Cernunnos: Mystery of the Horned One
Cernunnos is the Gaelic god of beasts, nature, and wildness. He is called the Horned One or the Celtic horned god, and he was the mediator between humans and nature. While he remains a mysterious god, there are many horned gods in Celtic mythology that he could have been. Read more about the Horned One and all his mysteries in this article.
Who Is Cernunnos in Celtic Mythology?
Cernunnos, or the Horned One, is the god of beasts and wild things in Celtic mythology. Sadly, we don’t have a lot of information about him. That could either be because some stories are missing from the mythologies or the fact that there are around 50 horned gods in Celtic mythology. In artwork, he is often shown as an older or middle-aged man with antlers and a beard, and many times is depicted sitting cross-legged.
This horned god of the forest ruled over nature and all the wild things of the world. He was a god of nature and a god of animals, and in some of the tales, he was seen as their leader. Not only that, but he was a sort of natural peace-keeper. He could mediate between men and beasts as well as beasts of different kinds.
He might have been something of a fertility god or a protector god, or even a god of hunting. Like other nature gods, he was connected to life and creation, meaning he might have been a creator god. Because of his lack of entire mythology and mixed stories, it’s not exactly clear what all of his attributes were. But overall, he was a god of nature, and that was where he spent his time.
What’s in a Name?
The name comes from ancient Gaelic, meaning “horned” or “horned one.” The word part “cern” is common in Indo-European languages to mean horn or antler. It’s very similar to the Greek word “corn,” such as in the word unicorn, a horned animal. Cernunnos, like Cailleach, is more like a general term for a horned god.
He doesn’t really have his own mythology and might just be a blend of many different deities, so scholars kind of use his name as sort of an overall name for any of the horned gods in world mythology.
Story of the Celtic God of the Hunt
Images of Cernunnos were first found in northern Italy, which was part of the Celtic world, starting around 400 BCE. Despite that, he made his way to Ireland and the British Isles, where he was most widely worshipped. Christianity later grew and took the place of former pagan rituals. After that, the Christians depicted Cernunnos as sort of an Antichrist figure.
Also, there might have been some confusion between him and the character of the devil. In many Christian paintings, the evil character, or the devil, is portrayed as having horns and looking like an animal. This connection to Cernunnos might have been because of his very powerful influence in the pagan world. The Christians wanted to weaken his power.
Unfortunately, Cernunnos is only mentioned once by name in historical sources. So, he doesn’t have the same anthology of myths to his name as the other Celtic gods. He does, however, bear similarity to many other horned deities in the Celtic world and shares some of their attributes, creating some confusion about him. However, he could either have been these deities or merely was inspired by or inspired them.
Cernunnos and Others: Who Was He Really?
Herne the Hunter: There is some connection between Cernunnos and Herne the Hunter because they both wore antlers. However, Herne the Hunter was a specter, and he haunted the Berkshire woods in England. He also hunted around a particular tree, and he rode a horse. However, he also tortured cattle, ending his kinship with Cernunnos.
Conach Cernach: There is a similarity to Cernunnos because of the base word “cern,” meaning horn or antler. This character is from a group of stories called the Ulster Cycle. There isn’t much else besides the name that Conach and Cernunnos have in common.
Pan and Silvanus: These gods are very similar to Cernunnos because they were also horned gods in the Greco-Roman traditions. They also looked identical to goats, and they were the rulers of the wild world.
Wotan: Wotan was a Germanic god of the hunt. He wore antlers, and he would lead spirits on hunts. He was very closely linked with animals and their attributes.
Baphomet: Some believe that Cernunnos was the inspiration for the Knights Templar to create Baphomet. He was like a demon figure they might have worshipped. The gods had similar physical characteristics to one another.
Saint Ciarán: There might also have been a link between Cernunnos and Saint Ciarán, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. The story goes that this man was able to tame animals, and they became his friends and followers.
Cernunnos in Other Religions
A horned god is an image abundant in many mythologies around the world. In many cultures, a priest or religious person might take on the appearance of animals in certain rituals. To do so, they would don things like animal hides and antlers or horns.
Today, Cernunnos is a figure in both Wicca and Neopaganism. He isn’t named as such, but Cernunnos worship and Cernunnos offerings occur in both religions, which still exist today. In Wicca, the horned god and his relationship with the goddess play out in the cycle of seasons. In the fall, the horned god dies.
Like the land, he lies dormant until the spring when he is resurrected. However, this isn’t really linked to past rituals but rather a new thing created with these newer religions based on pagan concepts. Some of his most common imagery used today comes from the 1931 book by Margaret Murray called “The God of the Witches.” In the book, she describes Cernunnos as a godly/ghostly horned figure in the forest and likens him to Herne the Hunter.
Cernunnos had many symbols connected to his name. The horned god symbols included:
- Pillar of the Boatman
- Danish Gundestrup Cauldron
The Pillar of the Boatman is the one location of Cernunnos’ name. It was created in Paris during the 1st century BCE and had multiple other gods and goddesses on the Pillar. Cernunnos was one of the gods shown, and in this image, he had torcs hanging on his antlers. Torcs are metal rings that are usually hung around the neck.
