Who Are the Wiccan Horned God and Triple Goddess?
Who Are the Goddess and God of Wicca?
The Horned God and Triple Goddess are generally the deities you’ll hear people associate with Wicca, but these very same concepts generate a lot of confusion. You’ll read a lot of books that will tell you the Horned God is like this, or the Triple Goddess is like that. There are a lot of oversimplifications and generalizations going on with these descriptions. Many Wiccan sources also refer to the Lord and Lady as well, or “The” God, and “The” Goddess (the article “the” implying they’re specific deities). This leaves people to wonder—to whom, exactly, are we referring when we use these terms?
Wicca, being a 20th century religion, is fairly unique in one way: We don’t actually have our own deities. That is, our religion wasn’t built around veneration of any specific deities of our own—we worship Pagan Gods and Goddesses of other ancient cultures in a new and modern world. We do not have our own unique pantheon, nor do we believe our religion was revealed to us by deities.
So, who are these characters, then, that you’ll find peppered throughout Wiccan books and websites? Who is the Horned God or the Lord or the God? Who is the Triple Goddess, the Lady or the Goddess? Let’s have a look.
I occasionally compare/contrast Wicca to Christianity in this article. I'm not implying one is better than the other, or that they are the same (not by a long shot). Since Christianity is the dominant religion in Western society, most people are familiar with it. As such, I use it only to make analogies as a frame of reference.
Types and Titles—Not Names
One quick way to settle a lot of confusion is to remind people of this: these terms in question are types of deities or titles of respect. Horned God is a type of Godhead, not one specific God. Triple Goddess is a type of Goddesshead, not one specific Goddess, or a specific trio of Goddesses. These terms are merely descriptions, not deities in themselves.
Likewise, Lord and Lady are titles of respect by which we call any God or Goddess, respectively; Lord and Lady are not names. Zeus is one Wiccan’s Lord, Thor is another Wiccan’s Lord, Lugh is another's... just as a Christian's Lord is YHWH (Jehova) though they call him 'Lord' and 'God'.
“The God” and “The Goddess” are not specific deities that all Wiccans worship; they are simply the generic term for male deities and female deities, respectively. So my God that I worship may not be the same God another Wiccan worships. But I still refer to him as God, 'the' God, or Lord.
Why Use Types and Titles Instead of the Names of Deities?
So why do Wiccans use all these titles and types instead of just using the name of their God/dess? Originally in Wiccan covens, Wiccans didn't speak the names of the deities they worshiped outside the circle. This was to prevent others from defaming and disrespecting the deities.
This still holds today for a lot of Wiccans, though many eclectics are more relaxed on it. They might be willing to tell other Wiccans/Pagans, or close friends, who their specific God/desses are but not wish to divulge that information to just anyone.
For other Wiccans, the Horned God and Triple Goddess, or the Lord and Lady, or The God and The Goddess have taken on a persona of their own. Some would argue this is the result of watered-down eclectic Wicca and improperly trained practitioners who have failed to do any in-depth research. Others embrace the “All Gods are one God, all Goddesses are one Goddess” theory1 which has become more prevalent with eclectics in the 1990s. These people would argue that all the various God/desses in mythology are either aspects or personifications of the same divine couple.
1 The “All Gods are one God, all Goddesses are one Goddess” theory actually didn’t originate in Wicca; it was from Dion Fortune, a Christo-Pagan Ceremonial Magician. This kind of ‘soft polytheism’ is probably as common in Wicca now as ‘hard polytheism’ (the belief that deities of different cultures are all unique and distinct beings).
The Horned God
The very term “Horned God” is controversial, considering most of us grew up in a Christian-dominant society in which the only god-like being who had horns was 'the devil'. This is why the term 'Horned God' gets a lot of knee-jerk reactions.
There is no relationship, however, between the Wiccan view of Horned Gods and the Christian view of Satan. That would be like saying a pumpkin must be an orange in disguise because they have the same color skin. Horned Gods existed long before any concept of Satan did, and nowhere in the Bible was Satan described as having horns and hooves—those extra-biblical descriptions came from the Middle Ages.
Horned Gods were sometimes depicted as having curving, conical horns like the goat or ram, or sometimes the branched antlers like the stag. Sometimes they were animal-headed, and sometimes goat-footed. Some of the more well-known Horned Gods include Pan and Cernuous.
What Gods With Horns Represent
To ancient Pagans, Gods with horns were related to the wild and man’s primal nature. They represent mankind unencumbered by the trappings of civilization and living by his instincts in a natural state of being. Horned Gods were closely related to the forests—particularly the wild animals. They’re related to the hunt (both as hunter, the life-taker, and as hunted, the life-giver; thus, he perpetuates the cycles of life). They would often be associated with fertility— the virile male embracing his carnal desires without the imposition of social codes and mores guiding his behavior.
