The Horned God

The other half

The existence of the Horned God was put forth by Murray as the supreme god of the medieval witch-cult. He was based on Sir James Frazer’s concept of a sacrificial king and dying god necessary to promote the natural cycle of death and rebirth.

Witch-priests, dressed to represent the Horned God at Sabbats, were credited by Murray to be the origin of myths that Satan personally attended these Sabbats. (The fact that a horned man is but one of many, many images associated with Satan does not seem to have concerned her.) Like most of Murray’s work on the subject of witchcraft, her concept of the Horned God and his worship is not considered historical.

Like “god and goddess,” “horned god” was a description, not a proper name, in Gardner’s Witchcraft Today. Over the years, he has been associated with a number of deities who either bore horns or who wore horned headdresses. Most often named are Cernunnos, which literally means “horned one,” and Pan.

The Horned God is the primal, active force within all things, a wild man unfettered by civilization and driven by primal instincts. He is the Lord of the Forest and of animals. He is both hunter and hunted – he who slays so others can live, and he who dies to nourish others in the natural cycle. He rules the season of winter, when the earth is dead and primitive people had to survive by hunting instead of gathering or farming. He represents male sexuality, as the phallic nature of his horns suggest, virility, and strength. He is Lord of the Underworld, as indicated in the Legend of the Descent of the Goddess. He is also sometimes connected with the mythological Wild Hunt.

Also known in Germanic countries as the Furious Host, this event has historically been associated with such figures as Woden, Herne, Satan, Odin, all of which bear either horns or horned helmets. (Hecate and Diana are also associated with the Hunt) The nature of the hunt depended largely on location. In Britain, the Wild Hunt consisted mostly of wolfs or hounds chasing evil beings from the land and warning mortals of invaders. There are tales of the Hunt right up into the 20th century, when it is said to have heralded in the Battle of Britain in World War II.

Among Germanic peoples, the Wild Hunt was far more sinister. It was a force of evil populated by ghosts and witches. Travelers who heard the horns of the Hunt would throw themselves to the ground in the hopes of not being noticed. Mortals crossing paths with the Hunt were generally killed and forced to accompany the Hunt forever. The Hunt was also a harbinger, appearing over the houses of those who are soon to die.

The Hunt generally runs at night, particularly in winter. Some connect the beginning of the Hunt with Samhain.