The Overall Pictish-Mithraism Discovery
Home & Contents
The Pictish Symbol / Mithras Connection
People, Places & Times
The "Open-Air" Mithraeum
Carvings on the Stones
Mithraic Symbols Identified & Decoded
Changes in Beliefs
Case Studies
The Start Point of Pictish-Mithraism
The Overall Pictish-Mithraism Discovery
Appendix A - Drawn Designs
Appendices - B to F & Annexes
Biblio Author Copyright


The Overall Pictish-Mithraism® Discovery

Beliefs & Believers


Realising the similarity of the shape of the Z-Rod on Pictish Symbol Stones and the shape made by the torches of Cautes and Cautopates on the Mithraic Tauroctony in the Museum of London marked the start of the author’s Discovery. When investigating Mithraism in more depth it became clear that other Symbols might represent aspects of this religious belief – such as the V in the V-Rod being directional arrows so tying in with the travel of the soul on birth and death. By re-evaluating what had been taught at school about the Roman Empire not extending beyond the Antonine Wall led to thinking about who might have created the Stones other than the Picts. The result is a breakthrough in decoding the Symbols and the discovery of a previously unknown religious belief which the author has called Pictish-Mithraism – now a registered trade mark.

Seven broad functions emerged for the use of the Stones as tools or aids in:-


·      Explaining Pictish-Mithraism using, in the main, V-Rod & Crescent, Mirror, Z-Rod & Double Disc, Pictish Beast and Comb Symbols.


·      Accepting Celtic religious beliefs whilst introducing Pictish-Mithraism by placing Mithraic Symbols on Stones with Celtic icons.


·        Linking back to the Roman predecessor of Pictish-Mithraism with Symbol shapes that are reminiscent of Roman Mithraea e.g. the Horseshoe/Arch and Notched Rectangle.


·   Continuing the pursuit of Mithraic religious beliefs whilst transitioning to Christianity by having Mithraic icons on Stones with Christian ones.


·   Explaining Christianity using the Latin Cross, Beasts and Interlaced Animals (perhaps to describe biblical stories), Angels etc.


·     Commemorating events such as hunts, battle victories etc. – hence why so many objects are people and animals.


·        Making astronomical observations and perhaps astrological predictions.



These mainly involved the pursuit of beliefs – Celtic, Mithraic and Christian – as practiced by believers i.e. the people who erected the Stones and those they influenced. These varied over time and seemingly transitioned amicably.


Specifically, the author’s research has not only established the link between the iconography contained within the indoor Roman Mithraeum and the Symbols on the Stones but also who first created them, where and when - altogether constituting the Overall Pictish-Mithraism Discovery giving answers to “why so intriguing?”


The key conclusions are:

I        The Stones had a Religious purpose – from the outset

II       The “Enigmatic” Symbols on the Stones are Mithraic

III      Roman Army “stayers” created the initial Symbol Stones

IV      Pictish-Mithraism was Introduced and Practiced


I        The Stones had a Religious Belief purpose – from the outset

A process of elimination ruled out some non-religious uses for the Stones. Erection as boundary markers was unlikely due to a lack of pattern or layout to their location. Some have considered they could have been commemorative or recorded family lineage but why adorn them with symbols which require considerable decoding.

The purpose is religious and the context is in two phases – Mithraic and Christian with a distinct overlap between the two.

The second, Christian phase is evidenced by the carving of Christian (or Latin) crosses and images referring to Bible stories. The crosses have an art style that suggests a Northumbrian influence which in turn suggests, at the time, the adoption of the Roman rather than Celtic (or Irish) form of Christianity. This second phase is straightforward to decode with much historical material to assist. The real challenge was the earlier phase.


Despite having seen shapes on a Mithraic Tauroctony that were similar to the Z-Rod Symbol, the author still considered contenders such as Manichaeism, a range of Celtic Gods, Persian and Indian versions of early Mithraism, Hinduism, a range of Assyrian Gods and Zoroastrianism. These were all eliminated; for example there is no aspect in the Symbols such as Mazda versus Ahriman in Zoroastrianism. By decoding the Symbols that could be seen to represent the theology of the Mithras cult and by relating some Symbols to the layouts of temples, evidence for a religion derived from Roman Mithraism built up.

II       The “Enigmatic” Symbols on the Stones are Mithraic

The most numerous Symbols are the so-called V-Rod & Crescent, Mirror, Z-Rod & Double Disc, Pictish Beast and Comb. Collectively these account for two thirds of the Symbols. Several other shapes have been decoded but there is sufficient evidence in these examples to amply demonstrate that the Pictish Symbol Stones were used within the practice of the Mysteries of Mithras.


