Perhaps the oldest concept of a god is that of a horned creature — part human and part animal. Its importance in the mythic imagery of humankind is surmised by the ancient rock art that depicts these horned beings. Some of this rock art, such as found in the Algerian Sahara, date back 7,000 years.
Horned creatures were a universal subject of those shamans who used nature's material such as rock as their canvas. We must ask yet again why is the Horned Being found around the world, representing the same thing? We have all been awed by the power of horned animals. The bull, the deer and elk, and the Big Horn Sheep are majestic creatures, exuding a sense of power and pulsing with fertility. The wild cattle that lived in Mesopotamia until the Neo-Assyrian age were six feet tall at the shoulder with massive widespread horns. The wild cattle of Europe were just as awe-inspiring. We can only guess that the horned men depicted in ancient artwork were put there as a psychic link between man and animal and thereby indirectly with the force of Creation. Images of horned male figures appear in many locations around the world and are associated with an archaic, mythical figure known as the "Master of Animals." A set of deer horns attached to part of a skull were found in Star Carr, England, dating to 8000-7500 BCE and were made to be worn, probably in a ritual dance. Among Native American's the "Master of Animals" is regarded as a supernatural ruler of wild beasts who offers them protection, especially from the men who are hunting them.
Horns were an important part of war helmets in the past and for a very good reason. They were considered to impart power derived through a link with divinity: a religious power, a power derived from an ancient supernatural force. The horned-cap was the fashion of divinity in Mesopotamia from the 3rd millennium BP. Possibly derived from the huge wild cattle mentioned above, these caps had as many as seven pairs of horns and were a general symbol of divine status^As J.C. Cooper noted, "Horned gods represent warriors, fecundity in both humans and animals, and are lords of animals."2
Horns have shown up in some of the more unlikely places over the years. Horns have appeared on ancient carvings of the Sacred Tree as a distinguishing sign of the Tree's divinity and as a protection against evil. They also appear on the famous head of Moses carved by Michelangelo in 1513-15. While most art commentators are silent on the presence of the horns on this statue of the leader of the Hebrews, they should not be surprised. Horns signify "supernatural power; divinity; the power of the soul or life-principle arising from the head."3 In fact, Moses in often depicted with such horns of power. In many standard translations of the Bible Moses is said to have come down from Mt. Sinai with his head "shining" but in Hebrew the wording is that his head was "horned." It is interesting to note that Mt. Sinai is the mountain of the moon god Sin, who was often depicted as a white-bull.
Ancient depictions of animal-human composite figures are often located in cave paintings such as the 20,000 year old "sorcerer" in the Trois Frères Cave at Ariège, France. While many have interpreted this human-like figure with deer antlers as a shaman, others believe "that such figures are neither sorcerers nor shamans, but imaginary beings with their own distinct identity. They are not wearing masks or disguises; they are composite, semi-divine
Horned-gods and goddesses include Pan, the nature god; Dionysus; Ha-thor, the Great mother; the Celtic god Cernunnos ("Cernunnos" means "the Horned One") who is accompanied by a rams-horned serpent; and the Celtic Lord of Death, Herne. Another is the 5000-year-old seated horned god from Mohenjodaro in the Indus Valley that may have been the precursor of the Hindu god Shiva, and the Egyptian gods Set and Ammon. Another ancient horned god is the Babylonian bull-man. With a human head crowned with horns, human torso and taurine lower body and legs, the bull-man appeared in Mesopotamian art in the early part of the 3rd millennium BP. He is a "magically protective demon"5 that evolved into a beneficent creature used in temples to ward against evil. Goddesses, even the Virgin Mary, are often shown with a crescent moon or cow horns, are Isis and Nut of Egyptian origin and other mother goddesses and the Queen of Heaven. The gods Anu, Bel, Asshur and the storm god Adad, wear horned headdresses in many of their ancient depictions.
