A basic introduction of the deity.
Herne the Hunter is an old British Deity, often associate with Cernunnos and Pan, as they are all antlered Gods. However, they are all very different individuals.
Herne was once a Hunter of King Richard II’s court. He was beloved by the King for his ability to always bring home game, and certainly to ensure a day of decent hunt – sorry, “exciting” hunt. Herne is correcting me.
It may have been late in the day, but it was there.
He honoured his King so much that one day he stepped in front of a charging white stag as it came towards the King. Its antlers made contact with Herne’s abdomen as Herne’s sword entered the Stag’s heart.
Bleeding on the forest floor, a Wise Man just happened to be in the area and told them that he could save Herne, provided the stag’s head and antlers were placed on Herne’s until he is well.
Never listen to a wise man. Or at least ask for the fine print.
It wasn’t known at the time, but this meant that Herne’s much loved abilities had been traded for his life. He could no longer find game in the forest, but the King didn’t give up on him. The other men of the hunting party had had enough, so they secretly went out at night and killed, leaving the furs and skins in Herne’s chambers.
These were eventually found by the King, who ordered Herne be stripped of title and land, and banished from the kingdom.
He was found the next day, hanging from an Oak in Windsor Forest.
In death, he lived on. There was no rest for me in death. He was pissed, and vengeful. One by one the men of the hunting party came to the Oak, and joined him. In death they rode horses black as night, with hounds by their sides with eyes of red. So the stories say, Herne laughed.
Fast forward to now. He’s less vengeful, accepted that he has become who he has become, but I still miss my wife and child, and I still miss that life.
I am honoured to have met him, and to work with him. I am honoured to be his Daughter and Student.
How did you become first aware of this deity?
I grew up in the suburb of Herne Hill in Victoria. One day at TAFE in 2003, I got bored. Google wasn’t around, so I typed “herne hill” into the best search engine around at the time…dogpile.
And there he was.
“Herne the Hunter” by Marc Potts
He was magnificent. He was what I had seen in dreams and visions when I closed my eyes. I was very new to the Craft at this stage, and I became infatuated with this image of him. I had to learn more about him, what little there was available online at the time.
A print of this has been with me on my altar in all it’s various forms within all the places I’ve lived since 2003. It sits on my altar now.
This was the image that started it all. If it weren’t for growing up where I did, I don’t know if I would have ever found him.
My relationship with him wasn’t strong. It took us years to feel completely at ease with one another. This is something I’ve noticed with others who are Dedicants of His – Herne is one of those who will watch you for years before decided to “claim you”. I have my personal opinions about this which he won’t let me write openly about.
I guess because it’s such a big step to dedicate one’s life to a Deity – there needs to be trust on both sides. We need to honour and respect them, but they need to make sure that our dedication isn’t a passing fad. Once he has “claimed” you and welcomed you into his inner circle (for lack of a better reference) the relationship you will have with him will be as unique as a snowflake. My relationship with him differs completely from others I have spoken to.
Symbols and icons of this deity.
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 Britannia’s side. He is no longer loyal to one King, as we’ve seen how that worked out. He’s loyal to the land, to the Kingdom, and the energies of the land. It doesn’t matter were in the world you live, or whether your country is still a part of the Commonwealth. Honour where you live, help look after where you live. Honour the land and its inhabitants.
The Darkness Within. 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. There is no balance to light without the darkness. I have witnessed Herne be ‘one of the boys’ and a larrikin (as mentioned earlier), but I admire his strong, darker side. The madness, the distress, the hurt that led him to the Oak. The confusion of what to do without his hunting skills.
Knowledge. He’s often associated with this through his ties with the oak and what the oak represents. His knowledge of the hunt and of the forest is what I first associate, and then transfer that to knowledge in general. You cannot master your craft without knowledge of skill, of the field, and knowledge of self. He knew what he was capable of. He knew the forest like the back of his hand. He knew how taught to pull the bowstring, or how hard to throw an axe.
The Wild Hunt. He roams the countryside on horses dark as night, with hounds with blood red eyes at their feet, collecting unsuspecting souls. When you feel the hunt is near you need to ensure that you don’t get swept up in the madness, as he will take you without ou second thought. This can also be symbolised as our own descent into darkness – that madness of depression where we can lash out at those nearest to us.
