Pictish Symbols and their Meaning

The Picts were a tribal people who lived in Northern Britain and Scotland until about a thousand years ago. Their language has been lost, except for fragments, although they left behind a wealth of “picture stones,” large monoliths carved with mysterious symbols whose meanings are mostly unknown.

There are about fifty major Pictish picture-symbols. Some are easily identified as animals or mythical creatures; others are completely mysterious, such as the “crescent and V-rod” and the “double disk” emblems.

These images may have originated as tattoos or amulets. After the fifth century, most Picts converted to Christianity, and most of their carvings reflect this change; many of the so-called “Celtic crosses” dotting England and Scotland are in fact Pictish stones.

Below, you can view some of the more common Pictish signs.


Pictish animal signs may have been related to Gods and Goddesses, and included typical Celtic themes of boars, salmon, wolves, and birds:


For insight into the meanings of the animals, see: Celtic animal symbols


Mythical creatures

Some of the most famous Pictish carvings are of mythical monsters, mermaids, and other sea creatures:

Water Horse Centaur Dragon Mermaid


Enigmatic Symbols

Most unusual, and most identifiably Pictish are the enigmatic symbols known as the “V-rod,” “Z-rod,” and “double disks,” all named for their unusual shapes. The V-rod appears to be a bent arrow superimposed on a crescent; it is assumed to be a symbol of death:

The so-called z-rod is found in combination with a serpent, a tomb/doorway, or a double-sun (double disk), all possibly symbols of the solar cycle and the afterlife:




Another object commonly inscribed on Pictish stones is the mirror, often paired with a comb. The comb and mirror are symbols of female wealth and prestige, and usually denote a woman’s memorial, although they are also heavily associated with mermaids:

To view some examples pf Pictish symbols, see the Pictish Stones Gallery.

Stone with carvings of V-rod and fantasy creature Fred Sandys, image of Morgan le Fey with Pict emblems, perhaps to underscore her relation to the goddess Morrigan. 

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Symbols live on when language is lost – Archetypes of the Picts in Scotland | stOttilien
December 15, 2014 at 3:58 am


2cents November 17, 2018 at 12:05 pm

the double disk looks to me like a depiction of two Neolithic mounds connected by a causeway

Ek October 6, 2018 at 5:17 pm

So the pictish beast is a dragon without any teeth, claws, scales, ears, fire, forked tongue, wings or long, sinuous body? What attributes of a dragon does it have?

Alison Overton September 30, 2017 at 6:48 pm

The z rod with double disk reminds me of a lightning strike with two thunderclaps.

Anon July 6, 2017 at 8:28 pm

All symbols from the dawn of time have had layered meaning only understood by different levels of initiates. First we must understand that the Picts and the Norse both are decendent from proto-indo-aryans, that is white people from north India who migrated west for reasons unknown but Scandinavian languages tracks to Hindi/Sanskrit.

Then factor in that of all the berries, root, herbs they picked woad for dye which is relatively hard to find unless you’re dying to look like a Hindu God. All of whom have analogous Norse, Celtic pantheon (sorry cult of Mithras, Romans didn’t influence much there until the Catholics).

Then onto the symbols themselves:
Mermaid/ centaur is seen in almost identical fashion around the world including the Americas, especially Mexico and Peru. Always a humanoid with outstretched arms holding two of something, axes, corn stalks, snakes. I was told and I agree that this is the goal of the initiate to unify man’s polar nature/ polarity consciousness.

