The horned god is a common figure when a lot of people think “pagan”, and it doesn’t matter what religion you’re looking at him from. Whatever Cernunnos means to you, whether horned god, forest god, head god, devil, or pagan something, he’s made an impact in your life and thought in some fashion. Cernunnos is extremely well-known and well-documented, from the Face of Cernunnos on a cliff-side to countless bowls and archaeological artifacts, not to mention the numerous stories.
WHO HE WAS
So far as is known, Cernunnos was the horned god of pagan religion. He’s commonly linked with the Dagda in Celtic lore and legend, and shares many similarities with him. Cernunnos was considered the epitome of life, everything that it stood for. He was a god of agriculture and hunting, of forest and field. His best-known symbol was horns. Information about him dates all the way back to the reign of Tiberius, which was around the beginning of AD time. However, artifacts regarding Cernunnos date even farther back, as far at least as the Iron Age.
HOW HE WAS WORSHIPED
Cernunnos was an important part of Celtic religion once. His life encompassed the old Wheel of Time, when he was born at Winter Solstice, married at Beltane to the spring goddess, died at Summer Solstice and rode forth at Samhain on a Wild Hunt.
As such, this god was often confused with Satan. He’s a wild god, one very powerful in myth and thought, and enduring, and so the common horned depictions of him were threatening to the early Christians. Instead of incorporating him into their religion as they did with other gods and goddesses, Brigit for instance, they chose to make him the enemy. Even as far along as the 19th century, there were paintings of the Devil with horns – making a compelling connection.
The Celts, on the other hand, loved this god, which is apparent in the countless depictions of him and his image. Cernunnos is everywhere, from natural formations that occur all over Europe which are named for him, to literature – even as far into the future as Shakespeare – to paintings.
The most famous depiction of him is that of the Gundestrup cauldron, found in a bog in Denmark. Its detailed design marked it as one of the La Tene artifacts, which are one of the two basic kinds of Celtic artifacts known to contemporary people. The cauldron would according to that information be dated to later Iron Age technology in Celtic culture. Though people know the basic date of the cauldron’s creation, there is still a bit of argument as to its origin: some say it was like much of the La Tene artifacts from Switzerland, while others insist it must have come from Thrace, during a period of the Iron Age when the Celts still lived down there.
This god also has some natural areas devoted to him and named after him. He’s connected for one thing with the legend of King Arthur, as his face is seen on a cliff-face in northwestern Cornwall, a depiction literally known as The Face of Cernunnos. The remains of an ancient castle are there, often thought to be the original Camelot.
CERNUNNOS IN MYTHOLOGY
Cernunnos literally means “horned one”, and that’s the key to finding tales about him, because most tales you’ll find are not going to call him by the name Cernunnos. Look, instead, for stories about a being called Herne the Hunter, who some scholars think was a sort of local interpretation of Cernunnos to the people of Wales. Herne’s stories are pretty well known over there, and like Cernunnos his name has been incorporated into some local place-names so that he isn’t forgotten. Like Cernunnos, Herne the Hunter is a god of the woods and of hunting, and he went on a Wild Hunt.
HOW HE IS WORSHIPED TODAY
To this day, we remember Cernunnos. Pagans of varying kinds still worship him, from Wiccans casting circles to druids doing ritual. There’s even a group on tribe.net devoted to his worship and study about him.
Cernunnos has seeped into many other aspects of our culture. First of all, there are the numerous video games and video game characters. Bands use his symbolism for their logos and album covers. The pagan black metal band Dis for instance has a member named Cernunnos, who uses the common sign language for the horned god as his symbol. Other bands such as Enthroned write songs about him.
The influence of Cernunnos even includes cars. The Dodge company uses a horned ram designed by AE Fairbanks as its logo; a very impressive subliminal message. The next time you think of buying a car, think about that, and the other subtle symbols of the old gods that still exist to this day. You find a surprising amount of them, but none more impactful as the Dodge logo.