Within many religious beliefs there is a great interest in the “afterlife”, in immortality and the travel of the soul on death – Mithraism is no exception.


The V-Rod and Crescent, the most numerous of the Symbols on the Stones, has been decoded as representing the travel of the soul on birth and on death. Rather than a “V”, the lines are directional arrows, the angle between them represents the passage of time between the arrival of the soul on birth, into mortality, and its departure on death, into immortality. The Crescent is the sky-ward view from Earth, across the horizon to the moving Planets and the fixed stars of the Celestial Sphere – beyond is Heaven. The symbolism should, therefore, be spiritually comforting as the returning arrow is suggesting there is not absolute finality on death – this is an enticement to follow Mithraism. The Celestial Sphere can be considered to represent the Milky Way – astrologically the home of the soul. Astrologically souls descend on birth through the Gate of Cancer and ascend after death through the Gate of Capricorn. This suggests that the upward arrow passes through the Celestial Sphere at the Capricorn “gate”.


The Mirror circles can be considered to depict relationships between the Zodiac, Planets and the Earth. Many instances have small connected circles similar to the Double Discs seen with Z-Rods – these represent the Earth, Planets and Celestial Sphere. A larger circle (as alongside) is the Zodiac – here more obvious in the “ring” version (rather than the “solid” one) as that is how the Zodiac is shown in Mithras group statuary in Roman Mithraea. Where the Double Disc meets or overlaps the Zodiac circle this point can be considered to be Capricorn. A link between the V-Rod & Crescent and Mirror Symbols involving Capricorn can, therefore, be made – the soul on its return to Heaven. A further decode for the Mirror Symbol is the concept of a contract between Mithras and the universe and all it contains – between the invisible and visible.

Further reinforcing the importance of the Capricorn constellation is the decode for the Pictish Beast. From its shape the Pictish Beast can be seen as the “sea goat” which is the sign of Capricorn. On a Symbol Stone it could act as a “pointer” to that Constellation in the skyward view and enable, with reference to the V-Rod & Crescent, an explanation of the travel of the soul back to Heaven on death. With a fundamental Mithraic belief of the soul enduring in immortality on a person’s death the significance of signposting the portal to Heaven (which also features in the Mirror Symbol) is reinforced.


These three Symbols above share a Capricorn connection important to the Mysteries of Mithras but also with some astrological relationship.


Several aspects of Mithraism are evident in the Z-Rod & Double Disc Symbol. In Mithraea Cautes and Cautopates as companions of Mithras indicate, with their torches, life / death, light / darkness and the equinoxes – these are the arms of the “Z” (Mithras being the joining line).


The concentric circles of the Double Discs represent the Earth, the moving Planets and the Celestial Sphere. The “waist” effect of the lines that connect the Discs gives a three-dimensional representation of a dough-ring type shape – this is very significant as it suggests the concept of a “contained” universe.

 With the line joining the arms of the “Z” always drawn on Stones so that it overlays the connection between the Double Discs we can see that Mithras is external to the contained universe. Being external to it he is also able to rotate the Universe from outside – an aspect brought forward from Persian Mithraism.


 Comb Symbols can allude to the Mithraic belief of the soul’s steps via the Planets between the Celestial Sphere and the Earth at one’s birth (into mortality) and back the way to immortality on one’s death; particularly relevant when they have 7 “teeth” as there were 7 Mithraic grades and 7 Planets (including, at the time, the Sun and Moon).


↑ Inveravon Stone 1


III     Roman Army “stayers” created the initial Symbol Stones

With the Stones being known for so long as the Pictish Symbol (or Standing) Stones combined with the general view that Pictish is basically interchangeable with Pict, the assumption has been (and still tends to be) that the Picts created the Symbol Stones. The much greater likelihood is that the existing population did not create or use (initially anyway) the Symbol Stones – Roman Army “stayers” did. A previous view of when they stayed was when the Army started to withdraw from Britannia around 400 CE but at that stage there was no known Roman presence in North East Scotland – the nearest was Hadrian’s Wall.


Knowing the imagery inside Roman Mithraea and having knowledge of the Planets and Constellations of the Zodiac in a Mithraic context, believers who became “stayers” were those best placed to make a translation into well coded Symbols then place them on suitable material. An astronomical relationship is clear with the Pictish Symbol Stones, as the terrestrial part of the “Open Air” Mithraeum, created to enable a complementary interaction by a “believer” between a Stone and the skyward view. Several Symbols have astronomical links such as the V-Rod & Crescent with the Milky Way, the Triple Disc with the Crater or cup constellation and Capricorn plus other associations between animal, mythological and human objects with Zodiacal items. The interpretations of Cautes looking to the East and Cautopates to the West, the use of the morning and evening star, identification of and with the equinoxes point to a combination of the use of astronomy with geography.