Other: the oak, winter, bow and arrow, meat and furs,
A favourite myth or myths of this deity.
My favourite is the ending of the story that many writers, and I guess myself when I wrote my short story, graze over.
Once Herne died, other men of the hunting party were promoted to his role. With each promotion, their hunting abilities disappeared, just as they did for Herne. This can be blamed on the Magi, Urswick. The men wanted this curse gone, so Urswick told them to meet him at the Oak where Herne had hung himself.
They arrived, and a short time later the Magi appeared. The men were told that Herne’s death was on each of them, and to make preparations as the next night they were to bring horses and hounds.
They did. On reaching the Oak the next night, Herne appeared to them. Sitting proud, yet angry, on his horse he bid them to follow him to a Beech tree in another part of the forest. There the Magi suddenly appeared out of the tree covered in flames as Herne had summoned him to appear. The Magi said that the only way to now dispel the spell he had placed on the men and their abilities, they must swear an oath to Herne as their leader, and be His band of hunters.
The spell was lifted, and the men had become loyal to Herne, as Herne was once loyal to King Richard. Nights past, and the group would raid the forest of deer until there were very few left. Upon learning of their games, King Richard was understandably annoyed, and decided to pay Herne a visit at his oak.
They spoke, the King angry while Herne patiently listened. If the King wished him to leave and hold no power of the men, the King would have to agree to a request. Let’s not forget, Herne was still incredibly angry with these now-loyal men. It was their doing that put him in this situation in the first place. The King agreed, and the men were hanged. Herne left the forest, for the time being.
After the King’s death, Herne returned to his Forest. Some say he left after a number of years, some say he roamed for a thousand, still angry, taking souls to join his hunt.
Members of the family – genealogical connections.
None from a historically accurate point of view. He’s told me that he had a wife and child, and that he was one of many children, I was somewhere in the middle and there were a few of us, but since he “began” as a localised Deity in the London area, there’s no great stories of Him with siblings like there are with Apollo and Athena (for example).
Other related deities and entities associated with this deity.
His association with Cernunnos is certainly his most popular association. Margaret Murray, in her book God of the Witches published in 1931, suggests that Herne is a localised version of Cernunnos. There isn’t a great deal of Herne’s influence outside of the Berkshire region of England, so suggests he is their version of him. Personally, I’ve never felt comfortable with this association. Cernunnos is old, and I mean that with all respect I can possibly give him. Old as time, old. Old as the earth, old. Herne is his own entity, and given his myth with King Richard II, he has a “start date”. Ohhhh that sounds so horrible!
However, as Eric Fitch points out in his book In Search for Herne the Hunter, the main and most likely connection is Woden. Given that the Windsor Forest area has a large Saxon and Norse influence dating back to invasions every other generation, this connection draws more likely points of comparison, in particular both having hung themselves from a tree, they both have their own Wild Hunt.
The legend of Herne, however, allows the story to be his own. From a literary point of view there is nothing mentioned prior to Shakespheare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and even then it’s only prose. Personally, I believe his legend begins with a man rose to being a Deity through his connection to Woden more so than his connection with Cernunnos, as Cernunnos began in Gaul before moving over to Britain. Given that Herne was seen in the forests after his death, and returns to be seen when the head of the Kingdom is near death, or the Kingdom is about to go to war, it makes sense that locals would turn to give honour to Herne to appease him. (I hear him with a quiet laugh, I did like those days). I’ve had this discussion with people before, that he is just a man – he wasn’t “born as a Deity”. Well, no, but everyone’s mythos needs to begin somewhere.
As a man I find that he’s easier to understand the daily crap that goes down. This could just be our relationship, as I do have trouble communicating how it is between us to others, but I find him understanding. He does draw this line in the sand, so don’t go back on your word. If you say you’re going to do something, do it.
Names and epithets.
1. any word or phrase applied to a person or thing to describe an actual or attributed quality:
“Richard the Lion-Hearted” is an epithet of Richard I.
I sometimes refer to him as Herne of Windsor. Depends on both our moods…
Herne the Hunter
Lord of the Wild,
and King of Windsor Forest!