Brude’s symbol?


This is the Pictish symbol known as the Crescent & V-Rod. It appears on various carved stones in Scotland, usually accompanied by one or more other symbols. But what does it mean?

Various theories about the Pictish symbols have been proposed, each with its supporters and critics. The one I cautiously lean towards is the idea that they represent personal names, and that where two symbols appear as a pair on a particular stone they commemorate a person “X, son of Y” (or Z, daughter of Y). One supporter of this theory is W.A. Cummins who has suggested that the Crescent & V-Rod – the symbol appearing most frequently on the stones – might represent Brude – the name appearing most frequently in the Pictish king lists.

The abstract design of the symbol has been seen by some people as an arrow breaking on a shield, by others as a crescent moon with a geometrical instrument like a pair of dividers. We will never know its real meaning but the idea that this and other symbols were used by the Picts in a kind of pictorial alphabet for words or names, like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, is the one I vote for at the moment.

W.A. Cummins, The Picts and their symbols (Stroud, 1999)

30 comments on “Brude’s symbol?

  1. Mikey says:

    One way of reading this symbol i have started to observe is that it may be a bow and arrow, the broken arrow possibly representing the fallen or dead over the down sided view of the bow?

    I have heard some say that the top semi circle represents the horizon and the lower one – the sphere of the earth, where the ground touches the sky, and the v being divination rods? Whilst Druids are said to of used such rods, we know nothing of their practices?

    Though i do lean mostly to Cummins findings, he does write a compelling argument!

    However, never once did he entertain pictish tattoos and the ramifications they may have on possible interpretations of the symbol stones?

    or do you dismiss the possibility of Picts wearing tattoos or body paint?

    Just a thought?

  2. weaselgal says:

    I had to comment on this because I have had an obsession with this particular design for ages, ever since I laid eyes on it. I have absolutely no proof for my own personal theory, just my own ideas. I wondered possibly if it could be a Goddess symbol, because of the crescent shape, and how the moon is often connected with the feminine aspect. I’ve come across in a nove where this particular symbol was designated as a sign of the Mother Goddess, but I’m sure the author took some liberties of her own with that. I’m somewhat partial to that idea, but again, there is no concrete evidence to verify.

  3. Phil says:

    That’s an interesting idea Weaselgal. To my eyes the shape at the centre of the crescent resembles a female torso – also representing the Mother Goddess?

  4. Tim says:

    After seeing Phil’s comment I looked again at the picture accompanying this post and immediately saw what he saw. Unfortunately I don’t know if the picture is a true representation of the original carving – it was actually produced by scrawling a red crayon over a wooden template in a museum’s interactive area. With so many versions of the crescent+v-rod it’s difficult to know if the one shown here is a real design copied from a stone.

    Like Weaselgal I have a particular fascination with this symbol. To me, it is the most striking, the most enigmatic, of them all. It has a vibrancy and potency that give it a distinct aura of the Otherworld. Weaselgal’s idea of a link between the crescent and a lunar/fertility aspect is an interesting possibility to set alongside other theories.

  5. weaselgal says:

    Ha ha! I’ve started a revolution! I have pored over countless websites of scholarly work and they all say the same thing; it’s a name symbol. Okay, but I think there are earlier connections than simply linking it to a clan name. My pet theory is that it’s a religious symbol. They’ve been found on stones that also feature the Celtic cross quite prominently. This crescent symbol has also been found in conjunction to another design known as the ‘double-disc and z-rod’. That symbol strikes me as very masculine. The discs could be shields or solar designs, and the ‘z’ shape reminds me very much of a lightning bolt, yet is tipped with a plant motif. I’m not a professional, so this is only my musings over the years.
    I have to sheepishly admit, one of the reasons why I like the crescent and v-rod is because I am seriously considering having it as my next tattoo. The two I have now are also ancient designs. I’m partial to history. Senchus, I’d love to see something on the double disc and z-rod, if you’re up to it. I’m enjoying this very much.

