I’ve been in two minds over whether or not to post this on here. But given there is so little on Herne online, about what he’s really about, I’m posting this for others who feel drawn to him. This is for my fellow Pagans who hear Herne’s call to them, and are interested in getting to know this God.
There are so many variations to the story of Herne. But he was a hunter, the favourite hunter to King Richard II. One day in the forest, they found a rare white stag. Arrows pierced it, but did not bring it down. And with such a regal animal, only a King may slay it. The stag retaliated and charged at the King, now off his horse. Herne, being loyal to his King, stepped in front and took the force of attack, drew his sword into it’s heart, then passed out. A magician, sorcerer, whatever you’d like to call him, came to them. He said he was in the area, and heard what happened. He told the King that he could save Herne, but he would need the other Hunters to take the stag’s horns and tie them to Herne’s head. King Richard nodded approval, and the other hunters did as told. The Sorcerer followed them back to the castle, and continued to tend to Herne with oils and ointments, with drinking tonics and herbs. Eventually, Herne made a full recovery, but he found his hunting skills were gone. The Sorcerer had taken them as payment for his life. Herne continued to go out with the King, but could not find animals. Each day he came back with nothing. The other hunters were still jealous of Herne being the Kings favourite, so they decided to set him up. They hunted at night, without the King, and brought back the hides of the animals. They left them in Herne’s chambers, and told the King that Herne was himself going out at night and hunting, so there were no animals to be found during the day. The King refused to believe this. Over time, still no animals were found, and the hunters once again told the King it is because of Herne. Ready to put this slander to rest, the King ordered Herne’s rooms be checked. And there they found hides of animals. Outraged, the King banished Herne from the castle, and from the Kingdom. Herne’s body was found the next day, hanging from an Oak in the forest.
There is a great story, with more detail than this, in the book “Horns of Power: An Anthology of Essays Concerning the Horned God”. (It’s a fabulous book, so I suggest you all buy it regardless!)
Personally, I believe it was always a matter of time before I found Herne. I remember when I first discovered him as a Deity. I was at TAFE, learning Multimedia Design, in 2003. I was bored in class, and typed “Herne Hill” into a search engine (ahh the days before Google!). Herne Hill is the suburb that I grew up in. And there was this beautiful painting by Marc Potts. I learnt of Herne from there, and no matter where my path has taken me, I always come back to him, and Herne Hill. He waited patiently, knowing that I would find my way to him eventually, and in my own time (as everything in my life has only ever happened when it’s meant to happen, and never sooner.) I still have the print of this painting by Potts. I ordered it in 2003, and it has traveled with me everywhere I go. Now, it sits over the fireplace.
Diving into the world of Herne, more than just his similarity to Cernunnos (which is most likely how he rose/became a Deity), is something that I’ve found very little of online. Part of me believes Herne prefers it this way. He likes his solitude, as well as his socialisation. He prefers we get to know him for ourselves. He waits and watches us when we first introduce ourselves to him, making sure we are honest, and real, and legitimate. Unlike his ghost who takes souls for the hunt, this aspect of him is more selective.
Nor is he one to be taken lightly. For me, he is the balance of light and dark. He is the light shining through the forest, and the dark of night. He is both the sun shining upon the land, and the moon shining bright in the night sky. He represents hunting, sacrifice, sovereignty, nature, and the darker elements of ourselves. He is the power of the wilderness, the strength of the running stag, and the autumn leaf falling to the ground on the gentle breeze.
Hunting. He always knew where they would be. He knew the forest like the back of his hand, he knew their tracks. He would read his surroundings – the moved earth, the broken branch, the echo of sound. He never came back empty handed. Herne is not for the weak willed, or those against killing animals. To work with Herne is to honour the sacrifice. We eat animal and surely as they eat each other, and sometimes us. Sometimes the animal will understand its time has come to an end, and will offer itself in self-sacrifice. Herne sacrificed himself so his King could live. He threw himself into the path of the White Stag, and coped the brunt of its force. Like Herne, we too must make sacrifices. Perhaps not on the same level, but in our own. We sacrifice what we love for the good of society, to keep the peace within our relationships, for our children and family. We sacrifice what we believe in to hide our ways. Like the animal in the forest running from the hunter, we too must run to save ourselves from those who do not understand, and those who chose to remain ignorant.
