Yesterday was is the Pagan festival of Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-wain’) , this is one of the eight major Neopagan festivals and is considered to be New Years’ Eve by many Pagans. Due to the festivals’ significance to the pre-Christian peoples of north-western Europe it was Christianised as All Hallows Eve, later abbreviated to Hallow’een/Halloween. Many of the popular Halloween traditions observed today have their origins in ancient Pagan practices.
The significance of Samhain must be understood in terms of the Wheel of the Year. In the Neopagan cosmology the Horned God is a Solar deity who undergoes a birth-death-rebirth journey every year. The Triple Goddess represents Mother Earth (as well as the Moon), transforming through Her Maid, Mother and Crone aspects with the progress of the seasons . Together the Triple Goddess and the Horned God in their joint journey provide the mythological basis for the changing of the seasons. At Midwinter the Horned God is born, and the Goddess is renewed as the Maid, by the spring the Horned God has matured to be the Young Hunter pursuing the Maiden Goddess, at Midsummer the Goddess and God are lovers, the Goddess is pregnant with the bounty of summer and the God is in his prime. In the autumn the God transfers his strength and virility to the ripening harvests, whilst the Goddess transforms into Her Crone aspect. At Samhain the Horned God’s strength is spent and He dies, passing on to travel the underworld until He is reborn again at Yule.
As such Samhain represents the death of the Horned God, the end of the Year, the end of the Summer bounty and Harvest and ritual preparation for the descent into the cold dark of Winter. The death of the Horned God gives the day its association with the dead, it is the day at which the veil that divides this world from the other-worlds is at its thinnest. Traditionally it was believed that spirits of the dead and otherworldly entities would walk abroad. Many Halloween traditions were originally directed at tricking or appeasing these entities, wearing disguises and collecting communal offerings have gradually transformed into trick or treating. It is possible that these practices are part of the folk memory stemming from the distant past when Pagan priests and priestesses would have been dressed as deities and represented them on Earth, receiving offerings and sacrifices in thanks for the years’ bounty and in promise for the return of the Sun the following year. Since the veil between worlds is so frail this is the ideal time for practising divination, which was often done communally and evolved into practices like apple bobbing.
To me the significance of Samhain rests in its main spiritual aspect – the descent into the Underworld. The Horned God has a great many aspects, included in these is the Lord of the Underworld. The Pagan Underworld is not the same as Christian Hell, it is the abode of the Dead and the realm of the ancestors. However, it is neither limbo nor a realm of suffering, it is more a repository of spiritual history and wisdom, the place where deep and ancient knowledge can be obtained. In His role as the Lord of the Underworld the Horned God plays the role of psychopomp (guiding the spirits of the dead to their spiritual resting place), the master/teacher of arcane wisdom and the holder of knowledge that is by its nature a mystery to living. The Triple Goddess in Her aspect as the Crone represents much the same thing. Both deities can be appealed to for assistance and wisdom throughout the year however their winter aspects lend a harder edge to their personas. Winter and death represent literally and symbolically the subject of destruction and endings, this can be frightening and has ‘dark’ associations though there is no element of evil involved. I find myself drawn to the unknown and unknowable and have a love for autumn and Samhain in particular.
There are ritual formulas for observing Samhain, usually involving the lighting of a bonfire as at Beltane, communing with the ancestors and divining the coming year. This year we took a relaxed approach to our celebration, we carved a pumpkin and bought sweets for the local trick-or-treaters, when they had finished their rounds we set up our altar and circle with each of the four elements and representations of the Horned God and Goddess, sealed the room and cast our circle in the same manner we always do. We gave our thanks to our ancestors known and unknown for all that they have done and given and poured an offering of mead in their honour. With the formalities over we could have done a vision quest or journey, engaged in shamanic drumming or divination but instead we chose to start working our staffs. Reikiheidi had gathered a number of fallen branches over the past months with the intention of working them into ritual/magickal tools such as staffs and wands. We felt that Samhain would be a nice time to cut them to size, whittle away unwanted pieces and sand them down. This is the first time we had worked wood with ritual intention and we both found the exercise to be very calming and engaging, like any activity that requires full attention it has meditative qualities, and the satisfaction of seeing the item take form. I had not intended to do anything specific but whilst whittling away at my staff I found myself carving the top of my staff into the head of an eagle (one of my power animals). We ended the evening and the ritual with a meal.
