Cernunnos is the conventional epithet given in Celtic studies to depictions of the horned god of Celtic polytheism. Over 50 examples of horned-god imagery have been found from the Gallo-Roman period, mostly in north-eastern Gaul as well as among the Celtiberians. The deity is depicted with antlers, seated cross-legged, and is associated with stags, horned serpents, dogs, bulls, and rats. He is usually holding or wearing a torc.
Due to the lack of surviving literature, details about the identity of the deity; his name, his followers, or his significance in Celtic religion are unknown. Interpretations of his role vary from seeing him as a god of animals, nature and fertility to a god of travel, commerce and bi-directionality.
The name Cernunnos is used by convention to describe inscriptions bearing the horned god motif, though the original use of the name is only clearly attested once. The name or names of the figures portrayed in the diverse depictions of horned gods is unknown. It is widely accepted by Celtic philologists that "Cernunnos" may be a local epithet for another deity.
Name and etymology
"Cernunnos" is widely believed by Celticists to be an obscure epithet of a better attested Gaulish deity; perhaps the God described in the interpretatio Romana as Silvanus or Dis Pater, which are considered to share the horned God's woodland and chthonic attributes. The name has only appeared once in writing, when it was inscribed on the Nautae Parisiaci (the sailors of the Parisii, who were a tribe of Gauls).
The Proto-Celtic form of the theonym is reconstructed as either *Cerno-on-os[dubious ] or *Carno-on-os. The augmentative -on- is characteristic of theonyms, as in Maponos, Epona, Matronae, and Sirona. 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).
The Gaulish word karnon "horn" is cognate with Latin cornu and Germanic *hurnaz, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *k̑r̥no-. 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. The root also appears in the names of Celtic polities, most prominent among them the Carnutes, meaning something like "the Horned Ones," and in several personal names found in inscriptions.
The name has also been compared to a divine epithet Carnonos in a Celtic inscription written in Greek characters at Montagnac, Hérault (as καρνονου, karnonou, in the dative case). A Gallo-Latin adjective carnuātus, "horned", is also found.
The Nautae Parisiaci monument was probably constructed by Gaulish sailors in 14 CE. 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.
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.
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 read Deo Ceruninco, "to the God Cerunincos", assumed to be the same deity. The Gaulish inscription from Montagnac 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).
The god labelled [C]ernunnos on the Pillar of the Boatmen is depicted with stag's antlers, both having torcs hanging from them. The lower part of the relief is lost, but the dimensions suggest that the god was sitting cross-legged, providing a direct parallel to the antlered figure on the Gundestrup cauldron.
In spite of the name Cernunnos being attested nowhere else, it is commonly used in Celtological literature as describing all comparable depictions of horned/antlered deities.
This Cernunnos type in Celtic iconography is often portrayed with a stag and the ram-horned serpent. Less frequently, there are bulls (at Rheims), dogs and rats. 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" who seems to be seated in a manner that suggests traditional shamans who were often depicted surrounded by animals. 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.
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. The antlered human figure has been dated as early as the 7th century BCE or as late as the 4th. Two godesses 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. An antlered child appears on a relief from Vendeuvres, flanked by serpents and holding a purse and a torc. 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."
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. 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. While Cernunnos was never assimilated, scholars have sometimes compared him functionally to Greek and Roman divine figures such as Mercury, Actaeon, specialized forms of Jupiter, and Dis Pater, the latter of whom Julius Caesar said was considered the ancestor of the Gauls.
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 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.
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." 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
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.
Neopaganism and Wicca
In Wicca and other forms of Neopaganism a Horned God is revered; this divinity syncretises a number of horned or antlered gods from various cultures, including Cernunnos. The Horned God reflects the seasons of the year in an annual cycle of life, death and rebirth.
References in modern culture
- The American television series "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" features Kernunnos as a major villain during its fifth season. He is manipulating the demigoddess, Morrigan, by holding her daughter captive.
- The French-Belgian TV thriller Zone Blanche features Cernunnos, who protects the forest from humans, hoards treasure, and revives dead characters to life.
- The German/Austrian TV thriller with supernatural streaks Der Pass features Cernunnos.
- The psychedelic downtempo group Dub Trees (fronted by Youth [Martin Glover]) produced an album in 2016 entitled The Cerronnos Dub Rituals EP wherein Celtic Galician and Summerian pipes are used.
- The Argentinian folk metal band Cernunnos was named as a tribute of this god and one of the songs of its first album Leaves of Blood is also named "Cernunnos".
- The comic series Sláine features an incarnation of the Horned God Carnun (based on the Gaulish deity Cernunnos).
- Cernunnos is also featured in the third-person MOBA, SMITE, classified as a Hunter.
