Cernunnos is the mysterious horned deity worshipped by Iron age Celts across Europe until the end of the first century. Very little is known about Cernunnos except his name and his image, which appears on numerous stone carvings and other religious artifacts throughout Europe. He appears crowned with stag’s antlers, often seated in a meditative position, and is almost always depicted with images of wild game animals. His Celtic name is unknown, although he may be associated with Derg Corra, the early Celtic “Man in the Tree.” He may also be related to the Celtic god Fionn (Finn MacCuill), who had a close affinity with deer.
Cernunnos is a descriptive Roman name meaning “horned one.” He is often associated with Herne the hunter, a character of British folk myth, and the “Green man” of European architecture. Roman invaders associated Cernunnos with the god Mercury. He is later associated with Herne, a trickster character of European legend, and his appearance arguably influenced the appearance of the Christian Devil. The image which appears above is taken from the Gundestrup Cauldron, a ritual object of unknown use discovered in a peat bog in Denmark.
Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor describes the character of Herne:
“There is an old tale goes that Herne the Hunter, Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest, Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight, Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns; And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle, And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain In a most hideous and dreadful manner. You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know The superstitious idle-headed eld Receiv’d, and did deliver to our age, This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.”