The v rod and z rod are both masonry tools amongst other things previously mentioned in the comments, various cycles ect. The v being a compass and z being like a spacing rule(ancient tape measure)

Many of you were right in recognizing the arrows as common symbols for time, same with the serpent. Just from cursory looks I’d bet if you put a protractor up to the v rod the angle indicated by the crescent will be 108 degrees. 180 is the declination between the two hydrogen molecules in H2O(which fits the well/spring marking theory). I know this because it’s Pythagoras’ lesser known triangle 36/36/108, which if you overlap three makes the familiar pentagram symbol of all ancient mystery schools. As a boy he studied in Egypt, Babylon and Chaldea. He was also a contemporary of Buddah and Lao Tse, so an unimaginable amount of high level wisdom, symbols, and allegory being passed around

Which brings us to the z with 2 discs or z with serpent. Many people agree that we don’t give our ancestors enough credit and that we have lost a great deal of knowledge over the years, i.e. no modern cranes can pick up pyramid stones. Combined with our ancestors ritually using hallucinations(woad being one) they likely tried to draw some very complex visions with very primitive art skills. When I first saw the z with 2 discs my gut said, ” two sides of a black hole with bent time(z arrow) or same concept different vision serpent or worm hole with bent time.

Tyler August 30, 2018 at 4:14 pm

Many cultures have parallel traditions, it doesn`t mean they`re directly related or even influenced, like philosophy, many esoteric teachings mirrored across time and borders simply because the esoteric truth was known to the adept sages.

DDGoose June 11, 2015 at 6:21 am

The Crescent and V-Rod is an ancient quadrant and the Z-Rod is a compound pendulum and the Picts were building recumbent stone circles and passage cairns nearly 4000 years before the first Viking tourists arrived to scratch their graffiti onto the walls. So much of Scotland’s or rather Pictland’s pre-history is only that because of Edward and the Church conspiring to eradicate that proud history for their own political and religious ends

rick April 7, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Hey Djin
i noticed you posted 2011 regarding your understanding on vikings being related to picts
this is what i totally believe from my current understanding
If you read this message please contact me on rickfire1@googlemail.com and would love to get in touch
Warm regards

James Bews November 26, 2018 at 12:04 am

Hi Rick, did Djin ever back to you? I’d love to know more

Will March 29, 2013 at 1:44 am

If the Picts as you say were early tribe of vikings, then why is the family “history” of the Munro clan thart of winning their territory by beating back vikings in Ross-shire? They are very easily connected to the picts through Siol O’Cain and it would simply be silly to assume they were beating back their own descendants.

Callum November 22, 2015 at 7:46 pm

The Picts were Celtic, not Norse.
.Pictish was a Celtic language similar to Welsh
.The Picts pre-Christian religion was Celtic polytheism
.like other Celtic sub groups, the pictish tribes had druids
.The Norse only came from there native homelands in Scandinavia where as the Picts were native to Scotland

jayson gregg June 5, 2016 at 2:59 pm

There are differences in the celtic and pict lifestyles, even in their early relations. Some of these differences between the celtic and pict are not the same between the pict and vikings. These common practices are too core to be a coincidence. There is also proof out there that the celtic and pict did not derive from the same people. What is true and what is not may never be known, thanks to religions and governments destroying and wiping out any evidence of a culture.

Alexander McNally June 26, 2017 at 6:48 pm

the picts were not celtic. They were there own people. they reckoned after st Calumba met with the pictish king the picts gradually changed religion to Christianity.

Anonymous June 2, 2018 at 4:42 pm

the Picts came from India originally and their culture predates the celts

Tyler August 30, 2018 at 4:11 pm

From India? Based on imaginary speculation? Where`s the evidence?

Tyler August 30, 2018 at 4:12 pm

Picts were Celtic, end of discussion.

Colin Urquhart November 30, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Many of the comments are probable. However, as well as deep meanings, remember the Inuit have marker stones for safe ice drinking water. The Aboriginals have stones marking water holes (And in Africa) and some ancient Native American communities marked water, food and other things with marks, for example a wooden spoon denotes water, certain berries hanging or moose bones, mean they are found here etc. But at the same time could have been also offerings for gratitude . So, Pictish symbols may also be sign-posts and religious symbols,at the same time.
At the time the Celtic Cross symbol was being carved,(late on in Pict history) it may have meant, “Church just here” and of course has its own sybolic meaning too, as do the Catholic shrines that are all over Scotland and Ireland! And the Coloured Ribbons hanging from trees in Britain as “offerings” make a similar message.

