The horned god, whether as hunting deity, wild huntsman or forest spirit will always be with us. He is a part of us. He can be ignored or spurned, but he will not go away. Even after so long he still finds new ways to appear.
Modern paganism encompasses a very broad range of gods and ideas, but at the centre of the European tradition is the idea of the two prime forces of nature and their embodiment as the goddess and the god. Most European pagans hold these two archetypes somewhere in their personal mythology.
The Triple Aspected Goddess is the goddess implied in ancient European mythology, who appears (sometimes simultaneously) as the maiden, the woman warrior and the crone. She is known in the Irish tradition as Danu. (The Irish Celtic gods were known as the "Tuatha de Danaan", or the tribe of Danu.) A similar figure appears in the Norse myths as the three fates, and the folk image of the three witches appears everywhere from Greek myth right up to Shakespeare's "Macbeth".
To accept all of her aspects is to accept all of nature, youth and age, growth and decay, life and death. She is the generative power of nature and the female principle: the supreme deity.
She is served by her consort The Horned God. He is the horned god of the hunt and of the forest, lord of the sabbat and of the underworld. He is the embodiment of wild nature and the male principle.
Paganism is considered to be an eccentric faith in the West. Christianity is the accepted norm, and even its ancient enemies such as the other patriarchal monotheisms of Judaism and Islam are treated with greater respect than witches and druids, who at the very best are held to be harmless cranks.
For centuries Christianity has equated the horned one with the devil, the Christian god of evil. So in such a hostile world, where would we expect to find the horned god today ?
When the Christians were not demonising the old gods, they were quietly recruiting them.
Carnac in Brittany, France, is a small town famous for its proximity to hundreds of menhirs placed in neat rows, several miles long, during the bronze age. Although now a Christian community there are records of ancient pagan rites being performed amongst the stones by the local villagers as late as the end of the 19 th century.
In the centre of the town is a catholic church dedicated to Saint Cornely. He is the patron saint of horned beasts.
Saint Cornely of horned beasts? The town of Carnac ? Cernunnos the horned god of the hunt ?
The old pagan deity has been picked up, cleaned up, dressed up, de-horned and canonised.
This is more common than you might think. When Christian priests found that the heavy approach was not working and that the local villagers were still worshipping pagan gods, then they fell back on plan B. Catholic versions of the old gods were created, and the villagers could painlessly transfer their attentions from one to the other. Cernunnos must have been very popular around Carnac for the Christians to build a church dedicated to him there.
There is no way of knowing how many Catholic saints were created out of pagan gods. There were a lot of pagan gods, and there are thousands of saints.
Even the goddess herself found a disguise in the new religion. Technically speaking, the virgin Mary is never worshipped; she is only venerated, because she is not a god. But in many European Christian churches she is venerated a good deal more than Christ is worshipped. And what is the difference ?
The Green Man first appeared hidden away high up in the corners of medieval cathedrals, a disembodied human face sprouting foliage from every folicle and even out of his mouth. His original significance is lost, but he was probably a pagan nature spirit smuggled into the newly constructed Christian temples by the stone masons who built them. He could be mistaken for an indoor gargoyle, and this is probably how he was explained to the priests.
Also known as Jack-in the-Green he is common through out Europe, and clearly represented an idea that was very widespread. The collumns of Christian cathedrals are reminiscent of tall groves of trees, and he is depicted as if peering down out of the upper branches, such as this example from the nave of Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire, England, dating from about AD 1400.
He is highly popular amongst modern pagans, who have adopted him as the personification of the forest itself, subtly different from Cernunnos who is the god of the beasts of the forests. Often the two are combined into a single image with both foliage and horns, representing both the flora and fauna of nature. Although this is a common image today, this author is aware of no such combination being depicted before the latter half of the twentieth century.
This famous dance is performed in and around the village of Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire every year, on the Monday following the first Sunday after the 4th of September. A hobby horse, a bowman, a fool, a boy with a triangle, a musician, Maid Marian (played by a man, on the left of the picture) and six men bearing antlers perform a spiral dance at certain places on a circle 20 miles across. The dance finishes in the centre of the village, whereupon the antlers are returned to the church where they are kept until next year.
This was originally a Winter solstice ritual performed at Christmas, New Year's Day and at Twelfth Night. Its origins are so ancient that they are forgotten. But Old Horney must have something to do with it.
In 1983 HTV (a British television company) decided that it was time to do Robin Hood yet again. The result, Robin of Sherwood was unlike anything that had gone before.
Written by Richard Carpenter, Robin the Hooded Man became not only a champion of the poor and the oppressed but also a champion of Herne, an enigmatic horned shaman who lived in a secret cave in the greenwood. Many of the stories had a very strong supernatural element, and Herne was clearly intended to be a mortal man who gained supernatural powers and who, in an act of transubstantiation, became the horned god when he donned his stag headpiece.
Pat Mills made him a super hero in his long running series of stories for the British comic book 2000 AD. The story of Slaine began in1983, and was originally intended to be a run-of -the-mill barbarian story like Conan, but at the suggestion of Mills' wife (who also illustrated the first episode) it was from the very start located firmly in the mythic Celtic world of The Land of the Young. The Celtic influence gave the story its destiny, and over the years it evolved into something quite unique in comics, as the character of Slaine himself evolved, and Mills used the character (based on the mythical Celtic hero Cuchulainn) and the strip to present his own ideas on paganism, natural law and human destiny.
