Sacred kings of the Picts: the last cuckoos

David Alexander Nance* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sacred kings of Late Iron Age northern Britain are thought to have symbolised fertility and considered responsible for the wellbeing of the lands and people; components of a system of governance maintained by conservative religious beliefs and champions of a local goddess of sovereignty, also associated with the cuckoo and the planet Venus. Their regicide was undertaken by their successors with a sacred spear at cult-sites at eight-year intervals when Venus set at its evening extreme at Samhain. Titled after the cuckoo, the symbol of male fertility across Europe, they mimicked the cuckoo’s polygynous behaviour. Others have suggested their exploits were based on myths about the cuckoo. They are recalled in Irish legends, Arthurian tales and the writings of contemporary authors, depicted on stones and confirmed in recent place-name and archaeoastronomy studies, but not previously recognised. This paper explores the evidence for, and significance of, British, Irish and continental European warrior-champions named after the cuckoo. The study strongly suggests a continuity of cosmological beliefs, celestial associations, myths and legends, religious symbolism, sacred kingship and governance of tribal societies from the Indo-European immigrants to Britain until the adoption of Christianity and its associated form of kingship by the Picts.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalScottish Geographical Journal
Early online date8 Sep 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Sep 2022


  • Prehistoric religion
  • cuckoo
  • Picts
  • ritual murder
  • scared king
  • Scotland


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