Pictish Symbols: Z-Rods and V-Rods – of Celestial / Astronomical Importance? (Part 2)

Part 2

In the first post on rodded Pictish symbols we concentrated on the Z-rods, today we’ll look at the equally complex v-rods.

The v-rods are associated primarily with the crescent symbol (see example below), although there is one example of a v-rodded ‘arch’.  Unfortunately the rodded arch symbol is badly worn, and cannot be analysed with any great confidence. The rodded version of the crescent is extremely numerous in comparison and there are many well executed examples, with those with rods outnumbering those without by about ten to one. It is the most common symbol found in the symbol pairs. The ‘arrow-like’ v-rods, in contrast to the spear-like z-rods, only appear in two main forms; arrows with a left hand direction and arrows with a right hand direction. The right hand form is approximately five times more numerous than those pointing leftwards. In addition there are a handful of v-rods with indeterminate direction. There is no obvious rotational aspect to the v-rods, no clockwise or anticlockwise forms as we found with the z-rods. This difference could be simply put down to the practicalities of design; in the case of the double disc there is symmetry in two planes, in the case of the crescent (and arch) just one. It may have been aesthetically unpleasing to the Picts to utilise a z-rod with a crescent as it would be divided by the rod in an asymmetric manner. However it could also be argued that a z-rodded ‘notched rectangle’ or the rodded ‘snake’ are not perfectly divided symmetrically by z-rods either, although the result is considerably more pleasing to the eye than an attempt to use a z-rod with a crescent symbol. Indeed the z-rods utilised in the case of the snakes and notched rectangle are usually orientated with the ‘spear’ tip pointing upwards or downwards rather than left or right as is the case with the double disc’s z-rods. This would suggest that some importance was placed on the aesthetic impact of the symbol.

File:Aberlemno III symbols.jpg

Aberlemno 3 Pictish Stone, Crescent and V-Rod, Double Disc and Z-Rod (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aberlemno_III_symbols.jpg)

If the symbolism of z-rods has some possible connection to the fiery spear of Lleu or Lugh, the Celtic Sun god, we might ask is there a possible parallel to a Celtic lunar god or goddess that could help explain the particular form of the v-rod? In Welsh mythology, Lleu has a brother known as Dylan. Both brothers are the sons of Arianrod, a goddess sometimes associated with the Moon; her name probably translating as ‘silver circle’. Dylan, referred to as ‘the son of the waves’, however is very much associated with the sea, diving into the sea at his birth, perhaps indicating that he was god of the sea or perhaps the tide; a phenomenon very much governed by the Moon. His ability to swim like a sea creature or fish could potentially be linked to the ‘fish tail’ motif of the v-rods, but this is purely speculative. The two brothers, Lleu and Dylan are sometimes seen as opposites, a recurring theme in Celtic mythology, with Lleu representing light and Dylan darkness.

Both the z-rods and the v-rods exist in essentially two forms. In the case of the z-rods, there are clockwise and anticlockwise forms, with the spear tips pointing upwards or to the right, with the ‘clockwise’ form predominating. In the case of the v-rods, there are left hand and right hand forms, with the arrow heads pointing upward and to the right predominating. It could therefore be the case that the rods are conveying information essentially in two ‘states’. There are of course many possibilities as to what these two ‘states’ might be. One possibility, in the context of the hypothesis that the symbols are of astrological significance,  is that they are indicating an auspicious or inauspicious event. For example, an event predicted by a planet entering a particular constellation or leaving a constellation, or perhaps whether or not a specific planet is in conjunction or opposition with a particular star. Another possibility is that the two ‘states’, in the case of the z-rod, are indicating something about retrograde motion of a particular body (see part 1 of this post below). If this were the case then we would also have to account for the v-rods rather different form. The ‘v’ shape may relate to the sinusoidal path that the Moon takes through the night sky. The northern part of this path is referred to in astrology as the ‘north node’ and the southern extreme being referred to as the ‘south node’.  In Vedic astrology these two ‘nodes’ are treated as two ‘shadow’ planets (Ketu and Rahu), which are regarded as of the same importance as the more conventional planets.

