My love for Cernunnos began long ago in the beauty and mystery of the woods. He comforted and protected me at a time when I desperately needed it, and He did not reveal Himself until I was ready to see Him for who and what He really is. He has been a nurturing God to me, and for that I am very thankful.
But He has never let me forget He is also a wild and fearsome God.
Galina Krasskova had a brilliant blog post last week titled Loving Savage Gods. It describes how the same God can be tender with one follower and terrifying with another, and why this is a good thing. Go read the whole post – here’s an excerpt:
If your God is not asking you to venerate Him as a terrible God, awesome. But He does ask it of some because that medicine too must be loosed on the world. We need it, desperately. It is transformative in a different way from the kindness, liberating in a different way from the gentleness and there are some aspects of our world’s dysfunction and dis-ease that only such terror can cure.
Many of us come into Paganism after spending years and years being taught there is only one God who is a stern father, obsessed with rules and quick to punish if we break them – perhaps eternally. It is no surprise we often gravitate toward loving, nurturing Gods, and that we emphasize the softer sides of complicated deities. If we are wounded we must heal, and that healing takes time – how much time varies widely from individual to individual.
But a hospital is a place we go when we must – it is not a place to live our entire lives. This is true whether the hospital is literal or metaphorical.
Sooner or later, we begin to understand the Gods are far bigger and more complex than we originally thought. Eventually, we learn They are not only loving, They are also fearsome.
Brighid is one of the most loved and loving Goddesses in the modern Pagan world. She is a nurturer, a healer, and an inspirer. But She is also the Lady of the Forge, and we who honor Her can find ourselves in between Her hammer and Her anvil, forcefully reshaped into something else, something more. That process can be amazing, but it is also terrifying.
Cernunnos is the loving guardian of the forest, but He is also the stag in the heat of the rut, the hunter in pursuit of His prey, and the prey who must escape the predator. He is a wild God who will be gentle when it serves His purposes but who will never, ever be tamed.
When we accept that the Gods are fearsome as well as loving, we begin to understand our place in the grand order of the Universe… and we begin to realize it’s not at the head of the table. The Gods have Their own interests, desires, plans and goals that may involve us but are not about us. So do the birds and the butterflies, the raccoons and the redwoods, the mountains and the rivers. Our wants and needs are important too, but they are not inherently superior to the wants and needs of other beings.
When we honor fearsome Gods, we begin to accept reality: the restful winter also brings snow and ice, the bright summer also brings scorching heat. The joy of a new birth also brings the inevitability of another death. Life is not simple and it is not easy, but it is still good!
When we honor fearsome Gods, we commit ourselves to doing what must be done. There is work that is hard and dirty and dangerous and someone has to do it. Sometime that someone is us. We do not honor Morrigan so She will hand us our sovereignty, but so She will teach us to reclaim our own sovereignty, and so we can work with Her to re-establish the sovereignty of the Land.
Make no mistake: we fear the fearsome Gods for good reason. They are mighty beings whose wants and needs do not always align with our own. Publicly acknowledging Them can make things difficult for us. They can call us to take on work that will turn our lives upside down. They can put us in harm’s way for reasons we may not fully comprehend. Our fear shows we understand the potential for serving fearsome Gods.
But at the end of the day, what do you want from your religion? More opium to dull your pain? Or do you want the inspiration to live virtuously and heroically, to do what’s right even when it’s not easy, and to leave the world a better place for those who come after us?
I am thankful for Gods who are loving and nurturing, and I’m thankful They are also fearsome Gods.