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The Cernunnos-type antlered figure or horned god, on the Gundestrup Cauldron, on display, at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen

In ancient Celtic and Gallo-Roman religion, Cernunnos or Carnonos is a god depicted with antlers, seated cross-legged, and is associated with stags, horned serpents, dogs and bulls. He is usually shown holding or wearing a torc and sometimes holding a bag of coins (or grain) and a cornucopia.[1] He is believed to have originally been a Proto-Celtic God. There are more than fifty depictions and inscriptions referring to him, mainly in the north-eastern region of Gaul.

Name and etymology


The Gaulish form of the name Cernunnos is Karnonos, from the stem karnon which means "horn" or "antler," suffixed with the augmentative -no- is characteristic of theonyms. Karnon is cognate with Latin cornu and Germanic *hurnaz, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *k̑r̥no-[2][3]

The etymon karn- "horn" appears in both Gaulish and Galatian branches of Continental Celtic. Hesychius of Alexandria glosses the Galatian word karnon (κάρνον) as "Gallic trumpet", that is, the Celtic military horn listed as the carnyx (κάρνυξ) by Eustathius of Thessalonica, who notes the instrument's animal-shaped bell.[4] The root also appears in the names of Celtic polities, most prominent among them the Carnutes, meaning something like "the Horned Ones",[5] and in several personal names found in inscriptions.[6]

Maier (2010) states that the etymology of Cernunnos is unclear, but seems to be rooted in the Celtic word for "horn" or "antler" (as in Carnonos).[7]

"Cernunnos" is believed by some Celticists to be an obscure epithet of a better attested Gaulish deity; perhaps the god described in the interpretatio Romana as Mercury or Dis Pater,[8] which are considered to share Cernunnos's psychopomp or chthonic associations. The name has only appeared once with an image, when it was inscribed on the Nautae Parisiaci (the sailors of the Parisii, who were a tribe of Gauls).[9] Otherwise, variations of the name Cernunnos has also been found in a Celtic inscription written in Greek characters at Montagnac, Hérault (as καρνονου, karnonou, in the dative case).[10] A Gallo-Latin adjective carnuātus, "horned", is also found.[11]

Epigraphic evidence


Due to the lack of surviving Gaulish literature regarding mythologies about Cernunnos, stories with various possible epithets he might have had, or information regarding religious practices and followers, his overall significance in Gaulish religious traditions is unknown. Interpretations of his role within Gaulish culture vary from a god of animals, nature, fertility and prosperity to a symbol of authority, strength, unyielding endurance and virility; he has also been portrayed as a god of travel, commerce and bi-directionality; or associated with crossroads, the underworld and reincarnation, symbolizing the cycle of life and death.[12] The only evidence which has survived consists of inscriptions found on various artifacts.

The Nautae Parisiaci monument was probably constructed by Gaulish sailors in 14 CE.[13] It was discovered in 1710 within the foundations of the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, site of ancient Lutetia, the civitas capital of the Celtic Parisii. It is now displayed in the Musée National du Moyen Age in Paris.[14] The distinctive stone pillar is an important monument of Gallo-Roman religion. Its low reliefs depict and label by name several Roman deities such as Jupiter, Vulcan, and Castor and Pollux, along with Gallic deities such as Esus, Smertrios, and Tarvos Trigaranus. The name Cernunnos can be read clearly on 18th century drawings of the inscriptions, but the initial letter has been obscured since, so that today only a reading "[_]ernunnos" can be verified.[15]

Additional evidence is given by one inscription on a metal plaque from Steinsel-Rëlent in Luxembourg, in the territory of the Celtic Treveri. This inscription[16] read Deo Ceruninco, "to the God Cerunincos", assumed to be the same deity.[citation needed] The Gaulish inscription from Montagnac[17] reads αλλετ[ει]νος καρνονου αλ[ι]σο[ντ]εας (Alletinos [dedicated this] to Carnonos of Alisontea), with the last word possibly a place name based on Alisia, "service-tree" or "rock" (compare Alesia, Gaulish Alisiia).[18]


Cernunnos on the Pillar of the Boatmen, from the Musée national du Moyen Âge (Museum of the Middle Ages), in Paris, France.