  6. Tim says:

    I’m sure the crescent & V-rod would look very striking as a tattoo, Weaselgal. Some people think the symbols may have originated among the Picts as designs painted or tattooed on the skin, hence the name ‘Picti’ meaning ‘People of the Designs’ or ‘The Painted Ones’. An excellent drawing of a Pictish hunting scene in Martin Carver’s book ‘Surviving in symbols’ shows a huntsman with the crescent & V-rod tattooed on his right arm and various other symbols all over his upper body. As for your wish to see something on the double disc & Z-rod, I’m happy to oblige with my latest post.

  7. scotbot says:

    This symbol isn’t exclusively Pictish, though. It has also been found elsewhere in Europe, I believe in France and Spain.

  8. Tim says:

    Interesting. Are the non-Pictish examples very similar to the Pictish ones?

  9. scotbot says:

    Hi Tim

    Yes, from what I recall, though I can’t seem find the example that I saw.

    Also, from I deduce Brude may just be the Picitsh word for King, so this symbol would be a royal insignia.

    I don’t think these symbols are a written language as such, just pictograms no different from heraldy or perhaps even modern company logos.

    Sometimes we read too much into things, thinking that our ancestors were completely alien to us, when in reality they had the same basic needs and desires we do and similar conceptions of expressing ourselves.

    Anyway, I’ll see if I can find an image of those inscriptions.

  10. Tim says:

    Yes, it would be interesting to see them. Please post a link if you find them on a website.

    The heraldic theory is the one I find most persuasive after the ‘X, son of Y’ idea mentioned above.

  11. RadioAngel says:

    Weaselgal, I just tattooed this on the top of my left foot after my trip to Scotland. On the top of my right foot is the triskele from the curbstones at Newgrange in Ireland. I’m a history major with focus on ancient to medieval Europe, and pretty much obsessed with ancient I’m going with the theory of their own protective symbols tattooed on their bodies. So I guess I’m sort of keeping with the tradition. Even though my mother’s ancestors were from way farther down the landmass. =)

  12. Valerie says:

    It seems advisable to collect every available example of an individual design before attempting to understand it in its own context. The best examples of the crescent & V-rod appear to be a circle segment with the apex of the “bent rod” at the centre of the circle. There are many degraded examples that appear as if drawn freehand without appreciation of the original design principles.
    Perhaps the design once referred to some practical circumstance so central to social life that it eventually acquired symbolic meaning. Think of the cross worn by a Christian priest, the cross was a Roman means of execution, though that’s not why it is worn; its worn because the death of one particular man on such a cross has meaning for the faithful.
    The crescent & V-rod might be associated with sky watching & time keeping, the arms of the “V” indicating the solstice positions, vital information when planting crops or planning travel. A sign like this may have become the mark of an individual with specific skills or responsibility, perhaps descending to a dynasty of such people?
    Other Pictish signs seem to have similar provenances. The circle with legs or standing over a passage entrance, with or without a central dot, is also found in Europe and is usually read as a sun sign.

  13. Alex K says:

    I see a person, with downward pointing horns, sitting cross legged. Cernunnos?

    • Tim says:

      That’s a very original idea, Alex. I can certainly see what you mean. There’s little doubt the Horned God was venerated by the Picts. One theory sees the Cornavii tribe of Caithness as ‘People of the Horned God’ (Brittonic corn=’horn’) if they’re not simply ‘of the Promontory’ (i.e., ‘horn of land’).

      • Tim says:

        Another symbol which might be intended to be viewed from above is the ‘Notched Rectangle’. Some people think it represents a bird’s eye view looking down on a chariot pulled by horses.

  14. weaselgal says:

    Had to revisit my favorite article again with some new thoughts to share. The Cernunnos link is a fascinating idea; I’m surprised I haven’t stumbled across it in my neopagan studies. I was also thinking, and forgive me if I’m incorrect (I haven’t looked at my Celtic notes in ages), that the Picts also worshiped Taranis, a thunder deity. I wonder if the double-disc and z-rod might be something connected to him, because the ‘z-rod’ shape reminds me very much of a lightning bolt. I knew a guy who had this design tattooed across his entire back.
    My partial inspiration that these symbols were perhaps religious sprung from reading Patricia Kenneally-Morrison’s Keltiad saga, where she mentions the crescent and v-rod as a symbol of the Godddess. I’m sure she’s taking liberties with it, but I don’t think it’s entirely far-fetched.