It was a relaxed and understated evening, we both enjoyed ourselves and gave our thanks for an exciting and interesting past year which was full of change and growth and are looking forward to what the new year has to bring.
We have spoken about The Horned God and mentioned very little about his counterpart, the Triple Goddess. I thought it was about time we introduced this all-encompassing female deity.
Just as Neometheus and I found it a challenge to put into words and describe the Horned God, so we have found the Triple Goddess. It seems this exercise of writing down our beliefs to share with you, dear readers, has really made us examine what we think and how we think of those that we honour.
Where do I begin? What do I say about someone, or something, that encompasses all life? Exactly that: She IS all life. Goddess Mother. She is the earth: She nourishes us, protects us, and it is to her womb we return when we die. ‘Mother’ earth, Gaia – all are names for the Goddess. She is the cycle of the seasons, She is the Moon, She is the keeper of magical power, She is Fertility, She is Creativity, She is Will. When we honour Her, and the Horned God, we are honouring the earth and the aspect of each season, each cycle of the moon. The two aspects – physical and divine – are intertwined.
So who IS the Triple Goddess? Brighid; Arianrhod; Epona; Ceridwen, Morrigan – are some of the more well-known names of the Celtic Goddesses. Then you have other Goddesses from Ancient times – Hecate, Diana, Aphrodite, Isis, and many many more, too numerous to mention. Some Pagans honour specific Goddesses such as these, and the particular aspect that each represents.
Other Pagans, including myself – and by extension, Neometheus, do not honour a specific Goddess; we honour the Triple Goddess. Why? Why not give her a name? Because to us, she is all of these Goddesses rolled into one, and yet none of them. They are a part of Her, and She of Them, and yet they are separate deities. Think of it as a hologram. To understand this concept, you have to forget the mundane world and enter the Divine world; a kind of dream vision, where things don’t work in terms of ‘reality’.
It is interesting to note that both the Morrigan and Hecate are Triple Goddesses in themselves; The Morrigan is A Goddess, and incorporates Macha, Anu and Badb. She is also known by other names, there are many variations and myths surrounding her, but essentially each of these has Her own characteristics, traits and mythology. Hecate is shown as actually having three faces. So the Triple aspect is repeated in other Goddesses.
The term ‘Triple Goddess’ refers to her changing role as Maid, Mother, Crone. The Crone is perhaps the least well loved, the least understood, and the image that has been most distorted through modern times… and we shall see why, as I explain each of these aspects.
It is worth mentioning here that it is very hard to pin down an EXACT mythology of the Goddess. As we have said earlier, Neopagans do not have a structure, nor scripture. Each is free to believe, honour, and follow the path in their own way. Therefore the below is MY interpretation of the Goddess, which will perhaps differ somewhat from other neopagans, yet will have the same underlying core values.
The Maid is of course, the young woman, a virgin, and who is pursued by the young lusty hunter, the Horned God. She is Spring; resurgence of life, the new bloom. She is hope in life, joy, youth, and new beginnings. She is potential.
Is the Lover of the Horned God: He has caught – and courted – Her, and they stand side by side, strong in love and equal in power. She is Strength, she is the protector. She is Creativity. She is Summer, sustenance, calm, strength and power. She is wisdom. Her power starts waning as autumn gives way to winter.
At the Harvest, the Horned God sacrifices himself, giving himself to the corn, and being ‘harvested’ by the Goddess, to make way for new life. As the sun wanes, so too does the strength of the Horned God, he sets sail – to the West, say some, to the Underworld, say others, to rest and regather his strength (as he goes so the sun goes, and thus we have winter – as the sun goes, so he goes… you can read it either way, this is the symbology of the Horned God).
