The Horned God in Indian & Europe

In Paganism today probably the most revered of all the Gods is the Horned God, in the shape and form of Cernunnos. Pick up some modern Pagan literature and chances are he is in there, listen to conversation at a Moot and you will hear him mentioned, surf the net and you will find him in a thousand sites. Yet a place where he is not often sought is in a land which is home to a countless Gods and Goddesses, the mysterious land of India. Deep in India's ancient past we find a God which could be the Horned God in his original form, preceding Cernunnos, Hu Gadern, Pan and Herne, that of the Horned God of the Indus Valley, Pashupati.


Pashupati is the Horned God of the Indus Valley, of the great Harappan city culture that developed from a village culture approximately 6000 years ago, in northern India and what is now Pakistan. At its peak it was a civilisation which covered a huge expanse, an area which was twice as large as that of the Egyptian kingdom and approximately four times the size of Sumer and Accad. Yet the remains of this once great metropolis were only discovered in 1856 when workers were building a railway and discovered that the rubble was pieces of bricks from some unknown building' s remains. The railway work was stopped, however it was not until 60 years later that proper excavations began to take place on the city now known as Harappa. Later a second great city was discovered in the Valley, that of Mahenjo Daro, which archaeologists estimate had a population of 35,000, equal to that of Harappa.

However despite continuing excavations little is actually known for certain about the religion of this culture. The socio-religious structure remains unknown, as does any ritual practice s, or festival times. What has been discovered in the remains of this civilisation is strong evidence of worship of a Mother Goddess and also that of a Horned God.

Mythological reference to the Horned God Pashupati can be found in ancient Indian and Nepalese scriptural texts. The legend of Pashupati can be found in reference to the Indian God Shiva, of whom Pashupati is referred to as being the proto-type. In the Skanda Purana it tells how the God Shiva used to love a great forest called the 'Sleshmantaka Forest' . It was here that Shiva spent so much time being emersed in 'the wilderness of this forest in merry-making assuming Himself the form of a deer' . It reads in the Skanda Purana -

As I reside here in the forest of Sleshmanta in the form of a beast,

My name will hence be known as the Pashupati the world over.

To this day the Sleshmantaka forest remains sacred and is known as 'Mrigasthali', 'the abode of deers'. The name Pashupati means ' Lord of Animals' (Pashu - animal, Pati -Lord) and was later taken to mean (Lorrd of Souls).

In the Indus Valley many seals have been found which show images of the Horned God with many animals surrounding him. On the seals is what has became known as the Indus script. This is a written language which looks similar to runes and other ancient scripts, however academics have been struggling for many years to correctly decipher it. Although several decipherings have been made in the last 50 years none have gained complete approval by scholars and academics.

What the Indus Valley seals of the horned God suggest is that there is an undeniable connection between the horned God Pashupati and the horned God of the Celts, Cernunnos. This connection between the two is best illustrated by comparing a couple of the I ndus Valley seals to the depiction of Cernunnos on the Gundestrup Cauldron (dated between 4th - 1st Century BCE).

The Gundestrup Cauldron is likely to be the most famous cauldron in the world and certainly the best known in Pagan circles across the globe. It was found in 1891 by peat cutters in an over grown peat bog, in what is now the hamlet of Gundestrup in northern Jutland, Denmark. The cauldron was beaten out of 10kg of silver and cons tructed out of fourteen decorated panels. It is an impressive 69/70cm in diameter and is as fine a piece of craftsmanship to be found anywhere, anytime. On each of the eight outer panels (one is missing) is the single face of either a God or a Goddess. However it is the inner panels which are to be considered here, in particular the one with Cernunnos. In this now classic depiction of Cernunnos, in which he is sitting in what is often described as a 'lotus posture'. He is wearing a style of trouser worn by the Celts known as bracae, which extends to his knees. Also he wears a patterned belt and on his feet are sandals. His stag antlers have seven points, or tines, and his face is somewhat unusually clean shaven.