A Pict November 16, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Jennifer February 6, 2011 at 5:05 am
The difficulty with this idea is, there is no reliable “Pictish legend of creation,” or for that matter, any recorded Pictish legends of any sort.

Morag? The Monster of Morar? This could be the serpent like symbol on the Pictish stones. The story goes back thousands of years before Nessie and I was taught about it in school before I knew of Nessie :o ) The origins of the Clan system were most likely the different Pictish kingdoms. Greek fire was more likely Pictish fire the Romans learned that. Take this into consideration Scotland then was covered in the Caledonian forest which was made up of mostly Scots Pine. The fire that burned more when you threw water on to it was believed to be made from mainly highly flammable Pine resin. Scots Pine trees are full of resin. The Antoine wall has at least 15 areas which show vitrification there is also many parts of Hadrian’s wall with signs of vitrification. There are hill forts allover Scotland that have signs of vitrification built long before the Romans existed as a force. We are now finding Picitsh symbols all the way down to the Border with England. A lot of us who have researched this have known this already and had no doubt that the Picts build the Brochs which were a sign of their genius. The Picts died out? Rubbish most Scots are Picts all that changed was religion aka Christianity which has a lot to answer for. Their is Pictish stones were I live south of the Clyde and Forth. Since Scotland has had its own Parliament again our history is very much on the agenda and we have only scratched the surface. Scotland is one of the most ancient cultures and civilisations on this planet.

vanda April 24, 2015 at 6:57 pm

I am not certain how you define cultures ans civilizations but there are defining characterization of both. If you mean to say there were people in Scotland from an early time period, you should be more explicit. Example: hunter-gathers around 10,000 BC- before that time Scotland was covered in ice. Mesolithic people: around 7-3,000 BC. So sorry, but African cultures and civilizations have been around the longest- see art at the Blombos Cave, etc. There were trading civilizations with buildings and temples underwater off the coast of India dating older than 10,000 BC, and the Chinese were making pottery at 10,000 BC (Europeans baking clay figurines at 25,000, tho). Armenian caves with some textile making at 35,000 BC, and beer and wine making around 8,000 (?) BC (now THAT is proof of a culture, ha ha). Scotland started megaliths at 4,000 BC, France Carnac Stones, etc as early as 7,000. Please let me know if I missed something about my beloved Scotland.

Dan July 4, 2015 at 2:59 pm

That is one of the most ridiculous comments ever. We know virtually nothing about human cultures prior to 3,000 BC. Armenian wine 8,000BC?? Bull! African cultures existed earlier than Picts ONLY because people largely originated in that region. Africans didn’t have to spend centuries making their way to Northern Europe.

Anonymous January 24, 2016 at 4:59 pm

Please see Archeological evidence, “Earliest known winery found in Armenian cave,” National Geographic. Note I did not say this, or any other culture was the oldest, and Archaeology does give us some ideas about cultures older than 3,000 BC. If you read many of the latest sources on the history of Great Britain, and the genetics of people there, you will read about the Mesolithic structures being Pre-Celtic. Take away IE DNA R1b, and R1a, you have Paleolithic and Mesolithic people, I, U, H haplogroups. Most modern theory of the Picts, that they were Mesolithic people who later intermarried with the Scots to fight the Romans.

jayson gregg June 5, 2016 at 3:16 pm

This makes sense with what little I have read. Furthermore, there is newer released evidence of Neanderthal civilizations and how much further advanced they really were. To say there was not human life in Scotland during the ice age, imo, is at the very least, naive. We know that Neanderthals were not completely wiped out. Basically, what happened to the Neanderthals is what happened to the Picts. They were absorbed by other humans lol. Until they completely link us all genetically, there will always be questions and differences of opinions. One thing is for sure, Picts have been a civilized people in Scotland for thousands of years before any other races of humanoids stepped foot on the highlands.

