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Gary R Varner

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The Face of Cernunnos
by Gary R Varner   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Sunday, January 02, 2011
Posted: Tuesday, March 05, 2002

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Along the craggy cliffs of Tintagle resides the Face of Cernunnos, carved by Nature to remind us of the watchfulness of the Horned One.

Tintagel, located on the craggy, wind swept cliffs of southwestern Cornwall is the traditional birth place of King Arthur, it is a wonderous place. Atop the stone island lies the ruins of Tintagel castle and village, built in the 12th and 13th century. This date makes it too recent to be directly related to King Arthur who reportedly was born around 480 C.E., but it is still a place of mystery and holiness. Although the existing castle was started by Reginald, the Earl of Cornwall in 1141, distinctive Mediterranian pottery, called Tintagel Ware, has been found there that dates back to the 5th and 6th centuries. Tintagel was obviously a wealthy trading post during that time and may, in fact, have been a stronghold of Arthur.

Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ash believes that the castle was constructed at Tintagel by Reginald to take advantage of the Arthurian lore that surrounded the site.(1)

In 1998, the English Heritage revealed that during that season's excavations at Tintagel, a broken piece of Cornish slate was uncovered with an inscription reading, "Pater Coliavificit Artognou", which translated means "Artognou, father of a descendent of Coll, had this built". "Artognou" is pronounced "Arthnou". The inscription has been dated to the 6th century and the reference to "Coll" is interesting in that King Coel Hen (the Old) was the 4th century founder of the Royal Line of Dummonia. Dummonia is the kingdom that King Arthur is reported to have ruled.

A sacred well can be found at the top of the island crest, along with an underground passage which ends at a pool of water. Archaeologist have determined that this passage was used as a "cold storage" pit, but I believe that this is wrong. The site is located several hundred feet from the castle proper, and is confronted with the full fury of the winds that constantly sweep over the island. Most fortresses had storage rooms built within them, or closer to them, for easy access. The passage is instead obviously a ritual site that mimics the Earth Goddesses’ womb. The close connection between Tintagel and the Goddess is also evident in the two labyrinths carved in stone a few miles from Tintagel. These carvings have been dated to around 1400-1250 B.C.E. The mazes are identical to those found at Crete and among ancient Native American sites.

Below the castle ruins is a large cave with openings to the ocean and to a cove. Known as "Merlin’s Cave", it is "typical" of those caves believed to be representative of the Earth Goddess and the mysteries of fertility. It is lined in quartz crystal and exudes a sense of high energy within its walls.

Just outside the cave entrance and running up the left side of the cliff is a natural rock sculpture of a face. Researcher Paul Broadhurst notes in his book, "Tintagel and the Arthurian Mythos"(2), that the face is that of Arthur. Upon closer examination curved rams horns are seen sprouting from the rock forehead. The castle builders added on to this image by building stone walls connecting to the natural horn structure. Is this a representation of Arthur? No. It is rather an ancient, primordial, visage of the Horned God, Cernunnos. Literature on the rock face is almost non-existent. The scant mention of the horned image in Broadhurst’ book ignores the horned image, and the accompanying photograph is devoid of the horns. Perhaps it is more advantageous to maintain local tradition than to discuss the alternative, but more obvious, meanings of the image.

The naturally constructed face is known as a simulacra (a natural object which looks like people, animals or deities) which are found throughout the world. According to Rickard and Michell, "these spontaneous images are often prominent in local folklore, and in times of pagan religion they were symbols of the gods and other characters of mythology. They give hints about the spiritual qualities…of the country around them. Certain spots on earth are seen…as ‘generation centres’...because they are spots where nature seems to manifest the prototypes of Creation". (3)

The sense of wonder that one has when seeing such a marvel is profound. But are these simply natural oddities? I don't believe so. I believe that these are direct links to Gaia, which indicate just how close to nature we once were, and how close we can again become. The face at Tintagel has been there for eons and is a reminder that the Horned God is still with us, watching over the wildlands.

The people of ancient Britain acknowledged the sacred power held at Tintagel and the areas around it by carving the labyrinths at Rocky Valley and digging the ritual cave at the top of Tintagel. If, in fact, this is the home of Arthur, what better place to build his castle. Arthur was a Pagan and worshipped the Old Gods. His teacher, Merlin, was a druid. The Face of Cernunnos, clearly sculptured on the side of the island by the forces of Nature, would give authority to the King who acted on behald of the Horned One. We can find that same sacred power where we live, wherever that is, if we but look and open our hearts and minds to it.


1. Geoffrey Ashe. Arthurian Britain. Glastonbury: Gothic Image Publications, 1997, pg. 210

2. Paul Broadhurst. Tintagel and the Arthurian Mythos. Launceston: Pendragon Press, 1992, pg 158

3. Bob Rickard and John Michell. Unexplained Phenomena: Mysteries and Curiosities of Science, Folklore and Superstition. London: Rough Guides, Ltd., 2000, page 234

Photo by Brenna Varner


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Reviewed by Tracy Kiewel Sutterer 8/10/2002
I love the way you write, Gary. You educate me with your passion.

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