Once upon a time the gods wandered upon upon the earth and lived among the people. Taranis, the thunderer, the god who made the earth fertile with his rain and spring thunderstorms, was riding around in his chariot and checked if everything was in order. On his tour he rested in a wide valley. The air was sweet, the fields were green – Taranis was pleased.
Suddenly thunder was to be heard – and it wasn’t him! Surprised and a little bit irritated he looked around.
Far away, where the mountains stood against the sky, a huge brownish wave rose from the river’s bed. She roared downwards and took everything along the river with her. When she was gone she left a muddy swamp behind that reached far into the land. At the same time a hurricane started and the sky went black.
Taranis frowned. Where did that come from? And who dared to bring such chaos to his peacefully ordered world? He jumped into his chariot and headed through the hurricane towards the sky. From up there he would have a better view, and, what with being a storm god himself, the bad weather couldn’t really hurt him.
The flood had been wandered on and had destroyed other parts of land. Taranis saw that she originated up in the mountains, where snow and glaciers were melting too fast and filled rivers and lakes. And he saw, who had to be responsible for that, too. Up, where the humans didn’t have any fields, where not even small mountain huts stood, there was his old friend Cernunnos, and drummed with his feet on the ground so hard that the ground shook.
Taranis shook his head. Was it that time again? Cernunnos was the lord of the untamed nature, he always had been slightly chaotic and erratic. He ruled the underworld and her realms of death as well. And at the same time he was the one people prayed to for fruitfulness and wealth. This was true for the better part of the time, but sometimes Cernunnos showed his other side. Like many of the animals that surrounded him, he had times where he went through a transformation and renewed. And until the change was done the threatening parts of his person became stronger and he became a danger, being restless, unrestrained and destructive in his doings.
The thunder god nodded to himself. It was his job to help Cernunnos through his phase and keep his forces in check. He grabbed his thunderbolt and got on the way.
Cernunnos heard the thunder, when Taranis’s chariot came closer. He shape-shifted into a stag and escaped into the forest. Between the high pine trees it was difficult for Taranis to navigate his chariot. So he freed his horse, jumped on its back and pursued Cernunnos. He threw his thunderbolt, but Cernunnos already was too far away, and the thunderbolt missed his target.
Cernunnos thought he was safe. His antlers were itching badly, so he scraped on a big tree trunk. But Taranis was very persistent. He had followed the tracks and indeed found his prey.
Cernunnos shape-shifted again, now into a snake. This way, he thought, he might be able to fight better.
Taranis’s horse rose when the huge snake surrounded it. A few times the thunder god tried to hit his opponent, but every time Cernunnos was able to evade. Finally Taranis threw a thunderbolt again, but this time he went into the opposite direction immediately – and Cernunnos had done the same. Several times Taranis rode over his old friend’s mighty snake body with all his force. Cernunnos bended, but the horse’s hoofs had found their target and he was almost stunned.
With his last power reserves he peeled off his snakeskin and glided into a hole in the ground.
The hurricane faded and changed into a light rain. At the same time the sun showed himself behind a few clouds and sent some shy sunbeams down to earth.
Taranis took the snakeskin Cernunnos had left behind and held her triumphantly over his head. The scales were glittering in all colors, red, blue, green and golden. The thunder god threw the skin into the air, where she stayed and formed a big arch. Taranis watched his work and he liked what he saw.
„Stay where you are until you have gathered your senses again!“, he called at Cernunnos. „There is no place for your chaos in this world.“
The rivers returned to their beds at last, and in many places they left unexpected treasures: In some places the ground was much more enriched with nutrients, in other places shipping wrecks with all their freight were all of a sudden accessible and a other places gold veins could be found where only stone had been before. So Cernunnos had proven to be the wealth-bringing god at last.
The snakeskin remained a the sky as a rainbow and a sign that order had been restored.
Taranis returned to the sky and he was as happy and pleased with the situation as can be.
This story is just that – a story and free creation on my part. Many cultures have this myth abouth the storm god fighting a snake or dragon or something similar. Thor against the Midgard snake, Perún against Veles – and with the Gauls probably Taranis against somebody unknown. To make Cernunnos his counterpart is my own version, and it works for me only because I wanted to show them as friends caring for each other basically rather than a fight for life or death, like a man taking home his drunken friend and making sure he finds his bed.
It’s true that there are pillars that show a god who could be identified as Taranis/Jupiter, who is riding down a gigantic snake. True as well is that Cernunnos can bee seen as an ambivalent god. Ceisiwr Serith has written a good analysis of this theme. There are stories that connect Cernunnos via the antlers with a stag shape. But there is nothing about Cernunnos being able to shape-shift into a snake. He only holds a snake in his hand. I used elements of the slavic version for this part.
It was important for me that Cernunnos didn’t result in the ultimate bad boy. Instead chaos simply is a part of his personality from time to time. So one can still worship and respect him, and he can still be a friend of Taranis.
Regarding the rainbow – well, the Norse have their Bifröst, and I imagined that such a symbol must have been of some importance to the Gauls as well.