Pan, the ancient Greek God of the wild including the forest, meadow, sheep, and beekeepers has been honored throughout the ages. This deity has been the subject of poems, song and even Shakespeare. A God of fertility and rebirth celebrated at Beltane. Occurring on May Day (May 1st) and honoring the midpoint between the spring equinox and summer solstice, Beltane is a Celtic fire ceremony sabbath honoring both the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine. Marriages and hand-fasting (an ancient Celtic marriage ceremony still recognized in parts of Ireland and Wales) are often conducted while couples hoping to conceive jump over a bonfire holding hands. Ancient Celts would throw cow bones into the flames in the belief it would insure a healthy herd and breeding season. Those “bone fires” became our “bonfires”. Traditionally a May Pole is also decorated with ribbons of spring colors and celebrants weave in and out dancing around until the pole is completely sheathed.
So, just how do horned deities get involved?
Paleolithic cave artists painted the earliest known depiction of a humanoid horned God-like deity. Animal bone fragments have also been found with similar carvings but these caricatures disappeared in the Neolithic period. Not until the Bronze Age do Horned deities reappear as they do in great numbers in Mesopotamia, Egypt and India.
Horns seem to have represented divinity with female deities shown with bovine horns while male deities are depicted with either sheep or goat horns. A very old Babylonian God, Enkidu wears two ram horns, his upper torso is human but his lower is that of a bull with tail and hooves (remarkably similar to pictures of Satan I was shown in Sunday School). But, in Babylonia he was an entrance to royal palaces and temples’ protector God!
The first historic King of Egypt was sculptured with a female face and the horns of a Buffalo. However, the principle Horned God was Amon with the curved horns of a ram. Even Osiris has a crown with two horizontal horns. When attempting to procreate, the Pharaoh would dress as Amon when visiting the Queen.
Today’s Horned Gods are better known as Pan (immortalized by poets from Plato to Shelly), Cernunnos (Celtic God of the Forrest), Herne (the English Hunter in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor) and The Green Man (the nature spirit of spring and summer found decorating Middle Age churches all over Europe). Many see these entities as merely variations of the same Divine Masculine while others view them as unique. For example: many see Pan as a fertility deity as he is often portrayed with a notable erect phallus. Of course, Pan is also presented playing his reed flute as a calming/centering influence. Take your pick but Beltane is the Horned Gods’ celebration along with the Divine Feminine and her role as maiden bringing new life to the earth.
Most modern pagans honor Cernunnos more than Pan which is a bit of a mystery to me. There is little literary validation of Cernunnos as compared to Pan. Pan has considerable mythology, whereas Cernunnos has no known mythology and seems to originate in artwork found in Gaul. I believe that Wicca is responsible for his popularity as he was adopted back in the mid-20th century by several covens as “old horny” and played an influential role in sexual celebrations during Beltane.
Herne the Hunter has appeal but seems to be localized to the British Isles. Herne’s origins are based upon local Berkshire, England legends. One version claims that Herne was a huntsman employed by King Richard II. Accused of poaching and dishonored, Herne hung himself from an oak tree. Another version is that he was killed by a charging stag but miraculously restored to life by a magician who tied a dead stag’s antlers to his head. Every night it is said he rides once more chasing the wild game of Windsor Forest. In her 1930 book, God of the Witches, Margaret Murray claims that Herne is a localized manifestation of Cernunnos. Shakespeare also honored Herne in the play, The Merry Wives of Windsor Forest.