The Lessons of the Horned God

I became a Wiccan-Witch because of “The Goddess.” Like many of us I came from a religious tradition that was centered on male deity-and only one male deity at that. By the time I became a legal adult, the “Monotheistic-Male-God-Centered-Universe” began to feel non-sensical to me. If we were truly made “in the image of God” wouldn’t God be more than just a dude with a long beard?

"Pan and Diana" by Filippo Lauri.  From WikiMedia.
“Pan and Diana” by Filippo Lauri. From WikiMedia.

My early days as a Witch were focused almost exclusively on the Divine Feminine, what little lip service I paid to male gods was restricted to “Sun Gods” and figures like Apollo. Not quite over my Christian conditioning I certainly had no space for “horned gods” or anything that I felt might upset the apple cart. Deities like Pan were kept at more than arm’s length.

After a few years of nearly Goddess-only work I began to feel something new stir inside of me. It began as a whisper. “Say my name” it said, over and over again, and while it often felt like it was coming from within, there were times when the voice seemed to be coming directly through my ears from the outside.

I ignored the voice for as long as I could, but it continued to chase me. Eventually it set up camp in the front-bushes outside the house I was living in. There the voice had coalesced into a grinning face and had started to become more insistent. One night I swear that it knocked on my door, and that’s when I finally gave up. “PAN!” I cried into the darkness and then an incredible thing happened . . . .

The night I first embraced the Goddess I did so through what had been up until that point my evening Christian prayer. After adding “and Lady” right after Lord in “Lord keep us safe this night secure from all our fears” I felt a huge rush of energy surge through me. The same thing happened when I said “Pan” in homage to the horned one that night twenty years ago.

Since then I’ve been mostly devoted to Old Hornie in his many guises* and have spent a lot of time speaking and writing about Him. I was lucky enough to do so just this past weekend at the Florida Pagan Gathering and as I spoke in front of and with people, I could feel HIS influence on just about everything I did.

The God of the Witches In 1931 Dr. Margaret Alice Murray released The God of the Witches, in it Murray paints a picture of a nearly universal Horned God, worshipped for over 10,000 years and connected to such different figures as Robin Hood, Herne, and Pan. This figure was THE God of the Witches, and even today he’s still something that unites many of us.

The Cauldron, from the Scottish National Museum.  Photo by me.
The Cauldron, from the Scottish National Museum. Photo by me.

At Florida Pagan Gathering I found myself almost instantly accepted by a group of local covens, in large part because we all honored Murray’s “God of the Witches.” Having a group of people who actively tried to make me feel welcome is almost novel when I’m on the road. People are often nice to me, but very few completely open up their campsites and scotch bottles.

Sometimes even people within traditions I’m a part of tend to be wary of an out of town Witch. It’s almost like some of them believe the Horned God of California is somehow different than the Horned God of Missouri when nothing could be further from the truth. It’s nice when we all remember the things that drew us into Witchcraft in the first place and find common cause to share them.

You Are Doing It Right One of the questions I often get at festivals is “Am I doing this right?” and the simple answer is “of course you are probably doing it right.” Now granted in certain traditions there are certain things that have to be done in specific ways, or otherwise it wouldn’t really be a tradition, but even then there tends to be wiggle room.

I think we often forget that the two things that matter most are: intention and sincerity. If you are honestly trying your best and your motivations are good then you are probably doing it right regardless of what anybody says. There’s no one way to be a Pagan, there’s no one way to practice Witchcraft. Deities are multifaceted too, my Pan may not necessarily be your Pan and that should be OK. He is a god after all, and I think gods are certainly capable of revealing themselves in different ways to different people.

Don’t Half Ass Anything I’m not aware of any Horned God tale where the horned or antlered deity in question decided not to give his all. When Pan chased nymphs he did so to the best of his ability, and when I teach workshops or run a ritual I give it everything I have. At Pagan festivals, especially outdoor ones, this can be a real challenge. Conditions are not always optimal for the facilitation of workshops, but I CAN BE optimal (or at least try to be).

