CERNUNNOS: Speculative Archaeology and its influence on modern Paganism
By Katrina Stone
Somewhere between 100-200 CE, a man in what is now today known as France carved a word upon a stone. That word, found nowhere else to this day, was Cernunnos. It is inscribed in Latin, and scholars have said that it means “Horned One”.
Since the finding of this one word on a stone, many people have speculated what it means. The most common is that it is the name of a God. Many Wiccans have put forth the theory (which they state as indisputable fact) that Cernunnos, the horned God of the Celts, was worshipped far and wide, from Gaul to Britain (and sometimes is the same god as Pan, but that ties into the Wiccan “All gods are one God, and all goddesses are one Goddess thing). My theory on how this word became so entrenched with the Horned God of the Pagans view starts with Margaret Murray. Her theory of the Horned God of the Witches was put into practice by Gerald Gardner and expanded upon by Doreen Valiente.
Murray’s theory of a wide-spread horned god worshipping witch cult have since been discredited due to lack of evidence, but for some reason, in every Pagan or Wiccan book out there where a horned god is mentioned, they often refer to him as Cernunnos. For Example:
From Witchcraft for Tomorrow by Doreen Valiente, page 26:
“The Celtic version of the god Pan was Cernunnos, meaning ‘The Horned One’. This name is found upon an altar dedicated to him which is now in the Cluny Mudeum, Paris… Other famous representations of Cernunnos are the statue group dating from Gallo-Roman times, now in the museum of Reims, and that found on the splendid silver cauldron known as the Gundestrop Bowl, which came from a peat bog in Denmark, where it was found in 1891…. A strange and numinous cave drawing from Val Carmonica, Italy is cruder and older than these, dating from the fourth-third century B.C. In this, Cernunnos is a towering figure, crowned with stags’ horns and seemingly dressed in a long robe.”
Similar sentiments have been parroted in a variety of Wiccan, Pagan, New-Age and even Celtic Reconstructionist books. What really bothers me about this, is the “Arm Chair Archeologist” attitude, also known as “Speculative Archeology”. I think I may be the only person in existence to question the validity of referring to a Horned God as Cernunnos, not to mention putting every Horned God in existence under that name and saying ancient pagans worshipped him!
Please, don’t take my word for it. Go look up “Cernunnos” in any of you Wicca 101 books you might have sitting on your shelf, or even “A History of Pagan Europe” If you have that, or a book on Celtic Spirituality. I guarantee almost all of them will point out that Cernunnos is a horned God of the hunt, the underworld, the color green, whose gemstone is amethyst or any number of things!
Do you realize the ridiculousness of this? If you don’t, let me explain. A word was found on stone, an altar, perhaps, in France. It’s in Latin, and in all actuality, we’re not even sure if the C is really a C, so it might not even be “Cernunnos” at all. Some scholar said, “Yes, Cernunnos means ‘Horned One’ in Latin!” (But hey, if it’s not a C, it could mean something else entirely, but everyone seems to ignore that fact) So some Wiccans said, “Hey, that sounds like a good name to call the Horned God of the Witches that Murray was talking about!” and those Wiccans wrote books, sold lots of books, and even though the theory was discounted, and it was only a word on a rock, suddenly, Cernunnos is an ancient horned God, consort of the Great Goddess going back to pagan times, maybe even to Neolithic cavemen times. Wowie! Isn’t that grand? Now Wiccans can claim a God that they don’t know shit about, that may not even be a god, and say the ancient pagans of Gaul worshipped it, when in fact, there is absolutely no evidence at all for that. Ancient pagans were generally polytheistic, and the idea of a “Great Horned God”, worshipped everywhere under the Latin name of Cernunnos is utterly ridiculous. If it were true, I think we would have found more inscriptions of the name Cernunnos. We’ve only found one. All the little figures and drawings of horned Gods? Well, a lot of ancient cultures had that, and they all had different names. Often, they were local gods.
So, what could Cernunnos mean? Let me slip into my arm chair and make a guess. It could be the name of a king, or the month for hunting, or could be the name of a local god, it could be the name of a hero in a local myth, it could be any number of things. Do we know for certain what the name Cernunnos means? No. We do not. Why is it in sooo many books that just seem to reference eachother? Because people are, generally, stupid. People don’t want to be the one to be contrary, to actually think about what’s going on. Instead, they want to copy each other, so that when there are actually references, it references another book, which references another book, and goes in a huge circle so you can never actually find out where this came from. There’s a whole market out there for gullible people who love to soak up inaccurate information without actually thinking about what they’re reading.
Now this guy, Dr. Anthony E. Smith, is a prime example of parroting Wiccan doctrine. He wrote this little gem for http://www.pantheon.org.
““The Horned One" is a Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld. He was worshipped all over Gaul, and his cult spread into Britain as well. Cernunnos is depicted with the antlers of a stag, sometimes carries a purse filled with coin. The Horned God is born at the winter solstice, marries the goddess at Beltane, and dies at the summer solstice. He alternates with the goddess of the moon in ruling over life and death, continuing the cycle of death, rebirth and reincarnation.
