I get questions all the time. When I get the same question several times in close succession, that usually means it’s time to write about it publicly – if only so I can point future questioners to a blog post instead of having to answer it yet again. Other times, though, there’s more to it – there’s something that needs to be written. I think this is one of those times.
I can combine and condense several emails into one simple question:
“I feel called to Cernunnos – how do I get started?”
There is, of course, no one right answer. But this is what I’ve done, and what I’ve seen others do that worked for them.
My story with Cernunnos
The bio on my teaching site says “I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God.”
I grew up in a fundamentalist church. Recovering from that took years of work. If Cernunnos had appeared to me when I was 10 years old I would have assumed He was the Christian devil and run away screaming – I had no context for anything else. But I always felt at home in the woods – they were my safe space.
Part of that is the beauty of wild places and the spirits that inhabit them. But there was more. There was Someone in the woods, Someone who listened.
Did the Forest God see a young boy retreating into a wooded refuge and take pity on him? Was He moved to love a human who shared His love of the wild? Did He see the potential for a future priest? All I know is that when I went into the woods I was comforted, and I was encouraged to keep moving and keep working. I was assured that things would get better someday. And they did.
After I started this Pagan path, a good friend gave me this pendant. It took some digging to figure out who it was. The artwork is from the Gundestrup Cauldron – I’m confident it’s Cernunnos, though we can’t be sure. I started wearing it.
A year or so later I had my first ecstatic experience of Him. It was beautiful and powerful and left me with no doubt that Cernunnos had been with me all my life and was calling me to His service. I said yes, and began the formal work that continues to this day.
Signs Cernunnos is calling you
It would be much easier if Gods wore nametags and if They were explicit about what They want from us. I suspect They want us to do the work to figure these things out. If we grew up in a polytheist culture we would learn them as children. But we didn’t, and so we have to learn them now.
One of the most popular post of all time on Under the Ancient Oaks is How Do I Know If A God Is Calling Me? from 2018. It provides some good general guidance on this question.
Sometimes Cernunnos appears in dreams, or in recurring imagery in the ordinary world. You see stags and deer, torques and serpents. Or you see a man with antlers on his head.
Perhaps, like me, you feel especially at home in the woods: the forest is more than just the trees.
If you get this, pay attention. Listen. Meditate. Do historical and literary research. If necessary, do divination. Discerning a call from a God doesn’t take Ph.D. level research, but it usually takes a bit of work.
Set up a shrine
A shrine is a place of honor – an altar is a place of sacrifice. Contemporary Pagans tend to use the terms interchangeably, and shrines can also be altars. Don’t worry about the terms, just set up a shrine.
Start small. You need something to represent Cernunnos – something to focus your attention on Him. This can be a statue, a picture, a piece of antler, a handful of acorns – whatever works for you. Add a candle or three, an offering bowl, an incense holder – whatever seems right.
Don’t be in a hurry to buy a statue. Wait until you find one that strikes you as right. It appears the one I have is no longer in production, but similar ones are available. So are some very different interpretations of Him. When you find one that clearly helps you focus on Him – and that you can afford – then buy it.
Make regular offerings
Making offerings is a core polytheist practice. We make offerings for hospitality, for reciprocity, for devotion, and because it’s what our ancestors did.
Lots of beginners (those called by Cernunnos and those called by other deities) agonize over the most appropriate things to offer. While some deities and some pantheons have traditional offerings, there’s really only one rule: offer what’s good.
Offerings of food and drink are most common, especially offerings of alcohol. Cernunnos has never been particular with me about what to offer. When I’ve asked, most times I’ve heard “I’ll have what you’re having.” He’s as satisfied with a shot of Jameson whiskey (at $22 a bottle) as with a shot of $50 Glenmorangie. Now, if I give Him the Jameson and go drink Glenmorangie myself, that’s a problem.
If you like it, He’s happy you’re sharing it with Him, even if all you have at the time is clean water.
I make offerings to Cernunnos weekly. Others make them daily, or monthly, or on some other schedule. My only suggestion is to set some fixed schedule so you don’t inadvertently go a long time without making them.
Pray and meditate
If prayer is talking to the Gods, meditation is listening for Them (that’s not the only form of meditation, but it’s the one that’s most relevant here). My usual weekly practice is to pray to Cernunnos, then make offerings to Him, and then listen for His response in meditation.
Sometimes that’s nothing. Many times it’s “just keep moving.” And sometimes He has something significant to say: something I need to contemplate or do or write.
It’s easiest to connect to Cernunnos in wild places. But most of us don’t have regular access to large blocks of undeveloped land, or to places like national parks. Local parks work well, and so does my back yard – years of consistent prayers, offerings, and rituals have made it a near-permanent liminal zone. And while being outdoors is great, building a shrine creates a regular meeting place that’s always there.
Whatever places you have for meditation, use them.
And listen for Cernunnos.
Do His work in this world
It’s rare for any deity to call someone just to be calling them. There’s usually something They want you to do.
With Cernunnos, that’s often something to do with appreciating and caring for the natural world. Sometimes this involves big environmental causes, but more often it’s about caring for the land where you are: the trees, the plants, the wildlife they support. Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes often talks about getting to know “your square mile” – what and who lives within walking distance of where you live. Take care of your neighbors first.
You may be called to be His priest. But remember that there are many good, necessary, and sacred callings that aren’t priesthood.
There are many ways to serve. Find your place in the service of Cernunnos.
Learn and grow
Many people expect a Stag God to be fierce and powerful. Cernunnos can be that. But more often, I’ve found Him to be nurturing: leading the young to the abundant fields, to the rich hunting grounds. Watching over them and protecting them until they’re able to stand on their own. That’s what He did with me.
There are no ancient Cernunnos myths that have survived to our time. The Book of Cernunnos is actively being worked on, but there is no publication date yet. I’ve written about Him occasionally – so has Jason Mankey. In 2017 we talked about Him as part of my Under the Ancient Oaks video series.
Learning about Cernunnos is largely a matter of independent study, with more field work than classroom work. That strikes me as very appropriate for a God of Nature and a God of the Wild.
But I hope you’ll write about your experiences, to help mark the trail for those who come after you.
In the years since I first encountered Cernunnos, I’ve worshipped, worked with, and worked for many Gods. I now have eight statues on my shrines. I used to make one weekly offering – now I make four. He was my first oathed relationship – now there are now three.
All of this is important. All of Them are important. But Cernunnos is always first.
He was there for me all those years ago. He revealed Himself to me when I was finally ready to see Him for who and what He is. I am honored to be his priest, and occasionally, to welcome new people into His service. My life is so much better with Him in it.