by: Rick Johnson
PO Box 40451
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Sern or Sern-ee or Kern or Ker-nay or many other ways, the arguments abound.
The Cerne Abbas Giant is a 180 foot tall chalk carving in southern England. He carries a large club and possesses a 30’ erect penis. At one stage there was a robe hanging from His left arm which has since been overgrown. There may have been horns as well as with other similar carvings but these have been overgrown.
Bonfires were burned at His feet and there is a henge above his head called the ‘trendle’ where a Maypole was erected every year. Women who wished to become pregnant would sleep at the base of His phallus on May Day and couples would make love on the phallus to ensure conception. (note: if you are interested, I will show you some of the stones that came from this part of His anatomy)
The earliest surviving reference to the Giant was in 1772 and there were some thoughts that he was really Hercules (Helis in England) who was worshiped as a god by the occupying Romans. The club and robe tend to support this but other events oppose that idea.
Hercules was a heroic figure who was a martial god by the Romans. Yet, all of the legends concerning the Giant refer to fertility and sexuality, neither of which were associated with Hercules. Also, why was the robe allowed to be overgrown when the remainder of the figure is carefully cleaned every seven years?
The best theory is that the Giant was a Celtic Fertility Figure that was taken over by the Romans and when they left, was returned to it’s original form but the horns were covered by the nearby abbey as ‘devilish’.
Now, for the theme of this letter: How do we pronounce His name?
Names are important and the proper pronunciation is as vital. How many people hate having their own names mispronounced? Ask my daughter Cerridwen what she does when a telemarketer calles and asks for ‘ser-reed-in’.
With Gods, the pronunciation is as important as the name itself. Jehovah was required to answer any prayer so to keep him from wasting his time with every ‘god dammit’ spoken in anger or greed, the Israelite priests would prevent the masses from the true pronunciation of HVHI (more or less) and so only the High Priests of Israel had this important information. That is until the Romans burned the Temple and killed the only men who knew how to pronounce the name of their god. And look at Jewish history from 79 to today to see the result.
Now for reference, there is a rule of linguistics that says that hard/voiced sounds (D or K) change into soft/voiceless sounds (T) then they vanish completely.
As for the exact way to pronounce the name, Cerne, we have a major problem in that the first letter is “C” which may be pronounced as ‘s’ or as ‘k’. “K-Celtic” is spoken in Ireland, Cornwall and the Isle of Man and hardens the ‘C’ to sound like ‘K’. “Q-Celtic” which is spoken in Scotland, Wales and Brittany softens the ‘C’ to sound like ‘S’. Incidentally, the word Celt is pronounced “Kelt!” A Celt (selt) is a basketball team or a stone tool. A Celt (kelt) is a race of people.
Therefore the main argument is whether Cerne is K-Celt or Q-Celt.
The reality is that it is neither. It’s Latin. Julius Caesar is Roman-Latin and in Latin the C is hardened to K so his name is pronounced “kae-sar.”
So why is Cerne Latin and not Celtic?
In Europe we find references to Cernunnos, the Horned God. Cernunnos is not a Roman god but a Gaulic God with a Roman Name. The Altar to Cernunnos under Notre Dame Cathedral even has His name carved under His image in Latin. All of the surviving writings are Roman so the written names would be pronounced with the hardened C, or K. The Romans would have spelled it Sernunnos if the initial sound was ‘s’, Cornu being Latin for ‘horn’ and Cernu being a derivative of that word. What the locals called Him is unknown but would be descriptive and should be similar to the Roman name.
Since Cerne is a diminutive of Cernunnos, they would have similar pronunciations and the initial letter would be hardened as well. Thus Cerne would be pronounced Kern or Ker-nee or Ker-nay.
We now have two ways to go from here to determine the suffix. Latin-French or British-English. In modern English, the final ‘e’ is voiceless but is used to harden the preceding vowel. (Kit vs kite. In the first the initial vowel is soft but in the latter, the final e hardens the initial vowel to long-i.)
