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Pagan _ Wicca _ Celtic Mythology _ Cernunnos _ Celtic Myths and Legends _ Horned One _ Druidism _ Paganism _ Montague Whitsel _ Isis Books and Gifts

Pagan _ Wicca _ Celtic Mythology _ Cernunnos _ Celtic Myths and Legends _ Horned One _ Druidism _ Paganism _ Montague Whitsel _ Isis Books and Gifts

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Published by Timothy Chase

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Published by: Timothy Chase on Apr 22, 2013
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4/22/13Pagan | Wicca | Celtic Mythology | Cernunnos | Celtic Myths and Legends | Horned One | Druidism | Paganism | Montague Whitsel | Isis Books and Giftswww.isisbooks.com/cernunnos.asp1/7
CERNUNNOS: THE CELTIC HORNED GOD
© Copyright 2002
Montague Whitsel
, All Rights Reserved.I have long been a devotee of the Horned God; Cernunnos my Stag. In this article I explorethe history of this elusive and interesting deity, and then delve into some of the mysticismsurrounding him: (1) His traditional titles and (2) how he appears to those who encounterhim, (3) how the Stag God presences to us at different times of the earthen year and (4)three sacred days connected with his cult. Finally I explore what it might mean to ‘follow’ Cernunnos today, adventuring through the Wildwoods and Fields of Life under his mysticspell.Deer are fascinating, mysterious animals. Quiet, stealthy, strong; they represent somethinghaunted about Nature. Whole families of deer can be near us in the woods without oureven knowing it; hidden amongst the bushes or so camouflaged that they just blend into thebackground. As such, we can be startled when we finally ‘see’ them, their form and coloringsuddenly ‘emerging’ from the backdrop of twigs, leaves and mulch as though they werelosing some cloak of invisibility and ‘revealing’ themselves to us.The ancient Celts were also fascinated with deer. They hunted them, ate their meat andused their hides for clothing, all the while reverencing these seemingly peaceful yetstrangely powerful creatures. Deer thus came to play a role in Celtic spirituality andmysticism, often being featured in stories that became legendary. The great leader of theFiana – Fionn mac Cumhaill – for instance, married a woman who was originally a deer (orwas she a woman who could shape-shift into deer form?). Their son, Oisín, could changeback and forth between animal and human form, and is said to have been in the habit of following either a hart or a stag through the woods until it led him across the
sídhe
into theOtherworld!The Celtic fascination with deer came to a focus in the great Antlered God Cernunnos.Though his name is not recorded anywhere until historic times, Cernunnos may well havebeen worshipped and followed by mystics, hunters and magicians since Paleolithic times (c.40,000 – c. 10,000 BCE). Thus his cult and the mysticism surrounding him pre-date theadvent of Celtic culture and religion. We can now view Paleolithic etchings in stone as wellas cave-paintings of deer and a stag-like deity (or perhaps it’s a shaman dressed up indeerskins with antlers on his head) in many texts. Does the cult and do any of the ritesassociated with the Celtic Horned God descend from this much earlier time?Icons of Cernunnos in stone, paint and engravings have been found throughout the territoryof the ancient Celts, from Spain to Romania and from N. Italy up to Ireland and Scotland. Hehas long been associated with druids, mystics and magicians in Celtic traditions. He is thehorn and primary icon of power for male Celtic mystics, just as the Goddess – in any of hermany manifestations – is the primary source, fount and wellspring of power for femalemystics. Druids, magicians and mystics have long witnessed Cernunnos under two aspects:(1) first, as a passive icon of Earth-Peace, standing in a clearing or near a well or spring atthe edge of the wilderness, and (2) second, as the virile, potent, wild representative of themasculine side of Earth-Power, raging into our circle and our imaginations from somewhereother than ‘here.’ Cernunnos has long been recognized under several related titles. As he was one of thecentral gods in ancient as well as mediaeval Celtic mysticism, he was given a wide scope of powers, influences and domains. The Celtic reverence for him can be deduced from thenumber of his titles and the variety of the realms over which he was given sway. By
 
