Mithraic Symbols Identified & Decoded
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

Mithraic Symbols - Identified and Decoded

The coding has been so successful that not only has the meaning of the individual carvings on the Pictish Symbol Stones been hidden but so also has their collective purpose. Identifying the shapes of the carvings in the context of a form of Mithraism practiced in Pictland over 1500 years ago has been fundamental in enabling the Pictish-Mithraism Discovery.


Nine key Symbols have been discovered that can be used to describe the principles of Mithraic beliefs - V-Rod & Crescent, Mirror, Z-Rod & Double Disc, Pictish Beast, Comb, Snake/Serpent, Mirror Case, Double Disc and Triple Disc. The first five of these can particularly be used to describe the principles of Mithraic beliefs.

A further three Symbols represent the structure and layout of temples used in Roman Mithraism – Horseshoe/Arch, Notched Rectangle and Tuning Fork.

One carving has design elements seen in other Symbols but has not yet been decoded – the Decorated Rectangle.


Twelve of the objects identified as having Mithraic interpretations have been drawn using modern methods. In fact the experience of re-creating them in PowerPoint gave an understanding of how the original carvers used lines, angles, circles, templates and free hand. They all have a meaning from the time when they were simply incised on Class 1 Stones right through to many being used on Class 2 Stones during the transition to Christianity. They comprise 387 of the carvings seen on the Symbol Stones. Some examples are indistinct but 281 have been drawn and are shown, by Symbol, in Appendix A.


Survival rates for these drawn objects varies with the lowest being the Z-Rod & Double Disc design and the highest the Mirror Case followed closely by the Mirror and Triple Disc. Assuming a fairly even distribution of chips and breaks and material durability across the Stones, so no one design is worse affected than another, then perhaps the construction of the design is a key factor in its longevity. It is easier to incise simple circles than the “flame” components on Z-Rods which also tend to be more elaborate with intricate infill. Overall, for 6 of these 12 objects more than 80% of what has been carved has survived.


     The following Mithraic Symbols are decoded in the adjacent links:-
V-Rod & Crescent, Mirror, Z-Rod & Double Disc, Pictish Beast, Comb, Serpent / Snake, Mirror Case,
Double Disc, Horseshoe / Arch, Decorated Rectangle, Notched Rectangle, Triple Disc and Tuning Fork.

With the need when interpreting the Mysteries of Mithras to think of several levels – practical, instructional, devotional, spiritual – the same thought process has been given to decoding the Pictish Symbols when placed in the context of Mithraism.  The potential for multiple meanings has also been considered.


Symbol Groups & Stone Groups

The Symbols on Stones cannot be considered to be randomly distributed. Several have the V-Rod & Crescent and Z-Rod & Double Disc juxtaposed on the same Stone surface and this suggests some composite meaning or maybe a direct progression in revealing a meaning or meanings from one to the next. Conversely, the lower than expected presence of the V-Rod & Crescent and higher than expected presence of the Z-Rod & Double Disc on the early Stones in the geographic areas explored in the webpage “The Start Point of Pictish-Mithraism” tends to suggest that one Stone design could be used to explain aspects of another’s meaning as well as its own.


At minimum, in the context of Pictish-Mithraism, some typical Symbol groups show the Enticement (in the V-Rod), the explanation of Mithras, Cautes and Cautopates (in the Z-Rod) and one Mithraic Grade (Nymphus in the case of the Mirror Symbols). Examples of groups of two are the Brandsbutt Stone, Aberdeenshire; Elgin Cathedral; Aberlemno: and of three are the Picardy Stone, Insch; Clach Ard, Skye.


Considering the decodes above, there is arguably a “minimum set” of Symbols needed to explain the principles of Pictish-Mithraism – shown in this picture:


These Symbols could be incorporated in a single Stone, a set of adjacent Stones or a collection of Stones in geographic proximity. These together with other Mithraic Symbols could be used to take initiates through the Mithraic Grades; maybe some Stones were used specifically for, say, higher ladder grades only.

This notion of “grouping” is not dissimilar to the relationship of Christian parish churches to cathedrals. Stones are clustered in many areas for example Glamis / Eassie / Tealing / Wester Denoon / Kirriemuir; Craigton / Dunrobin / Golspie; Brandsbutt / Kintore / Drimmies / East Balhaggardy /Logie Elphinstone; Knocknagael / Lochardil / Torgorm.


Missing Items

It is know that in Roman Mithraism the central statue was the Tauroctony. Explanations can be given to the Pictish Mithraic iconography linked back to Roman Mithraism but some expected items are missing. For example the Tauroctony itself - although some components such as snake, dog and of course Cautes and Cautopates (depicted as the arrows in Z-Rods) have been carved. The only Zodiac sign so far identified on the Symbol Stones is the Pictish Beast representing Capricorn but perhaps the skywards part of the Open-Air Mithraeum is enough. Tauroctonies also have wind gods but Zephyrus, Boreas, Notus and Eurus are absent too – maybe when a belief follower is outside there are other ways of explaining these. What is more likely is that Pictish-Mithraism as a derivative of Roman Mithraism transitioned into a religious belief that did not have, or need to have, all the features of its predecessor. This is most likely just as the earliest version of Mithraism with Mithra as a Persian God changed when it transitioned into an Indian God within Vedic Hinduism.


Non-Mithraic Objects

Objects within the following Categories are commented on in the webpage “Non-Mithraic Objects – Identified & Recorded”:- 


Fantastic Beast / Creature


Rounded Shape



Angular Shape





Implement, device


Biblical Story

Cup Marking



Where stones are mentioned with a number in brackets e.g. Kirriemuir (2) this is the reference used in the RCAHMS publication - "The Pictish Symbol Stones of Scotland".

V-Rod & Crescent Decode
Mirror Decode
Z-Rod & Double Disc Decode
Pictish Beast Decode
Comb Decode
Serpent Decode
Mirror Case Decode
Double Disc Decode
Horse Shoe Arch Decode
Decorated Rectangle Decode
Notched Rectangle Decode
Triple Disc Decode
Tuning Fork Decode
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