A few months ago, as I was driving one of the many twisting and turning roads of the Adirondacks, I passed a small clearing occupied by two does and two spotted fawns. The youngsters were playing, one feigning a head butt, then scampering away while the other gave chase. It was magical to watch their joyful antics, but unfortunately there was no place to pull over so I couldn’t watch for long.
Later in the fall, on that same road, I had almost-too-close encounters with a few other deer, who I imagine were thanking Cernunnos that I had new brakes in my truck. Who else could be god to the deer except the Celtic horned god, Cernunnos, who has been Lord of the Forest since the Paleolithic times?
10,000 year old cave paintings of Cernunnos have been found in France, and statues and images dating from the fourth century B.C.E. to the first century C.E. have been found in various parts of Europe and the United Kingdom. The most notable depiction of the god is the Gundestrup Cauldron discovered in Denmark.
The horned deity is usually depicted as a mature, bearded man seated cross-legged and is often with animals, particularly the stag. There are no apparent literary references, but it is believed that Cernunnos was the Lord of the Animals, Lord of the Hunt, and/or Lord of the Forest. He has been included in the Neo-Pagan Celtic pantheon as a god of the forest, fertility, life, animals, merchants, and the underworld. Horned gods, including Cernunnos, reflect the seasons of the year through the annual cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
Cernunnos, like the stags, has two distinct energies. When calm, he is the peaceful guardian of clearings, wells and springs at the edge of the wilderness. This energy is playful and joyful, like those spotted fawns. His other aspect is powerful, virile, potent, masculine energy, the energy that changes those playful head butts to full-antlered fighting.
I call on Cernunnos for the protection and preservation of the woodlands and the wild animals, and for knowledge of earthly things. It is easy to honor Cernunnos – simply leave a carrot or an apple in the woods for his deer.