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      The subject of names can be considered either deeply confusing or fascinating, probably a fair bit of both. What are widely regarded as the names of deities recorded in inscriptions may, in fact, be descriptive epithets. Cernunnos may fall into this category since it simply means ‘the horned, or antlered one.’ Many other recorded deity names are similarly descriptive, e.g. Lugos, ‘light.’ As was mentioned earlier, Cernunnos only appears on a single inscription and has simply been assumed to be the name of other horned or antlered gods who appear elsewhere. It is possible that all of them were called Cernunnos, but equally possible that each had a different name by which they were known to a particular tribe or in a specific area.
      The presence of the antlered figure from the Gundestrup cauldron in a posting about Gwydion ap Don is probably my fault 😉 I first ran across that image decades ago and it immediately spoke to me, giving me my image of an archetypal Druid, one closer to a shaman than the biblical patriarchs of the 18th century Druid revival. Having first read the Mabinogi stories more than forty years ago, I have read them many times since and worked with them in many ways, from story-telling to group ceremonies. During that time, the figure of Gwydion has grown into my consciousness, in part as a result of an encounter with Woden I had on a burial mound south of Avebury. In recent years, what radiated to me from the Gundestrup antlered figure and my growing awareness of Gwydion as a living entity have merged to some extent. So yes, I see them as expressing a similar force in the world, and a powerful one at that, so much so that I have the Gundestrup image attached to the wall above my computer screen. Thinking about it, the link has been with me for longer than I thought. The Druid Tarot deck I began work on in the 1980s has Gwydion represented by my lino-cut of the antlered figure from the cauldron. You can see it here:


        I always think of the antler god as the Lord of Woods. I think of him as the spirit of place and I feel like every wood
        or forest has one of these antler gods running around. I don’t think he has anything to do with the great hunt because the
        great hunt seems to involve a god who is associated with the wind. Mountain Climbers say that after someone dies on a climb, the wind
        gets real quiet, like it has gotten what it came for. Somehow, the name Cernunnos just does not feel very druidy to me, it feels more greek. however, I may be very wrong about this for there were many druids in Europe at one time. I wonder if the Lady of the woods appears in the form of a deer.
        I do think that seeing a white deer can mean that a death in the family could happen. It is definitely some kind of otherworld signal, and I have
        learn my lesson about listening to the animals when they speak. I sit up and take notice because the gods and goddesses can speak through the animals,
        sending us messages, if we will be wise enough to listen. I know that I always hear an owl or see an owl before someone in my family dies.


          Morning Startree.

          Cernunnos is a figure that’s shrouded in mystery. He seems to be the only divinity that wasn’t Romanised, maybe because there was no way he could be Romanised or found an equivalent to in Graeco-Roman belief systems. If we strip away all the conjecture, hypotheses and speculation, what we’re left with is not very much in terms of concrete or material evidence; nevertheless, I think it would be safe to say that whatever belief in Cernunnos entailed and whatever his forms may have been or meant to the Celtic-speaking peoples of the past, “a” Cernunnos is most definitely rooted in “something” Gaulish/Celtic – the very name, despite some debate, being seemingly good Gaulish: the -on- part of the name is comparable to Maponos, Epona and so on.

          As an aside, the etymology of Cernunnos as the “Horned One” is not universally accepted, there is debate about whether or not we can justify this epithet on linguistic grounds and we only have very sparse archaeological evidence to back us up. On the other hand, I have actually been fortunate enough to visit the Pillar of the Boatmen in Paris, and there is without a shadow of a doubt a horned figure, with what appears to rings or torques on his antlers, and the inscription “_ernunnos” (the initial C has been lost, but was recorded in historical times).

          Now for a bit of my own conjecture, which, I stress, is purely my own conjecture. We know that our spiritual Celtic ancestors were fond of wordplay, that’s why we’re here in a sense, and the reconstructed proto-Celtic word *karno might also refer to a tomb or burial mound as much as to the idea of a “horn”, furthermore, *karwo could also be a deer. The idea of the forest leading to the “Otherworld”, the idea of the burial mound being a gate to the “Otherworld” and the idea of returning to the sacred grove or nature, all resound with me and all shout “druidic”, however, I stress again that this is just my own perception.

          I wonder, I just wonder if there was some Bardic wordplay and punning going on a very, very long time ago.

          A good source on etymology: Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic, Ranko Matasovic, Leiden (2009), can be found at



            David, this is a really well thought out post and I am learning a great deal by reading your post and all of the other posts also.
            It is really mighty of you to put all of this thought and research into the post. It is interesting because I have been drawn to study Gwyn Ap Nudd and Cernunnos over the last several weeks. Best Star-Tree

            david poole

              Thank you Star Tree. I was simply gathering information from other sources and trying to understand them. But the archetype is undeniably powerful and hard not to think of. Best wishes.

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