I fell in love with Wiccan-Witchcraft because of the Goddess. I saw her face in the moon, the green earth, and the green waters of the Mississippi River that flowed just a few blocks from my house. When engaged in ritual it was the Goddess I called to, and when I read Witchcraft books I did so in order to draw closer to her. When those books mentioned the Horned God I simply scanned the page, hoping to escape from the horned nightmare in front of my eyes.
I mostly grew up in the American South, and had been active in the Christian Church during my teenage years. By the time I turned twenty-one and had mostly embraced Witchcraft I had begun to realize just how wrong many Christian churches are about a whole host of things, but what if horned entities weren't among those missteps? I thought it best back then to keep some distance between myself and the Horned God in my Witchcraft practice, and if I did have to call to a male deity (shudder!) I decided it would be a more benign solar deity such as Apollo.
We are conditioned from a young age by society to look at horns on human figures with skepticism, contempt, and often fear. In films it's almost always the villain with horns or antlers on top of their head. Popular depictions of the Christian Devil (or Satan) are always horned, despite such descriptions never showing up in the Bible. If an artist wants to suggest a popular figure is greedy, selfish, or overly lecherous, they add horns to the top of that person's head in caricatures. If you were like me when I was younger and a little wary of the Horned God I can't blame you; the conditioning is hard to overcome.
My own relationship with the Horned God began rather unwillingly. I don't want to imply that I was forced into it (I think the Horned God respects boundaries), it's just that I wasn't looking for him. Even more than that, I was often intentionally ignoring him, whether it was in books, the natural world, or in ritual. But there was something there I couldn't ignore; it was like the distant cry of a friend, and it was never ceasing. He was simply always out there, on the edge of my awareness.
After many months of this, I simply shouted, "Pan" during ritual one night, and I felt a new power descend down upon me. I could feel the Horned God's heart for the first time; and it was loving, caring, compassionate, a touch wicked and slightly mischievous, but it certainly wasn't evil. After that night the Horned God became more than a power at the extreme edge of the circle; he became a friend, helper, companion, and guiding force. My Witchcraft practice had been satisfying and empowering before Old Horny, but now it felt even more surefooted.
Who is The Horned One?
I have seen many intelligent and charismatic Pagans, Polytheists, and Witches attempt to define deity over the last twenty-five years. Most often, those definitions have felt incomplete to me. Deity, which I have to assume is greater than we mere mortals, in my mind is absolutely limitless. I truly believe that deity is capable of showing up in a variety of forms, and that those forms will likely vary from person to person. My Horned One may not be exactly the same as your Horned One, and that's OK.
For much of the last seventy years the Horned God has been written about as the consort to the Goddess in Witchcraft literature. In such tales he often occupies a complementary role in ensuring the fertility and abundance of the earth. In artistic depictions of this theme the Horned God is almost always depicted as the manliest of straight men; he sports a beard, a cloak of animal furs, and often an erect phallus. And while it's perfectly fine for the Horned God to do those things and be seen that way, Horn Head is far more complex than that.
There have been horned goddesses for thousands of years. The most famous is probably Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of women, fertility, and the sky. Hathor's head is crowned with the horns of a cow. (Trust me, that was much more flattering 3000 years ago than it is today.) Gay sex was (and is) sacred to the Greek god Pan, and perhaps even more surprising, Pan was sometimes depicted as female in ancient art. The Gaulish-Celtic god Cernunnos also has a female analogue. More and more I find myself using the "Horned They" to signify the Horned One, because the figure can be so complex.
Perhaps the most famous manifestation of the Horned One outside of their more common male form is the goddess Elen of the Ways. Sporting the antlers of reindeer (female reindeer grow antlers in the wild and are the only reindeer to have antlers near Yuletide), Elen has risen from near obscurity to become one of the more popular goddesses of the last twenty years. To limit the Horned God to male genitalia is to limit the power of the Horned One.
