Cernunnos - Wild God of the Forest

Detail from the Celtic Gundestrop Cauldron, 3rd century.
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Cernunnos is a horned god found in Celtic mythology. He is connected with male animals, particularly the stag in rut, and this has led him to be associated with fertility and vegetation. Depictions of Cernunnos are found in many parts of the British Isles and western Europe. He is often portrayed with a beard and wild, shaggy hair -- he is, after all, the lord of the forest.

With his mighty antlers, Cernunnos is a protector of the forest and master of the hunt.

He is a god of vegetation and trees in his aspect as the Green Man, and a god of lust and fertility when connected with Pan, the Greek satyr. In some traditions, he is seen as a god of death and dying, and takes time to comfort the dead by singing to them on their way to the spirit world.

History and Worship of Cernunnos

In Margaret Murray's 1931 book, God of the Witches, she posits that Herne the Hunter is a manifestation of Cernunnos. Because he is found only in Berkshire, and not in the rest of the Windsor Forest area, Herne is considered a "localized" god -- and could indeed be the Berkshire interpretation of Cernunnos. During the Elizabethan age, Cernunnos appears as Herne in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor. He also embodies fealty to the realm, and guardianship of royalty.

In some traditions of Wicca, the cycle of seasons follows the relationship between the Horned God -- Cernunnos -- and the Goddess.

During the fall, the Horned God dies, as the vegetation and land goes dormant, and in the spring, at Imbolc, he is resurrected to impregnate the fertile goddess of the land. However, this relationship is a relatively new Neopagan concept, and there is no scholarly evidence to indicate that ancient peoples might have celebrated this "marriage" of the Horned God and a mother goddess.

Because of his horns (and the occasional depiction of a large, erect phallus) Cernunnos has often been misinterpreted by fundamentalists as a symbol of Satan. Certainly, at times, the Christian church has pointed to the Pagan following of Cernunnos as "devil worship." This is in part due to nineteenth century paintings of Satan which included large, ram-like horns much like those of Cernunnos.

Today, many Pagan traditions honor Cernunnos as an aspect of the God, the embodiment of masculine energy and fertility and power.

A Prayer to Cernunnos

God of the green,
Lord of the forest,
I offer you my sacrifice.
I ask you for your blessing.

You are the man in the trees,
the green man of the woods,
who brings life to the dawning spring.
You are the deer in rut,
mighty Horned One,
who roams the autumn woods,
the hunter circling round the oak,
the antlers of the wild stag,
and the lifeblood that spills upon
the ground each season.

God of the green,
Lord of the forest,
I offer you my sacrifice.
I ask you for your blessing.

Honoring Cernunnos in Ritual

If your tradition calls for you to honor Cernunnos in ritual - especially around the season of the Beltane sabbat - be sure to read John Beckett's article at Patheos, The Cernunnos Ritual.

Beckett says, "His presence, which had been mild but undeniable since we started setting up (what, you think a Forest God is going to sit quietly outside the door till he gets a proper invitation?) became overwhelming.  Someone shouted.  Someone got up and began to dance.  Then another got up, and another, and another.  Before long we had a whole line of people dancing, spinning, and chanting around the altar.

Cernunnos!  Cernunnos!  Cernunnos!"

Juniper, at Walking the Hedge, has an absolutely lovely and moving ritual worth reading about called A Devotional Ritual to Cernunnos. She says, "I call to Him with feeling, with love with desire. I call until I feel His presence, I do not assume a few words of poetry will be enough and carry on. I call until the hair on the back of my neck stands up and goosebumps run down my arms.

I call until I can smell His scent on the air... When Cernunnos has arrived I thank Him with gifts, by showing Him what offerings I have brought for Him and placing it at the foot of the god-stang."