The Horned God made its way into Wicca due to the popular theories at the time by a handful of 19th century/early 20th century anthropologists who attempted to tie all of Pagandom together as if it were one universal pre-Christian set of beliefs that went underground to avoid persecution. Christianity had long painted Pagans as villains; in the age of enlightenment, many tried to look at history from a new and more open-minded perspective, and they romanticized antiquity. Some became desperate to turn the tables and paint Pagans as the victims. Ultimately, the attempts to oversimplify all the various Pagan religious from all over the world has been discredited, and the attempt to prove them going underground as a single surviving ancient cult has been debunked. Still, it was these oversimplified works that were prominent theories at about the time Wicca was forming, so it heavily influenced Wicca's formation.
To Wiccans, the Horned God motif fits in neatly in the Wheel of the Year, however it’s important to understand that just because many Wiccans worship a Horned God doesn’t mean they worship the same God.
Finally, not all Wiccans have a direct relationship with Horned Gods. Some Wiccans worship a Sun God, another god-type that fits neatly into the Wheel of the Year mythos and corresponds well to a Moon Goddess.
Remember also, that not all Gods are as easily “typecast”.
The Triple Goddess
The most commonly known triple deity form today is probably the trinity in Christianity. If one can understand how Christians see the father, the son and the holy spirit as three, distinct persons in one, then one can understand how Wiccans view the Triple Goddess. In Wicca, many Goddesses are seen as having three forms that mirror the stages of womanhood:
- The Maiden, who is the young, innocent, often (but not always) virginal beauty. She is independent and idealistic, ready to take on the world and looking to the future possibilities, filled with all the promise of what can be. She’s associated with youth, the time of coming of age, new beginnings, the new moon and spring fertility festivals.
- The Mother, who is mature, experienced lover and (often, but not always) parent. She is nurturing and protective, representing the selfless giving of oneself to sustain others. She's associated with family, children, domestic issues, growth, sexuality, the full moon, the summer (when she becomes pregnant) and winter (when she gives birth).
- The Crone, who is the wise, guiding, respected elder (but not necessarily grandmother) of the trio. She is strong and pragmatic. She represents the "dark" side-- fears, decay, and destruction. Not that this makes her 'evil'; rather, she's someone who guides us through some of the biggest challenges in her infinite wisdom. She's associated with changes and transformations (particularly the biggest transformation-- death and rebirth).
It should be noted that not all Goddesses fit neatly into a trio of Maiden, Mother and Crone. Ancient Pagans were not monotheists; they did not believe all Goddesses to be an aspect of the same divine feminine. It was the work of Robert Graves – another heavy influence, now debunked -- at the forefront of the Pagan revival who popularized this concept that eventually made its way into Wicca.
Variations on the Trio
In ancient Paganism, trio Goddesses would have more often been three Maidens, three Mothers or three Crones. Just because a culture has a Maiden does not mean that they automatically must have a Mother and Crone counterpart. Historically speaking, this was not common. Even if a culture had Goddesses that would fit neatly into the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone categories, it should not be automatically assumed that they had a connection to each other.
Think of it this way: if you walked into a waiting room and found a college girl, a middle-aged mom, and a retiree, would you automatically assume they must be related because they occupy the same time and place? Of course you wouldn’t—the same thing can be said for Goddesses.
Not Every Goddess Fits Neatly Into a Category
Most Goddesses will fit in at least one of these categories, but that’s simply because these are very generalized attributes. Not every Goddess in history is so easily stuffed in a box—many Goddesses can fit into more than one category. Consider Hestia, who can be simultaneously considered a Maiden Goddess (due to her virginity and never having children), but also a Mother Goddess (due to her association with domestic life, as keeper of the sacred hearthfires).
While the model of the Triple Goddess is useful in Wiccan mythos, a Wiccan must always be careful not to pigeonhole ancient Goddesses in groups of three.
Who Is the Wiccan God?
So Who Do We Worship Here?
I have been asked this by more new Wiccans (particularly the young ones) than I would like to remember: “Who is the Goddess? Is she the same as the Lady? Is the God’ the same one Christians worship? Is the Horned God Satan?”
So many Wicca books put so much emphasis on magic, herbs, crystals, runes, nature, etc., that deities for many people are sadly an afterthought. This baffles me, since anyone of any religion (or no religion) can love nature and be interested in magic. Wicca at its core has always been about relationship with deity. Why anyone feels they are ready to jump into a religion before they even understand who the religion worships—sorry, but it doesn't make much sense. That's putting the cart before the horse.
We Worship Pagan Gods
But the answer to that question is fairly straight-forward: we worship Pagan Gods.
Some Wiccans worship a Horned God, some a Maiden, some a Mother, some a Crone, some more than one. Most will refer to their Gods as “Lord” or simply “The God” at one time or another, and most will refer to their Goddess as “Lady” or simply “The Goddess” at one time or another. ]
Bottom line: everyone’s experience with deity is personal and subjective, and it’s only through your exploration of your relationship with them do you begin to learn about who they truly are.
How do you do that? Well… that’s a matter for another hub. In the meantime, I hope if you had any confusion over any of these phrases that I've cleared some things up for you.
Who Is the Triple Goddess?
What's Your "Ism"?
Tell us what "ism" best describes your beliefs:
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2014 Mackenzie Sage Wright