4/22/13Pagan | Wicca | Celtic Mythology | Cernunnos | Celtic Myths and Legends | Horned One | Druidism | Paganism | Montague Whitsel | Isis Books and Giftswww.isisbooks.com/cernunnos.asp2/7
exploring these titles and attributes we might come to a better understanding of the HornedGod and thus be better prepared to encounter him today.Cernunnos was primarily known as the Lord and Protector of Wild Animals. He is oftendepicted with other wild animals – foxes, wild boars, snakes, wolves, etc. – gathered aroundhim, as though they were basking in his aura or perhaps even being ‘restored’ by hispresence. Wounded animals were said to be in his charge; they would either (1) be healedby him and returned to their full vigor or (2) they might be led across a
sídhe
into theOtherworld. (In Celtic cosmology, animals are also en-souled beings. If they havedeveloped a distinct personality and individuality in their lifetime, they quite easily survivedeath as separate entities, going on from this life to live in the Wildwoods and Fields of theOtherworld). Cernunnos is said to be able to influence the winds and rains that refresh andwater the wood and field, valley and heath, keeping them verdant and life-engendering.All deer are the emissaries of Cernunnos. I have often thought of the deer in this way,especially when looking out into the darkness from the circle of light established by acampfire. When I see those large yellow eyes glinting back at me, I understand Cernunnosto be
our 
guardian and guide as well as the Lord of Wild Animals. When you see a deerstanding in the shadows in the woods or walking along the edge of a field near where youare celebrating, meditating or just relaxing, either alone or with friends, chant his name toyourself, allowing that Cernunnos is nearby, in spirit if not in the flesh. If you are meditating,you might say a series of his names, such as “Herne—Cernunnos—Bok—Dumas.” In thisway you participate in his enigmatic power and benefit from his elusive presence.Cernunnos is also the Wild Lord of Virility and Abundance. Though the deer are normallyquiet and move with a strange finesse through forests and along open fields, when they areangered or when provoked they can fly into a deadly rage. They may kick to defendthemselves; they can deliver quite a blow with their front legs. Male deer – harts and stags– can also do great harm with their antlers, if they so chose. Cernunnos, as the ultimateembodiment of stag-nature, is the manifest icon of male virility, sexual prowess and power.By analogy, he has also been imaged with a bag of gold or silver coins at his feet, or withsmall leather pouches of valuable objects hanging from the tines of his antlers, as “abundance” is just a few metaphorical shades removed from virility.Cernunnos is also known as Guide of the Dead; a title he is probably bestowed with onaccount of the stealth and grace of his movements. In Celtic traditions, those who can walkthrough the thickets and off-path in the woods without being seen or heard are thought tobe capable of walking between the worlds. Those who make too much noise in the wilds of Nature are thought to be too boisterous to ever find the pathways between Here andThere. Those who are quiet, however, can ‘hear’ the Otherworld, and by following thesesounds they may find the
sídhe
(i.e., ‘doorways’) and crossEover.As such, Cernunnos presides over various kinds of journeys into the Otherworld. He leadsmortals across the
sídhe
after death, and guides them to the trailhead of new adventures,encouraging them to carry on with the quest for wisdom, truth and beauty that was alreadybegun in
this
life. He can also lead adventurers into the Otherlands while still in their
coíchanama
(“soul house”; i.e., the body), if they need to see something there, or if they arelooking for someone. Following Cernunnos through the Veil between the Worlds is one of the surest ways of making the journey and returning unscathed, as he generally won’tabandon those who follow him with good purpose.Cernunnos – in his role of Guide of the Dead – often appeared near dolmens andbarrowsídhe in ancient Celtic times. Dolmens are stone structures; the remains of pre-Celtic,Neolithic burial sites. They usually consist of three upright stones across which a ‘table
 