The Crone is the old woman. Ugly? NO. Warty? NO. Wearing a black shroud and muttering over a cauldron? Quite possibly…
The Crone is the keeper of the deep mystical secrets, deep knowledge of the Otherworld, and of the after-life. The Cauldron is the tool with which She helps guides souls back into rebirth. The cauldron is also a symbol of the womb, as well as the keeping of magics. She is Wisdom, She is Magic. This doesn’t seem a lot to say about her, but they are the two most powerful things to have. She can see far beyond and is also known as the keeper of the web of the Wyrd (Fate). She is the Winter – cold, harsh winter. But as with all life – what has been given must be reaped; taken again.
As Maid, she gave life, bloom, love – she kept, sustained and nourished this as the Mother in Summer – and now, as life cycles round, she takes away again, even unto death. Yet she does not bring death – she is the knowledge of death, and the guardian of it (Just as the Horned God is). The earth needs to rest and gather its strength. She is the Dark Moon.
As such, she is perhaps the least of the aspects of the Goddess that a Witch will favour, or ask a boon of – not because she is less loved, but because her boons and knowledge are so powerful, one must be sure what she/he is doing when he/she casts a circle for the Crone. However, she is also the One that is called upon to diminish: to banish anything negative, to get rid of unwanted things in life, and to lessen power of something no longer needed.
At this point, the Horned God has become the ‘wise old man’.(Yes, I know I said he ‘went away with the Sun’, but this was allegorical, He simply metamorphosises into this other aspect). Think of Merlin: the only person, or character, depending on how you think of him – who incorporates the traits of the old Horned God. Wise, intelligent, also guardian of death – He is the Light in the Dark, the companion on the road – knower of deep magic and mysteries, friend to all the animals. He is calm, sure, patient, knowing all things come in time.
The Crone and the Horned God are not often – if ever – seen together, yet they are still equal counter-parts.
From this, it is easy to see why the crone has been distorted throughout history: the most to be feared, the darkest. Her image has been warped to an ugly old woman working horrible tricks to evil ends (Disney haven’t helped this image, yet they are not the only nor the first to project such a distortion), yet nothing could be further from the truth. With Light, there is dark; with warmth, the cold. So it is with Maid-Mother-Crone. She, the Crone, is the culmination and the balance of Her other two aspects.
The Mother Goddess is under my feet when I walk. She is the face of the moon at which I look. She is the strength in my heart and the song in my soul. She is the knowledge unknown. She is the power being tapped.
When I call on the Goddess, how can I describe to you how I feel? I know I am free. Absolutely, totally free, in my soul. I know I cannot be harmed, for She is in me and beside me. She is beautiful, wise. Is She benign? Yes, but not weak. She will not suffer foolish frivolity. She is honest love, deep passion, and raw power.
This is (my) Triple Goddess. I hope you have come to understand Her a little better, Her relationship with the world we live in, and Her relationship with us, as witches, neopagans, and/or simply people.
A dear blogger friend has asked us about the Horned God of Paganism – or rather, I should say, Neo-Paganism: the ‘new’ Paganism that survives today, formed from Ancient Celtic Paganism. We are not, here, talking about Norse, Greek, or Roman Paganism.
Of course, we thought, yes, He needs an explanation for those who are not familiar with Him! And Neometheus and I were more than happy to oblige.
This has become a more monumental task than we realised: we started discussing, thinking, explaining to each other just WHO the Horned God is: who and what he represents to us. And the more we talked and thought, the more we came up with. How do you ‘wrap up’ a living God? – for that is what He is (more on this later.) I had never really thought in depth before about analysing the Horned God: He simply is; I know what He represents to me. Yet this task of sharing Him, of describing Him, has made me think deeply about this subject, and we have decided that there is no way we can describe Him in full measure in just one post. There is too much to say – He encompasses so much, has so many aspects, that one post would end up being ridiculously long! In fact, I wrote down some bullet points – and those alone ended up being 2 pages!
