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  • Writer's pictureCeltic Druid

Cernunnos: Celtic Horned God of Wild Places

Updated: Oct 10, 2022

Cernunnos is one of the Celtic gods that was worshipped by the Gauls in France from at least the first century BC. He is a horned god, but just one of many worshipped across Europe. They are often all lumped together under the name Cernunnos.

Cernunnos is also considered the proto deity for the Horned God, who is the consort of the Great Mother Goddess in modern Wicca. The Celtic horned god is often considered the god of the witches.

Cernunnos is the guardian of the wild places and acts as a mediator between man and nature. He can teach practitioners the magic of the natural world and how it can provide for them, but these secrets are only revealed to those with a deep respect for nature.

The Celtic horned god is also considered a fertility deity, a giver of abundance, and one of the guardians of the underworld.

Artistic interpretation of Cernunnos
Artistic interpretation of Cernunnos

Who is Cernunnos?

Cernunnos is a Celtic god that was worshipped by the Gauls when the Romans encountered them in the 1st century BC. The only ancient place where his name is recorded is on the Nautae Parisiaci (seamen of Paris) monument, on which Roman gods appear alongside Celtic gods, from the 1st century AD.

But, despite this being the only attestation of his name, there are many depictions of a horned god with the same attributes from across Europe, from Ireland to Romania. All these gods are often collectively grouped together as the god Cernunnos, even though there were no doubt local variations in his name and the beliefs surrounding him.

Artistic representation of the Celtic horned god
Artistic representation of the Celtic horned god

Mythology and Iconography of Cernunnos

The Gauls did not leave a written history, so we have no first-hand accounts of Celtic mythology of how the Celtic god Cernunnos was worshipped. But we know that he must have been a very important god due to the frequency with which he is depicted. Modern assumptions about Cernunnos rely principally on his iconography.

The god always appears as a man with horns, usually resembling the antlers of a stag, growing out of his head. He usually sits in a cross-legged position in what is called a Buddha posture. He will wear a Celtic torc, held a torc, or both, and he will carry either a bag of coins, a bag of grain, or a cornucopia, which is a horn filled with flowers, fruit, and corn. He is often depicted surrounded by animals.

Image of Cernunnos from the Gundestrup Cauldron
Image of Cernunnos from the Gundestrup Cauldron

Domains of Cernunnos

The horned one is considered the god of wild animals and is particularly associated with horned animals, specifically the stag and the horned serpent. He is also more loosely related to bulls, dogs, and rats.

Cernunnos is linked to fertility, prosperity, and wealth, as indicated by his horns and the objects of wealth that he holds, the torc, sack, or cornucopia. A bag of coins is a clear indication of prosperity, as is the torc. These were worn as adornments, but Celts would also break chips of precious metal off their torc to use as currency.

The cornucopia or bag of grain is also a clear sign of prosperity based on agriculture, and his stag horns also link him to the fertility cycle. Antlers shed annually in the early winter and start to grow again.

But despite these symbols that are linked to formal agriculture and wealth systems, Cernunnos is associated with wild places, where men do not build their cities and cultivate. The Celtic god is considered the mediator between man and nature and the protector of the wild places.

Perhaps this reflects an awareness of the need for a balance between wild nature and cultivation. Cernunnos is also sometimes described as a divine shaman, who may live in the woods as a hermit.

While none of Cernunnos’ Celtic symbology seems to point to the Underworld, Julius Caesar, an early Roman observer of Gallic culture, compared Cernunnos with Dis Pater. This god is also associated with agriculture and mineral wealth. Since minerals come from the ground, he soon became associated with the Underworld.

Cernunnos is also often conflated with Pan and Silvanus, respectively the Greek and Roman horned gods. These gods are the patrons of wild places, shepherds, sex, and fertility, and they have the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat. This makes it even more interesting that Caesar chose to equate Cernunnos with Dis Pater, when these other gods also existed.

Cernunnos as Shaman
Cernunnos as Shaman

Derivation of Cernunnos

As well as being associated with ancient deities, Cernunnos inspired several gods.

Many scholars suggest that it was Cernunnos who inspired ideas of the appearance of the Christian Satin. Some suggest that this means that Cernunnos was a powerful Pagan deity that the Christians wanted to discredit. But this would seem inconsistent with the Christian practice of incorporating other religious ideas into their own practices.

It is also suggested that it was Cernunnos who inspired Baphomet, a false deity that the Knights Templar were accused of worshipping.

Cernunnos is certainly one of the inspirations for the Horned God worshipped in modern Wicca, which is probably an amalgam of the various horned gods that existed across Europe. Modern Wiccans often suggest that the Horned God, and all these horned gods, stem from the same Indo-European proto-horned god.

In Wicca, the Horned God is the consort of the Great Mother Goddess and the male aspect of the dual religion. He also embodies duality and contradiction representing both light and darkness, night and day, summer and winter, and so forth.

Cernunnos with Torc and Snake
Cernunnos with Torc and Snake

Invoking Cernunnos

Despite being the patron of animals, there is good evidence that Cernunnos received blood sacrifices, but this was not the only way that the god was invoked.

Cernunnos received votive offerings in the form of food and manufactured goods such as fine pottery and metal objects. These often make the best offerings for Cernunnos on an altar, filled with earth since he is associated with the Earth element. He can also receive grain, fruits, or wine, all of which stem from the bounty of the Earth.

Ancient Celtic worshippers of Cernunnos often created images or statues of him, often in worked metal, and this can make a good anchor for summoning him. A Celtic torc can also be a symbol for the god.

He is often associated with drumming and trance work. These rituals are mostly designed to help practitioners throw off the confines of modern life and become more in touch with their innate self and nature.

Initial contact with Cernunnos is always best made in nature, his preferred habitat, where he will feel comfortable and powerful to forge a new connection. While the forest is usually chosen, any place that has not been occupied and cultivated by humankind is a good choice.

As a keeper of the underworld, he is also associated with liminal spaces. Anyone wanting to work with Cernunnos specifically for necromantic purposes should try and encounter him in spaces in between. Divination with Cernunnos should also be conducted here.

Cernunnos is often called on as a “witch father” to instruct a practitioner in the ways of nature magic. Others encounter him as a lover, in a sensual meeting of minds. Yet for others, he can take the form of a friend and comforter.

Many look to Cernunnos as a pathway to get closer to nature in an increasingly manufactured world. This is a daily practice that involves switching off from media and focussing on what is around you, eating as close to nature as possible, and respecting the world and doing as little damage to it as possible.

Example of Cernunnos Altar
Example of Cernunnos Altar

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