Cernunnos is the conventional name given in Celtic studies to depictions of the "horned god" (sometimes referred to as Hern the Hunter) of Celtic polytheism. The name itself is only attested once, on the 1st-century Pillar of the Boatmen, but depictions of a horned or antlered figure, often seated cross-legged and often associated with animals and holding or wearing torcs, are known from other instances.

Nothing is known about the god from literary sources, and details about his name, his followers or his significance in Celtic religion are unknown. Speculative interpretations identify him as a god of nature or fertility.[1]


Cernunnos on the Pillar of the Boatmen

The theonym [C]ernunnos appears on the Pillar of the Boatmen, a Gallo-Roman monument dating to the early 1st century CE, to label a god depicted with stag's antlers in their early stage of annual growth.[2] Both antlers have torcs hanging from them.[3]

The name has been compared to a divine epithet Carnonos in a Celtic inscription written in Greek characters at Montagnac, Hérault (as καρνονου, karnonou, in the dative case).[4] A Gallo-Latin adjective carnuātus, "horned," is also found.[5]

The Proto-Celtic form of the theonym is reconstructed as either *Cerno-on-os or *Carno-on-os. The augmentative -on- is characteristic of theonyms, as in Maponos, Epona, Matronae, and Sirona.[6] Maier (2010) states that the etymology of Cernunnos is unknown, as the Celtic word for "horn" has an a (as in Carnonos).[3]

Gaulish karnon "horn" is cognate with Latin cornu and Germanic *hurnaz, English horn, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *k̑r̥no-.[7] The etymon karn- "horn" appears in both Gaulish and Galatian branches of Continental Celtic. Hesychius of Alexandria glosses the Galatian word karnon (κάρνον) as "Gallic trumpet", that is, the Celtic military horn listed as the carnyx (κάρνυξ) by Eustathius of Thessalonica, who notes the instrument's animal-shaped bell.[8] The root also appears in the names of Celtic polities, most prominent among them the Carnutes, meaning something like "the Horned Ones,"[9] and in several personal names found in inscriptions.[10]

Epigraphic evidence

The name Cernunnos occurs only on the "Pillar of the Boatmen" (Pilier des nautes),[11] now displayed in the Musée National du Moyen Age in Paris. Constructed by Gaulish sailors probably in 14 CE,[12] it was discovered in 1710 within the foundations of the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, site of ancient Lutetia, the civitas capital of the Celtic Parisii. The distinctive stone pillar is an important monument of Gallo-Roman religion. Its low reliefs depict and label by name several Roman deities such as Jupiter, Vulcan, and Castor and Pollux, along with Gallic deities such as Esus, Smertrios, and Tarvos Trigaranus. The name Cernunnos can be read clearly on 18th century drawings of the inscriptions, but the initial letter has been obscured since, so that today only a reading [_]ernunnos can be verified[13]

Additional evidence is given by one inscription on a metal plaque from Steinsel-Rëlent in Luxembourg, in the territory of the Celtic Treveri. This inscription[14] read Deo Ceruninco, "to the God Cerunincos", assumed to be the same deity. The Gaulish inscription from Montagnac[15] reads αλλετ[ει]υος καρνονου αλ[ι]σο[ντ]εας (alleteiuos karnonou alisonteas), with the last word possibly a place name based on alisia, "service-tree" or "rock" (compare Alesia, Gaulish Alisiia).[16]


God of Etang-sur-Arroux, a possible depiction of Cernunnos. He wears a torc at the neck and on the chest. Two snakes with ram heads encircle him at the waist. Two cavities at the top of his head are probably designed to receive deer antlers. Two small human faces at the back of his head indicate that he is tricephalic. Musée d'Archéologie Nationale.
Rock carving of an antlered figure in the National park of Naquane, Italy.[17]

The god labelled [C]ernunnos on the Pillar of the Boatmen is depicted with stag's antlers in their early stage of annual growth.[2] Both antlers have torcs hanging from them. The lower part of the relief is lost, but the dimensions suggest that the god was sitting cross-legged, providing a direct parallel to the antlered figure on the Gundestrup cauldron.

