The Horned God
In traditional and mainstream Wicca, the Horned God is viewed as the masculine side of divinity, being both equal and opposite to the Goddess. The Wiccan god himself can be represented in many forms, including as the Sun God, the Sacrificed God and the Vegetation God, although the Horned God is the most popular representation, having been worshipped by early Wiccan groups such as the New Forest coven during the 1930s. The pioneers of the various Wiccan or Witchcraft traditions, such as Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente and Robert Cochrane, all claimed that their religion was a continuation of the pagan religion of the Witch-Cult following historians who had purported the Witch-Cult’s existence, such as Jules Michelet and Margaret Murray.
For Wiccans, the Horned God is “the personification of the life force energy in animals and the wild” and is associated with the wilderness, virility and the hunt. Doreen Valiente writes that the Horned God also carries the souls of the dead to the underworld.
Wiccans generally, as well as some other neopagans, tend to conceive of the universe as polarized into gender opposites of male and female energies. In traditional Wicca, the Horned God and the Goddess are seen as equal and opposite in gender polarity. However, in some of the newer traditions of Wicca, and especially those influenced by feminist ideology, there is more emphasis on the Goddess, and consequently the symbolism of the Horned God is less developed than that of the Goddess, In Wicca the cycle of the seasons is celebrated during eight sabbats called The Wheel of the Year. The seasonal cycle is imagined to follow the relationship between the Horned God and the Goddess. The Horned God is born in winter, impregnates the Goddess and then dies during the autumn and winter months and is then reborn by the Goddess at Yule. The different relationships throughout the year are sometimes distinguished by splitting the god into aspects, the Oak King and the Holly King. The relationships between the Goddess and the Horned God are mirrored by Wiccans in seasonal rituals. There is some variation between Wiccan groups as to which sabbat corresponds to which part of the cycle. Some Wiccans regard the Horned God as dying at Lammas, August 1; also known as Lughnasadh, which is the first harvest sabbat. Others may see him dying at Mabon, the autumn equinox, or the second harvest festival. Still other Wiccans conceive of the Horned God dying on October 31, which Wiccans call Samhain, the ritual of which is focused on death. He is then reborn on Winter Solstice, December 21.
Other important dates for the Horned God include Imbolc when, according to Valiente, he leads a wild hunt. In Gardnerian Wicca, the Dryghten prayer is recited at the end of every ritual meeting contains the lines referring to the Horned God:
In the name of the Lady of the Moon, and the Horned Lord of Death and Resurrection
According to Sabina Magliocco, Gerald Gardner says (in 1959’s The Meaning of Witchcraft) that The Horned God is an Under-god, a mediator between an unknowable supreme deity and the people. (In Wiccan liturgy in the Book of Shadows, this conception of an unknowable supreme deity is referred to as “Dryghtyn.” It is not a personal god, but rather an impersonal divinity similar to the Tao of Taoism.)
Whilst the Horned God is the most common depiction of masculine divinity in Wicca, he is not the only representation. Other examples include the Green Man and the Sun God.In traditional Wicca, however, these other representations of the Wiccan god are subsumed or amalgamated into the Horned God, as aspects or expressions of him. Sometimes this is shown by adding horns or antlers to the iconography. The Green Man, for example, may be shown with branches resembling antlers; and the Sun God may be depicted with a crown or halo of solar rays, that may resemble horns. These other conceptions of the Wiccan god should not be regarded as displacing the Horned God, but rather as elaborating on various facets of his nature. Doreen Valiente has called the Horned God “the eldest of gods” in both The Witches Creed and also in her Invocation To The Horned God.
Wiccans believe that The Horned God, as Lord of Death, is their “comforter and consoler” after death and before reincarnation; and that he rules the Underworld or Summerland where the souls of the dead reside as they await rebirth. Some, such as Joanne Pearson, believes that this is based on the Mesopotamian myth of Innana’s descent into the underworld, though this has not been confirmed.