Animal Father =/= Horned God

Over the weekend I came into the possession of a marvelous set of eight-point red stag antlers, a vintage mount on a velvet-covered board. My original intent was to incorporate them into some sort of artwork. However, not long after I brought them home, the Animal Father started hinting that he’d like them as part of a personal shrine, since Artemis has one herself. (We’re still debating, since I had some ideas for these antlers, but I’m also not completely opposed to keeping them around–and the stag spirit wouldn’t mind, either.)

This whole business with the antlers brought up something that I’ve been aware of since I began working with the Animal Father–he is not the same deity as the Wiccan Horned God, or the various horned deities who get tossed under that aegis from time to time (Cernunnos, Herne, etc.). Yes, he’s depicted with antlers, but he has made it very clear to me that he is is own being, and that the Horned God motif doesn’t fit him.

One reason is because he has a much less “human” feel to him than the Horned God. He would never be found on horseback, with or without the Wild Hunt. He is only as anthropomorphized as is necessary for humans to interact with him, and to bring forth the melding of humanity with other animals. As he is a patron of shapeshifting, something that primarily concerns humans, having some human traits helps to connect him, in our minds, to that particular practice. However, he is no more (or less) human than he is any animal. Even in his anthropomorphic form, he is much less humanoid than many other deities. Most depictions of the Horned God and various associated deities show a rather normal looking man, maybe with a beard–and antlers. In fact, the antlers, and maybe a couple of dead pelts, are all that really show the Horned God as being an animal deity. One could easily see a humanoid Goddess lying in the grass with the humanoid-with-horns Horned God. However, rutting with the Animal Father might be just a little too close to less savory practices.

Additionally, while the Animal Father does have antlers in the most common depiction of him, he is not a “stag god” as the Horned God has more and more come to be in modern paganism. Nor is he limited to hoofed animals, or mammals, or vertebrates. He could actually show up as any animal or combination of animals; he is the Animal Father, and he could be anything from a worm to a whale. While he could show himself as entirely human, he generally does not, particularly in this day and age where humanity is so far removed from its animal self. It would be a most unpleasant experience for him, to my understanding–we’re talking about a deity who much prefer to meet with me out in the wilderness, rather than my ritual room or even the nearby park. The wilder, the better. To draw from the energy of modern humanity, even with the remaining indigenous hunter-gatherer and agrarian cultures, would be too alien an experience for him. So he chooses to appear only as part-human when necessary.

The antlers have become well-known, and he knows that they would be quite evocative for me, though he would want me to incorporate other animal parts to the shrine as well, if I give in to his wishes. The culture he came from and the pagans he has since worked with are most familiar with large mammals in their religions. These tend to evoke a lot of primal feelings in humans, moreso than, say, carp or June bugs. So he most often wears the guise of creatures that cause us to remember that we, too, are animals, and we can only distance ourselves from Nature so much.

And that’s something I came to realize this weekend as I was writing about the term “therioshamanism”. “Therio” already refers to the animal spirits I work with, and the spirit and physical animals that are part of my “community” as a shaman, and for whom I will be shamanizing once I’m trained. However, one thing I’ve noticed during my first six months is that my training has reminded me that I am an animal. I’m not just talking about my therianthropy and that which is wolf in me. I’m talking about myself as the human animal–maybe something I need to know about even more than me-as-wolf. My training has not only gotten me in more touch with my instincts, but has helped me to have a better awareness of my physical body, my needs and my health. The therianthropic aspects are there, but they aren’t necessary to this aspect of “therio”. I could be not a therianthrope, and it would still be the same.

Back on the main topic, those are the main reasons that the Animal Father is not the Horned God. I did a flocked post in my Livejournal about the antlers and the Animal Father, and had a couple people tell me that they’ve actually worked with him before, or are otherwise familiar with him other than through my work. This pleases me–perhaps I’ll have something besides my own UPG to go on as time goes on. Not that my UPG isn’t “good enough”, as it were, but it’s nice to get some external validation.

ETA: Another consideration: I’m not an expert on Indo-European mythology. However, a bit of research brings up potential links between the Hindu Pashupati, and later horned deities such as Cernunnos. Assuming that the Animal Father does stem from the painting at Les Trois Freres (if not earlier) then he would still predate the proto-Indo-European peoples (from whence both the Indians and the Celts sprang) by several thousand years.  Thoughts?

7 thoughts on “Animal Father =/= Horned God

  1. That picture of the Animal Father is interesting and kind of disturbing. It’s hard to tell what kind of animal he’s supposed to be – he seems like all animals. This picture is a lot different from most of the pictures I’ve seen, which try to imbue him with what humans would recognize as power – but this creature is powerful in a different way – in the same way that a rabbit is powerful, for example. It’s powerful because it… I don’t know. Spreads seeds around? Multiplies rapidly? Makes the wilderness more able to grow by leaving rabbit do everywhere? Does whatever rabbits do, better, faster, and more perfectly than any other creature can do that particular set of things…. Only the Animal Father being all animals can do whatever any animal can do, perfectly.

    I wonder how the human animal is really supposed to behave, not in termis of what I think I know, but rather in terms of what the Animal Father has to teach about the way animals Are.

  2. Well, the Wiccan Horned God is an interesting concept, as is the traditional Wiccan Goddess.

    *Technically* if you take into account the writings of Janet and Stewart Ferrar, *non horned deities* fit into the “Horned God” continuum- Ra and Odin for example. Baphomet is often included in “The Horned God Chant” even though *He* has female sexual characteristics, and is *never* traditionally included in the female dichotomy.