Anonymous January 1, 2019 at 11:37 am

Are you saying we all derived from Africans? If so explain how we went from black to fair skin red hair and blue eyes. I say bullshit. I don’t have monkey in my blood.

Anonymous July 26, 2018 at 10:12 am

Thank you.
(As I begin my quest to know…)
Clan, Burnett of Leys

George Bodley September 14, 2018 at 12:48 pm

The vitrification of the walls in scotland are likely tohave been caused by the comet of 562 which created much destruction in britain and other countries on a ne/sw orientation (see Alan wilson and Tony blacketts work) it takes a great deal of heat to vitrify stone likely to be thousands of degrees .There are other references to the vitrification of stone on the web.

A Pict November 16, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Djin May 19, 2011 at 7:58 am
I am working on the theory that the picts were an earlier tribe of vikings or norsemen, the romans described them as merceneries who used ships to spy and invade their enimies much like the early vikings and their artwork with interwoven knotwork animals are almost identical also there is hogsback gravestones in meigle museum only found in viking areas from the time of the picts and the only area not invaded by the vikings was pictland, this would make sense if they were a related tribe. I have also discovered the origin of some of the pictish symbols in viking artwork for example the half moon sign is a yoke for oxen, meaning they owned a farm, the v rod indicates a furnace for metal working and the linked double disc is the symbol for a cart all can be found in viking artwork.

Hi Djin, dont you mean the Vikings were later tribes of Picts? The Picts were about long before the Vikings. They were known to be masters of the Sea long before the Vikings existed this was recorded by the Greeks and Egyptians who called them the Pretanikke or Pretanae and feared their Navy. The Sea’s surrounding Scotland are some of the roughest and windiest in the world and to navigate them frequently must have taken great skill and strong ships. I live in Scotland and I have had similar thoughts to your own there is definite links with Scotland/Picts and the Norse/Danes. I would say more in thought though than artwork or symbolism. To say they were mercenaries is just wrong the Picts or whatever they called themselves are the original inhabitants of Scotland and they go back a hell of a long time. The Brochs were no doubt built by the Picts this is hardly in keeping with the label mercenaries. It would have taken a very structured and sophisticated network to have linked up all of Scotland and its islands in their era. We have only scratched the surface of our history in Scotland which has been rubbished and subdued by the british/english who hate Scotland’s ancient history.

Benjamin Bryce January 7, 2017 at 6:35 pm

I have been looking into my family history and it has led me here. Where did you find the information which led to your thoughts?

James Bews November 26, 2018 at 12:03 am

I’m very interested in this idea as i believe this to be true

Anonymous January 1, 2019 at 11:42 am

I have some questions about this subject. Tracing heritage my last name has led me to Picts. I would like to know more.

Istvan Vallus September 14, 2012 at 1:40 am

Hello! Im Istvan Vallus from Hungary. I have gauls ancestors from Treveri tribe. I researching ancient Celtic roots seventh years.My logic of these signs are clearly explained this symbols going from the Carpathian Basin is a 10,000 annual cultural relics.
Half Moon – virgin Mother Earth/Diana/
V – symbols Respected One/ the Sun/

ps: Now I make a studie: What mean the Pictish symbols!!!

Nigel Everson August 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm

The orientation of the double discs and zrod is normally from right to left with the earth on the right and the underworld on the left, just as the sun is born every morning in the east and dies every night in the west, explaining why the discs are often solar in appearance.

