Sunday, 9 August 2009
The Horned God Archetype
The horned God is an archetype common in many Aryan mythologies, most especially amongst the northern Europeans. The renowned Wotanist Ron McVan writing in his Creed of Iron Wotansvolk Wisdom states "Through anthropological research one can trace the line of horned god prototypes back to Paleolithic times. The earliest known representation of such a figure is found painted on the interior walls of the Caverne des Trois Freres in Ariege, France and dates to the late Paleolithic period. Among an assemblage of animals, a figure of a man is clothed in the skin of a stag and wearing on his head the antlers of a stag. It seems evident from the relative position of all the figures that the man is dominant and that he is in the act of performing a ceremony."
He goes on to state "It is into the Bronze Age when the horned figure flourished again among the Indo-European[Aryan] tribes of Egypt, Mesopotamia and India. Horned gods were quite common in Mesopotamia, as in Babylon and Assyria. The copper head found in the gold tombs of Ur is believed to be earlier than the first Egyptian dynasty, displaying an advanced stage of metal working. When Alexander the Great raised himself above the kings of the earth and declared himself a `god`, he wore a horned head piece as a symbol of his divinity. Polytheism appears to have arisen among the Aryan cultures, East and West, with the amalgamation of tribes, each with its own gods. The horned deities were prevalent throughout Greece and Rome."
Greek mythology has its half man, half bull Minotaur and of course the half human and half goat God Pan.
In Egypt the Goddess Hathor was portrayed with cow`s horns and the God Osiris with the horns of fertility.
However what of the horned Gods of northern Europe? The most prevalent horned deity is Cernunnos. His image dates back as far as 20,000 years ago and was worshipped in pre-christian Gaul. The Gundestrup cauldron from Denmark features a stag-horned God believed to be Cernunnos. The cauldron dates back to the second-first century BCE.
"As a symbol, the stag is of considerable antiquity in the Celtic or proto-Celtic world. For hunters the stag with its tree-like antlers represented the spirit of the forest; its agility, speed and sexual vigour were admired, and there was a mystery in the autumn shedding and regrowth of the antlers in the spring, which could easily symbolise seasonal death and rebirth.
"Stag symbolism is prominent on the Gundestrup Cauldron where the stag-horned god Cernunnos is associated with a stag and where on another plate, a god grasps a stag in each hand.
"In the case of Cernunnos. who is often represented with a stag as well, being antlered himself, one sees the adoption of the animal-attribute perhaps to symbolise the very close and indeed essential rapport between beast and deity."[The Gods of the Celts. Miranda Green].
Cognate with Cernnunos is the name of the God Cerne, whose image as the Cerne Abbas giant lies on Giant Hill above the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset, England. He is renowned for his errect phallus and mighty club. The figure does not have horns but Eric L. Fitch author of In Search of Herne the Hunter speculates that Cerne was once horned and thus further linking him with Cernunnos. He also mentions that the name Cornwall in both its English version and its Cornish[Kernow] refers to "the corner, curved shape or horn-like aspect of the principality itself." He further links the name of Cerne to Herne the Hunter. The Saxon `horn` is cognate with the Latin `cornu`. The letters `h` and `c` are interchangeable between certain Indo-European languages, the `c` often mutating into `h` .
The name Herne can be identified in place-names in Kent and Hampshire. Herne may be derived from the Saxon word `Hyrne` meaning a corner or angle. An alternaive origin for Herne can be traced to `haer` which means a stone or rock and this can be found as a place-name in Bedfordshire. `Cerne` may also be traced back to the Celtic word `cairn`. This is all suggestive of the curvature of the horns or antlers which relate to both Herne and Cernunnos.
"Thus here we see Horn-Herne-Cernunnos-Kernow-Cornu, all aspects of the one theme of the curved horn. It is therefore no surprise to find that a ghostly figure who wears a set of horns or antlers on his head is known by the name of Herne."[In Search of Herne the Hunter].
Herne is linked to the Wild Hunt which is common to all northern European cultures.
"Wild Hunt stories tell of a spectral hunt which courses across country, through forest or across the sky, usually led by some form of demonic personage with an entourage of ghostly horses, hounds, devils, and otherworldly beings. Accompanying the Hunt are all manner of unfortunates. These include unbaptized children, suicides, murderers, adulterers, criminals, blasphemers, witches and freemasons, as well as soldiers, churchmen and courtesans. They are often deformed, with their heads in their chests or facing backwards"[In Search of Herne the Hunter].
In Germanic mythology and folklore the Wild Hunt is led by Odin/Woden/Wotan.
The Wild Hunt in Germanic regions usually occurs during the Twelve Nights of Yuletide on a stormy night. The scholar Hoefler was the first to prove that the legends of the Wild Hunt are "in an exceptional majority reflections of ancient cults of secret societies".[Quoted via Rudolf Simek`s Dictionary of Northern Mythology].
These were Germanic warrior bands and their earliest reference is to be found in Tacitus` Germania: "For their part, the Harii, besides their military might in which they surpass the peoples listed a little above, savage as they are, enhance their inborn ferocity by trickery and timing: their shields are black, their bodies stained, they choose dark nights for battles, and thus inspire terror with their shadowy horror of a ghostly army. None of their enemies can withstand that strange and so to speak hellish sight: for in every battle the eyes are overcome first."[43.4]
"The name `Harri` probably meant something like `warriors` [cf. Gothic harjis, `army`] and presumably had some connection with the battle practices noted here. Many commentators, following the theories of Hoefler, see in this account evidence for the sort of cult group whose memory survived in the widespread Germanic legends about the Wild Hunt, the ghostly riders who ride through the storms during the twelve nights of Yuletide. These would in origin have been bands of warriors dedicated to *Wodenaz as the god of battle fury[Simek]. This theory rests on some striking similarities, but it is impossible to corroborate. Phrases like a `ghostly army` are just as likely to be rhetorical embellishments added by Tacitus; if they are removed, his description would be well suited to a practice of stealth attacks with no particular supernatural associations."[Rives]
Again returning to Ron McVan, "Within the Aryan tradition of the Celts the horn has a long and celebrated lineage. To the Celts horns were a powerful symbol of virility and power. They not only gave their gods horns, but enhanced their chances of success in battle by wearing horned helmets. It was believed that a warrior wearing such headgear would not only stress his own martial and male qualities, but ensure for himself the protection of the deity whose particular attribute they represnted. Kings and priests were, also , horned to indicate their special power. " [Temple of Wotan].
In addition to the Gundestrup Cauldron the long lost Gallehus horns which date to the beginning of the 5th century CE also depicts anthropomorphic figures with horns or antlers.
The Abbot`s Bromley horned dance is still practiced each year on the first Monday after 4th September at Abbot`s Bromley in Staffordshire.