The Gundestrup Cauldron

In his immediate surroundings are five types of animals. What these animals actually are is debatable, as it is difficult to say with absolute certainty. A couple of the animals which can be correctly identified, without debate, are those of the stag an d the horned serpent. The stag on his right-hand side stands very close to him, which suggests a strong connection to the animal and like Cernunnos the stag has seven tines on each antler, totaling in fourteen. In his left hand C ernunnos is holding a horned serpent which also appears on another two of the interior panels on the Gundestrup Cauldron, while in his right-hand he is holding a torque. Another of the animals next to him on his left appears to be either a dog or a wolf. The cause of more discussion has been the identifying of another of the other animals in the immediate proximity of Cernunnos, which scholars believe to be either a boar or a lion. The last of the five animals near Cernunnos looks to be a bull.

Cernunnos on the Gundestrup Cauldron

If we examine the Pashupati seals we find a very similar scene. Again we find the horned God in a yogic posture surrounded by animals. These are thought to be a tiger, a rhinoceros, an elephant, a bull and below him is the musk deer. Also, on some of these seals we find that the God' s penis is visibly erect and the testicles prominent. The seat that Pashupati is on supported by two appears to be hour-glass shaped double drums known as 'damaru'. In Asia today these drums are often a ssociated with Indus Valley script, its secrets remaining a mystery.

Indus Valley Seal of Pashupati

When the image of Cernunnos from the Gundestrup Cauldron is compared with the images of Pashupati from the Indus Valley seals a great degree of resemblance is very evident. Yet how deep do the similarities run and can any deductions be made from them? The most striking of the similarities in the images of the horned Gods is the posture. Cernunnos is often referred to a being in a 'lotus posture' on the Gundestrup Cauldron. The lotus posture, referred to in India as 'padmasana' (padma- lotus + asana - seat or posture), is a yogic posture which allows the back to remain comfortably upright during meditation and minimizes any risk of loss of balance. On the Pashupati seals we find the horned God in a similar posture. According to one of my research associates on the interrelationship between Pagan and yogic religion, Dr. Jonn Mumford (Swami Anandakapila Saraswati), Pashupati is sitting in a yoga posture called 'Gorakshasana' , the cowherd posture. In this posture the heels are positioned underneath the genitals, a yogic technique known as 'bandha', which forms a muscular lock in this region. This technique is said to be an advanced Tantric technique which is used to help redirect energy to the Muladhara (root) chakra and up the Sushumna. This has suggested to researchers that the people of the Indus Valley were possibly early Tantrics. In other seals the posture is the same, the only difference being that instead of feet, like Pan, Pashupati has hoofs.

Pashupati Seal

The hands of Pashupati, in both seals, are resting on the his knees which is the traditional resting place for hands during meditation. However it is difficult to say with any confidence if the hands are in a particular hand posture, or mudra. On the Gundestrup Cauldron we find that Cernunnos's hands, instead of resting, are in fact holding the ram-horned serpent and the torque. Being a God so closely associated with fertility these could be representative of the male and female creative forces. Although Pashupati is holding nothing which indicates an association with fertility, he does display an erect penis, a symbol of what must, at least in part, be his association with fertility.

Today in India the God Shiva, of whom Pashupati is considered to be the proto-type , is offered worship through the linga (the phallus). In Shiavite temples what is more common than a statue of Shiva is a stone linga, usually with a yoni (the vulva). This is known as the Shivalinga and the first Shivalinga in existence, according to one legend, is said to have arose from the earth in the Sleshmantaka forest, the forest of Pashupati. W hat is believed to be Shivalingas have also been found in the Harappan remains, evidence that the cult of the linga has been practiced for thousands of years. The suggestion arising from this combination of references, both archaeological and mythical, is that like Cernunnos, Pashupati is a God of fertility.