A clue to the function of both the z-rods and v- rods, may also lie in the form their decoration takes, and in particular variation in the tail of the rod. It is interesting that there seem to be a small number of set forms for the rod’s tails. For example, by far the most frequent tail motif for the v-rod associated with the crescent, is the ‘fish tail’, which by contrast is found in only one clear cut example of a z-rod from a double disc. If the tails were simply related to a particular Pictish ‘school’ of sculptors and their trademark designs, then we would not expect to find two different tail designs within the same rodded symbol pair, but we find that they are often mixed. In the context of an astrological explanation to the symbols; could the tails and other features of the rod be indicative of a particular planet, or be associated with a particular deity? Are they the Pictish equivalent of the western astrological symbols for the planets? Perhaps, they could be related to the astrological ‘elements’ of ‘earth’, ‘water’, ‘fire’, and ‘air’? If we re-examine the ‘rodded’ symbols, there may be hints of this sort of symbolism. The double disc with its solar and fiery components might represent ‘fire’, the crescent Moon is a symbol for the element ‘air’, the snake has a strongly chthonic aspect and therefore ‘earth’ and if we consider the concept of a fifth ‘element’ that is sometimes described as the ‘sky’, then the arch might well also fit with this. Unfortunately the symbolism of the notched rectangle does not seem to fit with this hypothesis, and it is difficult to see how it might represent the remaining ‘element’ of ‘water’. Certainly, it is however possible that there would seem to be a whole other level of complexity in meaning, demonstrated by the decoration found on the rods.




About iainforbespict

Author of book on the Picts

Posted on April 10, 2013, in Pictish History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Definitely agree there’s a whole other level of complexity in meaning, as demonstrated by the decoration found on the rods. I’ve often thought about that when looking at the z-rod and double disc tatooed on my back ( traced from a photo of the Norrie’s law horde brooch pin).

    To me, the discs have always represented suns ( rising and setting?), but also reincarnation, life and death, light and dark and life growing from death. The rod definitely looks like a spear, but also like a plant growing ( from the earth to the sky? a metaphor for life coming from the remains of the dead?) and the triskeles within the discs must surely represent the elements of the celtic world too?

    Loving the book by the way. Just got my copy last week!



  2. Hi Nancy, thanks very much for your kind comments! I think that the symbols are absolutely packed with meaning and hopefully one day we will have a better understanding of them!



  3. Absoluter genialer Artikel. Werde jetzt öfter die Seite besuchen Vielen Dank und Grüsse aus Hamburg

  4. David John Mowers

    I believe that through the mythology one can understand the symbols, that in fact, the symbols come from drawing the mythology (mythological constructs) in a pseudo-scientific fashion. It is in this way, I feel you are on to something.

    The half-moon with Celtic knotting represents the whole of the visible heavens with the curve being the bend of the atmosphere from our vantage. The “knotting” inside it represents the geometrical “treasure” of the heavens itself; think Fafnir guarding the treasure in the cavern. The symbols that look like squares spiraling upon themselves are the ancient Greek symbol of water or fluid motion; or the “motion” of heavenly objects in the celestial ocean of the dark abyss.

    “The “V” is the two visible arms of the Milky Way as seen from our perspective, Sagittarius arm and Orion arm which define the two halves of the Zodiac.Rome occupied Britain and Roman, interpreted as “Greek,” concepts must have pervaded the Druid mind. Ask yourself, are any of these stones near or located in areas where Roman towns, encampments, villages or cities once were? If the “notched rectangle” is Orion then we have a depiction of the Zodiac in which case I say your connection to Lugh deals with the Sun traveling through the 12 symbols and his “spear” must mean the ecliptic. The twin circles must therefore be the Solstices as described by Cleomedes who in fact describes this very symbol accurately.

  5. David John Mowers

    Is it possible? In your mind, can you think it possible? That the way you see things today may in fact be the way they saw things yesterday?

    Can you believe that?

    Is it possible that “we” as “modern knowledge” are in fact behind the times? Could it be?

    Could it be possible that all that we seek is right in front of our very eyes but we cannot see it because we are so self-centered that none of us will accept the truth as presented by the archaeology?

    Is the moon a horse simply because when you look at her; a horse’s head is made by the shadows upon her? Is that too simple a reason for ancient mysteries? Can you not see as I do?

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