Cernunnos’ name comes to us from one source: the Pillar of the Boatman, a first-century carving found in what is now Paris. He is the only named Celtic god on the pillar, which also contains several Roman gods and goddesses. This is the only place in antiquity where his name is placed alongside his image. But it’s not the only place where he’s found. Carvings similar to Cernunnos are found all over France, the British Isles, and places where the Celts lived and migrated through. They always depicted a man or a child with antlers or horns in various stages of growth, with a torque and a purse of coins.
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He’s so prevalent that his name is often given to unnamed horned deities in Celtic regions, from Germany to France to Great Britain and even Ireland. The inclusion of coin is interpreted to mean that he was a god of prosperity, but horns have also long been a symbol of masculine virility and power as well. In some cultures, they even represent men who have been cuckolded by their wives, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Cernunnos. With his antlers, he may also be associated with forests and offers prayers by hunters seeking deer-laden woods and successful hunts.
Modern-day pagans and Wicca celebrate The Horned God even today. Here, he is the masculine side of divinity. He sits alongside, but not opposed to the Goddess. During the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s, he was often compared to images of Satan, but that’s not who Cernunnos is. He’s a protector, maybe even a father-figure. While representative of the wild and the unknown, he is still a king. Even the benevolent Green Man is often seen as a mere aspect of Cernunnos.
So what about his relationship to our modern perceptions of Norse culture? Well, nearly everyone knows by now that the Vikings very likely did not wear horned helmets, but we as a culture still use them as shorthand for Vikings. Where does that come from? Who’s responsible for this misconstrued fact? One guy: Carl Emil Doepler. Carl was the costume designer for Wagner’s 1876 production Der Ring des Nibelugen. You might not have seen Wagner’s famous opera, but you’ve probably seen Bugs Bunny parody it.
Where did Carl get the idea for horned helmets? Ancient Germanic and Celtic art. This probably included Cernunnos. You see, the Celts were migrating across the hills of Germany in the time period when Doepler took his inspiration from, and horned gods were a part of the curriculum.
If you want to build an altar to celebrate Cernunnos, you will need to look to the forest. Male animals, in particular, are his totems, especially the mighty stag looking for a mate. Green is his color and he loves song and dance, so don't sit patiently and wait for him to come to your door. He prefers a wild and raucous party.
Drinking horns are and will always be important to his offerings, so make sure you have a drinking horn stand for yours and something good to put in it. Leaves, moss, and the soil of the forest are also his symbols. Cernunnos is the god of musicians, revelers, dancers, and even couples trying to conceive. If the latter is you, consider some afternoon delight in your local, secluded forest when you call for Cernunnos' blessing. After all, that is his domain.