Therefore if the name is English, the final e hardens the initial vowel and Cerne is pronounced “Keer-n” which is extremely clumsy to say. And people refuse to speak clumsy words which is why we have all these linguistic rules to make speech easier.
There is a modern cognate for Cerne though, Herne the Hunter of Windsor Forest. An examination of this individual indicates that he is the Horned God in His aspect as the Lord of the Dead. Therefore, as both Herne and Cerne are the same God, in different aspects, the names should be pronounced in a similar manner. And as Herne is pronounced ‘Hern’ (this is one of the exceptions that makes English such a difficult language to learn) Cerne should be pronounced ‘Kern’.
However with the Norman Conquest, Norman-French was added to British-Saxon to create English (it would take centuries for this to happen). But one thing of interest is how Saxon became the lower-class language while Norman became the language of the upper-classes. The easiest example is ‘swine’ and ‘pig’. Upper classes call the animal ‘swine’ but lower classes call it ‘pig’ and with the greater numbers of lower classes, Saxon terms became more common.
In French, I am told, the final e’ is pronounced ‘-ay’ so if the word is French, the word would be pronounced ‘Ker-nay’. That is if the followers were upper class and so would use the French rules. Since the poorer people were illiterate and peasants, it would be the upper-classes who became the priests or organized the rituals and cleanings of the site.
Thus the transition would be: Cernunnos (ker-NUN-os) to Cerne (kern or Ker-nay) to Herne (Her-n).
Again, which is it? Kern or Ker-nay? If the rites were performed by the literate or the powerful or those with influence, they would use the French and so ‘Ker-nay’.
Well, the easiest thing to do is to go to the town which as named after the Hill Carving and ask the locals. The city is called “Ker-Nay Aa-bas” so the Giant should be pronounced “Ker-nay”.
Ok, if all we had to do was ask a local, why go through all this discussion and waste your time?
Because sometimes we cannot do that. When we read names and words that were written in a foreign language or time, we often lack living representatives to ask. Wicca is a good example. The word is Saxon but in Saxon and Old English, the CC was pronounced ‘ch’ and the final letter was a gender determinative (Angel is male, Angela is female) and was pronounced ‘ay’ so Wicca was originally and properly pronounced ‘Weech, ay’. By middle English it was spelled ‘Witche’ but the final e became ah and by modern English the final e was dropped as too confusing (remember the harden rule) and so was spelled Witch and so the pronunciation changed to the modern. Yet we still try to pronounce the word Wicca as ‘wik-kah’.
In this case, we are changing the pronunciation from the original to indicate that the word refers to a new definition, that is the revised religion developed by Gerald Gardner in the 1940-50s and not the original religion which very few modern people have the guts to follow.
Thus, we must seek to determine the true pronunciation of older or magickal words by means other than asking someone who does not exist.
In this case, the logical examination of the name Cerne was supported by modern survivors and so our logic prevails and can be used with other words.
Btw, Why is Herne pronounced ‘Hern’ and not ‘Her-nay’? Because male deer call out to their prospective does and the sound they make during the mating season is… “herrrr-nnnnn”… called with a deep guttural bass. When the initial ‘k’ softened to ‘h’, the final sound dropped too. Thus Ker-nay become Her-nay then becomes Hern.
This was a problem in Egypt with the Goddess Bast. Following this rule, Bast would change to Bas but because the pronunciation of a God’s name was so important, the Egyptians did something to force people to retain the final voiced T. They added a second, voiceless ‘t’ to indicate how important it was to pronounce the name “Bast” and not “Bas”. Unfortunately, people who don’t think about these things saw the name spelled ‘Bastt’ and thought it was pronounced ‘Bastet’ which is incorrect. This was just a way the Egyptians used to prevent the final voiceless sound from vanishing.
Linguistics. Vital to the understanding of religion.
For a website that tells the proper pronounciation of Irish/Welsh God-Names, go to Pronunciation of Celtic Names by Untangle Inc.
To contact me or to request topics to be covered, send to RikJohnson@juno.com
by: Rick Johnson
PO Box 40451
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