Essay: Sex and Death: The Lessons of Cernunnos

Cernunnos is an enigmatic and somewhat elusive deity. It can be hard to know Him, and I personally found it very hard to connect with him at first. The reasons are two fold. First off there is almost no surviving lore about him. At best we have a name and a smattering of images across Europe that may or may not be related. Secondly and similarly, I find that practically no one talks about him on the web or elsewhere or relates their own experience with him. For these reasons I wanted to dedicate this essay to explaining my own work with him and some insights I’ve come to as a result of that work. Please note this is entirely my own UPG, and should be taken as such.

Cernunnos is a deity whose basic nature can be summed up in two words: Sex and Death. Most people will know him as the Horned God of Wicca. Originally, as put forth by Gerald Gardner, Wicca was a religion of sex and death and thus he was a perfect choice of patron. Also a theory shared by some of the modern day devotees of Vanir (a tribe of Gods once again connected to sex and death) considers Him to be a deep ancestral progenitor to the Vanir tribe, and evidence of His current and blood can be seen in many of the these Gods. The beginning of life from conception to the end of it (and everything in between). These are the powerful forces which are made manifest in this God. My own experiences with him have taught me this, and have changed me in many ways (and continue to do so).

First off although I am a hard polytheist, working with Cernunnos has softened me up around the edges a bit. While I experience him as an individual, he has also given me to know that he is indeed made up of a magnitude of multiplicities. Thus both views of him as portrayed in hard and soft polytheism, in my opinion, are correct. This is one of his mysteries to be solved by the individual devotee to his or her own satisfaction. This can make it hard to connect with him at first, and was one of my biggest stumbling blocks. It made him seem less personable to me. There is a sense of ancientness about him. He has been with man since we first became aware of the divine, and yet he wholly understand out modern needs. Cernunnos is a God of enigmas and seemingly contrasting opposites and no amount of pigeon-holing him as “God of” anything will hold up to much scrutiny.

He comes to me personally as both compassionate and stern. Our very first interactions revolved around him chastising me for being too willing to follow in the footsteps of others and not defining my own path enough, much like a father would a son. A stern reprimand, born out of love, but stinging none the less. This is a lesson he drilled into me from the very beginning of our relationship. He is also very clear and matter of fact in his answers when I seek him out for divination. It does matter if it is something you want to hear or not, he will tell you what you need to hear. He is an excellent councilor if you can take the heat! He is not one to pull punches.

He is intricately connected to the land and the land spirits. To work with him is to accept the fact that he will be inviting spirits of all sorts into your life and you will have to learn how to listen and communicate with them as well. I have come to the conclusion that they are somewhat of a package deal.

Being a deity connected to the land, I personally believe he is heavily connected to the European landscape. I think this is why it was so hard for me to reach him here in the States. It is entirely possible to do so, but I think those of us in the States may have a harder time of it than someone who lives on the land where he has been invoked for centuries. It just takes more work, but the work is well worth the effort. We tend to forget that in relative terms he has only been worshiped in the United States in any substantial form manner for just under four decades. Compared to the rich deep history of his homeland this is but a fraction of a second to him. However that is changing, and as more voices here raise themselves in his worship, his presence in these new lands becomes stronger.

He embodies all aspects of nature, both light and dark. This includes humans. All too often I see the attitude that humans are not included in “pure nature” but somehow separate from it. As such he is both civilized and wholly wild. I see this best illustrated when I invoke him at my indoor shrine versus in the wild. Indoors I tend to get “civilized” Cernunnos, who interacts with me in a very human and compassionate manner, fully aware of the complexities of modern life. When I invoke him in the wild it is entirely different. His arrival is heralded by a sense of pure, want to tear your skin off, painful, eroticism. Cernunnos is both life and death, and this is very basis of Life itself. In this form he is the rutting stag, life force pure and vital. For this reason I personally consider him to be a God of ecstasy, and although we can never know for certain I’d be willing to bet there was an ecstatic component to his historical rites. As I’ve mentioned before, although they are not the same God, I sense a bit of Dionysos in Cernunnos (and no I have no idea how that works. I’ll leave that to the philosophers which I am most decidedly not).

He is also a God of the underworld, and as such connected with death as well. Nature is both harsh and blind. Many of us intellectually know this, but don’t really comprehend it in our cement paved, sanitized, air-conditioned world. There is an example I would like to share: A few weekends ago I was working in the garden with my wife and father-in-law on his land. As I sat, planning life bearing seeds into the rich soil, the warmth of the sun hitting my skin and hands in the dark Earth, I felt particularly… “pagan” for lack of a better world.

I though of Cernunnos and asked him to teach me that I may learn more of his mysteries (the more experienced among you may be laughing at my naïveté). Not more than a few moments later I heard a chorus of tiny little screams as my border collie flushed out a nest of baby rabbits. They scattered, and before we were able to stop him two lay wounded, one with a broken back and the other practically eviscerated.

My father-in-law, the veteran farmer that he is, nonchalantly directed us to a water basin with instructions to drown them. Knowing that it was a mercy did not make it any easier as I had to extinguish the life from those furry little broken bodies. I felt the heavy presence of The Horned One in his guise as lord of death thick in the air around me. For someone who is essentially an “animal lover” this was one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn. Throughout the rest of the day I was reminded of this lesson as the calm was punctuated with even more tiny screams when the local hawks picked off the rest of the bunnies who had scattered out of the nest. Yes Cernunnos decided to teach me his mysteries that day, though it was not an easy lesson to learn.

