Meeting The Horned God: Popular Misconceptions

Following from reikiheidi’s introductory post about the Horned God, I thought I would go into more detail regarding some of misconceptions about the Horned God. Many people are still influenced by ancient Christian propaganda and more or less equate the Horned God with Satan. This is not the case as I will attempt to demonstrate.


A boil covered Job flees from Satan. From William Caxton’s The Golden Legend, ca 1483-1484.

According to the Bible (Ezekiel 28:12) God describes Lucifer as “…perfect in beauty.” He was created by God as a cherub angel, and is considered the greatest being ever created, outranking even the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The Bible (Ezekiel 10:10-17) describes a cherub angel as having four faces: one of a cherub, one of man, one of a lion and one of an eagle. They stand at about 18 feet tall, have four wings with hands underneath, and their entire bodies are covered in eyes. This description applied to Satan before his fall from Heaven. Whether his appearance changed following his fall is not, to my knowledge, stated. Alternately in Revelations (12:3), Satan is described as a seven-headed dragon with 10 horns. Evidently there is scant biblical support for the supposed iconographic similarities between Satan and the Horned God.

Detail of Pan from a vase painting depicting the Judgement of Paris. Ca 320 BC

Detail of Pan from a vase painting depicting the Judgement of Paris. Ca 320 BC

So where did this perception come from? It can be traced back to early Christian attempts to convert the old pagan populations of Europe to Christianity. The exact origin of the demonisation of the ancient horned Gods has been lost in the mists of time. Pan is perhaps the best known of these pagan Gods, and shares much of the His symbology with popular conceptions of Satan including horns, goats legs, cloven hoofs and tail. It is worth noting that in most modern and ancient depictions the Horned God possesses only the horns and not the goat aspects. It is easy to see that the libidinous image of Pan with his partly animal form and permanent erection (a symbol of virility), would be abhorrent to the ascetic early Church Fathers. It seems that Pan who is just one of many old horned Gods revered around Europe and the Mediterranean has been used as a blueprint for the most common image of the Christian Satan. There is evidence that Pan had a wide following around the formerly Hellenistic regions of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. For instance a shrine to Pan located at the ancient site of Ceasaera Phillipi near the Jordan River and the borders of Israel, Syria and Lebanon. Archaeologists excavating the shrine, that was erected some time following the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BC, found that although the ritual practices seem to change over time, the shrine did not fall out of use until some 700 years later in the 4th century AD. That Pan was not indigenous to the region and yet outlived the Hellenic culture that exported him there by many centuries – even here in the birthplace of Christianity – demonstrates his popularity, at least with rural populations. Nor is Ceasaera Phillipi an isolated case, in Egypt Pan was equated with Egypt’s own horned Gods such Banebdjedet (the Ram of Mendes) and even Zeus-Ammon, and perhaps also the phallic deity Min. The same equivalence and similarities were seen elswhere; the Basque image of the horned God Akerbeltz, the celtic Cerrunos and Herne and the Roman Faunus. To the early Chritians Pan came to symbolise all the pagan Gods and their most dangerous aspect: freedom. The early pagans were absent the idea of sin, Pan epitomised this perhaps most of all, with his guilt free and promiscuous nature he would have been seen as the antithesis of the Abrahamic perceptions of sex and the marginal role of women. Thus he became synonomous with the arch-daemon of Christianity. It seems this perception was formed relatively quickly; in the early 4th CE Eusebius responded to Plutarch’s report of the alleged ‘death of the Great God Pan’, claiming that the Christian God had rid humankind of its biggest demon. By this time apparently the perceived equivalence of Pan, and thus all the pagan Gods, with demons and Satan was already established. The Christian church spent most of its first millennium mopping up pockets of paganism around Europe. Turning the pagan’s own symbology against them was one of the many tools employed in this task. The medieval Church zealously re-iterated this horned depiction of Satan and it is solidly ingrained even today. The simple facts of the matter are that the Horned God symbolism pre-dates Christianity by millennia, and contradicts Christianity’s own biblical depictions of Satan. The success of the adoption and transformation of the image of the Horned God and Pan in particular is indicative of how popular and therefore threatening the horned Gods were to early Christianity, and also of Christian flexibility in adapting pagan symbology into it’s own dogma. It is worth mentioning that another popular symbol of the Devil, the pitchfork or trident is most likely a reference to the Greek God Poseidon who also bore a trident, the symbol is not to my knowledge associated with the Horned God.

Baphomet, the Sabbatic Goat, by Eliphas Levi, 1855.

The misunderstandings are exacerbated further by the use of aspects of Horned God symbolism by Satanists. The Church of Satan has adopted Baphomet as its official emblem. The symbol of Baphomet has a curious history, which I will not relate here. Instead of being a pre-Christian emblem of the Horned God, it is a post-Christian reaction to Christianity itself, incorporating the horned and goat-like characteristics that, as I have discussed, were taken by Christians from the original pagan sources. For instance the name Baphomet is most likely a medieval corruption of ‘Mahomet’ an old rendering of Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam. The originator of the Baphomet symbol Eliphas Levi derived it, in part, from the ‘Devil’ card of the eighteenth century Tarot of Marseilles and representations of the Egyptian ‘Ram of Mendes’, Banebdjedet. Levi’s image does not and it seems has never been intended to depict the Horned God, but instead depicts Satan or in Alestair Crowley’s words “the hieroglyph of arcane perfection”. It is ironic that Satanism has adopted the very same symbols for use against Christianity that the Christians themselves lifted from paganism in order to discredit it.

Needless to say therefore, Neopagans do not worship the Devil. In fact we do not believe in Satan or even in the Christian duality of good and evil. Rejecting the good/evil dualism does not mean that Neopaganism is amoral; most if not all practitioners follow a form of the Golden Rule, often called the Wiccan Rede, which states ‘Do what thou wilt, though it harm none’.

Detail of a Horned God probably the Celtic Cernunnos, from the Gundestrup Cauldron. Ca 200 BC – 300 AD.

Additionally there is the ‘Rule of Three’ or ‘Law of Returns’, a principle similar to Karma which attests that whatever energy and intent you put out into the world, constructive or destructive, will be returned to you three-fold.

I hope this goes some way to resolve some of the anxieties and misunderstandings commonly associated with the Horned God. The next posts on the topic will go into more detail about who the Horned God actually is, his role, attributes, history etc.

Thanks for reading and blessings be )O(

Posted on February 22, 2013, in Paganism and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Interesting and well written, thank you. Have a look at this piece of art by one the masters:

  2. Have been away for awhile and just catching up with all of this. Thank you so much for these explanations. I am realizing while reading these essays that I still have quite a bit of Christian programming about the devil within my psyche, although I have studied many different religious philosophies and ideologies. Your theories of how the pagan horned god became vilified by the early Christians is most fascinating and most helpful in getting this piece of mis-information resolved for me. Many blessings to both of you, Alia

    • Thank you Alia, and sorry for my tardy response! I am glad you found this enlightening, I am still working on a post about the history of the Horned God, in researching the subject I am learning an enormous amount and the whole project is becoming something of an act of devotion which I had never anticipated. So thank you very much for the original prompt. Blessings be 🙂

  3. Thank you very much Mr Hanna for taking the time to read and comment. I agree the subject is fascinating, and regardless of our own personal beliefs it forms an influential part of our collective history. Thank you for your interest and support 🙂

  4. This is really interesting. I do not share your worldview, though I have several Wiccan and pagan friends. I think the whole discussion and history of this ‘horned god’ is utterly fascinating, though. I’m looking forward to your next post.

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