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Although the representations of Celtic deities usually show them as anthropomorphic, the Celts were not bound by human-only limitations when portraying their gods. The Celtic world was often a shifting, inconstant world in which the forms of things - or beings - could easily change. A common example of this is the application of animal forms to human deities, particularly horns, with Cernunnos being the best-known example.

Cernunnos' name is uncertain: his name has been identified mainly from a damaged inscription found at a Romano-Celtic altar in Paris. However, Roman inscriptions occaisionally speak of a Jupiter Cernenus, implying the name is in fact correct. The god's physical shape would match this too: Cernunnos means "the Horned One," and horned Cernunnos is. Representations of this god show him as a human with a stag's antlers, often carrying or in the company of boars and horned serpents. Torcs - items of significant religious and economic significance to the Celts - dangle from his antlers, and he is often shown carrying a pouch of coins or acorns, both symbols of prosperity.

Cernunnos was seen as many things: lord of animals, member of the divine race descended from Danu (or Anu), a caretaker of the creatures of the underworld (which the horned serpents - creatures almost unique to Celtic religion - may be seen to represent), and a god of wealth, in particular metallic wealth. Whatever role Cernunnos took to individuals, he was seen as very important to the Celtic people - so much so, in fact, that the Christian church specifically targetted him, twisting his representations through fusion with other mythological beings such as Pan into what is now the stereotype of Satan. Despite his portrayal as an evil being, however, he continued to survive in legend, folklore, and the occaisional folk ritual. Even today, there are places in Ireland in which an August fertility festival is observed, in which someone dresses up like the Horned One to set off a three-day celebration of dancing, drinking, other wholesome activities.

Sources

Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization. New York: Doubleday 1995.
Green, Miranda. The Gods of the Celts. Dover: Alan Sutton Publishing 1996.
Stewart, R.J. Celtic Gods, Celtic Goddesses. London: Blandford 1990.

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