Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Antler Dance: A Conversation with "Book of Cernunnos" Co-Editor John Francis Beckett


First off, congratulations on the publication of The Book of Cernunnos, a devotional volume dedicated to the Gaulish god of the same name. Why the specific focus on one particular god from one particular time and place rather than, say, on the Horned God more generally?

Rick Derks put a very nice devotional anthology together on the Horned God (Hoofprints in the Wildwood – 2011) and Jason Mankey has his book on The Horned God of the Witches. But no one has – to the best of our knowledge, anyway – ever done a book for Cernunnos. Jason and I are both devotees of Cernunnos, and a few years ago we decided that with all the devotional anthologies in the world, it was time Cernunnos had His own.



What makes Cernunnos so perennially popular among modern pagans?

He is a God of the Wild, a God of Nature, in a time when Nature is both under attack and fighting back. Cernunnos reminds us that for as far as we’ve come in the past 10,000 years of civilization, we lived on the edge of the wild for between ten and twenty times as long. We still need the wild – Cernunnos is a connection to the wild.


So, you're a Cernunnos guy yourself?

Yes. I feel like He’s been around me my whole life, but especially since I first encountered him in a “drawing down” ritual in 2006. I took priestly vows a year later, and He’s been an active part of my life ever since.


If you could ask an ancient Gaulish priest just one question about Cernunnos, what would it be?

I would ask the most vague and open-ended question I could, to try to get as much information from the priest as possible. I’d probably lead with “who is Cernunnos?”


Me, I'd want a story.

Iconography apart, we know virtually nothing about the Gaulish Antlered God: no hymns, no rituals, no mythology have survived. (We don't even know, for instance, if he had a Partner.) Does this present a danger for the modern pagan: the danger of projecting what we want to see onto a vague but attractive ancient template?

On one hand, yes. On the other hand, we in this time and place are simply doing what our ancestors did centuries ago: interpreting our experiences and comparing them to the experiences of others, to try to paint a broader picture of this person we’re encountering. For a God with no established lore, that’s the only way begin.

The Gods can speak to us just as They spoke to our ancestors.


Gods, don't they just? Would an ancient Gaul recognize the Cernunnos of this anthology?

We have no way of answering that question. I suspect they would find some things familiar and other things not.


Fair enough. What surprised you most in pulling this anthology together?

Just how broad and varied people’s experiences of Cernunnos have been. And yet, as different as they are, you can see the common threads running between them. Cernunnos may present Himself to different people in different ways, but it’s still Cernunnos.


What did assembling the anthology teach you about Him of the Torc?

Patience and determination… as befits such a very old, very primal deity. This project took far longer to complete than we ever expected, and there were multiple places where we considered dropping it. But His message was always “just keep moving forward.” So we did, and now the book is complete.


OK, big theological question: is the Gaulish Cernunnos qua Gaulish Cernunnos an entity discreet from the horned gods of other times and places--Pan, say, or the God of the Witches? If not, what is their relation to one another?

I am a hard polytheist – my answer to that question is “yes”. My default position is that different Gods are different persons, unless there’s a good reason to suspect they’re the same person known by a different name in a different place. To address your specific example, Cernunnos is clearly not Pan.


Is there a moral side to the Gaulish Cernunnos? Does he have any ethical implications?

I can’t speak to the Gaulish Cernunnos. But the Cernunnos I know (see the entry in the book titled “Cernunnos Denton”) is very concerned with nurturing and protecting our own: the mama bear, the stag protecting the herd, the thorns protecting the flower. Even in this high-tech society (especially in this high-tech society) there is a need to preserve wild places, and wildness within ourselves.


Horn/thorn: nice.

So: what's next?

I’ll be presenting two workshops at Mystic South in Atlanta in July. I’ll be leading another Under the Ancient Oaks online class starting in September. And I’m working on a book that I’m not ready to talk about yet – it’s probably a couple years from being released at this point. Meanwhile I’m still blogging regularly at Patheos.





John Francis Becket and Jason Mankey, eds. (2023) The Book of Cernunnos  ISBN 978-0988900974







Pillar of the Boatmen, mid-1st c. c.e.


Tentative full-figure reconstruction



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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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