Prince Arthur and the Faerie Queen” by Henry Fuseli. From WikiMedia
Prince Arthur and the Faerie Queen” by Henry Fuseli. From WikiMedia

This rule goes far beyond workshops and rituals obviously. If you are passionate about something, embrace it as fully as you can. Live, love, lust, and learn to the best of your ability. Somehow I’ve fooled enough people into believing I know some things about Wiccan-Witchcraft and Paganism, hopefully I’ll catch up and become the person they think I am before they figure out I only sort of know what I’m doing.

Random thoughts from the Florida Pagan Gathering. (And all of the above also came from things at FPG, just that names have been omitted to protect the innocent.)

-I always wanted to live a life going from festival to festival and being able to share the things I’m passionate with other like minded souls. Sometimes after getting to a festival or being away from home I doubt the road I’ve chosen to travel, but there was nothing like that at FPG. I had an absolutely amazing time. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a festival so much.

It's a lake, it allegedly has alligators in it, I heard them but didn't see them.
It’s a lake, it allegedly has alligators in it, I heard them but didn’t see them.

There were no dramas and everything was well put together and ran on time. There were no diva moments from any of the presenters or musical acts (with the exception of Bryon Ballard-and that’s not really true, she just thought it would be fun if people thought we were mad at each other). Usually when I visit a festival I feel like a visitor to instead of a participant in the local community, this time I felt like I was connected to what was going on in Florida. I can’t quite describe it, but it was a feeling I don’t get all that often.

-Over the last few years there have been some moments of high drama in regards to Florida Pagan Gathering. Unlike most people, this only made me want to go to FPG more. What I found there were good people doing the best job they possibly could. I don’t often spend my first night on the road engaging in three hour conversations with the festival organizers but that happened last week. And with over twenty years of festival under their belts they had some great stories to tell.

-I’m not an elder, but I sometimes play one on TV. Because I write books and have this somewhat high profile blog people often think of me as something of an elder for lack of a better word. It’s a spot I’m not quite comfortable with, but I do my best to honestly answer questions and offer what little advice I’m able to give. It’s flattering that people think my opinion matters, even when it really doesn’t.

This just felt spiritual to me.
This just felt spiritual to me.

-I was a little worried about what the weather in Florida might be like, but it was absolutely beautiful. Humidity was low, temperatures were pleasant, and we were just far enough outside of town to get some beautiful views of the nighttime sky. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

-I met and hung out with Wendy Rule for the first time ever. She is super cool, immensely talented, and just a pleasure to be around. I’ve known Brian Henke for a few years now, and I enjoy both his company and his guitar playing. I have better hair than he does though. Vicki Scotti from Hecate’s Wheel was the third part of the “Pagan Supergroup” in the picture below, and I was lucky enough to bond with her over a shared love of Dar Williams and Dave Carter. Listening to you three lead a Beatles sing-a-long at midnight on Saturday will be a cherished memory for a long time to come.

A special shout out to the other featured guests at FPG: Patti Wigington who writes at the site formerly known as “About.com” and now know as “ThoughtCo.” She and I met at the airport and it felt like she was an old friend within minutes. Delightful. And I’ve never been to a festival with another “Jason” as a featured presenter, but my cabin mate Jason Augustus Newcomb was great to pal around with, and he kept me up long past my bedtime on several occasions with long talks on magick and the occult.

Vicki, Wendy, and Brian.
Vicki, Wendy, and Brian.

*Writing about deity can be so damned tricky! These days I don’t worship the Horned God as much as I worship Pan, Cernunnos, Dionysus, and many other gods. I pay lip service to “big names” like the Horned God and Old Hornie and believe that it’s possible that many of the deities I honor are a part of something bigger than themselves. Names like “The Horned God” sometimes feel like an honorific when I use them, as if there’s a more specific name outside of that designation.

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