What Is a Shepherd's Crook?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A shepherd's crook is not only an image that appears in ancient to modern art, but is also a very useful tool for shepherds who are navigating fields of varying height or uneven terrain. The symbol — a stick with a C-curve at the top, looking much like an oversized candy cane — has been in existence for millennia. The crook and the flail were two symbols associated with the ancient Egyptian god, Osiris. Pharaohs carried such crooks to evoke the godlike nature of their rule, and also as a symbol that they shepherded or led their people. People can also see many depictions Jesus Christ carrying such a staff, since he is frequently referred to as the shepherd of Christian followers.

Shepherd use crooks to control sheep.
Shepherd use crooks to control sheep.

Early versions of the shepherd's crook were likely carved or constructed from wood, or often horn. In fact, the crooked handle may be called the horn. The length of the staff is variable, and a shorter person would want a shorter crook, with the handle no higher than the hip. As with any walking cane, a shepherd, a goatherd, or a herder of any animals might find the crook extremely useful when walking across difficult or changing terrain. When not in use, the crook could be hung over the arm.

Ornamented wooden crooks.
Ornamented wooden crooks.

In modern times, people can still find many shepherds and goatherds, especially in the British Isles, who use a crook on a daily basis. While some still prefer the feel of carved wood or horn, others prefer a more modern version. Elaborately carved crooks are available for purchase, many as useful as they are ornamental. A newer trend is to offer shepherd’s crooks in light but sturdy metals. There are fans of both old and new forms.

Prices for the elaborately carved wooden sticks, which may be all or at least partially handmade can be particularly expensive. Aluminum crooks are lighter in weight, and some may be more durable than their wooden counterparts. Shoppers can also buy fairly simple mass-manufactured wood crooks relatively inexpensively.

Not only does the shepherd's crook serve as a walking stick, with many people using them only in that manner, but they may also serve a significant function in the shepherding world. The curved handle is normally wide enough to fit around the neck of a sheep or goat, allowing a herder to catch an animal that is straying and reroute it to a different direction. A crook might also have been used to hold a sheep in place while the animal was shorn, although this is not common today; most sheep are tethered during the shearing process.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


A shepherd's crook is "actually" a type of staff.


The stick is actually called a "Staff" not a crook.


did shepherds ever write or make inscriptions on their staff relating to the history of their past.


Wasn't the crook also used defensively?


Thanks for the write up, I picked up a point or two.

Duncan Beatham KC MO.

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