    • Tim says:

      Weaselgal, it looks like you’re not mistaken about Taranis being worshipped by the Picts (or their ancestors). One of the cult-centres of this god might have been near Darnaway Castle in Moray (a few miles from Forres). The Gaelic name of Darnaway is Taranaich which has been seen as preserving his name. Taranaich appears to be a Gaelicised form of an older Pictish name deriving ultimately from Brittonic Taranu-magus, ‘Thunder-plain’ (or perhaps ‘Plain of Taranis’?). Later, when the most northern Brittonic dialects had become the ‘Pictish-British’ language, the word for ‘thunder’ would have been taran, as it still is in Welsh. Also, we know that Taran was used by the Picts as a male personal name. The two Tarans who spring to mind were of royal blood and lived a century apart (c.590 and c.690 respectively). Both were probably Christian but maybe they owed their name to a lingering folk-memory of Taranis?

      Btw, I found the theory about Taranis and Darnaway in Watson’s History of the Celtic place-names of Scotland – an old book but still very useful.

  15. paul says:

    i think this pictish symbol means the joining of a woman and man not a broken arrow as most of the symbols on the left resemble a flower (woman) and the right a head of and arrow (man) and it is maybe the joining of 2 clans through marraige the bow symbol could mean a new fort or settlement or maybe the symbol could mean the joining of 2 tribes like a piece treaty

    • Tim says:

      Interesting idea, Paul. A kind of composite symbol consisting of two or more components or sub-symbols. It might be worth seeing if other ‘broken arrow’ or ‘broken spear’ symbols such as the doubledisc+Z-rod can be interpreted in a similar way.

      • paul says:

        thank you

        iv looked at the z as well i read it could be a thunder bolt but i thought it might have been 2 fortes and a road crossing maybe to mark a festive time or ceremonial just a guess but i do think the broken arrow is a flower and an arrow point to symbolise a marraige of some sort

  16. cassegrain says:

    The symbol is a quadrant.

  17. When I was on Lewis, it was refered to as the ‘Paths of the Moon’ symbol by several archaeologist friends there. Today (22.08.2012) I saw it at a Museum in Kirkwall,Orney, where it was found on a stone slab at Barnhouse Neolithic Village, adjacent to Steness Stone Circle, Steness, Orkney (Mainland).

    • Hugo Shepherd says:

      I think it fair to use your own idea of what the symbol mains to you – as it was used so long ago that its actual meaning has been lost over many millenia and its original meaning was before the Clan system was devised or thought of. As I am myself the result of Welsh and Scottish (Orkney) Grand-parents, I tend to use my own interpretation and keep it to myself!

  18. If the symbol were involved in an important community function that would out of practical necessity survive changes in religion … e.g.:

    Click to access The%20Pictish%20Crescent%20V-rod%20as%20a%20Seasonal%20Sundial%20by%20Jason%20Bellchamber.pdf

    … then we might understand why the symbol would continue to have been made over so long a time period and why it might be associated over time with various other symbols of authority (gods or kings).

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for posting the link to the Sundial article. Your point about longevity of community function is useful and could be applied to a number of theories. It makes me wonder just how old these symbols really are. They might originate deep in prehistory, long before they began to be carved on stones.

  19. Gogs says:

    Just so happens I just got a crescent moon with Vrod tat on my back a pair of stag antlers on top.

  20. Gogs says:

    Just returned from Baku. One man’s locker had a clear Z rod graffiti drawn over a heart picture. On asking what it was I got: old Germanic symbol naturaly

  21. dibble49 says:

    I have been looking at this and other Pictish Symbols for a little while and by chance happened across what I think explains what this particular symbol may be and Scotbot in 2010 was very close. If you want to know more, let me know.

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