The Horned God's most well-known attribute is their connection to the natural world. In many cosmologies the Horned One is a willing sacrifice, forfeiting their life for the fertility of the earth, only to be reborn in the cold of Winter while the ground sleeps. The Horned Ones connection to sex and pleasure is an attribute emphasized by many Witches, but this, too, in its many forms, is a part of the natural world. Though the Horned God is the guardian of the Earth's wild spaces, he also guards the portal from the world of the living to the domains of the dead. Life and death are a part of our existence, and the Horned One keeps one foot (or hoof) in both spaces.
Connecting to the Horned God
One of the most frequent questions I get when talking to other Witches is, "How do I connect with the Horned God?" There is no one way to build a relationship with the Horned One, and how old Horny finds each of us will vary. Many Witches encounter the Horned God in one of their more defined roles, perhaps as Pan, Cernunnos, or Elen of the Ways. Others connect with the greater Horned God figure, whose being spans a variety of specific deities. Traditional Witches often encounter him as the Witch-Father, a figure who has looked out for and guided Witches for a millennium. There is no right or wrong Horned One, only the version that best resonates with you.
As a god of the natural world, I've always found nature the best place to connect with the Horned God. On a still day I can hear his voice in the whisper of the wind or the bubbling babble of a creek or river. Periodically the Horned One's face will appear in the green of the forest, or the sands of the desert. In such instances he speaks to my heart and not my head, and I find myself overcome with emotion.
The more mystical experiences tend to be the exception, and while the feelings may not be as overwhelming, I also feel the Horned One in day-to-day activates. Tending to the garden, I can feel him nodding approvingly in the distance, especially when my hands are covered with dirt. Walking through urban areas, I believe he smiles when I pick up some litter or simply notice the power of nature in the concrete jungle. Life finds a way when a weed finds purchase in a sidewalk crack, and there I see the power of the Horned One reflected back at me.
Stories of Witchcraft rituals in the late Middle Ages and early Modern Period are generally descriptions of empowerment and enjoyment. Sure, there was the occasional tale of human sacrifice (which most certainly didn't happen) but apart from that, the worst that could be said about those sabbat rites were consensual orgies. This is because I believe the Horned One truly wants us to be happy and finds delight in rites of pleasure. Nothing seems to upset certain types of Christians more than people enjoying their sexuality and taking control of their own bodies (this last part applies especially to women controlling their bodies). The Horned One is about sovereignty over our physical form and the joys it can bring.
The Horned One is not static, which is why they have manifested in a number of ways to a variety of Witches. This means Horn Head has grown as we have. Today's Horned God is a god of consent and acceptance. When we treat others with respect, we honor the Horned One.
I believe that relationships between deities and human beings is a reciprocal one. Deity blesses us with its power and presence, and we grow that deity's power and presence by presenting offerings as a way of thanks. An offering does not mean one must give up their rent money or sacrifice an animal in their back yard. It just means that when we have been blessed by the gods, we should thank the gods for those blessings.
Offerings can be physical things. At my house, the most common offerings are wine and whiskey. We sometimes pour those offerings directly onto the earth, and other times place them in chalices specifically dedicated to specific deities. But offerings don't have to just be physical. A poem, dance, or story shared in honor of a figure like the Horned One is also an appropriate offering. As long as what's being offered is heartfelt and honest, it will bring you closer to the Horned One. Pouring a quart of expired milk upon the ground is not an appropriate offering.
The term "prayer" often feels like a dirty word in many Witchcraft communities, but it shouldn't be. Prayer is simply how we speak to deity. Sparing a few minutes a day to thank the Horned One or to ask for a closer relationship is a tried and true way to grow closer to him.
Another way to grow closer to the Horned One is by building him an altar. A Horned God altar does not need to be elaborate; it should simply be a collection of things that remind you of him. My Horned God altar contains several statues, but also pinecones, acorns, stones, and several stuffed (plushie) goats. I use the altar as a focal point when talking to him, and as a way to leave him offerings. When I burn incense upon my Horned God altar I do so as a gift to him.
The Horned One exists in this world and the next. They guard the mysteries of the end and the wonder of beginnings. The Horned God is the stern face of nature, and the laughter at the bottom of a wine glass. Ask the average person about Witchcraft and they very well may mention a horned deity. Ask a Witch about the Horned God and they will tell you about a Friend and Comforter who rules the Wild Spaces.