The Horned god is a central theme/ character in many european Pagan faiths. Generally seen as a diety of woods, wild animals, hunting and virility he is an elemental force of nature and commonly identified as a male diety often the consort of the female force, or Earth mother. This is the case in the Wicca religion where the Horned god is worshipped as both the child and the consort of Great mother, triple goddess, diety.There is some evidence that the idea of the ‘Lord’ and Lady’ in Wicca is part of ancient tribal rites but such evidence is limited. For many modern Wiccans the ‘Horned God’ , sometimes known as the Great god or Great Father, is his own father, mating with the Goddess at Beltain then dying at Summer Solstace only to be reborn as her child at the new year, or winter solstace, he is a key symbol in the birth / death/ rebirth cycle.
The Horned God is also known as the Hunter and has strong links in Britain with the idea of ‘Wild hunt’ in this aspect he is the taker of life, a vengeful spirit hunting evil with a pack of demonic hounds, in this aspect he is often portrayed as carrying a bow. The British Herne the Hunter is rumoured to survive still as a powerful spirit. Herne is also linked the Robin Hood legends just as Robin provdied for the needy, Herne provided food for the tribe, in some myths he is listed as Robins father although this may have been to add greater status to the Robin Hood legends. No matter what aspect he is protrayed as having horns or more accurately antlers and his image is full of phallic symbols. Such representation of male fertillty have been icons for thousands of years as in the altars of stag horns which could be found in temples of Apollo and Diana in ancient Greece. Sometimes he is seen with cloven hooves or a goats hindquarters again a link to the Greek God Pan and male fertility although this has lead to mistaken belief by some chrisitans over the centuries that Pagans worshipp Satan who is often protrayed in christian myth as being horned and cloven hooved.
There are also some links to the wizrad/ druid Merlin who was at times associated with the horned god and in myth was often seen in the company of stags and occasionaly described as riding a stag. One interesting example of the Stag God image can be found in a cave painting at Trosi-Freres in France. This painting thought to date from around 13,000 BC is known as the Sorcerer and depicts a half human , half stag spirit. This image is often seen as representing a shamen dressed as a stag preforming a rite to ensure good hunting. The image has features common among the Celtic God Cernunnos , as well as creatures from Roman and Greek myth and even the Hindu god Pashupati but predates all these cultures. What ever the painting respresents it is certainly the oldest evidence for the Horned God in religion.
The Horned God not an exclusively Wicca concept as one would expect as many Pagan faiths have common roots. The Horned God concept can be seen in the Greek god Pan , the Celtic god of the underworld and animals Cernunnos, the Roman god Janus, Tammuz and Damuzi the consorts of Ishtar and Inanna, Osiris and Dionysus as well as the Green Man mythological figure in the UK. The link with Osiris and Cernunnos which were both gods which guarded the underworld or judged souls and Osiris was both brother and consort of Isis seen by many as the Eygptian mother goddess. Cernunnos was a fertility god of the pagan celts and Gauls and is thought by many to have been the basis for the christian concept of the horned devil being a half man half goat guardian of the under world and certainly a rival faith for early christianity.
The link between the Horned God and the Green man in English folk lore is very strong and even today many pubs in UK villages bare the name “The Green Man” often with a very pagan image on the pub sign. The Green man also known as ‘Green Jack’ or ‘Jack in the Green’ is an English spirit of trees and plants with the power to make it rain and crops grow well. The Green man is thought to share his home in the forest with forest faries sometimes called “Greencoates” or Greenies depneding on the region of the UK. In popular imagery the Green man is shown as face peering out of foilage, his wood spirit companions and fertility imagery clearly links him to Pan and also as a sort of santitised Hern the Hunter and Wild hunter.
For many modern Druids and Wicca the Horned god is a key part of the birth, death, rebirth cycle and mentioned in many rites and celebrations, his imagery is powerful and has a strong attraction to many as a symbol of almost supressed power / violence and male sexuality. Some modern pagans reinact the ancient rite where the hunter who brought the most/ best meat to the table was dressed in stag horns and furs and was rewarded with the right to couple with the priestess representing the goddess sometimes in front of the whole tribe. The few pagan groups that reenact this msotly do symbolicaly or with the hunetre and goddess being initmate partners already with only a small part of this “Great Rite” being performed before the rest of the coven.