Anonymous August 15, 2017 at 3:12 am

East is usually represent ed on the right on any map so your sun rising/setting in relation to the underworld thing is backwards. Also the concept of an underworld doesn’t make much sense when relating to cultures that didn’t believe in a lower plane of existence of afterlife such as Hell, Hel, or Underworld, there was one afterlife such as Valhalla and the like not a good afterlife and a bad one, either you went to the afterlife of you just died

Nigel Everson August 11, 2012 at 12:08 pm

In my opinion the meaning of the double discs and zrod can best be seen by examining the metal plaque engraved with these symbols discovered as part of the Norrie’s Law hoard. It seems that the end of the z pointing down is a seed and the end pointing up is a plant. This cyclic system of birth, death, life and rebirth divides the two discs representing two parallel earths, the land of the living above, and the underworld or land of the dead beneath. You might notice that the swirls within the discs are polar opposites also representing the difference between earth and the underworld. A seed which to ancient people has no life is given to the underworld when placed beneath the earth and from this springs life. When a king is entombed he will be depicted travelling on horse back in the direction of the underworld disc along the path of the z that points to the underworld. Like a seed his essence is planted and is expected to be reborn into the people from which he came. The v and crescent symbol represent the power of the sacred feminine or the womb of the mother goddess and her lunar cycles, appearing in conjunction with the z and double disc as a representation of the ultimate source from which the departed will be reborn. At times a serpent appears in conjunction with the z rod and double discs. The serpent is a masculine equivalent of the v and crescent symbol. A creative and destructive force in its own right.

Emma May 3, 2012 at 8:53 pm

I would enjoy seeing more symbols and clearer meaning it is very important to me. Also when did thay decide the “Pictish Beast” was a dragon? I do not know if it is a dragon I’ve always thought it a kelpie. -Emma/Ecipoe

Jennifer March 21, 2012 at 3:43 am

Thank you Cruithneach, that’s definitely food for thought and i will see what can be discovered. :)

Cruithneach February 25, 2012 at 12:52 am

They are largely astronomic references inextricably bound with their world view and mythos.
The V rods all have round hinges drawn at the vertices as do the Z rods, plus terminals akin to the ram staves of the ancient Egyptian wizards for suspending plumb lines so Im sure I need not explain what they in fact are, especially since your lythographic(pun intended)header pertains to a similar implement.The rods are almost always used in conjunction with quadrants (sextants) and serpents (sapentia and the northern night skies umbilichus.)
The women explaining the comb and mirror myth is completely true and 100% correct :) ;see Ovid and Herodotus for hints, and also the legend of Narcissus and Genesis.If you think the Cross and Sunwheel are Christian symbols I beg to differ, they too refer to astronomical tools akin to a theodolite, and the wise noble Crichton Miller of Scotland has hit the nail firmly on its nut in this regard and well worth reading his insights.If you look at the word Ek-eriler (a rune wizard and the root of Earl) in the ancient Furthark you will see the origin of the word Merlin.And if one correctly decyphers the correct books of the Arthurian Mythos, you will discover the hidden realm of the Alchemists and this note made superfluous and redundant thereby.

Norman December 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm

I propose a link between the symbols on the Pictish Symbol Stones and Roman Mithraism. When the Romans withdrew around 400 CE it is likely that army and other personnel (probably auxiliaries) did not return from their bases around Hadrian’s Wall but remained and some moved into what then was Pict territory. With them they would have taken their,then, most popular belief set – Mithraism; erected the equivalent of temples (Mithraea) and coded their beliefs somehow. My assertion is that people did stay, settled in Pictland, erected stones as part of outdoor temples and placed highly coded symbols on the stones. For example the V-Rod & Crescent might represent (if the “V” is seen as a downward and upward arrow) the soul arriving from the heavens on birth and returning on death. The Z-Rod and Double Disc could be a complex representation of Mithras and his supporters – Cautes and Cautopates – announcing the arrival and end of each day plus the equinoxes. The double discs may be Sol (the Sun) and Sol Invictus (as Mithras the Invincible Sun) or the Sun and Moon or (where there are three concentric circles) the Earth at the centre, the Planets and the Cosmos beyond. All this and much, much more is explored in my web site http://www.pictish-mithraism.com. Do please take a look and join the blog.

