Thursday, October 26, 2017

Beloved and Antlered

Earlier this week Yvette, one of the chaplain interns, approached my work space and asked, “Who’s that?”

She was referring to the statue of Cernunnos (KER-noo-nos) by Maxine Miller that I have on my desk.

Ever since I first talked about Cernunnos during our “Sharing Our Stories” group time, which was also when I first shared this particular statue with my fellow chaplain residents and our supervisors, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to talk about Cernunnos with someone who wasn’t present that day.

I had definitely felt encouraged by those in the group to display this statue at my work station and to welcome any conversations among the interns it prompted.

Here now was my chance!

All the more vexing, then, to find myself tongue-tied in response to Yvette’s sincere question.

“That’s Cernunnos, the ancient Celtic god of . . . of fertility and of the wild. . . . Of, er, all wild things. . . . Nature . . .”

I heard my voice trail off.

My response, though, seemed to satisfy Yvette, who moved closer to examine the details of Cernunnos.

“His chest and stomach look like they form a face,” she remarked.

“Yeah, they kinda do,” I said. “It’s probably the artist’s attempt to evoke the Green Man (left), another ancient mythical figure. Have you heard of him?”

“Oh, yes. We had stories of him in Chicago. He scared me. He was the one we said would get naughty children. ‘Look out or else the Green Man will get you!’”

“Oh!” was all I could manage to reply, as Yevette cheerily went on her way.

I subsequently found out that the Green Man that Yvette was referring to was Raymond "Ray" Robinson (1910–1985), a severely disfigured man whose years of nighttime walks made him into a figure of urban legend in western Pennsylvania. According to Wikipedia, “Robinson was so badly injured in a childhood electrical accident that he could not go out in public without fear of creating a panic, so he went for long walks at night. Local tourists, who would drive along his road in hopes of meeting him, called him The Green Man or Charlie No-Face. They passed on tales about him to their children and grandchildren. . . . The famed nickname of ‘Green Man’ came from his skin, which was purported to be green because of the electrical shock he suffered.”

The Green Man I was referring to was altogether different – an ancient motif found in many cultures and across time, and related to natural vegetative deities. It is most frequently interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, representing the cycle of growth each spring.

Like the Green Man, there’s often much confusion and misunderstanding around Cernunnos. This is not surprising given that the early Christian Church basically turned Cernunnos into Satan, replacing his stag antlers with demon’s horns, tail, and cloven feet. A similar degradation befell Pan, the Greek god of the wild, shepherds, and flocks.

I’m drawn to the pagan figure of Cernunnos because of what he represents for humanity – and for men in particular. In terms of the latter, what the Antlered One represents stands in stark contrast to the vision of men and masculinity that is generally put forward by the patriarchal Abrahamic religions. Neo-pagan and eco-feminist scholar and author Starhawk sums this difference up succinctly in the following excerpt from her book The Spiral Dance.

If a man had been created in the antlered God’s image he would be free to be wild without being cruel, angry without being violent, sexual without being coercive, spiritual without being unsexed, and truly able to love.

In all aspects of my life – including my work as a chaplain – I desire to be “truly able to love.” The call to embody such love can definitely be found in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, but there’s so much other “stuff” – sexist and heterosexist stuff – that is part and parcel of these religions that I’ve simply grown weary of having to deal with. It seems to me, and I’m still very much exploring this idea, that many of the indigenous and pagan spiritualities were (and are) much more open to recognizing and celebrating the presence of the Sacred in lives and relationships marked by a range of gender and sexual diversity, exploration, and expression.

How might the expression of a spirituality – one reflective of all that Cernunnos represents – look like in the context of my life? . . . My chaplaincy work? . . . My prayer life?

I’ve been thinking a lot about such things ever since Cernunnos began dwelling at my work station. . . . And I’ve come up with the beginnings of a response – a prayer which, for now, I’ve entitled “Beloved and Antlered.”