On the Pillar of the Boatmen, we find an image depicted with stag's antlers, both having torcs hanging from them with the inscription of "[C]ernunnos" with it. The lower part of the relief is lost, but the dimensions suggest that the god was sitting cross-legged, in the depiction traditionally called "Buddhic posture",[19] providing a direct parallel to the antlered figure on the Gundestrup cauldron.[20]

Iconography associated with Cernunnos is often portrayed with a stag and the ram-horned serpent. Less frequently, there are bulls (at Rheims), dogs and rats.[21] Because of the image of him on the Gundestrup Cauldron, some scholars describe Cernunnos as the Lord of the Animals or the Lord of Wild Things, and Miranda Green describes him as a "peaceful god of nature and fruitfulness"[22] who seems to be seated in a manner that suggests traditional shamans who were often depicted surrounded by animals.[23] Other academics such as Ceisiwr Serith describes Cernunnos as a god of bi-directionality and mediator between opposites, seeing the animal symbolism in the artwork reflecting this idea.[24]

The Pilier des nautes links him with sailors and with commerce, suggesting that he was also associated with material wealth as does the coin pouch from the Cernunnos of Rheims (Marne, Champagne, France)—in antiquity, Durocortorum, the civitas capital of the Remi tribe—and the stag vomiting coins from Niedercorn-Turbelslach (Luxembourg) in the lands of the Treveri. The god may have symbolized the fecundity of the stag-inhabited forest.

Other examples of Cernunnos imagery include a petroglyph in Val Camonica in Cisalpine Gaul.[9][25] The antlered human figure has been dated as early as the 7th century BCE or as late as the 4th.[25] Two goddesses with antlers appear at Besançon and Clermont-Ferrand, France. An antlered god appears on a relief in Cirencester, Britain dated to Roman times and appears depicted on a coin from Petersfield, Hampshire.[9] An antlered child appears on a relief from Vendeuvres, flanked by serpents and holding a purse and a torc.[26] The best known image appears on the Gundestrup cauldron found on Jutland, dating to the 1st century BCE, thought to depict Celtic subject matter though usually regarded as of Thracian workmanship.

Among the Celtiberians, horned or antlered figures of the Cernunnos type include a "Janus-like" god from Candelario (Salamanca) with two faces and two small horns; a horned god from the hills of Ríotinto (Huelva); and a possible representation of the deity Vestius Aloniecus near his altars in Lourizán (Pontevedra). The horns are taken to represent "aggressive power, genetic vigor and fecundity."[27]

Divine representations of the Cernunnos type are exceptions to the often-expressed view that the Celts only began to picture their gods in human form after the Roman conquest of Gaul.[28] The Celtic "horned god", while well attested in iconography, cannot be identified in description of Celtic religion in Roman ethnography and does not appear to have been given any interpretatio romana, perhaps due to being too distinctive to be translatable into the Roman pantheon.[29] While Cernunnos was never assimilated, scholars have sometimes compared him functionally to Greek and Roman divine figures such as Mercury,[30] Actaeon, specialized forms of Jupiter, and Dis Pater, of whom the last-named was said by Julius Caesar to have been considered by the Gauls to be their ancestor.[31]

A medieval illustration depicting Jesus' descent into limbo. Jesus reaches out towards three figures emerging from the threshold of limbo. The Celtic deity Cernunnos sits behind the threshold.
Depiction of Cernunnos in the Stuttgart Psalter

An image of Cernunnos survives in the Stuttgart Psalter, a 9th century Christian manuscript. The god is recognizably depicted with cross-legged posture, horns, and a ram-headed serpent. He sits in an arcaded niche of hades within the Descent into Limbo scene. This later image is a representation of Cernunnos as lord of the underworld, firmly planted in the funerary sphere.[15]

Possible reflexes in Insular Celtic


There have been attempts to find the cern root in the name of Conall Cernach, the foster brother of the Irish hero Cuchulainn[32] in the Ulster Cycle. In this line of interpretation, Cernach is taken as an epithet with a wide semantic field—"angular; victorious; prominent," though there is little evidence that the figures of Conall and Cernunnos are related.[33]

A brief passage involving Conall in an eighth-century story entitled Táin Bó Fraích ("The Cattle Raid on Fraech") has been taken as evidence that Conall bore attributes of a "master of beasts."[8] In this passage Conall Cernach is portrayed as a hero and mighty warrior who assists the protagonist Fraech in rescuing his wife and son, and reclaiming his cattle. The fort that Conall must penetrate is guarded by a mighty serpent. The supposed anti-climax of this tale is when the fearsome serpent, instead of attacking Conall, darts to Conall's waist and girdles him as a belt. Rather than killing the serpent, Conall allows it to live, and then proceeds to attack and rob the fort of its great treasures the serpent previously protected.

The figure of Conall Cernach is not associated with animals or forestry elsewhere; and the epithet "Cernach" has historically been explained as a description of Conall's impenetrable "horn-like" skin which protected him from injury.