So Neometheus and I have decided that the best way to approach this is by headings, and (trying) to deal with one aspect at a time. Amongst these headings, we will include a personal anecdote of a meeting with the Horned God, as well as a guided meditation/journey for yourselves to meet Him, if you are curious and so choose. There is so much I could say about this right now, but I shall (reluctantly!) leave that for the appropriate time.
I realise this introduction doesn’t really tell you much, but we felt it necessary to explain our approach to this task. It’s probably worth noting at this point that paganism is not a religion – it is a belief system, as Buddhism is, a way of life. Also, Paganism is open to interpretation to each individual – there is no set scripture. If you ask 50 pagans to describe Paganism, or the Horned God, you will probably get 50 different answers. There are of course underlying core values, an understanding of ‘the path’, yet it is a very personal way of living life and interacting with the deities.
I understand that for our American readers, this may be more revelatory, surprising, and eye-opening than for our British readers. (For other cultures, I don’t know how Paganism is thought of in your countries, so I’m not leaving you out, just pointing out the American/British difference – your thoughts and comments on Paganism in your country are more than welcome). Online and in various ways, I have come across American Pagans. To be Pagan in America seems to be a huge deal: I have heard of people ‘not coming out’ to their family and friends, for fear of being thought a Satanist, ostracised, or dragged to the church to be baptised! Paganism seems to be less accepted and less understood in America. In Britain, it is accepted – or at least, not cared about by those that don’t follow ‘the path’. To say you’re Pagan may result in a raised eyebrow, a few curious questions, and a shrug. Others may think it is ‘cool’. That’s it. I have never feared calling myself Pagan in public, or even thought of hiding it. I am proud to be a Pagan… and proud to honour – we do not worship – the Triple Goddess and the Horned God.
So, time for some FAQs, which I hope will give you a basic and succinct introduction to this beautiful, living natural deity.
So just who is this Horned God?
Let’s state this clearly now: he is NOT Satan. Neopagans do not believe in Satan. Satan is the opposite of the Christian God, and thus, he can only exist within the Christian faith – as we perceive it. The Horned God is not evil.
The Horned God is dynamic, a part of nature, and is often ‘seen’ as living in glades, woodlands, groves and forests – anywhere there is wild nature. He is a hunter, passionate, wild, driven, full of absolute joy – and he is a wise old man, brimming with knowledge. This is his dual aspect –something else we will cover in more detail later.
So why does He have horns and cloven feet?
The Horned God is a god, not human. His animal symbols, as described above, represent his Oneness with nature. They are there to remind us that he is more than human; he is all life. It is not the animalistic nature of Humanity he represents with his horns and hoof; it is his totality with all life. He is guardian of the animals, he is One with them, as well as with us.
What do you mean by the term, ‘a living God’?
The Horned God is in and around everything in nature. He is in the trees; the plants; the animals. He is the cycle of the sun and the seasons. We honour Him as a part of Nature, always around us.
Neo-Paganism has resurrected the Horned God: We don’t know for sure how he was honoured or thought of in ancient Celtic ways, but we know enough to honour Him in our own way, today. He is not who he was then – but he is, and always has been, entwined in every aspect of nature. Just as Nature, and Ages and Culture, cycles and moves on, so too does the Horned God – hence ‘a living God’.
So you worship a male deity then?
No. First off as I have said, the term ‘worship’ is really anathema to neo-pagans. Rather, we honour our deities. We enter into a respected relationship with them. It is a relationship that is alive; interactive; respectful. We feel them in everyday life, we talk to them, offer offerings (no, not living sacrifices!) ask for their ‘favour’ or wisdom, – as long as we give something back to them. In respect of them, we honour all nature, as this is their domain and a part/aspect of them.
