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Cernunnos

Excerpt from Celtic Spirit by Caitlin Matthews

Cernunnos is an antlered god surrounded by beasts and vibrant summer leaves like a shamanic, Celtic Orpheus, lord of the animals and master of life. Neither quite deer nor entirely man, his theranthropic animal-human nature crosses a bridge that few divine manifestations achieve in our won time. Because he is horned and holds a snake, he was expressly demonized by early Christianity, although medieval Europe could not entirely shake off his abiding image and often depicted Christ as the hoofed and horned unicorn, a figure who also mediated between two natures.

In many depictions, Cernunnos holds the torn or neck-ring of human achievement in his right (or conscious) hand; he grasps the ram-headed serpent of animal wisdom in his left (or unconscious) hand. His eyes are closed in an inward-looking attitude of meditation or ecstasy. For the Celtic world, this was the image of the guardian of life; not a macho or retributive deity, but one of quiet strength, an icon who protected the vital power of all living beings and mediated the powers of spiritual insight and enlightened knowledge. Cernunnos may have been excluded from mainstream religion, but here remains a wellspring of dynamic meditation among those who follow the old ways. He enables us to appreciate and be obedient to our dual nature: as human beings with the power of the mind, and as evolved animals with the power of the body. He stands between the worlds, visible at forest's edge and twilight, tide-turn and dawn, as patient and protective figure in the borderlands of consciousness.



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