Reverence of nature. As mentioned above, the forest was his second home, where he felt most comfortable. Stories say he hunted on his horse, but intuition tells me that he would often hunt barefoot, so he could feel the earth between his toes to assist in being as quiet as he could. He could feel the earth move beneath him, feel the rumble as herds raced by, better than if he wore boots or on horseback. He worked with nature, honoured his surroundings. As must we, if we are to work with him. Honour the green, the blades of grass, the fallen leaves. Honour the flower as it opens to the sunlight. But also honour the urban jungle that so many of us live in. This is hardest for me, given my job is in construction. So I honour what is beneath the surface, find joy from seeing the different layers of earth, the limestone and the others.
Sovereignty. It is said Herne will be seen when Britain is in trouble. He is the King’s man, and I believe he always will be. He gave his life for his King, for this country, and will rise again and again and be at Britainia’s side. For me, long before it was a symbol of conformity, I wanted a tattoo of the Southern Cross. To me, it symbolised this land. No matter where you were, you could always see it on a clear night. Sadly, it no longer has that meaning for me. People use it as a message of “Conform or get out”. I love this land. I don’t mean it as “Oh I love this country, and you should too.” I don’t know any better, country wise. Australia is the only place I’ve ever lived. But the energies of this land, that is what I love. I love the landscape, the flora and fauna. I love it’s creatures, it’s beaches, it’s rivers and creeks. I love it’s diversity, it’s light and shadows. I love it’s native history – the history of the original and native inhabitants of this land. Aboriginal culture (before Christianisation) fascinates me, and makes so much sense to me.
The darker elements. Herne hung himself from a great Oak when King Richard II cast him out of the Kingdom. The other hunters had won, and turned the King against his favourite hunter. I too have tried to take my own life, twice actually, in one week. But I have worked through the darkness that drove me there. Now it is time to work on the other darker aspects of myself, ones that have grown from this new me. There is no balance without the darkness. And as much of a larrikin Herne can be, he also has a strong, darker side to him. The madness, the distress, the hurt that led him to the Oak. The confusion of what to do without his hunting skills. I have begun working with shadow magick, as suggested by Herne, to fully understand myself, and through that, deepen my relationship with him. I cannot imagine how it would be to suddenly have your skills taken away from you.
Every day I look upon my tattoo (which my Muggle still despises, and would rip from my skin if he had the choice). I look upon my tattoo and I smile, so much my cheeks hurt. I think back to my progress as a Witch, and as a Druid, and as a Daughter of Herne. More and more I realise that coming to him, dedicating myself to him was the right thing. It will not be something I regret, for everything he stands for, everything he represents has such a magnificent impact on myself. They are things I have held dear, long before connecting them to him.
It’s like finding an old friend, and realising that although there are years between speaking, no time has passed at all. It’s knowing that no matter how far between, you’ll always be there for each other. In this world, we say “I’m only a phone call away.” With Herne, I just have to call out. Being a Daughter of Herne means honouring yourself, both dark and light elements. It’s honouring the land, honouring your environment, and honouring sacrifice. It’s about knowing sacrifice, experiencing it and living through it. It’s throwing yourself into the deep end, standing up for what you believe in, regardless of the consequences. It’s speaking for the earth, being her voice to those who are too deaf to listen.
So if you have stumbled across this entry after googling ‘Herne the Hunter’, you are most welcome here. Part of me feels I have already said too much, and if I have I’m sure he will let me know. But I felt the desire to be elaborate, to dive into the mystery of this God, of whom there is so little information about him.