Horned God


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Image of a horned god. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.

Horned God

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In Paleolithic times the principle male deity was a God of Hunting. Humankind needed success in the hunt in order to survive: the hunt provided skins for clothing, food, and bones for tools and weapons. In cave art, this god is portrayed wearing horns just like those found on the animals the men were hunting. That horned image can almost be considered a prototype for what eventually became known as the God of the Witches. Over time he developed into a general God of Nature, but he is still frequently depicted with horns or antlers in representations used by modern day Wiccans.

The Romans dubbed the Horned God Cernunnos, meaning "the Horned One." This name was adopted in many areas, often shortened to Cerne (and modified to Herne in some locations).

By the Bronze Age, horns had become a sign of divinity, and horned gods were fairly common in areas such as Mesopotamia. The number of horns came to indicate the importance of the god, with seven horns representing the acme of divinity—hence the seven horns of the Divine Lamb in the Bible's Book of Revelations. Interestingly enough, in the Bible, Satan is never described as having horns, although the Church tried to equate him with the God of the Witches because of the presence of those appendages.

In Wicca, the Horned God is regarded as the Lord of the Underworld and of Death and all that comes after, as well as of Life and of Nature. His symbol is the Sun, as the Goddess's symbol is the Moon. He rules over the "dark half of the year"—the winter months—while the Goddess rules over the summer months. At certain Wiccan rituals, the High Priest plays the part of the God by donning a Horned Helmet. Different Witchcraft traditions have different names for this deity. Some use Pan, the horned woodland deity of Arcadia; some use Herne, the hunter of England; and others use Cernunnos. As with the Goddess, there are many names by which he is known.

The Horned God is very much a god of fertility and, from the earliest cave paintings, is frequently depicted as an ithyphallic figure. In Stone Age society, the fertility of the animals was important, because the more fertile the animals were, the more there was to hunt. Human fertility—for the continuation of the race— was equally important. And, with the coming of agriculture, fertility of the crops became important as a source of food. These are the main reasons that both the god and the goddess are fertility deities.

When the altar at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was being repaired near the end of the eighteenth century, a much older altar was discovered beneath it. On it was carved a representation of the Horned God, an obviously pagan deity. At the behest of Pope Gregory the Great, in a letter to Abbot Mellitos in 601 CE, all "well built" pagan temples were to be cleansed and consecrated and converted to Christian churches. Open sites where pagans were traditionally gathered to worship were supposed to serve as the site of new Christian churches.