Scots, and this suggests beekeeping.

Or am I wrong? Does your Aunt Morag have the recipe stashed away in the attic? Are you prepared to reveal the recipe to an Anglo-Saxon? If so, Leave a message in the guestbook


*Matrilinear inheritance is found in many parts of the world, and the emphasis on sisters sons is found in the legends of North Wales (but not South Wales - see The Mabinogion).The logic behind matrilinear inheritance in genetic/evolutionary terms is that a man cannot know for certain if he is the true father of his children. Passing on wealth or power to a "son" who may not be a blood relative is a gamble. However a man can know that he shares at least one parent with his sister, so passing on his inheritance to the son of his sister is less of a gamble. An alternative is patriarchal succession. Wealth passes from father to son to grandson. It is often claimed that matrilinear inheritance innevitably means matriarchy, but this is not the case. Matrilinear succession and exogamy are common in many Australian and New Guinean aborigine tribes, that are otherwise very male dominated. Patrilinear succession (father to son to grandson) often goes with strict monogamy, patriarchy, an insistance on virgin brides and general restrictions on the freedom of women.

**The Later Pictish stones often have Christian themes. One famous example shows scenes from the life of Samson, shown braining Philistines with the jawbone of an ass and having his dreadlocks cut by Delilah (portrayed with a beasts head to show her evil nature). There is also an image of a prone beast with a lizard like creature emerging from or feeding on it.

***The ancient Egyptians placed beehives on boats on the Nile, moving them north or south to catch the peak of flowering at different latitudes.

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