- The band Heilung's 2019 album "Futha" displays art representing Cernunnos in several places, including a female version of the Gundestrup Cauldron Cernunnos on the art for the song "Norupo", called Cernunina, as "Futha" represents a feminine counterpart to the band's 2015 album "Ofnir".
- The Etrian Odyssey video game series features Cernunnos as a boss character. He appears in Etrian Odyssey, its remake, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, and Etrian Odyssey Nexus.
- In the Dawn comic series by J. Michael Linsner, Cernunnos is the last of the Elder Gods and is the god of death and change. He is married to Aurora (aka Dawn), of the younger gods who is the goddess of birth and rebirth. Together Aurora and Cernunnos complete the cycle of birth, change, death and rebirth.
- Abbots Bromley Horn Dance
- Celtic polytheism
- Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism
- Green Man
- Herne the Hunter
- Horned God
- 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.
- Green, Miranda, Celtic Art, Reading the Messages, p. 147, 1996, The Everyman Art Library, ISBN 0-297-83365-0
- Green, Miranda (1992). Animals in Celtic Life and Myth. Routledge. pp. 227–8. https://ceisiwrserith.com/therest/Cernunnos/cernunnospaper.htm
- Anne Ross. (1967, 1996). Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition. Academy Chicago Publishers.
- Breviary, A. (2005). "Celticism". In Kock, John T. (ed.). Celtic Culture : A Historical Encyclopedia. 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 396. ISBN 978-1851094400.
- Delamarre, citing M. Lejeune, Lepontica (Paris 1971), p. 325.
- Bernard Maier, Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture (Alfred Kröner, 1994; Boydell, 2000), p. 69 online.
- Pokorny (1959) "k̑er-, k̑erə-; k̑rā-, k̑erei-, k̑ereu" Archived 2014-03-07 at the Wayback Machine
- 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.
- Also Carni and Carnonacae.
- Such as Carnarus, Carnatus, Carneolus, Carnius and Carnicus; Altay Coşkun with Jürgen Zeidler, "'Cover Names' and Nomenclature in Late Roman Gaul: The Evidence of the Bordelaise Poet Ausonius" (2003), p. 33.
- Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (Éditions Errance, 2003), pp. 106–107.
- Equivalent to Latin cornutus, "horned"; Delamarre, citing J. Vendryes, Revue Celtique 42 (1925) 221–222.
- Based on the inscription (CIL XIII. 03026), on the accession of the emperor Tiberius.
- A. Kingsley Porter, "A Sculpture at Tandragee," Burlington Magazine 65 (1934), p. 227, pointing out the relative maturation of the antlers.
- 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
- AE 1987, 0772 = AE 1989, 00542.
- RIG 1, number G-224.
- Delamarre, Dictionnaire pp. 38–39. See also Pierre-Yves Lambert, La langue gauloise (Éditions Errance, 2003), pp. 53 and 58.
- Green, Miranda (2003-10-03). Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art. Routledge. ISBN 9781134893942.
- Koch, John T. (2006). Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia. Vol. 1-. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781851094400.
- Green, Miranda (2011-09-30). Gods of the Celts. The History Press. ISBN 9780752468112.
- Green, Miranda (1992) Animals in Celtic Life and Myth, p. 228.
- Aldhouse-Green, Miranda J. (2010). Caesar's Druids: story of an ancient priesthood. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 86. ISBN 9780300165883. OCLC 808346501.
- Fickett-Wilbar, David (2003). "Cernunnos: Looking a Different Way". Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium. 23: 80–111. ISSN 1545-0155. JSTOR 25660728.
- Webster, "Creolizing the Roman Provinces," p. 221, especially note 103.
- Anne Ross, "Chain Symbolism in Pagan Celtic Religion," Speculum 34 (1959), p. 42.
- 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.
- Webster, "Creolizing the Roman Provinces," p. 221.
- 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.
- David M. Robinson and Elizabeth Pierce Belgen, "Archaeological Notes and Discussions," American Journal of Archaeology 41 (1937), p. 132.
- Phyllis Fray Bober, "Cernunnos: Origin and Transformation of a Celtic Divinity," American Journal of Archaeology 55 (1951), p. 15ff.
- Porter, A Sculpture at Tandragee, p. 227.
- John Koch. (2006) Cernunnos [in] Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, p. 396. ABC-Clio.
- 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..
- Mac Cana, Proinsias (1973) . Celtic Mythology. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited. pp. 47–8. ISBN 0-600-00647-6.
- Farrar, Stewart & Janet, Eight Sabbats for Witches
- The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 52-53
- "Dub Trees - The Cerronnos Dub Rituals EP, by Dub Trees". Liquid Sound Design. Retrieved 2019-10-31.
- "HEILUNG - CERNUNINA FUTHA - FLAG". Season of Mist Shop. Retrieved 2 June 2020.
- "Is the Gundestrup Cauldron an Authentic Celtic Artifact?": A possibly ancient depiction of the Horned God