Cernunnos’ depiction of the Danish Gundestrup Cauldron is probably his most famous representation. This cauldron was perhaps created in a part of Greece that was part of the Celtic world. There was no name in this piece of art, only the image of a horned god thought to be Cernunnos.
While he was the god of all animals, he is most often linked with the stag. Many of his artistic representations show him as a human mixed with a stag.
Cernunnos in Pop Culture
Since Cernunnos and horned gods, in general, are pretty widespread, it’s no wonder that there are a lot of references and images of him in pop culture.
- In Marvel Comics, Cernunnos appears as a man with antlers as well as the face of a deer.
- Monica Richards has a song called “The Antler King.”
- He appears as a god in the video game SMITE and a demon in the Megami Tensei series.
- In 2018, a small copper human figurine was discovered by archaeologists in England. It dates from the 2nd century BCE, and because of the torc, it’s believed to be a representation of Cernunnos. It’s of Roman origin and only two inches tall!
Sadly, there is not much known about Cernunnos as an individual god. His stories have been lost to time and history. However, we know a little about his attributes and his connections to other gods. He is even still well-known today despite his mystery! Take a look at the overall list of facts about Cernunnos covered in this article:
- Cernunnos is the Celtic god of beasts and wildness.
- He was the lord of all wild things, and he was able to create peace between animals, humans, and animals of different species.
- Cernunnos could make both predator and prey lay down together. He was sometimes depicted with a group of different animals surrounding him.
- Because of his various abilities, he was considered the god of creation, fertility, and protector god of animals and nature.
- His name means “horned” or “horned one” in ancient Gaelic, and it might have been more of a general term for a horned deity. Scholars use this term as a way to cover overall horned gods in world mythology.
- Unfortunately, this god remains a mystery. He is mentioned only once by name in a historical source, and the rest of his stories are sort of lost to time.
- Images of Cernunnos were first found in northern Italy, which was a Celtic-controlled region starting around 400 BCE.
- However, he was more widely worshipped in Ireland and the British Isles.
- Once Christianity took over, they turned him into more of an Antichrist or Satanic figure.
- It’s not a surprise because the Satan character is often depicted as being horned and looking like an animal in many works of art from older periods (even today!).
- This change could be because they wished to weaken the influence he held over the Celtic pagan world, and maybe that’s why no myths to his name?
- Cernunnos was very similar to other horned gods in various mythologies.
- Some believe he was the same as or was similar to Herne the Hunter.
- Herne the Hunter is a specter who haunts the Berkshire Woods in England and also wears horns.
- He is also similar to Pan or Silvanus in the Greco-Roman tradition, also horned gods with other animal attributes.
- Conach Cernach is a character in the Celtic Ulster Cycle. The only similarity between them is the fact that their names share similar bases, “cern,” meaning “horn,” or “antler.”
- Cernunnos was also like the Germanic Wotan, lord of the hunt, a horned god who was in charge of the animals.
- The Horned God may be the inspiration for the Knights Templar to create Baphomet. He was a horned-demon figure they were thought to have worshipped.
- There is also a human similarity to Cernunnos named Saint Ciarán, who was one of the Twelve Apostles in Ireland. This saint was able to calm and tame animals, and he eventually gained a host of animal friends and followers.
- Even though Cernunnos was a mystery and remains so, he lingers on today in the religions Wicca and Neopaganism. He is worshipped as a horned god in Wicca and a god of fertility and life.
- He is a part of the cycle of the seasons. Each year he dies in the fall only to be resurrected in the spring at the Imbolc festival.
- His modern imagery and likening to Herne the Hunter likely comes from the 1931 book by Margaret Murray, “The God of the Witches.”
- Cernunnos has many symbols and artistic representations: The Pillar of the Boatman, Danish Gundestrup Cauldron, torcs, and the stag.
- The Pillar was carved in Paris and was a depiction of many gods and goddesses, which included Cernunnos by name.
- On the Pillar, he had antlers, and on these antlers were torcs which are metal rings often worn about the neck.
- In many works of art, he was shown wearing these torcs and being a bearded older man sitting cross-legged.
- His most famous depiction is on the Danish Gundestrup Cauldron, created around the 1st century BCE.
- Another one of the symbols of Cernunnos was the stag. He was the god of all animals, but his most common animal connection is the stag.
- In pop culture, he appears in Marvel Comics and the video game SMITE.
- In 2018, archeologists found a small, copper Cernunnos statue in England. Because it was carrying a torc, it’s thought that the figurine is a representation of Cernunnos.
Cernunnos was the god of all wild things, and he represented that wildness. He was a mysterious and mystical figure, and he became associated with many things throughout time, from life to death. He could command the animals and wild things, and he was able to spread peace between man and beast. His power lingers on even if his story is lost, and perhaps he feels some satisfaction that there are still people who worship and remember him even today.