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.

37 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.

    • Drew says:

      No. He is a masculine deity of rage and lust.

  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!


  5. Kyorla vandree says:

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

    • Go outside…a wild place with running water…sit and be quiet…listen for his voice. You could try an autumn picnic in the woods…mead, meats, cheeses…these are a couple of ideas…

    • Drew says:

      I commune with Cernunnos in places far away from people, the lord of the hunt grants his rage, vitality, passion, lust, excitement, and at the same time a stoic indifference. He comes to me, with or without mind altering aids. In my encounters I have felt a surge of energy and renewed sense of purpose.

  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-

  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. There is a reason that orgasm in French is “La petite mort” (or little death) — orgasms, birth and death are all different manifestations of similar transitions. Many thanks to Harry Hay for being one of the first in the modern gay liberation movement to bring us back to Cernunnos.

  13. rosemarieosborn says:

    I am a Norse pagan, my encounter with Cernunnos was 2 years ago, during a vision. Needless to say I was in a forest, naked, after a seeress had done a ritual over me I saw him at the opening of the forest, his face was obscured to me so i couldn’t see his face but I saw his antlers, what a glorious rack and his perfect body and beautifully long, straight black hair….he rutted with me and that is the last I saw him until two weeks ago when I started to see visions of ancestors who apparently were Celtic for that is what I heard…I connected it as my ancestors want me to include Cernunnos in my ritual with my Norse gods and goddesses and I am I am slowly building a relationship with him. Thank you for your article I found it interesting 🙂

  14. Lucas says:

    I am also a follower of Cernunnos. I was directed to him through many things and it took me a while to get to him but now that I have I believe I have received a lot of what you are talking about. I am still new in my spiritual relationships so this may not be very informative.

    I have found that he has a very heavy presence. I have recently become able to sense some energies and his is very heavy and dominate . He has told me repeatedly that I am a seer.

    Which I believe.
    He is very direct as you have mentioned. He simply tells what is and does not bother with too many riddles, though he has tested me a few times.
    I just thought I would share a little bit of my experience.

    I am also in the states so I see where you are coming from when you say it’s hard to connect with him sometimes.

  15. Caleb Hatch says:

    Thank you, this is my first comment(now I know it might help the Author) I was listening to Music(Metal) at the time, I heard what some people might say “strange/scary” it was a loud Vibrational Energy that now I can’t quite get my “hands” on but it helped me with my fears and of coarse it helped me communicate to “”God”” as such the One we are becoming, In a thought; all of these Gods are just as we are and just as Mathematics itself, I dont particularly believe(they aren’t infront of me like Math is) but they are in our hearts, with our souls and so are we with them. (“Telepathy”) honestly, all of this is absolutely beautiful. I don’t know where to finish so let me say thank you, to all efforts, past present and to our future; our efforts will reach the cosmos’ darkest depths and we WILL commit divine, HOORAH . Let there be light, upon the darkest of men, shall we eternally rise!.

  16. Very nice explanation of your experience! Cernunnos has been in my life for over 40 years and does exactly as you have said. I see the playful, the loving, the stern, the cold and the angry sides…and yes…many spirits and beings that I have to learn about. Also he leads to thinking deeper and deeper about the nature of magic and the prices to be paid for our workings. I would not trade this connection that he has chosen to have with me!

  17. candypinkray says:

    Thanks for this good essay about Cernunnos. As you said there is no lore to speak of about him and so there is a need for people to tell their experiences of him. These too are in short supply, perhaps because he is quite secretive in some ways.I agree with the others who have commented that your experiences sound very authentic.

    I made a connection with Cernunnos five years ago; following a long period of finding it hard to meditate I acquired a tape of Wiccan music and started to experience successful meditations full of vivid Wiccan imagery. At the same time I read an erotic magazine article about him, written by a girl, and inspired by that I established a sexual relationship with him. Sadly I can’t see and feel astral things in the same way as physical things- I have to visualize intently.

    Like you I had some very intense experiences to do with the forces of nature. They weren’t in the physical world like seeing a dog tearing up rabbits, but they were during meditations. Once I had a really shattering meditation about the way a fawn grows up and kills the parental generation and takes over from them- I screamed for ages in my mind during this, and the energy from the screams became part of the energy Cernunnos was using in his work. As always the symbolism was detailed and vivid and very complex.

    I actually found him quite jealous and overbearing and I moved on to other spiritual experiences, but I still celebrate every Esbat and Sabbat with a ritual for the god and goddess. I still do the meditation at these times as well, although it has changed now because I’m involved with other entities.

  18. Excellent article. Could it be that there is an interconnectedness with PAN? Separate entities or possibly connected somehow? Both Nature Gods, both Horned?

  19. Falcana WindDancer says:

    thank you for this article. I have worked with Him for almost a year now and he has taught me much. He can be quite persistent, convincing, loving, gentle, but also wild, stern and unpredictable.
    I am blessed to have Him in my life.

  20. Xeno vista says:

    His simplicity I think comes very naturally as a primal nature god. Old Pan doesn’t need dogma or a doctrine. Like the sun, the stars, the rain, and the trees. He IS. Respect the land and your lovers, be a good dad or a teacher, he’ll watch your back.
    I would also say that he doesn’t get much attention due to how misandrist many goddess centered circles are, especially these days.

  21. Drew says:

    Excellent article. I especially like your bit about his anger with you, because of your timidness on a direction in faith. I live in a place where I believe the stag lord lives and breathes very close to me. I am Druid, I appreciate your thoughts on the very
    hard to research, figure of Cernunnos.

  22. Bar'Dolf says:

    I find your article both thought inspiring and motivating. I see it was more than a few years ago, that you had shared, and I would be interested to see how your perspective may have evolved, over the years.
    Blessed Be!

  23. Aurora Miriam Charla Arvelo says:

    Beautiful essay. I too feel called by the horned God. Best one I’ve read so far. Blessed be.

  24. shannonmcw says:

    Thank you so much for your incite. I enjoyed reading your essay very much.
    Cerunnous it a hard one to know but when you assended to a place where you connect, its a beautiful thing and a blessing.
    Im very fortunate to have him seek me out. He has been visiting me since i was a small child. Why? Well i havent reached that place yet, but i feel him drawing me home. My life has been a hard one….many losses and misfortune, why he seeks me? Im looking forward to this next chapter. Im hoping for a happy ending. Blessed be.

  25. Jonathan says:

    Hi, Grettings from Ecuador. I love this article. i hope you can write about, how does one commune with cernunnos.?
    thank you.

  26. Jeannette says:

    I really liked your essay …. I first experienced Cernunnos in only hometown of Oracle, AZ when I was 8. My parents were having their anniversary party at a community center near the cementary. And as kids like to explore 6 of us , my brother and I included , went to explore . I didn’t expect to find anyone or anything out there but as the sun was starting to set my brother and I say a golden light radiating from a body of a man with the head of a dear. Confused at first we took a closer look only to see he was hovering over a young child’s grave . Of course I was only 8 so I screamed and everyone ran back to the party. When I asked everyone if they saw anything , my brother was the only one who saw Him, everyone else ran cause I screamed.

  27. shannonmcw says:

    Ive read this once before. Very impressive. I feel the same…to a point. Hes been in my life since i can remember. Through out the year makes himself known. Compationate yes and heavy lessons absolutely.

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