A Shivalinga

Other potential connections in the images of the horned Gods can be found within the symbolism of the horned serpent. In Paganism in recent years knowledge of the kundalini ("She who is coiled; serpent power") has vastly increased along side a greater understanding of the seven upper chakras . The kundalini is symbolised by a serpent, which is often depicted turning three and half times. Therefore is it not possible that if a connection exists between these horned God images that the horned serpent on the Gundestrup Cauldron could represent the kundalini. In considering this the horns could symbolise the fact that this is a Goddess energy, known in India as Shakti.

In my research I have also came across the suggestion that the horned serpent shares the same meaning and symbolism of a staff. If the serpent is interpreted as a staff would it be a staff which had at its head three points, as this serpent does with its two horns and nose forming three points. In effect it could be interpreted as a trident, which is what Pashupati's later form of Shiva possesses. In the trident we find the magickal number three appearing with its association to the Goddess and the moon.


Moon associations can also be found on the horns of both Pashupati and Cernunnos. On the horns of Cernunnos are fourteen tines, or points, seven being on each horn. The same number is to be found on the stag's horns which are almost touching his own. In total there are twenty-eight tines which equate to the number of days for the moon to complete one full turning. Pashupati's horns also share moon symbolism and in the later form of Shiva, Goddess symbolism can still be found on the head. However in Shiva it is not horns to be found but a crescent moon. As the horns are a symbol of the moon and the Goddess, what is found then is the same symbolism, though expressed in a slightly different manner. In Shiva we can see the ancient horned God alive and loved by millions of Hindus, though his appearance has been altered by Indian culture as it progressed over thousands of years.

The other horn association on the Pashupati seals can be found in the two damaru drums which support his seating. The shape of the drums mimics the shape of Pashupati's horns and this, along with the placement of the drums on the seal, offers a clue to when and why the drums could have been used. It suggests, to myself, that the drums may have been used in shamanistic style practices, supporting the medita tive or trance state that the horned God may enter. Alternatively it could have been the follower of Pashupati who may have entered into a trance state to commune with their God. The animals surrounding Pashupati may then be totem animals or animals whic h were guides. The same is possible for the Cernunnos devotee who may have communicated with their God in a similar fashion.

In the two faces below, both of which appear to have a meditative expression, the remarkable similarity in the depictions of Cernunnos and Pashupati can be seen. The Cernunnos face (on the left) is from Europe, whereas the Pashupati mask (on the right) is from the Indus Valley. These two facial depictions of the horned God, created thousands of years apart, display only one distinct difference; their racial features. The Cernunnos image displays facial features which are more commonly European, whereas the small Pashupati mask, which archaeologists believe may have been used as a talisman, shows features which appear more eastern.


On the Indus Valley seals Pashupati has three faces, one which is looking forward and two profile faces looking outwards on either side of the central face. The Romans and Gauls also sometimes illustrated the Horned God in this manner, having three faces, or they pictur ed him with three cranes flying over his head. The three faces relate to the triple Goddess; maiden, Mother and Crone, to the three phases of the moon; waxing, waning and full, and also the faces express the three-fold qualities of creation, or as they a re referred to in Indian philosophy as the three gunas ; rajas, sattva and tamas. In each of these phases a particular movement and aspect of the Goddess will be prominent. In the phase of the waxing moon, the time of the Maiden, the strongest guna will be rajas, whose nature is passionate, active and creative. During the full moon, the time of the Mother, the guna is that of sattva , which is preservation, purity and is the principle of equilibrium. During the waning moon, the time of the Crone, the prominent guna is tamas, which is darkness, inertia and destruction.

Moon phases also correlate other similarities between the worship of Pashupati and the way Pagans have been worshipping for millennia. In Kathmandu, Nepal, the Pashupatinath, who are a small Hindu sect who worship Pashupati, perform particular rituals on certain waxing and waning moons at certain times of the year. Also they practice what we Pagans know as esbats (full moon rituals and celebrations). On each full moon the God Pashupati is invoked in the south of the ritual area and is presented with Mahabhoga , which is a food offering. However one big difference between their esbats and modern western Pagans is sacrifice. On the spot of the invocation a goat is ritually sacrifice to the God at each full moon. Although ritual animal slaughter is a practice which we as Pagans in the western world would not partake of today, it seems inappropriate to judge these practices through our western eyes. As what these differences illustrate is a difference in present-day cultural and religious ethos.

