Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Cernunnos (Alternately: Kernunnos) was an important deity of the Celts, essentially a nature god associated with produce and fertility. He was called the "Horned One" (a literal translation of his name) or the "Horned God", and was one of a number of similar deities found in many ancient cultures.
He was worshipped over a wide area of Europe, from Romania to Ireland, as evidenced by various representations found in around thirty different sites across the continent. The earliest known depiction of Cernunnos was found at Val Camonica in Italy, dating from the 4th century BC, while the best known depiction is on the famous Gundestrup cauldron found in Denmark and dating from the 1st century BC. His name is known from the "Pillar of the Boatmen" ("Pilier des nautes"), a monument now displayed in the Musée national du Moyen Age in Paris. It is believed to have been erected as an altar by Gallic sailors in the early 1st century AD and was found in the foundations of the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on the site of the Celtic settlement of Lutetia. It depicts Cernunnos and other Celtic deities alongside Roman divinities, providing an illustration of the way in which Celtic gods were absorbed into the Roman pantheon. Indeed, Julius Caesar associated him with the Roman god Dis Pater, while other Roman sources associated him with Mercury.
The Pilier des nautes provides the only written record of the deity's name. It is not known whether the name Cernunnos (given as Kernunno) was a local name bestowed by the Parisii tribe (from whom Paris got its name). The structure of the name suggests otherwise. The word Cornu means "horned" in modern French and the cognate Celtic Cern_ means much the same.
Whether or not the name differed from place to place, the depictions of Cernunnos are strikingly consistent throughout the Celtic world. His most distinctive attribute are his stag's horns, and he is usually portrayed as a mature man with long hair and a beard. He wears a torc, an ornate neck-ring used by the Celts to denote nobility. He often carries other torcs in his hands or hanging from his horns, as well as a purse filled with coins. He is usually portrayed seated and cross-legged, in a position which some have interpreted as meditative or shamanic, although it may only reflect the fact that the Celts squatted on the floor and did not use chairs.
Cernunnos is nearly always portrayed with animals, in particular the stag. He is also frequently associated with a unique beast that seems to belong only to him: a serpent with the horns of a ram. This creature appears to have been a deity in its own right. Less often he is associated with other beasts, including bulls, dogs and rats. Because of his frequent association with beasts scholars often describe Cernunnos as the "Lord of the Animals" or the "Lord of Wild Things". Because of his association with stags in particular (a particularly hunted beast) he is also described as the "Lord of the Hunt". Interestingly, the Pilier des nautes links him with sailors and with commerce, suggesting that he was also associated with material wealth.
The worship of Cernunnos was particularly vehemently opposed by early Christianity, which saw him as an unacceptable symbol of paganism. Illustrations of Cernunnos-like figures were used to symbolise demonic and anti-Christian forces, and it may be presumed that shrines to Cernunnos were targets of early attempts to root out paganism. Even so, traces of the god survived well into Christian times. The literary traditions of both Wales and Ireland contain allusions to him, while in Brittany the legendary saint Korneli (or Cornély) had attributes of Cernunnos. It has also been suggested that the English myth of Herne the Hunter is an allusion to Cernunnos, though this seems doubtful.
In the modern Neo-Pagan movements, of which Wicca is the most notable, the worship of the Horned God has been revived. The adherents generally follow the life-fertility-death cycle for Cernunnos, though his death is now usually set at Samhain, the Celtic New Year Festival usually taking place on October 31.
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