What do I mean by ‘they’? The Horned God is consort to the Triple Goddess. Many pagans see Her as the primary deity; many others consider them wholly equal. Either way, even when the Goddess is seen as ‘primary’, they are still in every way equal. This is a difficult concept to explain if you are unfamiliar with it. They have their own energies; power, unique aspects and ways of helping and manifesting to us. The Horned God is the Goddess’ support, Her companion, Her lover. They are two energies helping us in different yet equally important ways. There is much to discuss on this topic, which we hope to cover later.
That’s it for now. We hope that this covers the basics, and gives you a further insight and clarity into the male deity that we neo-pagans honour. We will be happy to answer any further questions that you may have on this subject, and of course we will follow up this introductory post with further details about the Triple Goddess and Horned God.
From the written record of human history several thousand different deities have been identified. Some you will have heard of many more you will not. Until a few years ago I would have called myself an atheist. I have now come to believe in the existence of the divine, I have my Gods to whom I connect with as often as I can. If I am prepared to acknowledge the existence of any given God, can I rationally deny the existence of any other? Some belief systems maintain that there is only one God or pantheon Gods and Goddesses, mine does not. How then should I regard my relationship to these other deities? If the spiritual and divine realms do indeed reflect the material world, then there is scope for myriad forms of spiritual beings and deities.
Many ancient pagan religions revered Gods and Goddesses under their different aspects, the Triple Goddess of neopaganism has the Maid, Mother and Crone aspects. This triple aspect feature is common among pagan deities and similar to the Christian Holy Trinity. Despite acknowledging multiple deities with multiple aspects I still consider myself a monist, that is the belief that all existence essentially comprises a single reality. That is a single divine reality, manifesting the physical universe, the spiritual realms, the soul of each individual and the Gods themselves; it has been variously called the Tao, Logos and Brahman among many other names.
It seems to me that the nature of reality and therefore the divine is holographic, meaning that each part contains within it the entirety of the whole. Normally when each of us encounters the divine we see one (or more) of its many faces. The face we see differs from person to person and culture to culture, whether or not we see that which we expect to see or whether the divine presents a face which is most appropriate to the time, place and expectations of the observer I could not say. Whoever we are and whatever Gods we call upon, it is the same divinity that gazes back at us all. This is not to say that Yahweh is identical to Odin, or that Zeus and Shiva are the same. They possess different personalities and attributes, potentially different spheres of influence and powers. They are all manifestations of the divine reality in the same way that each person is a different manifestation of the same ultimate divinity.
It has long been the goal of the wise to know the divine reality directly, it is agreed by those mystics that have experienced it that the divine is unknowable except through direct contact and practices such as Yoga and meditation. The Gods in the various forms in which they recognised are more accessible – perhaps that is part of their purpose, perhaps not – through prayer, Shamanism, meditation etc. Whilst Brahman cannot be understood except by the most elevated, the Gods represent a more discernible face that people can to connect to. If this represents intention on the part of the Gods, or whether we have evolved to be able to interpret the Gods in a way which makes sense to us I do not know. That many if not most of the Gods are anthropomorphised to some extent suggests to me the latter.
Some people may feel that this belief in some way diminishes the Gods, from being absolute in and of themselves. However this misunderstands the nature of the Great Hologram, since each part contains the entirety of the whole, each deity is no less than the entirety of reality; as incidentally are each of us as individuals. As the Hindu Vedanta philosophy says There is only Brahman.
I feel this idea accounts for the diversity of human experiences of the divine whilst maintaining the principle that we (people, nature and Gods) are all essentially one and the same infinite and divine essence. This vision of reality serves as the basis of a flexible, tolerant and all inclusive belief system, it allows me to rationally follow my chosen Gods whilst still aiming for the realisation of the understanding that I am one with Brahman.
Does this conflict or fit with your own beliefs?
Many thanks for reading, and blessings be )O(
- “Absolute Space” – The God? (arganesh3.wordpress.com)