“Strength” of relationship between carvings

Determining whether the purpose of Class 2 Pictish Symbol Stones was to enable the transition from a form of Mithraism to Christianity is very dependent on understanding the meaning of the carvings. Much is based on interpreting the Pictish Symbols (especially the V-Rod & Crescent, Z-Rod & Double Disc and Pictish Beast) in the context of a belief – this has been done by the author with decodes here for the key symbols. Knowledge of Christian beliefs is established, well-known and extensively documented so interpretation, as such, is not required – examples of carvings referred to in Christian Crosses and Biblical Stories graphically represent the beliefs.

A challenge has been assessing the relationship portrayed by carved objects to decide, in effect, the “strength” between them. For example, in both beliefs a key tenet is the travel of the soul to heaven following a person’s death. In Christianity this is one of the fundamentals of the belief with a Cross prompting a reminder of that aspect. By decoding the Pictish Symbols in a Mithraic context the author has concluded that the arrow shapes in the V-Rod & Crescent represent the arrival of the soul on birth, into mortality, and its departure on death, into immortality (to heaven beyond the tangible universe).

What has become apparent, for each Stone, is the varying “strength” of the relationship between the carvings for the two beliefs which can at best be “complementary” or at least suggesting an “implied acceptance“. This is now explored in more detail:-

When deciding whether the carving of the Pictish-Mithraic and Christian objects could be regarded as “complementary” they had to meet criteria based on “meaning” and “placement”. Principally the objects had to have a “belief” context as mentioned above. From that the extent, or degree, of the meaning of the objects being complementary could be assessed. Some Class 2 Stones also have depictions of biblical scenes and other Pictish-Mithraic carvings such as the Notched Rectangle representing a Roman Mithraic place of worship – reinforcing the respective beliefs and their complementary relationship. A further indication of the complementary nature between beliefs could be the physical proximity of objects on a surface reflecting a deliberate positioning (especially when placed on the same side of a slab and more so if adjacent). In both beliefs the concept of the travel of the soul on death is a characteristic – so a V-Rod & Crescent by the arms of a Cross would suggest a greater “strength” of their complementary nature beyond just compatibility.

If objects for one belief were placed on the opposite surface to the other belief then the relationship could be construed to be more “implied acceptance” than “complementary”. Whatever the reason for some carvings and placements showing some “implied acceptance” that does not detract from the prospect of the Stone functioning in way of “transition” between beliefs.

An opinion could be that for someone, or some organisation, wanting to move followers of a Mithraic belief to the “new” Christian religion perhaps there was some reluctance to further recognising that existing belief; if that were the case then the Pictish Symbols would not have been accommodated. An alternative view could come from a Mithraic belief follower not fully embracing the new religion therefore not wishing current and new carved objects to be on the same Stone. Either of these situations could have resulted in Class 2 Stones not appearing – the fact that they have appeared tends to suggest that wholesale reluctance to change (either way) was not a factor.

Of the Pictish-Mithraic and Christian carved objects on Class 2 Stones, 59% can be regarded as “complementary” and 41% as having an “implied acceptance”. A greater “strength” for being complementary can be reinforced in Stones where the style and execution of the carvings for both beliefs look as if they came from the same hand as in these examples:

  • Brodie and St Vigeans 1 – although the Cross and Pictish-Mithraic carvings are on opposite sides these Stone qualify as “complementary” because the integrated nature of the ornate infill suggests the content, layout and style of carving was specifically decided upon either by the carver or whoever might have commissioned each Stone.
  • Elgin – Pictish-Mithraic Symbols of Z-Rod & Double Disc and V-Rod & Crescent representing soul travel, universe, heaven beyond etc. seem to have been chosen to complement Christian beliefs represented by the Cross and the figures which are presumed to be the four evangelists.
  • Kinneddar 2 – despite being incomplete there are sufficient carvings to decide there is a complementary relationship between Pictish-Mithraic and Christian beliefs for this Stone reinforced by the integrated carving style on the same side.
  • Shandwick – integration of the style across all the objects suggest this slab was designed and executed as a single piece with a complementary approach to representing Pictish-Mithraic and Christian beliefs.

A type of “sliding scale” has almost appeared from analysing the Stones in the context of the “belief” objects being complementary or having implied acceptance. There is not a third option of “neither” as all of the Class 2 Stones – by the nature of their classification as far back as Allen & Anderson (1903) – have carvings representing both beliefs. Taking the results for the “complementary” category, of the 37 Stones only 2 are not the strongest of examples – 35 are because they clearly meet the set out criteria.

An assessment of “implied acceptance” is sometimes a result of Stones being incomplete, having fragmentary carvings or objects lacking prominence. For “implied acceptance” there is more variability – 21 show the characteristic components (limited prominence, restricted planning of layout, few carved objects, non-adjacent surface positioning etc.) for these Stones with 3 others showing more and 2 others showing less than an average. Nonetheless, there is no reason to suppose these Stones were not used to potentially transition from one belief to another.

In addition 9 of the Class 2 Stones have carvings analysed in the Shared Space investigations as representing Celtic “attributes”. Interpretation of their selection of eagle and salmon carvings are considered to be complementary with Pictish-Mithraic and Christian beliefs. For these 9 Stones the collective carvings reinforce the importance of Class 2 Stones across beliefs pursued in their time period. The specific Stones are Glamis Hunter’s Hill, Glamis Manse 1, Golspie, Meigle 1 & 5, Nigg, St Vigeans 1 & 2 and Ulbster.

In Synopsis and Evaluation by Stone the degree of strength is indicated for each Stone.