The Pictish Symbol / Mithras Connection
Wondering if the Pictish Symbols could be some form of structured language led the author, many times, to the British Museum, London looking at tablets, monuments and cylinder seals with pictographs developing into cuneiform.
This early form of recording information (numbers and words) can be seen on carved stone panels from the Assyrian cities of Nimrud and Neneveh.
← Sumerian cuneiform.
So sculpture, art and writing coalesced.
Although the Pictish Stones have the sculpture and art components the interpretation of the Symbols into decipherable writing was not apparent – not least due to a lack of repetitive positioning. Carvings on Assyrian panels prompted the thought that understanding the Symbols could be in interpreting the shapes individually and that a language was not being represented.
So the next line of investigation was just that – shapes. From gods carrying buckets, to the mythical creature depicted on the Ishtar Gate at Babylon (mushhushshu or sirrush), to a silver plate with balloon shaped objects behind the rider of a horse from Sasanian times, to the art of the Steppes, to collections in the Hermitage - to name just a few.
Some vague prospects emerged for the Pictish Beast (mushhushshu), the Mirror (Sasanian “balloon”) and Crescent(tamga emblems) but no other correlation.
Sasanian silver plate. Author’s picture courtesy of the British Museum. →
Nothing was quite like the shapes on the Symbol Stones until some of the carved images on the largepolished stones from Sippar, Mesopotamia (known as kudurrus) were seen to have some similarities such as crescent, bull-like figures, fantastic beasts etc. These kudurrus, erected between the 16th and 12th century BCE, recorded, for example, land transactions and seemingly acted as boundary markers.
This prompted the question - could this perhaps reinforce one of the theories for Pictish Symbol Stones? That is, boundary markers. However, the only Stone that does have the kudurru style is Logie Elphinstone 2.
← Kudurru, Babylonian boundary stone. Author’s picture courtesy of the British Museum.
The time period covered by the above investigations was between roughly 4000 and 800 BCE so investigating Eastern religions of the time, such as Judaism and Zoroastrianism, seemed appropriate. Research pointed towards the first version of the Mysteries of Mithras which was modified to become Roman Mithraism around the first century CE.
A chance visit to the Museum of London and its collection of statuary from the third century CE Walbrook Mithraeum was the first time the author saw an example of the Tauroctony and its embellishments. The Tauroctony is the real or symbolic slaying of the bull by Mithras - a standard feature of a Mithraeum.
This example is full of associated iconography such as a dog, serpent and scorpion with the central scene surrounded by a broad circle enclosing the signs of the Zodiac.
Walbrook Tauroctony, London. Author’s picture courtesy of the Museum of London. →
Mithras is accompanied by his supporters (to his right and left) - the torchbearers, Cautes and Cautopates. Cautes holds his torch up representing sunrise and the spring equinox. Cautopates holds his torch down representing sunset and the autumn equinox. Deeper investigation into the Mysteries of Mithras shows these torchbearers represent a spiritual meaning – a significant aspect being the travel of the soul on birth and at death.
Extensive reading of texts and websites regarding Mithraism – both the original, Persian, and the Roman version – surfaced spiritual aspects of the belief and an understanding of the physical and symbolic construction of Mithraea.
Sketching the shapes of the Z-Rod and Double Disc the author could see how the horizontal lines of the so-called Z could be the torches of Cautes and Cautopates with the angled line perhaps being a link to Mithras.
A Mithraic belief is that the soul on death travels from Earth, via the Planets to the Celestial Sphere – the Discs typically have a central dot (or very small circle) then two concentric circles.
Delving into the detail of the Roman version of Mithraism enabled several other Symbols to be readily interpreted in a Mithraic context.
With the travel of the soul on birth and death it was apparent that the V of the V-Rod is two arrows and the Crescent is a representation of the view to heaven.
Looking at Mithraic statuary in the Great North Museum in Newcastle it was fairly straightforward
to see that the birth of Mithras from the rock can be recognised in the Mirror Case Symbol.
This was an encouraging start – the individual shapes of the Symbols did contain a coding.
Detailed research into the origins of writing, looking at and contemplating shapes and researching Mithraism coupled with seeing the Mithraic statuary in the Museum of London was rewarded - it led to the realisation that there is indeed a Pictish Symbol / Mithras connection.
A working title of “Pictish-Mithraism” seemed appropriate – later to be the name of the overall discovery.