The lessons of the horned one are not easy. While he is compassionate he is also equally as cruel as nature itself and it would be wise not to forget it. This is not a God who will be sanitized for our easy consumption. He is many things. Loving, yes, but also dark and unforgiving. This is the Lord that I know.

17 Responses to Essay: Sex and Death: The Lessons of Cernunnos

  1. Tiff Whitley says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I’ve been thinking about getting more in touch with Cernunnos and this was just the thing I needed to hear.

  2. Courtney says:

    Much of what I read about Cernunnos says that he is a primarily homosexual deity and most homosexual followers worship him. Is he a god of homosexuality only or is he a god of all sexuality in general? I’m just a little confused. I read a lot of mixed information about him.

    • Rick Derks says:

      Hi Courtney,

      I centanly think that homosexuality is within his sphere of influence, no doubt, but to say he is only a homosexual god would be highly erroneous. There is nothing historical to support that, I would say he is more of a god of all male sexuality, heterosexual and homosexual.

  3. Suvi says:

    This is my main deity and I follow all of its incarnations
    like all great pagan gods – it is deplicted as male, in some instances female and multiple
    I belong to this god of the Woods

  4. Setanaya says:

    I loved your essay Lay of the Horned God, but this really is a perfect description of Cernunnos. As a practitioner on the path, your blog has helped me realize that our personal gnosis is very important. So much of what you have written felt like MY Cernunnos that I was awe struck by the similarities. You may well be the person that inspires me to write my own blog. Thank you for sharing so deeply from your personal experience and you have made my experiences with the Horned One that much more profound. Please keep posting!

    Setanaya~

  5. Kyorla vandree says:

    I love it…. How does one commune with cernunnos.? Ive been trying to and i cant figure it out!

  6. blackmetalvalkyrie says:

    Thank you for this, excellently written. I am a cosmic nihilist and I thought that meant I can’t be a Pagan. Science is cosmic nihilist. It’s just more realistic. “Nature is both harsh and blind” is a very cosmic nihilist statement. Cosmic nihlism disavows intelligibility or value in nature, seeing it as indifferent or hostile to human concerns. I disagree with you that modern people can’t under this though. Anyone who has lived in poverty or experienced disability that can’t be treated because it is poorly understood knows how hostile and indifferent nature is. I also wanted to recommend you an album that this post reminded me of Evocation I – The Arcane Dominion by Eluveitie it even has a picture of Cernunnos as the cover art. They are folk metal and sometimes sing in Gaulish. Like in this video- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msRy4vcSX4k

  7. john says:

    what a great essay, its really inspiring to read especially for a person like me, who is in two worlds about everything. I am a strong believer in astrology and I was wondering ,I know the horned god is born at the winter solstice which would make him a Sagittarius but by reading this he sounds more of a Scorpio ( the whole association with sex and death). what would you say he is. would I get on with him even know I’m cancer and he is , theoretically a ”Sagittarius”

    • Skyllaros says:

      Thank you John! I’m very glad you liked it. I’m afraid I can’t answer your question though, Astrology is one of those things that I could never quite wrap my mind around in my own practice. I just never had the knack it seems. My best to you though!

  8. Oscar says:

    Thanks for sharing this excellent post. In my search for Cernunnos and Pan God, its the most deep and personal writting I’ve found on the web.
    Please do keep inspiring us. Best wishes!!

  9. thankyou for this essay, i run the Cernunnos camps in the UK and the spoken and may unspoken wresting is familiar! i will share your blog post in our facebook group. Thanks again!

  10. btidwell says:

    I’m a gay man and Cernunnos is my primary deity. I think He is pansexual, but gay men are drawn to him because he is an incarnation of pure maleness. “A sense of pure, want to tear your skin off, painful, eroticism,” describes his presence very well. Sex with Him /in His presence does not come with wine, roses and bubble baths. He is all sweat and animal hunger. Passion driven by need and desire that takes what it wants. I have given myself to Him in BDSM rituals and He blesses me with His presence in moments of tear-stained, sweat soaked, howling, pain induced animalistic ecstacy. On the other hand, he is a loving Father, as well, although always strong and stern, yet generous and kind in his own way. His is not sweet love, though, it is the fierce devotion of an Alpha Male defending His pack.

    When He is near, I feel a deep, ancient, timeless, present-ness. Nature exists in implacable Truth. “Good” and “bad” are human judgements. Life is. Death is. Desire is. Sex is. Pleasure is. Pain is. The turning of the year is. Within it all, Lord Cernunnos is.

  11. Woody Fox says:

    Yes that’s Him! Wonderfully put especially the writing about not sanatising him – some see him as cruel but i feel you’ve really understood Him here.I’ve been a devotee for 16 years now and although sometimes the painful truths are hard to take , i don’t regret a single day of His presence in my life.I too, along with Draeyk run the Cernunnos camp in the UK. I wish you joy on your journey with Cernunnos!

  12. Divination tools or meditation if you can’t do so with telepathy. I heard him say “I’m watching you and I will contact you.” Please don’t confuse watching for stalking, as he is referring to watching over you.

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