Establishing the “start point” for Pictish-Mithraism – where, when and by whom – progressively pointed towards a location in Pictland where there had been a Roman Army presence with structured withdrawal. Two broad areas on either side of the Mounth had Roman Army establishments in several timeslots. Periods before the popularity of Roman Mithraism and after the ascendancy of Christianity can be eliminated leaving the Severan period of 208 to 212 CE.


It was not untypical for a retiring member of the Roman army to be pensioned off and given the opportunity to stay where he was based; on a withdrawal perhaps that opportunity was extended to more than pensionable members. There was a known end to a Roman presence in North East Scotland around 212 CE under Emperor Caracalla (who created his extensive baths complex in Rome with a Mithraeum underneath). He suspended the Severan campaign in Scotland, withdrew to Hadrian’s Wall, and “settled for peace”; the Army also moved on to activities outside Britannia. Following the Mysteries of Mithras was popular at this time, especially by Army personnel – and encouraged by Emperors. It is reasonable to deduce that the “stayers” would have wished to follow their religious belief.

With the broad mix of people from many countries in the Roman army there is no suggestion that those who stayed were in fact Roman or even from Italy. Perhaps there was either an affinity with the existing population or an acceptance by them of the incoming “stayers” – maybe they were of similar origin. For example, with the country background mix in the Roman army, there could have been members from Gaul and Germany (highly likely given the presence there and locations in Gaul sometimes being headquarters for those who governed Britain) or from countries further East where there was knowledge of other forms of Mithraism. Whichever might be a source prospect, as members of the Roman army they would have been familiar with the cult and its practices which had a central following in and around Rome as can be seen from the existing remains of Mithraea and in many of the acquired provinces. All roads lead to and from Rome – including Mithraic ones!


Placing the Roman establishments North and South of the Mounth onto a map followed by adding in Class 1 Stone locations indicated proximity between Stone sites prompting elimination in the analysis of pre-Severan establishments.


Based on “stayers” practicing Mithraism, prospectively expanding its following, a wide range of Symbols in a small geographic area was sought – together with proximity to a Severan establishment. In the analysis Muiryfold and Kintore areas were prime contenders – large establishments both from the Severan period. Muiryfold has been described as having good views along the valleys of the Rivers Isla and Deveron.


The widest range of Symbols in the author’s analyses is at the cluster of Stones at Tillytarmont by the confluence of the Rivers Isla and Deveron.


Tillytarmont is put forward as the geographic start point for that successor to Roman Mithraism – Pictish-Mithraism.



IV     Pictish-Mithraism was Introduced and Practiced

Those carvings that are called Symbols are Mithraic – they represent aspects of the principles of Roman Mithraism and record the layout of the temples (Mithraea) where it was practiced. Retaining the broad Allen and Anderson classification, these Symbols were the majority on Class 1 Stones and featured on the Class 2 Stones in the transition from Mithraism to Christianity.


Being highly coded the meaning of the Symbols has, successfully, been obscured and subject to many interpretations and speculations.

The big breakthrough was this author’s recognising shape similarities between Symbols and the content of Tauroctony statuary. The Mithraic Symbols on the Stones have been decoded.

Accepting the long term use of “Pictish” in the Symbol Stone description and recognising that the Stones are in Pictland the author has given the name Pictish-Mithraism to the religious belief that was, in fact, not introduced by the Picts but by Roman Army “stayers”.


These “stayers”, the believers in Roman Mithraism, retained their religious belief by building the initial Stones and using sites of single or multiple Stones for worship. The proximity of the first Stone to a Roman Army establishment was just a “start point”. The impact of Pictish-Mithraism was significant – over a geographic area from the Shetlands to the Forth and the Hebrides to the Solway Firth but most densely in North East Scotland. The Mithraic religious belief must have spread to the existing population and been practiced by a significant following over several hundred years progressively with religious beliefs being transitioned to Christianity.


 A Roman Legacy


Because of the enduring intrigue of what they represented and who created them, arguably the Symbols on the Stones are the biggest legacy the Romans left in Britain.

Home & ContentsThe Pictish Symbol / Mithras ConnectionPeople, Places & TimesThe "Open-Air" MithraeumCarvings on the StonesMithraic Symbols Identified & DecodedChanges in BeliefsCase StudiesThe Start Point of Pictish-MithraismThe Overall Pictish-Mithraism DiscoveryAppendix A - Drawn DesignsAppendices - B to F & AnnexesBiblio Author Copyright