This is the fifth mystery reading in the Green Man series – brief texts that illuminate aspects of masculinity through nature while exploring the major masculine archetypes.
Stag and Serpent
The stag and the serpent don’t grow without shedding. Whether they shed antlers or skin, these animals are masters of transformation, striding and slithering through forest and stream. Both are associated with the ancient Celtic Horned God, Cernunnos. This bearded deity, an avatar of the Green Man himself, oversaw the cycle of life, death and rebirth – the decay of the old and the flourish of the new. In most deer species, only the males produce antlers, which grow back larger after every time they are discarded. The antlers, like a crown, come to symbolize mastery, potency, and endurance. Snakes are one of the most common phallic symbols because of their unique shape, and when they shed their skins, usually starting at the head, the process at first resembles the retraction of the foreskin when the (uncut) penis becomes erect. This kind of mutable phallus is the origin of a wizard’s staff or magic wand, a stiff length of wood that is imagined to ejaculate a spell, or a force, to cause a transformation.
In his hooded cloak, the Wizard seeks occult knowledge—plants or fungi that poison or heal, poems or songs that curse or bless—for its potential to transform. For the early alchemists, the metamorphosis of base metals into gold, though desired literally, was also a metaphor for transforming anything, whether tangible or not, into something of greater value or purpose. The Wizard should not hoard the knowledge he accrues, but rather shed it like these token animals, for it is in the distribution of knowledge that wider dialogue and transformation can occur.