I should say that I do not believe that this prayer that I’ve written (and started to say each day) denies the deepest roots of my Catholic Christian tradition – roots that actually go deeper than what we understand today as Roman Catholicism. I'm not praying to a deity named Cernunnos. Rather, I'm aligning myself with the Sacred Presence within and beyond all things through the archetype of Cernunnos. Also, perhaps to fully grasp what I’m saying, one needs to remember that the Christian church has a long history of incorporating (some would say appropriating) pagan lore into its own spiritual understandings, many of which share with paganism themes of transformation and life beyond death. (See, for example, the previous Wild Reed posts “The Pagan Roots of All Saints Day” and “Celebrating the Coming of the Sun and the Son.”)

Finally, this prayer reflects my interest in that deep river of mysticism that flows beneath and feeds all the great religious traditions, with paganism perhaps being the tradition closest to this deeper source. Paganism, after all, Thomas Moore reminds us, “is not a belief system but a way of life in which one appreciates the holiness of every facet of experience and honors that holiness with specific rites and images.”

With all this in mind (and heart) I share “Beloved and Antlered.”

Beloved and Antlered,
At one with all creation;
Awaken me.

Seeker of the forest’s hidden paths
And the beauty within both beast and man;
Guide me in the ways of deeper understanding.

Trusting one, accompanied by stag and dog,
You are both wild and tame, hard and soft;
Teach me the ways of balance.

Twilight dancer, dwelling on thresholds
Both within and beyond;
Illuminate the sacred spaces in-between.

Ancient archetype of Holy Mystery,
To you I look for inspiration, courage, and hope.
May your presence be known to me always.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Integrating Cernunnos, "Archetype of Sensuality and the Instinctual World"
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
The Devil We (Think) We Know
The Pagan Roots of All Saints Day
The Prayer Tree
Celebrating the Coming of the Sun and the Son
Edward Sellner on the Archetype of the Double and Male Eros, Friendships, and Mentoring
In the Garden of Spirituality – Diarmuid Ó Murchú
In the Garden of Spirituality – James B. Nelson
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 1)
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 2)
The Dancer and the Dance
Manly Love
A Fresh Take on Masculinity
Rockin' with Maxwell
Learning from the East
Winter . . . Within and Beyond

Related Off-site Links:
I Call to CernunnosThe Leveret (November 16, 2016).
Concerning Cernunnos (Part 1)Musings from Gelli Fach (July 23, 2011).
Concerning Cernunnos (Part 2): Accessing the Fruits of the WildMusings from Gelli Fach (July 27, 2011).

Image 1: Valerie Herron.
Image 2: Michael Bayly. (Artwork by Maxine Miller.)
Image 3: Artist unknown.
Image 4: "Hircine" by Raiecha.
Image 5: Artist unknown.
Image 6: Source.

1 comment:

Franco Manni said...

I like your reflection and prayer. I like this commitment for integrating the different strands of spirituality, without forgetting our biographical roots You say : "I should say that I do not believe that this prayer that I’ve written (and started to say each day) denies the deepest roots of my Catholic Christian tradition".
You also say : "The call to embody such love can definitely be found in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, but there’s so much other “stuff” – sexist and heterosexist stuff – that is part and parcel of these religions that I’ve simply grown weary of having to deal with.".
I agree with you that this "stuff" is massive... However it is really part of the legacy (a questionable "side effect"?) of these particular three religions and not of the pagan ones we know... Therefore, perhaps, we should ask ourselves why it is a long lasting legacy of these religions and not of the others.
As for Christianity, what do we think about Jesus's sexuality? From what we read in the gospels and from what we were told by other Christians, Jesus is not presented as sexist or heterosexist; but he is not presented as sensual and pansexual either. He is presented as a public figure, like when we read on Wikipedia about , say , F.D. Roosevelt , we read mostly and at length about his public actions etc , and just within the shorter minor section "Personal life" we get some information about marriage, divorces, lovers, children.
But it is not so clear, because , in the case of the gospels, Jesus is presented also in parts of his private life: when he speaks to his mother and family members, rebukes Peter, prays alone at night, cuddles the children, dines with people in their houses.... It is difficult , at east for me, to understand how much of his personal life is omitted (let alone , censored) in the gospels.... yes they do not tell us how frequently and at what time he was defecating, but this is also a trait of one own private life that is omitted almost always.... Sexuality is a different case : it is something 'private' , but also rich of symbolic power and ethical and spiritual contents...