So what does this all mean? We have two images of the Horned God one from northern Europe dated between 400-100 BCE, the other from northern India dated between 2000-3000 years BCE. The images are separated by almost three thousand years of history and by four and a half thousand miles of mountains, land and sea, and yet they have a startling similarity. Furthermore there appears to be connections between Cernunnos and Pashupati in the form of Shiva (and possibly also the Hindu God Rudra who is considered to be a form of Shiva). Is it possible that Cernunnos and Pashupati were once the same deity who spread from one Pagan culture to another?

This is a question that we might never know the answer to as so far not a great deal is known about the Harappan seals and the religion of the Indus Valley. It is known that the Harappan culture were advanced for their time (in comparison to the other large civilisations of its time) and that they were a great sea-faring people. Their seals, like the ones discussed have been found in Mesopotamia, Sumaria, and Southern Babylon and evidence suggests that they arrived there via sea routes. For the people of the Indus valley the land route was not a viable way of travelling long distances to other countries, due to mountains and possibly desert, so for the purpose of trading they had to use the sea. Via the sea they reached what is now the Persian Gulf and the civilisations which existed ther e. Through the sea routes the image of the horned God could have spread into Babylon, where Iraq now lies, then into Turkey and onto Greece. Then, over time, from Greece the worship of the horned God could have spread to the rest of Europe.

Alternatively, there exists the possibility that the horned Lord of the Animals was brought into the Indus Valley from the west. Across the Himalayas, north of the Indus Valley, in western China, bodies have been found preserved in salt sands. These tall tartan wearing people, one male was 6ft 6in and a female 6ft 2in, were European, some with blond hair, others with red, and the earliest of the first of three waves of these people, according to carbon dating, is 4000 years old. In early Chinese written records there is reference to people called the Tokharians, a Celtic-like people, who may have originated from eastern Europe. In the graves which have been unearthed some of the women have been found wearing tall, conical hats and beside them poppy-derived potions. Archaeologists have also identified a fertility site at Hutubi where life-size rock carvings show sky-clad women and men dancing and celebrating in what could be a festival scene. Could these people have brought the horned God from Europe to the East? Or may they have taken the horned God back with them in their return travels to Europe?

Perhaps the answer is not to be found in the past but in the present. Maybe the answers lie within ourselves. Doreen Valiente in 'Witchcraft for Tomorrow' discusses the similarities between the ancient Indus Valley horned God and that of the European horned God. She wrote that 'the answer may really lie not in the migration of tribes from some centre so much as in the collective unconscious of mankind and the images which arise from it'. If this is so then the archetypal horned God and his teachings would be available to all peoples, irrespective of time, location and culture. Supporting Doreen's suggestion is a statement made by the Tantric Guru Paramahansa Swami Satyananda Saraswati, quoted from 'Ecstasy Through Tantra' by Dr. Jonn Mumford, 'Six thousand years ago almost two thirds of the human population in Mexico, North America, in France, Egypt, the Middle East, Afghanistan, India, Ceylon, Thailand, Tibet, China, Japan and many other lands practised this science'. 'This science' being magickal and yogic teachings. Doreen then offers an explanation as to how so many cultures, separated by time and space, could know of the horned Lord, magick and yoga. Not only must the horned Lord be in the forest and the woods of an ancient past, but also 'in the collective unconscious of mankind' , and therefore still with each and everyone of us today.


Found underneath Notre Dame Catherdral, Paris.


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Further Reading

'The Pashupatinath - A Multi-Dimensional Observation On Shaivism, Pashupati Cult And The Pashupatinath', Dangol S B, available from Pilgrims Books.

'Ecstasy Through Tantra', Mumford, Dr J, available from Llewellyn Worldwide.

'Witchcraft For Tomorrow, Valiente, D, available from Hale.


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