    I say this in the spirit of making a technical point, not a judgement.

    Traditonal Wicca is a very different animal (no pun intended) from what ends up in most popularly available writings. The DIY version (which is dominant now both in the States and has become prevasive in the UK and Canada) is loosely based in the *generalized concepts* of Traditonal Wicca (as passed down from Gardner and Alexander) but has it’s core in a *very* different place. Again, this is jut a statement of opinion, not of judgement of whether this is good, bad or good with rice pilaf.

    One of the *commonalities* traditonal Wicca and many of the forms of “traditional shamanism” I am aware of to one extent or another have in common is the idea that *not everyone* is equally capable of being a *fill in the blank* in theory or practice- or maintaining the same level of “Human/Deeper Power” relationship for that matter.

    That is something popularized Wicca *and* core shamanism DO have in common- that “everyone” (opportunity, ability to apply oneself etc. aside) is *theorecticaly* capable of voluntarily studying the techniques, and “getting whatever they can get out of them”.

    Again, *different worlds* *different world views*. And, on a slightly darker note, different operating rules and guidelines.

    It is interesting, as always to read your observations over time, as you seek and struggle to form connections between threads long and very fine, and ropes that seem stubby and rough. Good Luck!

  3. Sia–Glad you liked it 🙂

    Helen–This is one of the reasons I’m glad to be working with him. He is most definitely one of the most primal deities out there, and for someone who feels the need to reconnect with Nature, he’s a good guide for that. Not just “Oooooh, cute lil’ bunnies are cute!” but dealing with some of the rougher aspects of Nature–death, for example.

    Baphometis–Those are good observations on perspectives, and the differences thereof. My experiences are much more geared towards the “neo” end of things, so my basis of comparison will more often come from there. But the more traditional ways of looking at things are not necessarily defunct–though their lower accessibility may make them less appealing. But you get that with any social movement, group, etc.–the more people who are interested and want to join, the more watered-down (or otherwise changed, though not always in a negative way) things may become to accomodate them.

  4. I believe I’ve met Animal Father actually, once (which was enough, he’s definitely not ‘my’ deity in the sense that he wants anything long term to do with me). I have enough dark / primal gods to be getting on with, so I’m glad my meeting with him was brief; if visceral. If it was him. *grin*

    Anyway, I do believe he is extremely different to Herne / Cernunnos. For a start, I think he originated in different places, despite sharing maybe some ‘animal’ characteristics in common (stag antlers, for example).

    I think what you experience in Animal Father, others have definitely experienced before, but left ‘nameless.’ There are some in neopaganism, who are too scared to give their own names for something, in case they are appropriating something far older. But in the act of giving, or learning the name of Animal Father, you have opened up doors for others to go ‘well, actually, I’m not sure if it’s him or not, but this sounds *very* familiar.’

    In that sense your delineation and experiences of Animal Father can serve to liberate others into recognising what their own experiences may or may not be.

    I’m rambling now. Methinks it’s time to lie down again and rest my knee.

  5. Rutting with Herne is savory? Man, all my UPG gets me on that query is “yes! Garlic is involved.”

    I dunno, I mean, I’m sure your Animal Father’s definitely not the same guy? But I’m getting a real “Herne’s too civilized” vibe off of your post that doesn’t mesh with my experience of him at all. I dunno as he’d show up as a whale — not lots of them down Great Park way — but that’s more regional context than anything.

    (I’m also not quite sure what to make of the implication that a humanoid goddess would be all “ew, bestiality!” — if we continue to cast about vaguely for popular contemporary neopagan beliefs, then why would that upset our hypothetical goddess when she’s perfectly all right with Moebius-strip incest? Where does that line go?)

  6. Ravenari–Considering that red deer feature prominently in some of the paleolithic cave art, the Animal Father having antlers isn’t surprising. Deer in general tend to capture the imagination–they’re big, they make a lot of noise, and they’re a primary food source. So I can see a cervine theme popping up independently in various places and times.

    I am hoping that, while I don’t want to start some sort of cult, that I can help people find opportunities to give a name to their experiences–not just with Deity, but in general. Sometimes I do stop and think “Why the heck am I making this all up?” But then I stop being detached, immerse myself again, and it makes sense.

    wednesday–I think the civilized thing isn’t so much from the individual deities that get put under the Horned God umbrella, as it is the concept of the umbrella itself. Combining deities has a tendency to lessen the individual traits of the deities involved, and the Horned God includes deities that aren’t even antlered. This means that the traits most often seen are generally those that are more common among all the deities under the umbrella.

    I also think deities have fewer (or different) scruples than we do; the squick factor was more from the human observation end.

    My argument, I suppose, lies primarily with the popular conceptions/depictions of the Horned God, especially within (neo)Wicca. I don’t really care for the “Horned God” umbrella as it’s commonly used as a name for a single, all-encompassing deity. I don’t agree with “All gods are one god”, and I think that that attitude/theology has a tendency to blunt the edges of the individual deities in an attempt to make them all fit together.

    So it’s not so much that Cernunnos, Herne and others are in and of themselves sanitized, but that the Animal Father was emphasizing that he isn’t part of the (neo)Wiccan Horned God Conglomerate, such as it is.

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