GRAYFEATHER December 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm

The double disk apparently does not mean what you think it does. Do a little research into the orgins of the Picts and what they took with them when they sailed to upper Scotland. Also, read Beowulf and think about the clues provided there. Hasn’t anyone come up with an explanation for the cup and ring symbols yet.

Janne October 12, 2011 at 1:10 am

Thank you for the bit of insite concerning the mirror & comb. Our family crest has the mermaid holding a mirror & comb. It helped put a better perspective on it besides just vanity.

Seaumas August 10, 2011 at 4:56 pm

For consideration: Nearly, if not all, languages of the world developed not in vacuums, but by (1)Interactions with other peoples and their languages and customs, (2)mixtures through trade, intermarriage, custom or possible similarity, (3)changes of facility and pronunciation causing either simplification or descriptions of the new and (4)consolidation of dialects. For Pictish as well as others a semiotic investigation may be highly useful instead of the historical and derivative course. Perhaps sources from the Vatican Archives, libraries of the University of Bologna, Paris University or Oxford may help. The early Christian monks are most certain to have spoken Britonic, Pictish, other British languages and dialects in order to teach and evangelize. but the most likely key (and the most difficult) appears to be the “conglomerative” method with a base in Semiotics, Re: Umberto Ecco of University of Bologna or J.R.R. Tolkien of Oxford, among others. As an addend, the U.S. governmental agencies concerned with cryptographic analyses are particularly notable and usually available to the public. (I use the example of their attempts to decipher/translate the “Voynich Manuscript” now kept in the Yale University Library and of which I am currently using semiotic and extinct botanicals models. My current guess is that these languages were not indigenous or isolated. Thanks for the read Y’all.

Djin May 19, 2011 at 7:58 am

I am working on the theory that the picts were an earlier tribe of vikings or norsemen, the romans described them as merceneries who used ships to spy and invade their enimies much like the early vikings and their artwork with interwoven knotwork animals are almost identical also there is hogsback gravestones in meigle museum only found in viking areas from the time of the picts and the only area not invaded by the vikings was pictland, this would make sense if they were a related tribe. I have also discovered the origin of some of the pictish symbols in viking artwork for example the half moon sign is a yoke for oxen, meaning they owned a farm, the v rod indicates a furnace for metal working and the linked double disc is the symbol for a cart all can be found in viking artwork.

Margaret April 10, 2011 at 9:16 am

I dont comment but seldom. It is fasinating to compare images of crop circles to Pictish symbols. I thought ya’ll may see similarities. If you want more info, please email

Judith February 4, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Your reference to the symbols of the comb and mirror is (I believe) incorrect. The Pict legend of Creation is told as the Great Mother looking down from the sky and seeing her reflection in the ocean. She was overcome by her own beauty and decided to create a world as beautiful as she. She is often depicted as a mermaid holding a mirror and combing her hair. Many ancient cultures believe ones power is in their hair. So, by combing her hair as she stares into a mirror…she creates her magic.

Jennifer February 6, 2011 at 5:05 am

The difficulty with this idea is, there is no reliable “Pictish legend of creation,” or for that matter, any recorded Pictish legends of any sort.

Dlquiicp December 4, 2010 at 5:51 pm

They are used in creating cryptographic functions such as hashes and ciphers. , austingemandbead.com, [url="http://llxbqknq.pyliwyh.co.cc/austingemandbead.com.html"]austingemandbead.com[/url], http://llxbqknq.pyliwyh.co.cc/austingemandbead.com.html austingemandbead.com, 7655,

K.van Dam September 2, 2010 at 9:29 am

Dear sir,Forfeda and Pictish markstaff-writing also according to K.Forsyth ,has overlap:1.arrow-and-bow
2.double hook
3.embelished rectangle. I suspect some more.

Jennifer May 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I’d offer you a refund, but….

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