Book Review: ‘The Horned God of the Witches’ by Jason Mankey

Review by Martha Kirby Capo Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

About the Author

Jason Mankey read his first book on Witchcraft in the seventh grade, and at age 22 dedicated his life to the Craft. Today, Jason is a third degree Gardnerian High Priest and helps run two Witchcraft covens in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife Ari. Jason is a popular speaker at Pagan and Witchcraft events across North American and Great Britain, and has been recognized by his peers as an authority on the Horned God, Wiccan history, and occult influences in rock and roll and heavy metal music. He writes for the print magazine Witches & Pagans and has written seven books with Llewellyn Publishing, with three books forthcoming (as of this writing).

 

 

About The Horned God of the Witches by Jason Mankey

“The Horned God’s association with fertility,” writes Mankey in his Introduction to this watershed book, “has led many to think of him as a god of sex and lust, and as a provider of much that is good and pleasurable in our lives. But the Horned God is generally seen as being more than just a deity of passion and the wineskin; he’s representative of a balanced life, a figure who embraces joy but also accepts responsibilities (and lives up to them).”

Mankey’s writing reminds me of a Shakespeare professor I had in graduate school. Before each of her classes I would sternly remind myself to take notes, yet in every class I was so enthralled by the depth, breadth and richness of her lectures that I found myself swept along by the strength of her storytelling and completely forgot that I should be taking notes.

I had the same experience reading The Horned God of the Witches. One of the qualities I admire about Jason’s writing is his ability to untangle the threads of history from those of mythology while respecting their individual roles and influence in Paganism and Witchcraft. Early in the book he shares what he has come to call the Myth of the Horned God (pp. 18-20), which, he writes, “[…in the early 1990s…] was something akin to holy writ, absolutely unimpeachable and the stone-cold truth about the Horned God and the Craft.” As I read this beloved myth I felt the same wash of joy that flowed over me when I first came into the Craft 30 years ago, so thanks, Jason, for that experience!

Mankey explores the many guises of the Horned God from Pan, Cernunnos and the Green Man to Herne the Hunter, Lucifer and Traditional Witchcraft’s Horned God. Meticulously researched (280 footnotes!), the text examines the nature of the deity, ancient aspects and worship, and current reinterpretations. Also included are rituals to meet specific aspects of the Horned God, and suggestions for setting a devotional altar to Cernunnos.

Mankey’s love of history is evident throughout The Horned God of the Witches. Far from a ponderous recitation of facts, his appreciation of history animates the text. I found myself literally pulled along its pages; it was very hard to put down. The book offers the kind of reading experience many of us find so energizing—you can’t stop reading all the while knowing that the faster and longer you read the sooner the book will end, and you don’t ever want it to end. I particularly enjoyed the section on Pan in English Poetry and Literature (pp. 143-150) and was delighted to find a reference to poet and essayist Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), a somewhat overlooked writer of the Romantic era whose writing, particularly about Pan, influenced Keats and Shelley.

Unsurprisingly, quite a bit of time is spent with Pan and Cernunnos. I specifically valued learning more about Pan, about whom I knew next to nothing other than the tired (and inaccurate) trope of a feel-good BroGod of Drunken Orgies (along with Dionysius, whom Mankey also covers in this book), yet Pan is so much more nuanced than that. As well, reading about Cernunnos’ links to death as a god of hunting—that is, coming to understand him as a god of the liminal, of thresholds—was a revelation.

Of Particular Note…

At the beginning of his Introduction, Jason writes, “[t]he Horned God can even be a Horned Goddess or perhaps have no gender at all, and he’s most certainly straight, gay, transgender, and everything in between. I have to assume that as a force greater than mere mortals, deity is complex and most likely appears in different forms to different people.” He goes on to remind us that while myths may speak of the Horned God pursuing only females, historically horned gods were equal-opportunity sexual adventurers. Mankey does an admirable job of threading the somewhat revolving needles of gender and consent, writing, “[the Horned God] wants us to be happy, to live a life of joy and pleasure, but only if we can live that life without impeding the free will of others.” Jason also addresses possible concerns that may arise over the book’s European slant.

This book made me think about my own spiritual practice, which made it utterly compelling. The aspects of the deity I’m in relationship with are about control (gatekeeper, guide, guardian); Pan is not about control, and Cernunnos can be experienced as a guide and guardian. I found myself thinking about balance, and wondering how my ecstatic experiences might be changed if I opened myself to a deity that is a dude (or at least dude-ish) as a sort of tempering to the female, somewhat controlled deity I’ve been working with for a good while.

It also catches my attention that The Horned God of the Witches is being published just as so many parts or the country (and world) are emerging from isolation after over a year of pandemic and quarantine, when we humans have been more or less cut off from the wild spaces roamed by the horned gods. The resurgence of the Green Man, Cernunnos, Pan and the other deities covered in this book—can that be far behind as we evaluate our spiritual practices post-pandemic? What untamed deities might now be whispering to the wildness in our hearts?

Finally, a word about Laura Tempest Zakroff’s divine artwork. Her lyricism sings both on the cover and throughout the pages of The Horned God of the Witches. A professionally trained visual artist and designer, her work embodies myth and the esoteric. I strongly encourage you to linger with her illustrations, which are devotional acts in and of themselves. Allowing yourself ample time to fully engage with Laura’s illustrations will strengthen your connection with the Horned God.

Any Concerns?

Absolutely none whatsoever. The Horned God of the Witches should be on every witch’s bookshelf, and, honestly, I think could (and should) be included as source material in any class taught about the Horned God. The book benefits from rock-solid scholarship and shimmers with a great, abiding love for the Horned God. A terrific and informative read.

The Horned God of the Witches may be purchased at Jason’s Etsy shop, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

About Martha Kirby Capo is a Hekatean Witch, currently working most closely with the epithets Medusa (Guardian), Enodia (Guide), and Rixipyle (She who breaks down the Gates).  She is an Intuitive and Holistic Tarot reader and is the editor of Patheos Pagan’s shared blog The Agora, where she writes as The Corner Crone. She also serves as a Witch Mentor through 3 Pagans and a Cat. Martha’s Moments for Meditation can be heard on KPPR Pure Pagan Radio and on her YouTube channel. She has been extensively anthologized through Skinner House books, and is currently under contract with Llewellyn Publishing.

Interested in learning more about this book? Join our July Book Club HERE and read along with Jason.

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