4/22/13Pagan | Wicca | Celtic Mythology | Cernunnos | Celtic Myths and Legends | Horned One | Druidism | Paganism | Montague Whitsel | Isis Books and Giftswww.isisbooks.com/cernunnos.asp3/7
stonehas been laid. Neolithic peoples created these structures and then placed their deadin the ‘chamber,’ after which they covered the stones over with earth. By the time of theCelts, all the dirt had been eroded away, leaving the standing stone structure. Manydolmens are large enough for a person to walk into. They mark places of intersectionbetween the worlds. Ghosts, deities, the Faeryfolk and later Christ and Mary and theirsaints were all thought to appear to mortals at, near or in dolmens. Barrowsídhe are longburial mounds; called ‘
sídhe
’ because they were also thought of as places where one worldopened into another, creating a place of synergy between mortals and immortals; betweenthe incarnate and discarnate realms. Cernunnos has long been among those beings whoappear to mortals at dolmens and barrowsídhe.Today, following in this tradition, Cernunnos may appear to his mystics at graveyards andnear tombs. Lonesome graveyards near patches of woods and cemeteries where the Yewsand other foliage have been let grow wild are the best places for such apparitions, as is asite of a single burial off in the woods or near a body of water, where the marker has eitherbeen decimated or destroyed by the elements, or where there never was one in the firstplace. If you see a deer near a cemetery during the day of a New Moon, chant the names of Cernunnos, and he will lead you toward the tines of “new birth,” in spiritual terms. If youencounter a stag near a lonesome graveyard on a Full Moon night, say his name thrice toyourself, quietly, and then say the name of someone who has crossedEover of whom youwould like to dream. Cernunnos will usually oblige us with a memory of the dead if we askwith an open heart.When I was thirteen, I encountered Cernunnos near an old 19th century mausoleum in thewoods near the town where I grew up. It was October, and while ascending a well-frequented path up into the multicolored cathedral of trees, I was arrested by the sound of asnort accompanied by the sudden awareness of something very powerful quite close by! Ilooked up and there, above me to the left, on the bank above the trail, was the largestanimal I had ever seen close up and in person; a stag with a rack of antlers on his head! Hedidn’t seem dangerous; merely powerful.I saw his black eyes and nearly lost my sense of place in his gaze. The stag snorted againand backed away, and then turned and bounded up the hill. Stunned, I pathed on up thelittle foot-trail toward the mausoleum; my intended destination. There I saw the stag again,standing by the old wrought-iron fence that still surrounded the moldering single-chamberedsandstone block edifice in those days. Whenever I think of Cernunnos, now, I oftenremember that scene – the stag at the iron-fence next to a ruined mausoleum out in thewoods. I had begun learning about Cernunnos shortly before this encounter, and so in myadolescent imagination I ‘knew’ that this stag was old Downie Hornie appearing to me.Ever since that time I’ve always had an epiphany whenever I happen to encounter deer andespecially an antlered stag in wilder than usual places. Though what I encountered that daywas, I have no doubt, a flesh and blood animal, I have always believed that the Horned Godbecame present to me, poetically and sensuously, via this wondrous animal that I happenedto cross paths with at the trailhead of my adolescent journey.Cernunnos can ‘appear’ under a variety of guises – he is not confined to the form of a stag –and in Celtic traditions there are several classic images of him. The most mysterious isperhaps the “three headed visage,” in which the Stag is “three-faced,” as if just havinglooked to his right and to his left. As if in time-lapse photography, you ‘see’ both of thepartial profiles as well as the head-on view in the same instant of the vision. This visage othe Horned One alludes to something very unusual about him; that he is triple in himself.Many Celtic deities appear to us in triads, each ‘person’ in the triple manifestation having itsown name, aspects or characteristics. Cernunnos is unusual in that he is a single deity, yet

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