In spite of the name Cernunnos being attested nowhere else, it is commonly used in Celtological literature as describing all comparable depictions of horned/antlered deities.

This "Cernunnos" type in Celtic iconography is often portrayed with animals, in particular the stag, and also frequently associated with the ram-horned serpent, and less frequently bulls (at Rheims), dogs and rats. Because of his frequent association with creatures, scholars often describe Cernunnos as the "Lord of the Animals" or the "Lord of Wild Things", and Miranda Green describes him as a "peaceful god of nature and fruitfulness".[18]

The Pilier des nautes links him with sailors and with commerce, suggesting that he was also associated with material wealth as does the coin pouch from the Cernunnos of Rheims (Marne, Champagne, France)—in antiquity, Durocortorum, the civitas capital of the Remi tribe—and the stag vomiting coins from Niedercorn-Turbelslach (Luxembourg) in the lands of the Treveri. The god may have symbolised the fecundity of the stag-inhabited forest.

Other examples of "Cernunnos" images include a petroglyph in Val Camonica in Cisalpine Gaul. The antlered human figure has been dated as early as the 7th century BCE or as late as the 4th.[19] An antlered child appears on a relief from Vendeuvres, flanked by serpents and holding a purse and a torc.[20] The best known image appears on the Gundestrup cauldron found on Jutland, dating to the 1st century BC, thought to depict Celtic subject matter though usually regarded as of Thracian workmanship.

Among the Celtiberians, horned or antlered figures of the Cernunnos type include a "Janus-like" god from Candelario (Salamanca) with two faces and two small horns; a horned god from the hills of Ríotinto (Huelva); and a possible representation of the deity Vestius Aloniecus near his altars in Lourizán (Pontevedra). The horns are taken to represent "aggressive power, genetic vigor and fecundity."[21]

Divine representations of the Cernunnos type are exceptions to the often-expressed view that the Celts only began to picture their gods in human form after the Roman conquest of Gaul.[22] The Celtic "horned god", while well attested in iconography, cannot be identified in description of Celtic religion in Roman ethnography and does not appear to have been given any interpretatio romana, perhaps due to being too distinctive to be translatable into the Roman pantheon.[23] While Cernunnos was never assimilated, scholars have sometimes compared him functionally to Greek and Roman divine figures such as Mercury,[24] Actaeon, specialized forms of Jupiter, and Dis Pater, the latter of whom Julius Caesar said was considered the ancestor of the Gauls.[25]

Possible reflexes in Insular Celtic

There have been attempts to find the cern root in the name of Conall Cernach, the foster brother of the Irish hero Cuchulainn[26] in the Ulster Cycle. In this line of interpretation, Cernach is taken as an epithet with a wide semantic field — "angular; victorious; bearing a prominent growth" — and Conall is seen as "the same figure" as the ancient Cernunnos.[27]

Possible connection to Saint Ciarán

Some see the qualities of Cernunnos subsumed into the life of Saint Ciarán of Saighir, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. When he was building his first tiny cell, as his hagiograph goes, his first disciple and monk was a boar that had been rendered gentle by God. This was followed by a fox, a badger, a wolf and a stag.[28]


In Wicca and other forms of Neopaganism a Horned God is revered; this divinity syncretises a number of horned or antlered gods from various cultures, including Cernunnos. The Horned God reflects the seasons of the year in an annual cycle of life, death and rebirth.[29]

In the tradition of Gardnerian Wicca, the Horned God is sometimes specifically referred to as Cernunnos, or sometimes also as Kernunno.[30]


  • Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) volume 13, number 03026
  • Delmarre, Xavier (2003) Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (2nd ed.) Paris: Editions Errance. ISBN 2-87772-237-6
  • Lejeune, Michel (1995) Recueil des inscriptions gauloises (RIG) volume 1, Textes gallo-grecs. Paris: Editions du CNRS
  • Nussbaum, Alan J. (1986) Head and Horn in Indo-European, Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-010449-0
  • Porkorny, Julius (1959) Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch Berlin: Franke Verlag