Possible connection to Saint Ciarán

God of Etang-sur-Arroux, a possible depiction of Cernunnos. He wears a torc at the neck and on the chest. Two snakes with ram heads encircle him at the waist. Two cavities at the top of his head are probably designed to receive deer antlers. Two small human faces at the back of his head indicate that he is tricephalic. Musée d'Archéologie Nationale (National Archaeological Museum), in France.
Rock carving of an antlered figure in the National park of Naquane, Italy.[34]

Some see the qualities of Cernunnos subsumed into the life of Saint Ciarán of Saighir, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. When he was building his first tiny cell, as his hagiography goes, his first disciple and monk was a boar that had been rendered gentle by God. This was followed by a fox, a badger, a wolf and a stag.[35]

Neopaganism and Wicca


Within Neopaganism, specifically the Wiccan tradition, the Horned God is a deity that is believed to be the equal to the Great Goddess and syncretizes various horned or antlered gods from various cultures. The name Cernunnos became associated with the Wiccan Horned God through the adoption of the writings of Margaret Murray, an Egyptologist and folklorist of the early 20th century. Murray, through her Witch-cult hypothesis, believed that the various horned deities found in Europe were expressions of a "proto-horned god" and in 1931 published her theory in The God of the Witches. Her work was considered highly controversial at the time, but was adopted by Gerald Gardner in his development of the religious movement of Wicca.[36]

Within the Wiccan tradition, the Horned God reflects the seasons of the year in an annual cycle of life, death and rebirth and his imagery is a blend of the Gaulish god Cernunnos, the Greek god Pan, The Green Man motif, and various other horned spirit imagery.[37][38]

  • Cernunnos is featured in both Marvel Comics and DC Comics as a member of the Celtic pantheon.
  • Cernunnos is a playable hunter as the second of the Celtic gods to arrive in Smite.
  • In the French production Black Spot Cernunnos is referred to frequently as the woodsman.
  • The antagonist in the video game Perennial is an antlered forest monster, based on Cernunnos, who is turning park visitors into trees.[39]
  • Cernunnos is listed as the first playable god in the prologue chapter of the computer game "These Doomed Isles".
  • Cernunnos can be seen dancing during the end credits of season 2 episode 2 of Nathan Head's series Apparitions,[40] here he is played by Benjamin Reilly.[41]
  • Cernunnos is featured in the mobile game Fate/Grand Order as a boss enemy.
  • In the SCP Foundation, Cernunnos class objects are objects which "can be functionally contained, but the Foundation cannot achieve this for logistical and/or ethical reasons."[42]
  • In The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott (Irish author), Cernunnos appears in the second book as an Archon, one of many kinds of elder deities.

See also



  • Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) volume 13, number 03026
  • Delmarre, Xavier (2003). Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (2nd ed.). Paris: Editions Errance. ISBN 2-87772-237-6.
  • Lejeune, Michel (1995). Recueil des inscriptions gauloises (RIG) volume 1, Textes gallo-grecs. Paris: Editions du CNRS.
  • Nussbaum, Alan J. (1986). Head and Horn in Indo-European. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-010449-0.
  • Porkorny, Julius (1959). Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Berlin: Franke Verlag.


