The Call of Cernunnos

The Call of Cernunnos March 31, 2024

We know very little about Cernunnos from ancient times. His name is recorded only once, on the Pillar of the Boatman, a Latin and Gaulish sculpture near Paris that dates to the early first century CE. Many of us believe it is Cernunnos who is depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron, but we have no way to know for sure.

This lack of history and lore has done nothing to keep Cernunnos from becoming one of the most popular deities in modern Paganism.

If you’ve read The Book of Cernunnos, you may recognize those words from the introduction. After further thought – and further experience – I think it might be better to say that Cernunnos is one of the most active deities in our world today.

photo by Cathy Beckett

A Spring Equinox ritual honoring Cernunnos

Last Saturday was Denton CUUPS’ Spring Equinox circle and it was my turn to lead the ritual. When I started planning, I remembered that March 23 was the Feast of Cernunnos in a polytheist order I belonged to a few years ago. Sadly, that order is no longer in existence, but I still observe its feast days. So I didn’t have to think very long about who should be the Deity of the Occasion.

Denton CUUPS doesn’t have the large numbers we had before the pandemic started – we can’t do rituals that take a lot of people to set up and present anymore. CUUPS Coordinating Officer and good friend Cynthia Talbot challenged me to come up with something that would be meaningful and transformative that could be done with the number of people we have. Creating the structure was simple – figuring out the theme and the liturgy was not.

So I did what I usually do in such cases – I went for a walk. A very long walk – seven miles through the local greenbelt parks. It’s not wilderness, but it’s beautiful and powerful and a place where I can get away from TV and social media and my paying job and just be present in Nature.

I asked Cernunnos what He wanted me to do. It didn’t take long before the ideas started coming.

Some Gods speak with words. Cernunnos does that sometimes, but more often He speaks in images, impressions, and feelings. I like to think that’s how He spoke to very early humans before we developed the capacity for language, but that’s more of a guess than UPG, much less anything we have evidence for.

It was all coming so fast I broke out my phone and started recording voice messages for myself so I wouldn’t forget anything before I could get home and write it all down.

A sign in Nature from a God of Nature

As I was finishing up the walk and starting to go back over some of the key points of the ritual, I saw what I assumed was a dog walking across one of the open fields. At first I was annoyed because it wasn’t on a leash, which is required in the parks. And then I realized it wasn’t a dog.

It was a bobcat.

photo by John Beckett

Bobcats aren’t exactly rare in the North Texas suburbs, and the wildlife management people say the population is growing. Most people keep their dogs and cats inside, which means the wild rabbit population is thriving, and wild rabbits are bobcats’ favorite food. Still, you don’t see them very often, and when you do it’s usually around dawn or dusk. This was late morning.

If I needed confirmation I was on the right track, here it was.

I’m not big on trying to read meanings into every encounter with wild animals. Most times what we see are just animals doing their own things for their own reasons. But sometimes, what’s meaningful isn’t what an animal is doing, it’s the fact that against all odds you’re there to see it.

Being in the right place at the right time to see a wild animal just as I’m working on a ritual for the Lord of the Wild? That means something.

The main liturgy

Words are only part of a ritual – and most times they aren’t the most important part. We’re Pagans, not Protestants. But words – along with a few pictures – are all that I can share here. Even if we recorded the whole thing on video, it wouldn’t be the same. Video ritual is a different creature.

This was the invitation to our main working.

An invitation from Cernunnos

To say that we are living in stressful times would be a massive understatement. Socially, financially, politically, environmentally… We struggle to keep our heads above water and still have some time and energy left for those things that are most meaningful to us.

In these times, a good spiritual practice is not a luxury – it’s a necessity. Our regular prayers, offerings, meditations, and other work form and maintain our sacred relationships. These practices are essential to our ability to live, and to live well.

We are Pagans, and we take refuge in Nature. Not just the Wheel of the Year and the agricultural cycle – as important as those things are – but also as part of the wild.

Unlike what some like to pretend, the wild is not the lone wolf. The wild is the pack, the herd, the tribe.

Take refuge in each other.

Take refuge in Nature where ever you find it: in a city park or in your back yard. Look at the plant in your kitchen window. Learn from your cat.

Take refuge in Cernunnos, who we honor here tonight.

The Gods are not vending machines, but they care for Their own. Are you part of Nature, part of the wild? Then you have a connection to Cernunnos – if you do your part to maintain that connection.

What would you say to Cernunnos?

Write your message to Cernunnos – your praise, your need, your introduction. Write your prayer. It need not be long or poetic – a few words are plenty. It need only reflect the yearnings of your heart.

When you are finished, come forward and drop the paper in the cauldron. Let the fire carry your prayer to Cernunnos.

photo by John Beckett

Subtle movements are powerful

It can be difficult to gauge how a ritual is going when you’re leading it. While a ritual leader in a coven or other very small group can let themselves go where the Gods or spirits or energy is going, a leader of a public ritual has to keep one foot firmly in this world, and usually two. Plus this wasn’t the kind of spectacle that grabs people’s attention and generates a dramatic response.

This was more subtle.

The Gods are often subtle.

I had more comments about how this ritual spoke to people than I’ve had in several years. I’d like to take credit for that, but I know I’m just the facilitator. If people found a connection in this ritual, it was because of Cernunnos, not because of me.

Listen for the call of Cernunnos

The Gods have been relatively quiet since the beginning of the pandemic.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself, and for my co-religionists who have experienced the same thing. The Gods haven’t gone away – they never really go away – but Their messages and instructions and orders have dropped dramatically. Some of this is because They have other things to deal with besides human affairs, and some of it is because They knew we had plenty to worry about as it was.

But I think Cernunnos is becoming more active in our world again.

The publication of The Book of Cernunnos last June is an example of this, not the cause of it.

This ritual – and the response to it – is another example.

So are the reports and questions and inquiries about and around Cernunnos I’m getting. They’re far more frequent now than they were this time last year, much less in 2020 through 2022.

We don’t have to think very hard to understand why. It’s not just that the natural world is in turmoil and so of course a God of Nature is concerned – and active. It’s also because He’s showing us the way through the turmoil.

Respect Nature. Take refuge in Nature. Remember that you are a part of Nature. Take care of yourself, and take care of each other.

And listen for the call of Cernunnos.

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