The relationship I am building with The Horned God is yet in its infancy. I’m “doing the things” – researching, studying, and reading, including Jason’ Mankey’s The Horned God of the Witches, which was the catalyst for my further explorations. I seem to be gravitating toward Cernunnos, a god of the liminal, so I’ve reconfigured and dedicated my outdoor altar to The Horned God in this aspect and made daily offerings. I’ve welcomed Cernunnos into my life and heart, asking him to do with me as he will.
And that last bit is a pretty scary leap of faith, inviting a deity to use my body as an agent of his energy on this plane. For quite a while now I’ve had a relationship with Hekate in her aspects of Enodia (the crossroads and the guide at the crossroads), Medusa (the guardian), and Rixipyle (she who throws down the gates) and while I would in no way whatsoever think myself to be on equal footing with her, I’m at least fairly comfortable working with her. I recognize her – at least most of the time – when I feel her energies.
But the energies of Cernunnos are not the same as Hekate’s, even though they both may be experienced in liminal spaces. I don’t quite know what to expect or even if I should expect anything, so I’m on hyper-alert these days. I’m not one to summon a deity into my presence. I’m more of a “here I am, ready and willing to do your work, and here’s a small gift to say thanks for considering me” kind of gal. And so, I wait and watch and wonder.
A few days ago, a big-as-my-palm swallowtail butterfly meandered through the propped-open door of my screen-enclosed deck. This screen enclosure is enormous, vaulting about 20 feet at its peak and wrapping around a 20’x30’ wooden deck. But while that outdoor room is a delight for humans, it’s not so great for butterflies. I certainly wasn’t going to wave a broom at the poor creature to hustle it back out to freedom, so I left the screen door propped open overnight and hoped for the best.
No luck. The swallowtail was still trying to fumble its way out the next morning. I thought, “well hey! I’ll just petition Cernunnos! I mean, his altar is right there, and he’s a god of liminal spaces, and I’ve been very consistent in my daily offerings and I’m not asking for anything for myself, after all – I’ll just ask him and he’ll take care of it!” So I took a mundane action, setting a slice of juicy orange across the threshold to lure the swallowtail to the patch of wild space behind the deck, and petitioned Cernunnos.
A few hours later, not seeing the swallowtail, I thanked Cernunnos, offered the orange slice to the ground behind his altar and closed the screen door, feeling smugly satisfied cuz ya know, ya pays yer money and ya gets yer candy bar, amiright?
You can tell where this is going. The swallowtail hadn’t flown to freedom at all, just into a Ficus tree on the deck for a few hours. I propped open the screen door again, looked at the altar, and said “Come ON, Cernunnos! Help this poor creature OUT!” and flounced back into the house.
Yesterday, the third day, I found the swallowtail belly up on the deck.
What meaning do I make from this? After all, the average life expectancy of a swallowtail butterfly is about a month and who knows how old this one was? Butterflies die all the time; just another day in the great outdoors. Ho-hum.
And was I really not asking a boon for myself? Was I truly that selfless, that altruistic, or was there a kernel of need nestled deep in my heart that was looking for some sort of tangible proof of connection with Cernunnos? A big, blaring sign I was on the right path?
And Yet …
It catches my attention that across several cultures butterflies are symbolic of transformation. Of metamorphosis. Rebirth. Irish poet William Butler Yeats, in his poem Tom O’Roughley, wrote “wisdom is a butterfly”. Butterflies can remind us of how short, fragile, and beautiful life is. And while I firmly believe that energy transmutes, it’s an undeniable truth that when our life as we know it is over, when we are no longer how or what we know ourselves to be, we’re gone. We are transformed.
I think that might be the lesson Cernunnos was offering to teach me. An experience of a different, deeper rhythm. A subtler, more nuanced way of being. Not so human-centric – this butterfly must be saved cuz that’s what we’re supposed to do! – but more nature-centric – my ways are not your ways, sayeth the lord Cernunnos (with apologies to the writers of the Book of Isaiah). I think Cernunnos might have been saying “If you’re truly seeking an authentic relationship with me, you’re going to have to be open to seeing things in ways, rhythms, that are utterly different from what you’re already familiar with. I don’t give signs; I give hints. It’s up to you to seek them, find them, and figure them out.”
Now You See Me …
Science fiction author Octavia E. Butler, in her book The Parable of the Sower, wrote “All that you touch You Change. All that You Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change.” I touched the swallowtail (so soft! so velvety!), picked it up, gently blew the ants off of its carcass, placed it on Cernunnos’ altar and sat with that experience for the rest of the day.
This morning the swallowtail was gone.
And I’m not sure yet, but I think I may have been Changed.