Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Cernunnos

From the Gundestrup Cauldron
The figure to the left—a man with antlers, often holding or wearing a torc, often holding a snake—is not unique. It is considered a representation of a Celtic deity, called "The Horned God," who is possibly the god of nature, wilderness, animals, fertility, the underworld, wealth, etc. The earliest images were found in Northern Italy and on the Gundestrup Cauldron in Denmark from the 1st century BCE. We call him Cernunnos because of a single recorded reference on a carved stone called the Pillar of the Boatmen, referred to in the previous entry.

Looking for the origin of the name has led to some curious theories.

In the Ulster Cycle of Irish folklore, the hero Cuchulainn has a foster brother named Conall Cernach. One story of Conall involves him attacking a castle that is guarded by a serpent. The serpent does not attack Conall; rather, it drapes itself around his waist and is worn by him afterward. The odd relationship between Conall and the snake is linked by some to the image of the snake in Cernunnos iconography.

Another depiction of Cernunnos, a bronze figurine from Autun in France, shows two serpents around his waist, similar to the Irish story. Stories of Conall Cernach-Cernunnos may be a rarity: memories in literature of Celtic deities, of whom we otherwise have no details.

The Gundestrup Cauldron needs its own entry, which I will talk about next.

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