Cernunnos, the Horned One

The God Silvanus

There are many interpretations of the god Cernunnos. He has even been cast as the very devil himself, but how true is this? How much do we really know about the Horned God? Well, truth be told, what I did gleam was very thin. It seems there is very little known about this mysterious god. If not for Celtic art, we might not know of him at all. In the original Celtic, Cernunnos means “Horned One”. He was worshipped as the archaic and powerful deity of “lord of the wild things”—ruler of beasts and wild places. He has been given many names over the years: Pan, Silvanus, Herne the Hunter and, in more recent times, the Green Man. Although, these are just a few of the names given to the Celtic god.

Cernunnos

Cernunnos is often depicted as a god with a beard and antlers and seen crossed-legged. He is closely associated with stags, horned serpents, dogs, bulls and rats. He is usually seen holding a bag of coins/grains and wearing or holding a torque and a cornucopia. He is most commonly symbolized and identified by his horns as well as the groups of animals that surround him. Other classical depictions of Cernunnos show him with various forms of wildlife such as elk, wolves, snakes and aurochs. Cernunnos came to be linked to oak trees, which were classical symbols in Celtic lore and druidery.

Our earliest depictions of Cernunnos were found at the Val Camonica cave drawings in Italy while it was still under Celtic rule (400 BCE). Others include the Gundestrup Cauldron, the bronze deity form in Bouray and then the Nautae Parisiaci monument.

Gundestrup Cauldron

Cernunnos was worshipped mainly in Gaul, although that doesn’t mean this was the only place he was worshipped. There are also indications of his worship taking place in Britain and traces of it in Ireland. He was considered to be a mediator between man and animals, bringing both peace to predator and prey. He ruled over pristine nature and uncivilized ways. Rural tribes also worshipped him as a protector and provider and he may have also been worshipped as a god of fertility or life. If you believe what is depicted in Celtic art, Cernunnos accepted sacrifices of animals and sometimes even humans who were prisoners of war. Although, his votive offerings were often food, precious manufactured goods such as highly decorated metal cauldrons, fine pottery and small monuments. Animals were considered to be Cernunnos’ subjects and fruits and vegetables were his beneficence. His name, Cernunnos, has been used far abroad even reaching to India.

Cernunnos has been known to have a feminine counterpart. This woman was known simply as the “Goddess”, who was both mother and lover. In many traditions, it is recorded that Cernunnos’ female partner, the Goddess, gave him his power.

Due to his powerful pagan influence, the Christian church turned this Celtic god into the very Antichrist himself. In the year 44 B.C.E, Julius Caesar recorded an account of Cernunnos in Gallic Wars. In this record, he compares Cernunnos to references from Roman deities. He went on to say that Cernunnos could, in fact, be Dis Pater the god of death and the Underworld and perhaps an aspect of Pluto. He may have also been the inspiration for depictions of Satan as well as hero depictions of him in the medieval and Celtic literature of Wales and Ireland. If all the frequency of artistic depictions of him are anything to go by, Cernunnos is in all likelihood the most important deity all the way from Ireland to Romania.

Cernunnos’ popularity really started to grow in the 19th century with the release of Margaret Murray’s book, The God of Witches. She wrote of him as the embodiment of all horned gods–writing that he was the god of all witches during the pre-Christian era. She also writes that he was worshipped in secret all-throughout Europe. Although, her book could have been flawed as the Horned god has so little historical presence and, sadly, his mythos was lost to history.

Cernunnos, Marvel Comics

The Horned god also played a very important role in the Marvel Comics as one of the most important characters in the pantheon of Celtic gods. In Marvel, however, he is depicted as having the head and antlers of a deer, where his original form only had antlers protruding from his head.

This is not the only place Cernunnos has achieved fame. He has been in many songs and games, too. The band Faith and The Muse wrote a ballad on the Celtic deity that was literally named after him, the title being “Cernunnos”. In “Cernunnos” he describes what can only be interpreted as an almighty king rising from the dead. The singer Monica Richards wrote her own ballad to the Celtic deity entitled “The Antler King”. The band Borean Dusk used an image of Cernunnos on one of their albums covers.

Borean Dusk album cover

In the year 1992, came the release of the game MEgami Tensei and in it the Celtic god Cernunnos. In the year 2014, the 25th of March to be exact, the game SMITE was released and with it came another mention of the famed Horned God. Only 7 years prior to SMITE, another game was released with the famed Celtic god—the game was called “Folklore”.

There are many various interpretations of this mysterious Celtic deity. The neopagans have their own names and interpretations of him as do scholars. Scholars have attributed many legends and stories to Cernunnos, but there really is no proof as to whether these stories are true or not. I mentioned above that he was a very mysterious deity as so little is actually known of him. His name only appearing once in historical records and there are no stories or records of him that have survived to the modern day. In classical society, Cernunnos was considered to have served as God of fertility, life and creation. For a long time, some scholars thought him to be an amalgamation of all horned gods, while others posed that his characteristics and traits were taken from the Greco-Roman deities that resembled Cernunnos. Cernunnos has had many titles added to him over the years, mostly by neopagans, such as “Lord of the Wilds” or “God of Wild Places”, although there really is no historical basis for these titles. Despite the mystery surrounding Cernunnos, his influence stretches as far as to India and he was worshipped for many years as a benevolent god as opposed to the Satanic god the world has linked him to. If Cernunnos proves anything, it is that you shouldn’t always believe what you hear.

God bless you all, my darling avidReaders 😇

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