  1. ^ Green, Miranda, Celtic Art, Reading the Messages, p. 147, 1996, The Everyman Art Library, ISBN 0-297-83365-0
  2. ^ Delamarre, Xavier (2003). Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise : une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique continental [Dictionary of the Gaulish Language: A Linguistic Approach to Continental Old Celtic] (in French). Paris, France: Éditions Errance. p. 106. ISBN 978-2-877-72237-7.
  3. ^ Pokorny (1959) "k̑er-, k̑erə-; k̑rā-, k̑erei-, k̑ereu"[1] Archived 2014-03-07 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Delamarre; Greek text and English translation of the passage from Eustathius' Homeric commentaries given by Edward Wigan, "Account of a Collection of Roman Gold Coins", Numismatic Chronicle 5 (1865), p. 11 online. Archived 2023-07-19 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Also Carni and Carnonacae.
  6. ^ Such as Carnarus, Carnatus, Carneolus, Carnius, and Carnicus. Altay Coşkun and Jürgen Zeidler, "'Cover Names' and Nomenclature in Late Roman Gaul: The Evidence of the Bordelaise Poet Ausonius" (2003), p. 33.
  7. ^ Bernard Maier, Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture Archived 2023-07-19 at the Wayback Machine (Alfred Kröner, 1994; Boydell, 2000), p. 69.
  8. ^ a b Anne Ross. (1967, 1996). Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition. Academy Chicago Publishers.
  9. ^ a b c Breviary, A. (2005). "Celticism". In Kock, John T. (ed.). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 396. ISBN 978-1851094400. Archived from the original on 5 June 2023. Retrieved 17 March 2021.
  10. ^ Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (Éditions Errance, 2003), pp. 106–107.
  11. ^ Equivalent to Latin cornutus, "horned"; Delamarre, citing J. Vendryes, Revue Celtique 42 (1925) 221–222.
  12. ^ Green, Miranda (1992). Animals in Celtic Life and Myth. Routledge. pp. 227–8. https://ceisiwrserith.com/therest/Cernunnos/cernunnospaper.htm Archived 2019-08-21 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Based on the inscription (CIL XIII. 03026), on the accession of the emperor Tiberius.
  14. ^ A. Kingsley Porter, "A Sculpture at Tandragee," Burlington Magazine 65 (1934), p. 227, pointing out the relative maturation of the antlers.
  15. ^ a b Phyllis Fray Bober, Cernunnos: Origin and Transformation of a Celtic Divinity, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Jan., 1951), pp. 13-51 https://www.jstor.org/stable/501179 Archived 2017-02-07 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ AE 1987, 0772 = AE 1989, 00542.
  17. ^ RIG 1, number G-224.
  18. ^ Delamarre, Dictionnaire pp. 38–39. See also Pierre-Yves Lambert, La langue gauloise (Éditions Errance, 2003), pp. 53 and 58.
  19. ^ Blázquez Martínez, J. M. (1957). Una réplica desconocida al Cernunnos de Val Camonica: el Cernunnos de Numancia. Revue d'Études Ligures, 23, fasc. 3-4, 1957, pp. 294-298.
  20. ^ Green, Miranda (3 October 2003). Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art. Routledge. ISBN 9781134893942.
  21. ^ Green, Miranda (30 September 2011). Gods of the Celts. The History Press. ISBN 9780752468112.
  22. ^ Green, Miranda (1992) Animals in Celtic Life and Myth, p. 228.
  23. ^ Aldhouse-Green, Miranda J. (2010). Caesar's Druids: story of an ancient priesthood. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 86. ISBN 9780300165883. OCLC 808346501.
  24. ^ Fickett-Wilbar, David (2003). "Cernunnos: Looking a Different Way". Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium. 23: 80–111. ISSN 1545-0155. JSTOR 25660728.
  25. ^ a b Webster, "Creolizing the Roman Provinces," p. 221, especially note 103.
  26. ^ Anne Ross, "Chain Symbolism in Pagan Celtic Religion," Speculum 34 (1959), p. 42.
  27. ^ Francisco Marco Simón, "Religion and Religious Practices of the Ancient Celts of the Iberian Peninsula," e-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies 6 (2005), p. 310.
  28. ^ Webster, "Creolizing the Roman Provinces," p. 221.
  29. ^ Jane Webster, "Creolizing the Roman Provinces," American Journal of Archaeology 105 (2001), p. 222; distinctiveness of Cernunnos also in William Van Andringa, "Religions and the Integration of Cities in the Empire in the Second Century AD: The Creation of a Common Religious Language," in A Companion to Roman Religion (Blackwell, 2007), pp. 87–88.
  30. ^ David M. Robinson and Elizabeth Pierce Belgen, "Archaeological Notes and Discussions," American Journal of Archaeology 41 (1937), p. 132.
  31. ^ Phyllis Fray Bober, "Cernunnos: Origin and Transformation of a Celtic Divinity," American Journal of Archaeology 55 (1951), p. 15ff.
  32. ^ Porter, A Sculpture at Tandragee, p. 227.
  33. ^ John Koch. (2006) Cernunnos [in] Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, p. 396. ABC-Clio.
  34. ^ Umberto Sansoni-Silvana Gavaldo, L'arte rupestre del Pià d'Ort: la vicenda di un santuario preistorico alpino, p. 156; "Ausilio Priuli, Piancogno su "Itinera"" (in Italian). Archived from the original on 6 May 2006. Retrieved 2 April 2009..
  35. ^ Mac Cana, Proinsias (1973) [1970]. Celtic Mythology. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited. pp. 47–8. ISBN 0-600-00647-6.
  36. ^ "Forced into the Fringe: Margaret Murray's Witch-Cult Hypothesis". 21 April 2017. Archived from the original on 19 July 2023. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  37. ^ Farrar, Stewart & Janet, Eight Sabbats for Witches
  38. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 52-53
  39. ^ "Perennial – A Free Bite-Sized Horror Game Worth Playing". The Daily SPUF. 7 September 2021. Archived from the original on 18 June 2023. Retrieved 18 June 2023.
  40. ^ "Apparitions". Retrieved 19 February 2024.
  41. ^ "Let's all be Fairies (2022)". IMDb.
  42. ^ "A Comprehensive List of Esoteric Classes". Archived from the original on 13 October 2023. Retrieved 15 October 2023.