The strip is still running, detailing the saga of an iron age Celtic berserker and his gradual development from exiled wanderer, to king, to manifestation of the horned god, to his current role as hero of the goddess, fighting her enemies across time. So far he has been revealed to have been pivotal during the The Great Flood of something BC, the rebellion of Boudicca in AD 60, the events following the death of King Arthur around AD 510, the battle of Contarf in AD 1014, and general Norman Christian nastiness in AD 1140.
In 1988 the editors of 2000 AD produced a new comic for the purpose of telling stories that had political, sexual or violent content unsuitable for children. This ground breaking comic was Crisis. The first story was Third World War, built on the premise that the West is already at war with third world using various coverts means such as the IMF. The rambling storyline followed various characters and their adventures in the near future, and one recurring anti-hero was Finn, another creation of Pat Mills.
Finn is the alter ego of an ex-squaddie and taxi driver, an eco-terrorist fighting the good pagan fight against the evils of corrupt, polluting trans-national corporations. He is also a witch, but the stories had no supernatural content.
When Crisis finally folded Finn eventually re-appeared in 2000 AD, this time as a real witch with supernatural powers fighting against a race of aliens intent on ruling the galaxy. Earth had become a battleground between the forces, not of good and evil, but of the patriarchal aliens and the forces of the goddess. Between the forces of order and the champions of nature. Finn was essentially doing the same job as Slaine, but in the present. Instead of a horned battle helmet, Finn wore a horned gas mask, and as a real witch he was a champion of the goddess.
Interestingly, the hero was a champion of darkness, and his enemies were the forces of light.
Similar ideas were also at the centre of other characters created by Mills. Nemesis the Warlock was a horned alien fighting an inquisitorial Earth dictatorship across the galaxy in the far future, and the ABC Warriors gradually mutated from robot mercenaries into champions of chaos.
Before another comic called Toxic folded in 1991 Mills created yet another horned hero of nature in a strip called The Fear Teachers.
There is a strong common idea in Mills' stories, that history is not a battle between good and evil, but a battle between those who accept the supremacy of Nature and those who fear nature in all its forms and wish to control and ultimately defeat it. Between those who worship the goddess and those who worship the unnatural creations of order. Christianity is always portrayed as an unnatural force, terrified of both the feminine principal (the goddess) and of wild nature (the horned god).
Pat "Dark Satanic" Mills has gone on record to say that he writes for comic books because he is writing propaganda for the post-literate generation.
In Mills' stories the Horned God is always the champion of The Goddess, and of wild nature, and Mills is that champion too.
There is a battle being fought for the body, heart and soul of the world, between two utterly opposed camps.
One one side are the technophiles, the natural enemies of nature, eager to explore and make real every possible invention of accelerating technology. Their research and development has given us medicine, transport, housing and these computers that would have seemed godlike only a thousand years ago.
But it has also given us genetic engineering, corporate control of mass communication, pollution and wholescale destruction of the Earth's wild places.
Not far from Man's grasp lies the power to eliminate absolutely from the planet every last trace of wilderness, and to replace it with order and concrete. The motives for this are simple: the destruction of nature and its replacement with man-made order will place the ancient power of the gods within the hands of the leaders of that new order, be they national or corporate. Real physical immortality will become a reality within a very few decades, reserved, inevitably, for the very rich and powerful.
To continue down this path can have two possible outcomes.
If successful the world will become as sterile and tidy as an office block, and its "human" inhabitants will have been altered by whatever means necessary to be able to live within it; whether by means of drugs, genetic engineering or new technologies yet to be imagined. There may yet be a technological fix for the ancient problem of free will. Whether you find this possibility (and make no mistake, it is a distinct and approaching possibility) appealing or apalling is simply a matter of personal taste.
If unsuccessful we will have destroyed the mechanisms of nature and replaced them with artificial mechanisms that do not work. The degree of consequential devastation can only be guessed at. At the very least we will find ourselves in a new world in which we can still survive but has become horrible to us, at the very worst the planet may have changed so much that even our technology can no longer enable us to live upon it.
In the opposing camp are those who can see the two ends of the path and behold each with equal horror. Each means the destruction of the wild nature that has been a part of mankind's soul since he was born into the world, and even for a new Homo Technicus to live placidly in a world made tame would seem to them to be the equivalent of putting our entire brain-dead species on a life-support machine for ever.
The technophiles hear the arguments of the champions of the wilderness and they hear sentimentality and nostalgia from the usual crowd of Luddite bleeding-heart liberals.
The champions of the wilderness see the logical conclusion of the technophiles' accelerating progression and they see the death of the soul of mankind, and of the soul of the world. Whether they know it or not they are fighting for the goddess, and whether they see him or not at the head of their scattered bands is the horned god.
Whose side are you on?
"Slaine" by Pat Mills & Mike McMahon (Titan Books, ISBN 0 907610 24 2)
"Slaine the King" by Pat Mills & Glenn Fabry (Titan Books, ISBN 1 85286 337 4)
"Slaine The Horned God Volume 1" by Pat Mills & Simon Bisley (Titan Books, ISBN 1 85386 156 1)
"Slaine The Horned God Volume 2" by Pat Mills & Simon Bisley (Titan Books, ISBN 1 85386 157 X)
"Slaine The Horned God Volume 3" by Pat Mills & Simon Bisley (Titan Books, ISBN 1 85386 158 8)
"Nemesis the Warlock Book 1" by Pat Mills & Kevin O'Neill (Titan Books, ISBN 0 907610 23 4)
"Nemesis the Warlock Book 2" by Pat Mills & Kevin O'Neill (Titan Books, ISBN 0 907610 33 1)