Dating from more than 40,000 years ago, the Lion “Man” of Hohlenstein Stadel is the oldest uncontested zoomorphic figure that we know of. Carved from mammoth ivory, and standing about a foot high, the bipedal image combines feline and human characteristics. Since the lions of prehistoric Europe had no manes and there is no clear indication of sex, we cannot say for certain whether the figure is intended as female or male.
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Did you know that there's a specific name for a statue of the Horned God?
Neither did I, until I read Dorothy Edward's 1981 children's novel, The Witches and the Grinnygog.
Back during the Troubles, goes the story (the Witch Troubles, not the Irish ones), the three appointed Keepers of the most sacred image of the Master just barely manage to escape (on brooms) with their lives and the Lord. They hide Him away in a safe place, and go into a deep, deep sleep until such a time as they shall be needed again.
That time is our day. Where's the best place to hide a Grinnygog? Well, of course, precisely where no one would ever think to look for Him: among the carvings of the local church.
But now the historic church is being dismantled stone by stone, preparatory to being moved to a new location, and the Lord is once more in danger. (Or is He?) His guardians awake, and their magic along with them.
In Which Our Intrepid Blogger Speaks with Artist, Herbalist, and Witch-at-Large
Sarah Anne Lawless Concerning Her Ground-Breaking Print, Lord of the Beasts,
and Sundry Other Matters
Sarah, who is the Horned to you?
The Horned Ones to me are the great spirits of the wild lands and forests. They are not male or female, but both and neither. In the lore of animistic cultures around the world and through time there always seems to be a male or female spirit, or one of each, that is the guardian or protector of a particular forest or land mass and who is Lord or Lady of all the flora and fauna that dwell within it. Their horns are a weapon as much as they are a crown, and symbol of power and otherworldly knowledge.
The god who sits cross-legged: you know Who I mean. The position is central to the iconography of the Horned, in art both ancient and modern. In Old Craft symbolism, the Master may be represented by the skull of a horned animal with two longbones crossed beneath it. If Witchdom had pirates (!), I suppose that's what they'd fly on their flags. The Lord of the Red Bones, above and below.
Even in images such as Lévi's Baphomet and the Gundestrup Antlered, where the god is seated in a position not fully “tailor seat” (as we used to call it), his crossed or bent legs at least allude to the fully cross-legged seat. It's well worth asking what this pose can tell us about the god.
Nature. Civilized people (and their gods) sit on furniture. Barbarians sit on the ground, and cross-legged is the natural way to do so. This is an untamed god, a god in touch with the powers of nature, drawing strength and stability from the Earth.
Duality. The iconography of the Horned lord is dominated by doubling, and this speaks deeply to His nature. He is both Dark and Light, Lord of life and death, the master driven by his own internal contradictions. (Whereas Wicca tends to read duality in terms of male-female pairing, Old Craft generally looks to the divided self for the primal articulation of Twoness.) Just as his legs cross beneath him, so too do the two sides of his self cross and intersect with one another, the basis of his Being.
The Reims Cernunnos, shown above, is one of the most famous images of a Horned God from antiquity. A product of Roman-era Gaul, it shows the Antlered seated cross-legged on a plinth or altar in a miniature temple. Apollo and Mercury attend him. In his lap, he holds a bag of circular objects—generally identified as either coins or grain—which he pours out to a bull and a stag before him. Mysteriously, in the pediment above him is carved a rat (or mouse; for the purposes of this discussion, the two are interchangeable).
There's much to be said concerning the symbolism of this relief, but here I will focus only on the most curious aspect of its iconography: the Rat.
The Horned Lord tends, in pantheon after pantheon, to be a Master of Animals generally, but still the choice seems an odd one. The scholarly literature has tended to address this question cursorily, generally preferring one of two readings.
The Mothers and Fathers reckoned the Horned One as god of animal life generally—what, in History of Religions lingo, is known as a “Master of Animals”—but for all that, he is rarely ascribed a sacred bird of his own. Birds, of course, are given mostly to the Sky Powers: raptors to Thunder, water-birds to Sun and Moon, etc. It's fascinating that these embodiers of the animal god's being should be given to other gods, as if they somehow constitute his yearning for them, as Earth's quartz yearns to the Moon. But to Himself the lore alots the merest avian handful: corvids, perhaps the peacock (see below), the robin (as Promethean bringer-of-fire) and, of course, the cock.
Everyone knows that the rooster—I suppose one really must say “cock” here—is the Devil's bird, (“Men call me the Devil,” he is reputed to have told Scots witch Isobel Gowdie, “but they know not what they mean”), and better it be if it's black. It's a staple of Southern (American) folklore that to invoke the Devil you sacrifice a black cock at a crossroads at midnight. Why a cock? Standard etiology would have it that the cock, being preeminently the bird that proclaims the coming of light, is the sworn enemy of the Prince of Darkness, Enemy of Light. But, as one might expect, matters are considerably more complex than that.
The domestic chicken originated in Southeast Asia and, it would seem, first came to the British Isles with the Romans (Yeates 166). Nonetheless, one finds the cock's head associated with the Horned One on the coinage of the Dobunni, the Keltic tribe that in later days morphed into the Hwicce, the “Tribe of Witches.” The rooster has a reputation as the most virile and pugnacious of birds, a fitting emblem for the father and protector of the people, the Pater Hwicciorum (Yeates 165-9). (Interestingly, though, the use of “cock” for “penis” derives, not from the name of the bird, but from the sense of “water-tap.”)
Paul Rucker's evocative photo, “Horned One's Farewell,” which accompanied my post Grand Sabbat: Final Blessing, has occasioned so much comment on Facebook that I'd like to offer a little more context for the image.
For the past 25 years or so, here in the Upper Midwestern US, we've been holding—at the requisite irregular intervals—Grand Sabbats in the Grand Old Style: the Horned Man up on the altar, the oaths made crouching, the sacrifice, the wild dancing, the love-making in the woods afterward. Just like in the woodcuts, as they say.
Last year's Grand Sabbat was a four-day event that took place in late July among the hollow hills of southwestern Wisconsin's Driftless region, with the Sabbat itself on Saturday night. Over the course of the four days, we saw Old Hornie (as my friend and colleague Keith Ward remarked at the time) in several different characters: as He Who Hears the voice of His people, Bringer-of-Fire, as the Black Buck of the Sabbat, between Whose Antlers constellations wheel, as the sun-dappled Lord of Field and Forest.