Locals have called for the removal of a ‘satanic’ statue of Cernunnos – a Wicca witchcraft deity – from a forest park in Co. Down.
David Megarry told The Belfast Newsletter that there is “widespread concern” about the “monstrous and grotesque” figure among residents in the Co. Down town of Hillsborough, as he said people are voicing their opposition to the five-metres tall pagan statue on social media.
“If this character was in a cartoon you would not show it to the kids in case it gave them nightmares,” he said. “But here it is – five metres tall – on a family walk in a park. I want it removed,” he said.
A former lecturer in History at Ulster University and a well-known author of folklore books, Dr Bob Curran, also spoke to The Newsletter, and said he “taken aback” by the pagan statue in the family-friendly forest park. Dr Curran said that concern about having the statue in the area would inevitably be raised.
”It seems a bit strange for a place like Hillsborough. It is very pagan for the Lagan Valley,” he told the publication.
“He is completely pagan. Cernnunos was a god both of hunting and of fertility. At Stormy times of the year, if you heard the wind and thunder overhead that was known as ‘the wild hunt’. And Cernnunos led the wild hunt, hunting down all sorts of evil things across the sky.
“Now, you could be swept away by this and carried away by winds and ghosties and ghoulies that travelled with him. Because he had horns he was equated with the devil. He was a woodland god and he hunted with devil dogs.”
Dr Curran explained that it is thought that because of a decision made by the Council of Toledo about the 6th century meant that “the figure of a creature like Cernnunos would be how the devil was to be depicted – with the horns and cloven feet. So he became a picture of the devil”.
He went on: “[Cernunnos] has great knowledge of forest herbs and is also associated with poisonings. He is half man and half goat – with cloven hooves and is equated with the god Pan in Roman mythology. So it seems strange for Hillsborough.”
“He was also supposed to be “rather drunken,” he added.
On Amazon, a smaller version of a Cernunnos statue describes the creature as the “Celtic horned god of animals and the underworld”.
Dr Curran told The Newsletter that the ‘horned god’ could also have been associated with a pagan deity of pre-Christian Ireland called Crom Cruach, who was reputedly worshipped through human sacrifice.
”He was associated with fertility. But if you go down to Belcoo you will find a stone which is associated with this known as the Crom Cruach. On the top of the stone, the first birth [of the year] was placed and beheaded,” the author said.
”This legend has, I would assume, a hint of reality about it, because the blood of the infant was supposed to flood into the soil and allow the crops to grow. This is back in prehistory but the stone is still there and there is a lot of local mythology about it – it is considered to be an evil stone.”
Some commentators believe that the stories of first-born sacrifice may have been invention of the later chroniclers who embellished what little was known of pagan gods for their own purposes.
Dr Curran said that while it was intended to have been in a huge stone circle on ‘the plain of adoration’ in Co Cavan, the stones were later scattered far and wide by St. Patrick when he transformed Ireland into a Christian country.
He added that Cernunnos is a central figure of worship for modern witches because “he symbolises a force of nature”.
Amid the controversy over the statue, Lisburn and Castlereagh Borough Council told The Newsletter that it had consulted widely on ten new statues in the forest trail over two years, along with the creation of an app, costing a total of £707,000. It did not, however, reveal how much the Cernunnos statue itself cost.
It also said it had received 15 complaints about the new statues, but insisted that the majority of feedback had been positive. Online, social media users have shared a link to a page on Lisburn and Castlereagh Borough Council where people can make a complaint.
The controversy over the pagan statue follows similar outrage in County Clare last June over an attempt to enact a ‘Púca of Ennistymon’ sculpture. Clare County Council were forced to put the sculpture it commissioned from Aidan Harte on hold – following backlash from locals in the town of Ennistymon.
The sculpture of the horse-headed entity was stopped from being placed in the town after locals said it was “sinister” and a local priest spoke out against it, describing the púca as a pagan idol.
“I fully object to this statue. There is something sinister behind it. It will never be erected – I can guarantee you. It looks nasty,” Fr Willie Cummins said.
In January, Clare County Council confirmed it would be seeking a new home for the 2-metre-tall bronze statue following the backlash. Harte described this development as “a shame”.
Last month, the Council announced that the statue has been placed in the Michael Cusack Centre in Carron in The Burren.