  1. ^ Green, Miranda (1992). Animals in Celtic Life and Myth. Routledge. pp. 227–8. 
  2. ^ a b A. Kingsley Porter, "A Sculpture at Tandragee," Burlington Magazine 65 (1934), p. 227, pointing out the relative maturation of the antlers.
  3. ^ a b Bernard Maier, Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture (Alfred Kröner, 1994; Boydell, 2000), p. 69 online.
  4. ^ Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (Éditions Errance, 2003), pp. 106–107.
  5. ^ Equivalent to Latin cornutus, "horned"; Delamarre, citing J. Vendryes, Revue Celtique 42 (1925) 221–222.
  6. ^ Delamarre, citing M. Lejeune, Lepontica (Paris 1971), p. 325.
  7. ^ Pokorny (1959) "k̑er-, k̑erə-; k̑rā-, k̑erei-, k̑ereu"[1]
  8. ^ Delamarre; Greek text and English translation of the passage from Eustathius' Homeric commentaries given by Edward Wigan, "Account of a Collection of Roman Gold Coins," Numismatic Chronicle 5 (1865), p. 11 online.
  9. ^ Also Carni and Carnonacae.
  10. ^ Such as Carnarus, Carnatus, Carneolus, Carnius and Carnicus; Altay Coşkun with Jürgen Zeidler, "'Cover Names' and Nomenclature in Late Roman Gaul: The Evidence of the Bordelaise Poet Ausonius" (2003), p. 33.
  11. ^ Koch, Celtic Culture, p. 396 online.
  12. ^ Based on the inscription (CIL XIII. 03026), on the accession of the emperor Tiberius.
  13. ^ Phyllis Fray Bober, Cernunnos: Origin and Transformation of a Celtic Divinity, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Jan., 1951), pp. 13-51
  14. ^ AE 1987, 0772 = AE 1989, 00542.
  15. ^ RIG 1, number G-224.
  16. ^ Delamarre, Dictionnaire pp. 38–39. See also Pierre-Yves Lambert, La langue gauloise (Éditions Errance, 2003), pp. 53 and 58.
  17. ^ Umberto Sansoni-Silvana Gavaldo, L'arte rupestre del Pià d'Ort: la vicenda di un santuario preistorico alpino, p. 156; "Ausilio Priuli, Piancogno su "Itinera"" (in Italian). Retrieved 02-04-2009.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help).
  18. ^ Green, Miranda (1992) Animals in Celtic Life and Myth, p. 228.
  19. ^ Webster, "Creolizing the Roman Provinces," p. 221, especially note 103.
  20. ^ Anne Ross, "Chain Symbolism in Pagan Celtic Religion," Speculum 34 (1959), p. 42.
  21. ^ Francisco Marco Simón, "Religion and Religious Practices of the Ancient Celts of the Iberian Peninsula," e-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies 6 (2005), p. 310.
  22. ^ Webster, "Creolizing the Roman Provinces," p. 221.
  23. ^ Jane Webster, "Creolizing the Roman Provinces," American Journal of Archaeology 105 (2001), p. 222; distinctiveness of Cernunnos also in William Van Andringa, "Religions and the Integration of Cities in the Empire in the Second Century AD: The Creation of a Common Religious Language," in A Companion to Roman Religion (Blackwell, 2007), pp. 87–88.
  24. ^ David M. Robinson and Elizabeth Pierce Belgen, "Archaeological Notes and Discussions," American Journal of Archaeology 41 (1937), p. 132.
  25. ^ Phyllis Fray Bober, “Cernunnos: Origin and Transformation of a Celtic Divinity,” American Journal of Archaeology 55 (1951), p. 15ff.
  26. ^ Porter, "A Sculpture at Tandragee," p. 227.
  27. ^ John Koch, entry on "Cernunnos," Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia (ABC-Clio, 2006), p. 396.
  28. ^ Mac Cana, Proinsias (1973) [1970]. Celtic Mythology. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited. pp. 47–8. ISBN 0-600-00647-6. 
  29. ^ Farrar, Stewart & Janet, Eight Sabbats for Witches
  30. ^ The Rebirth of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, page 52-5