The figure is that of a man clothed in the skin of a stag and wearing on his head the antlers of a stag. The hide of the animal covers the whole of the man’s body, the hands and feet are drawn as though seen through a transparent material; thus conveying to the spectator the information that the figure is a disguised human being. The face is bearded, the eyes large and round, but there is some doubt whether the artist intended to represent the man−animal with a mask or with the face uncovered.
The horned man is drawn on the upper part of the wall of the cave, below and around him are representations of animals painted in the masterly manner characteristic of the Palaeolithic artist. It seems evident from the relative position of all the figures that the man is dominant and that he is in the act of performing some ceremony in which the animals are concerned.
The ceremony appears to consist of a dance with movements of the hands as well as the feet. It is worth noting that though the pictures of the animals are placed where they can easily be seen by the spectator the horned man can only be viewed from that part of the cavern which is most difficult of access. This fact suggests that a great degree of sanctity was attached to this representation, and that it was purposely placed where it was screened from the gaze of the vulgar.
The period when the figure was painted is so remote that it is not possible to make any conjectures as to its meaning except by the analogy of historical and modern instances. Such instances are, however, sufficiently numerous to render it fairly certain that the man represents the incarnate God, who, by performing the sacred dance, causes the increase of the kind of animal in the disguise of which he appears.
Though the stag−man is the most important of the horned figures of the Palaeolithic period, there are many smaller drawings of masked and horned men on small objects of bone and horn. These figures are usually represented with the horns of a goat or chamois, and are dancing singly or in groups.
The most interesting example is on plate II, where the horned man is not only dancing but also accompanies himself on a kind of musical bow. The only Palaeolithic representation of a human figure found in England is the well−known engraving on the bone of a man masked with a horse’s head, which was discovered in the Pinhole Cave, Derbyshire.
The art of the Palaeolithic period came to a sudden and complete end before the Neolithic era; it was utterly wiped out in Europe, and seems to have had no influence on later periods.
The Neolithic people have left few artistic remains; their human figures are almost invariably of women, and the masked man does not appear. But when the Bronze−age is reached the horned human−being is found again, and occurs first in the Near and Middle East, i.e., in Egypt, Mesopotamia and India. In the Near East the figures may be either male or female, and the horns are those of cattle, sheep or goats. There are no stag antlers, possibly because the stag did not occur in those lands or was so uncommon as not to be of importance as a food animal.
Horned gods were common in Mesopotamia, both in Babylon and Assyria. The copper head found in one of the gold−tombs at Ur, is very early; possibly earlier than the first Egyptian dynasty. It is about half life−size, and the style and workmanship show an advanced stage of metal−working. The eyes were originally inlaid with limestone or shell for the white of the eye, and lapis lazuli for the iris. The head wears two horns, a number which at a slightly later period would indicate that the wearer was an inferior deity; for, during many centuries, the position of a deity in the Babylonian pantheon was shown by the number of horns worn.
The great gods and goddesses had seven horns, which is the reason that the divine Lamb in the Book of Revelation was said to have seven horns.
The two−horned deities of Babylonia are so numerous that it is likely that they were originally the deities of the primitive inhabitants, who had to take a lower place when the great gods were introduced; these latter were given more horns than the godlings to show their superior position.
The horns were a sign of divinity. When the King or High−priest appeared as the god Asshur with the Queen or High−priestess as his consort Ishtar, the appropriate number of horns was worn on the royal headdresses, the royal pair being then regarded as the incarnate deities. When Alexander the Great raised himself above the kings of the earth and made himself a god, he wore horns in sign of his divinity, hence his name in the Koran, Dhu’l Karnain The Two−horned. In Egypt his horns were those of Amon, the supreme god.
A godling, who is found in all parts of Babylonia and at all periods of her history, is a two−horned male figure, known as Enkidu. He is represented as fighting with animals, or holding a staff, but his special duty is to guard the door. He has a man’s head with two horns, his body is human, and from the waist down he is a bull. Sometimes the legs appear to be human, but the hoofs are always clearly indicated, and the tail also is a marked feature. In short, he answers to the usual description of the Christian devil in having horns, hoofs and a tail. But in the eyes of the early Babylonians he was far from being a devil, and his image−sometimes the whole figure, sometimes the head only−was worn as a charm against all evil and ill−luck.
He was credited with great prophylactic powers; so much so that such charms were in use throughout Babylonia. The evidence shows that the great seven−horned gods of the temples, who gave their special protection to the royal family, had little or no appeal for the people, and that the smaller deities, the little-two−horned godlings, were regarded as the real protectors in matters of everyday life.
Throughout the Bronze and Iron ages, horned deities are to be found in Egypt. The earliest example has a woman’s face and the horns of a buffalo; this is on the slate−palette of Narmer, who is usually identified with the first historic king of Egypt.
It is worth noting that, with the exception of the god Mentu, the horns of cattle are worn by goddesses only, while the gods have the horns of sheep.
The chief of the horned gods of Egypt was Amon, originally the local deity of Thebes, later, the supreme god of the whole country. He is usually represented in human form wearing the curved horns of the Theban ram.
Herodotus mentions that at the great annual festival at Thebes the figure of Amon was wrapped in a ram’s skin, evidently in the same way that the dancing god of Ariège was wrapped. There were two types of sheep whose horns were the insignia of divinity; the Theban breed had curved horns, but the ordinary breed of ancient Egyptian sheep had twisted horizontal horns.
The horizontal horns are those most commonly worn by Egyptian gods. One of the most important of these deities is Khnum, the god of the district round the First Cataract; he was a creator god and was represented as a human being with a sheep’s head and horizontal horns.
But the greatest of all the horned gods of Egypt was Osiris, who appears to have been the Pharaoh in his aspect as the incarnate God. The crown of Osiris, of which the horizontal horns were an important part, was also the crown of the monarch, indicating to all who understood the symbolism that the king as god was the giver of all fertility’.
In the accounts of the divine birth of the Egyptian Kings, the future father of the divine child, the Pharaoh, visits the queen as the god Amon wearing all the insignia of divinity, including the horns. In this connection, it should also be noted that down to the latest period of pharaonic history the divine father was always the horned Amon.