9 October 2017

Early Encounters With The Horned God

I grew up in Wales and I read all the 2000AD I could lay my hands on, so Cernunnos was going to be an obvious gateway into the world of Celtic myth. The Horned God is a tricky one, for sure. He is the easiest way to understand that there's more to life than a binary categorization of things into good and evil.

It's a long way to get from one place to another, for sure, and through a tangled wood of myth-making, shadows and appropriated truths. I am just over forty years old so I was of an age to be reading children's literature in the early 80s. This was a long, long time before Wikipedia so, although I can send you straight to reasonable definitions of all the things I mention here, you have to understand this is a modern luxury.

I think my first encounter with the Horned God in any sensible shape is with the inclusion of the character Herne the Hunter in the 1984 adaptation of John Masefield's The Box of Delights.

Which, obviously I can now just show you via YouTube. As you can tell it's a bit of a head-bender, even now, adapting the transformation battle from the myth of Taliesin and adding a strange interlude into the flow of the plot of the story. Naturally this would lead to an inquiry about who the hell that Herne the Hunter guy was from any nine-year-old boy. The problem is that in 1984 the available adults around me had lost touch with the notion of the Horned God, and tended to view the world as a series of dualities.

The matter was further confused when I encountered Alan Garner's Bresingamen books, at the time there were two The Weirdstone of Bresingamen and The Moon of Gomrath. The 20th Century was a wild time for children's literature. I think a lot of stuff got past editors who might have questioned the completely insane trips through philosophy and mythology that occurred in these volumes because it was "for kids" and hence didn't need to be coherent and were allowed to be disturbing in a deep place where lives the soul of man because it had been trivialised. (Trivialised in the heads of the marketing bods at the publishing houses, the writers showed every signs of taking this stuff very seriously.)

The Moon of Gomrath introduced me to the Wild Hunt, which in some places was thought to be lead by Herne the Hunter. Somewhere along the line I got introduced to Pan from Greek Mythology as well. I remember asking my grandmother for some explanation of the Wild Hunt and she couldn't do much better than explain that it was a "third force" in the book beyond the forces of good and evil.

I think that's doing pretty well without going into the exact idea of expanding out from a Tolkien-esque allegory into a new space in which myth connects the human soul to the very well-spring of magic and creativity. Much apart from anything else I think those concepts are troublesome to me even now, let alone when I was nine and I think my grandmother, despite her love of weird fantasy fiction, would have thought that notion beyond the pale.

Right at this moment it seems obvious to me that as a budding writer of fantasy and horror, living in Wales from the age of 7 until I left at 20, that I would develop a fascination with the lore of the British Isles and, more specifically, the mushy corpus of "Celtic Mythology"*. One of the most fascinating things about the Celtic mythology specifically was that it served as an inspiration for authors like Garner but rarely was it adapted in the way that, for example, Roger Lancelyn Green wrote The Tales of Robin Hood. Robin Hood is a fascinating folk hero for different reasons, in that his story is believed to be tied down and defined; this is impossible. Green also wrote of King Arthur, a figure who edges into the Celtic realm and preserves this idea that his myth cannot be definitively captured or set down; this is true but it shouldn't stop us from trying, in fact in the struggle to attain an impossible definitive telling of a tale is the well from which all storytellers should draw.

At the time of experiencing this fascination, however, there were frequent times when I felt like I should just give up. It was immensely frustrating to read stories by people inspired by stories that they appeared to know when I couldn't find an "authoritative" version to separate out what was "real mythology" from the poetic licence of the author.  Now I know that they only had a little more knowledge than I did and a better idea of how to do research, they were riffing off the same anthropological sources as I was, so, in short they had more idea of how to look for stuff and so had a slightly broader experience of the topic. I didn't appreciate in my late childhood/early teens how slight the older author's advantage was.

As I grew older still I continued not to have the internet, I continued to experience a surrounding apathy for my own interest in these topics, but I did continue my interest due almost entirely to my love for the stories of Slaine in 2000AD

Next Time: My Adventures With Slaine and Celtic Mythology

*Celtic Mythologians tend to attach the lore to Ireland and then add Scotland as a footnote to that, get quite excited about also mentioning the Cornish and leave the Welsh out of it because they have the Mabinogion.

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