“The Horned One” is the translation for the only single inscription we have of this particular Green Man character. Found on the Celtic Gundestrup Cauldron and widespread on other engravings, this antlered figure is thought by some to be an important god of the continental Celts, or even the most important god by some commentators. An inscription found on a block at Notre Dame, Paris associates the name of the Roman top god, Jupiter, with “Cernenus” (possibly a variant for Cernunnos, the antlered god).
The infamous Margaret Murray in her book “The God of the Witches” comments on the Gundestrup Cauldron suggesting that a bare-chested figure holding a wheel symbol in his hand is the Gaulish Jupiter, with the horned Cernunnos situated nearby, suggesting an association between the two “top gods” of the region.
However, according to Ronald Hutton, Murray in her expression of confirmation bias seized upon any horned figure in European or Near Eastern art and literature, ignoring all others, in an attempt to show that this representation was Pan, which she claimed was the focus of worship for witches and the origins of the Christian Devil. The wheel association imagery is found on a coin found in Petersfield, UK…
Because of the miniscule information we have on Cernunnos, it appears that some, less discerning academics still take Murray’s interpretation to be the definitive version of Cernunnos and her misguided assertions sometimes crop up in books on celtic mythologies and histories. Anne Ross in Pagan Celtic Britain (1967) argues that Cernunnos is a god of wealth, underground regions and fecundity; further that his widespread worship meant that he was the ancestor deity of the Gauls. No actual written evidence for this prior to Murray’s work exists.
Other commentators put forward a suggestion there may be a link between Cernunnos and the Irish pre-Christian god, Donn, ruler of the dead and ancestor deity. Early pious Christianity took that folklore and borrowed aspects of Donn to describe the devil (a deity with links to the green that’s sadly become portrayed as the devil! More on that later)
So, Cernunnos is said to be the lord of nature, animals, fruit, grain and prosperity, the dead, those who have passed on, wealth, and the underground regions… But our knowledge of Cernunnos is so tenuous, the horned figure might not be a divinity at all, but rather a shaman-like priest with an antlered crown! On the Gundestrap Cauldron his image is portrayed between the wild animals on one side of him and domestic animals on the other side. What this could mean is anyone’s guess, including acting as an intermediary between that which is wild and that which is domesticated.
Stags and the hornless deer were important cult creatures, with the stag being admired for its grace, speed and sexual prowess during the rutting season. Such was the latter association, phallic amulets were made and worn by those wishing to imbue that sexual prowess. In early Irish and Welsh narratives, deer appear in two forms – enticers of mortals to the other world and transformed beings (humans or fairies either willingly or unwillingly becoming deer).
Interestingly, with the coming of Christianity to these isles, the stag became a guide for souls seeking heaven and was so represented in cemeteries, as stags cross the water, so Christians should help each other on their journey through this life – and commit them to the care of Christ in the next (similar to work of the psychopomp). Christ was symbolised as the stag in early Christian artwork, trampling the Devil, thus Christ as a “horned God” is not so modern a concept after all.
There are a number of similarities between Cernunnos and Jesus:
- An intermediary between this world and the next.
- Able to travel the boundaries between the wild and the domestic.
- Lord of nature, animals, fruit, the dead.
- Source of fecundity and abundance in life.
- Inviter to a transformed spiritual life.
Our exploration of the Green Man continues onward, to Pan…