The Horned God

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The Celtic Horned God Cernunnos depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron, found in 1891 in a peat bog near Gundestrup in the Aars parish of Himmerland, Denmark, dating from the late Roman Iron Age circa 150 to 1 BCE, on display in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.

The Horned God, also known as Cernunnos or Kernunno, is one of the earliest recognizable deities found in Europe. In researching the Paleolithic era – the early Stone Age, lasting approximately 2.5 million years – archaeologists have noted that the principle male deity, often now known by the descriptive term "the Horned God," was a being whose blessing provided early humankind much needed success in their hunting activities, endowing and supporting their survival. The hunt provided what was needed for life in that era, food, skins for clothing, and bones for tools and weapons. One famous painting of a being popularly recognized as the Horned God is found in the Cave of the Trois-Frères in Ariège, France. Known as "the Sorcerer" or "the Master of Animals," his image dates from circa 13,000 BCE. In other early cave paintings, the Horned God, in his role as the bringer of fertility and sexuality, is shown as an ithyphallic figure. Depictions of Cernunnos, whose name means "the horned one," continued on into the Celtic era, and a petroglyph of an antlered human figure in Gaullish Val Camonica has been dated from the 7th century to the 4th century BCE, while the famous Gundestrup Cauldron of Denmark, dates from the late Roman Iron Age, circa 150 to 1 BCE. If there were any tales of the Horned God's origin or cosmological role, or a developed mythology that recounted his activities, they have been lost to time, for the Paleolithic era was pre-literate, and even though images of him exist well into the Celtic and Gallo-Roman era of written records, the specific forms of his worship, his holidays, and his special offerings, if any, were unrecorded. This has lead some archaeologists to interpret ancient horned male figures as human sorcerers, shamans, or priests of the hunt, and not as a specific deity.

In contemporary Neo-Pagan practice, including Wicca, the Horned God is one of the two primary deities found in duotheistic belief traditions. His importance in each group varies in relation to differences in their theological beliefs, but overall, as Lord of the Animals or Lord of the Wild Things, he is associated with nature, the wilderness sexuality, hunting, and the cycle of life. He is sometimes portrayed as a dualistic god, embracing opposing aspects of bright and dark, night and day, or summer and winter In this dualistic view, his two horns symbolize, in part, his two-fold nature. Often in this duotheistic system, the three aspects of the Triple Goddess and the two aspects of the Horned God are ascribed to the Wiccan symbol of the five points of the Pentagram or Pentacle; however the correspondences of which deity is represented by which point can vary. In some contemporary Neo-Pagan theologies, the Horned God is represented as a triune deity whose three aspects reflect the Maiden-Mother-Crone aspects of the Triple Goddess, and he appears successively as the Youth or Warrior, the Father, and the Sage. In these traditions, he is viewed as the divine male principality, being both equal and opposite to the Goddess. Additionally, for other Wiccan and Neo-Pagan adherents, the Horned God rules the Underworld or Summerland, where the souls of the deceased reside while awaiting reincarnation. He thus serves as the Lord of Death, the psychopomp who carries the souls of the dead to the underworld. He may also be said to act as their comforter and consoler after death, and to rule over the dark half of the year, the winter months, much after the manner of the Greek god Hades. In some Wiccan rituals, the high priest of the coven or congregation plays the part of the Horned God by donning a horned helmet during the ceremony.

The Horned God is the most common illustration of masculine divinity in many Neo-Pagan and Wicca Traditions. All depictions of him have one universal aspect, the bull or ram horns or stag antlers upon his head, which may be shown as natural outgrowths but are more often part of a headpiece or helmet he wears. He can also be seen as a horned man supporting an untamed and large beard. Other features of the Horned God vary based on the group in which he is being honored. He may be shown seated cross-legged on the ground or standing, sometimes wearing or hold a torc, an open-ended ornamental metal neck ring. Finally, as the god of the wild, who is deeply connected to our instincts and combines the divine with animal and human traits, he is sometimes depicted by Neo-Pagans as theriocephalic, having the body of a man and a beast's head, somewhat in the manner of the ancient Egyptian Netjeru deities.


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