Paleolithic cave paintings found in France that depict a stag standing upright or a man dressed in stag costume seem to indicate that Cernunnos' origins date to those times. Romans sometimes portrayed him with three cranes flying above his head. Known to the Druids as Hu Gadarn. God of the underworld and astral planes. The consort of the great goddess. He was often depicted holding a bag of money, or accompanied by a ram-headed serpent and a stag. Most notably is the famous Gundestrup cauldron discovered in Denmark.”
There are no references to where he obtained his (mis)information, but I’m guessing it was from your typical Wiccan book that can be purchased at Barnes and Noble. Now, I would just like to point out the fallacy of believing that Cernunnos is a Celtic god that dies at the Winter Solstice (Yule) and is reborn at Beltain. This is purely Wiccan, and I have found no evidence for this outside of Wicca, no matter how many Wiccan books reference eachother and Murray’s works (It’s like a book of the Bible referencing other books of the Bible. That’s what we call “Circular Logic, kids!). Yule is also an Anglo-Saxon/Germanic holiday, and there isn’t any evidence that the Celts acknowledged the Winter Solstice (especially in Britain) before the Norman invasion.
Second, I will repeat, Cernunnos is a word that was found on a stone that might be considered an altar. The words meaning is purely speculative. So, to state that Cernunnos is a horned god as objective fact when it’s just speculation isn’t just wrong, it’s lying. The truth is: We don’t know what or who of when “Cernunnos” is, and to say that the pictures on the caves of the horned beings were also Cernunnos is also wrong and lying, because we have no idea what, or if, those people worshipped back then!
And again with the Gundestrup Cauldron. Oi.
I guess what it all comes down to is this: Armchair/Speculative Archeology pisses me off when it is presented as objective fact, which it often is in the Wiccan community. It’s a rare Wiccan, indeed, who will tell you that, “This is a modern religion. We just don’t know what people did 35,000 years ago.” Most would be more than happy to let you know that their religion predates that yucky Christian religion by millennia, and that they worship Aradia and her consort Cernunnos, the ancient Gods of the Celtic Iberians or some other such nonsense. It also makes me wonder, not just about Cernunnos, but about the gods that do have verifiable pagan references, and what information has been mutated about them. I remember reading in “To Ride a Silver Broomstick” that Freyja is a goddess of the Moon and wife of Odin. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Frigga is the wife of Odin, and Freyja has a husband named Od who disappeared when he found out of her infidelity while acquiring Brisingamin. Mani is the God of the moon in Norse mythology.
Really, what it comes down to, is just because everyone is parroting everyone else in the pagan community, it doesn’t mean that what they’re saying is right. Please, think about what you’re reading, and don’t buy cheesy Wiccan books unless you plan on writing articles about how stupid they are, or having a good laugh. Spending your money on fattening fast food would probably be better for you. After all, better to have an intelligent short life than a long and moronic one.
More Information Provided by Robin Artisson
The word "Cernunnos" just means "(The) Horned One" in Latin.
In Europe, Many, many "primal father" type Gods were associated with either horned beasts, or were depicted with full-blown horns (Pan, Dionysos, Govannon, and various divine figures from Celtia, as well as Woden and Frey).
To say that there was this one horned God named "Cernunnos" is spurious. It's nothing more than a descriptive title for this KIND of God- an "All Father" figure. It is also more speculation to say that he had this annual relationship with some "Goddess".
Some Toutal Father Gods did have a sacrificial relationship with Goddesses that represented the Land- Llew and Blodeuwedd, for example.
But the "Cernunnos" mythology that has sprung up is kind of silly, because it is certainly an over-simplification.
Woden was a master of the Wild Hunt, as the Wild Hunter (Wutanes Heer). The figure of "Herne" and Woden are thought to be the same- the evidence is good.
"Cernunnos" is a latinized continental version of "Herne"- "Cern" becomes "Hern" in the isles because that "C" noise is more like the "CH" from "Loch", and is resolved into a "H" noise, and the Latin "-unnos" ending is taken off, so that "Herne" now means simply "Horned", and not "The Horned One". But it is the same name.
"Cernunnos" then does reflect the Indo-European "All Father", and so does "Herne", but in a rather darker form, a form of the Underworld and Mysteries, and not just "Green Life and Fertility" that people associate with "Horned God."
Also, the "Cernunnos" from the Gundestrap Cauldron is a Horned Man; it is probably a divine figure, considering how similar it looks to further east (and even Indian) depictions of Horned Gods such as Siva. But the figure on the Cauldron is only called "Cernunnos" because he has Horns, and that is simply what "Cernunnos" means.
The Great World-Father of Nature is almost universally depicted with Horns; he is the key to most Pagan spirituality; to refer to him simply as "The Horned One" is not exactly a profound statement to make- it's just a simple descriptive name. It would be the same as calling your sun god "The Bright One." It's less of a proper name than most people think. The ACTUAL name of that Celtic Horned Father was Eochaid Ollothair or (perhaps) Vindonos. In Germania, it would have been Ignvi-Frey (for the world Father) and Woden/Odhr for the Cunning Father.
The thing to remember is that "Cernunnos" isn't really a NAME name, it's a description. Anytime you say, in a prayer, "Oh, Horned One, etc......", your equivalent in ancient Roman Gaul would have said, "Venite, Cernunnos...". The problem is to say that Cernunnos is a proper name for the "pan European Horned God", which is the real fallacy. Any god with Horns could have been Called Cernunnos, but that doesn't mean that Cernunnos WAS the God with Horns.