The use of horned masks for shamanic or ritual dances was an ancient practice. One such mask known as the Dorset Ooser was perhaps the last of
1. Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. Austin: University of Texas Press 2000, 102.
2. Cooper, J.C. An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols. London: Thames and Hudson 1978, 84.
4. Mohen, Jean Pierre. Prehistoric Art: The Mythical Birth of Humanity. Paris: Pierre Terrail/ Telleri 2002, 183.
its kind. Constructed around 1820, the mask was made from a single piece of wood and was wonderfully expressive. It had two horns and a shaggy head of hair. It disappeared some time after 1897 and two photographs are all that remains of it. Its purpose may have been to be worn in the Mummers plays of the day although no one knows exactly who crafted it, what it was used for or where it ended up. Local legend indicates that the mask was an object of horror and was kept near the village chapel in Melbury Osmond. A contemporary description of the mask was recorded in the December 1891 issue of Notes and Queries for Somerset and Dorset:
The object itself is a wooden mask, of large size, with features grotesquely human, long flowing locks of hair on either side of the head, a beard, and a pair of bullock's horns, projecting right and left of the forehead. The mask or ooser is cut from a solid block, excepting the lower jaw, which is movable, and connected with the upper by a pair of leathern hinges. A string, attached to this movable jaw, passes through a hole in the upper jaw, and is then allowed to fall into the cavity. The Ooser is so formed that a man's head may be placed in it, and thus carry or support it while he is in motion. No provision, however, is made for his seeing through the eyes of the mask, which are not pierced. By pulling the string the lower jaw is drawn up and closed against the upper, and when the string is slackened it descends
The Christian image of the horned Devil is a recent one. Not one image of Satan as a horned, goat-footed demon occurs before the sixth century. However, the pagan gods of fertility and reproduction often included horns.
These gods represented "the most carnal aspect of life" — sexuality. And this, of course in the Christian mind, was most "especially connected with the Devil".6 The perfect image in the Christian mind that replicated their concept of the Devil was that of Pan — the god of animals and nature. He was perhaps one of the most popular gods of antiquity. His powers were those of prophecy and inspiration and while he was god of nature, he was also a destructive and terrifying god. The word "panic" is derived from his name. His enormous sexual desire was the force of creation and destruction at the same time. As O'Grady wrote, "Pan seemed to be the epitome of the heathen gods. He represented excess and debauchery, the vices of the world of matter, and so was the embodiment of paganism."7 Pan became the embodiment of Satan in Christian iconography.
In some depictions and legends of the Wild Man he is also said to have horns — not unlike Pan.
Among Native American cultures, the Hopi have two important religious societies that have been depicted on rock art as wearing horns. These are the Two Horns and the One Horn societies. The Two Horns play an important role in the completion of the annual ritual patterns played out in various Hopi ceremonies.
Horn imagery was important in the religious traditions of early cultures. The altars of the Hebrews during the period of Exodus were decorated with horns. This practice may have been borrowed from Crete as horns were placed upon their altars as cult objects. The widespread use of altar horns, found in such faraway places as Sardinia, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Syria (used on the altar of Astarte), may have spread due to the Cretan seafarers' influence.
The fact that there are historical accounts of horned humans existing over the years would indicate that perhaps some of the mythology concerned with horned beings may be based on fact. Thompson tells us, "In the Museum of Edinburgh University is preserved a crooked horn several inches long, which was cut from the head of a woman named Elizabeth Love in 1671. "Another instance of a horned woman is that of Mary Davis of Great Saughall, near Chester, who when twenty-eight years of age commenced to develop two horns. 'After four years she cast them, then grew two more, and about four years later cast these also.'"8 Thompson noted that a portrait of this horned-woman still exist at Oxford.
6. O'Grady, Joan. The Prince of Darkness: The Devil in History, Religion and the Human Psyche. New York: Barnes & Noble Books 1989, 45.
8. Thompson, C.J.S. Mystery and Lore of Monsters. New York: Barnes & Noble Books 1994, 62
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