When I was a kid my mom had this book of old English folk tales. My favourite story was Herne the Hunter. Herne rode with his pack of hounds wearing a hat decorated with stag antlers. There are many variations on the story, but the stag horns he wears remain a constant through them all. The reason there are so many legends is because Herne never existed. He is based on a Celtic god called Cernunnos..
..and Cernunnos is linked to the Greek god Hermes (or Roman Mercury)
..and the even more ancient god (depicted on seals dating back to 3,000 BC) found in Nepal and India called Pashupati..
..and some historians believe that both Cernunnos and Pashupati are based on prehistoric Neolithic shamans.
You can find an example of a Neolithic "shaman" in the 12,000 year old cave paintings in Ariege, France here
About.com says this about Cernunnos:
His Celtic name is unknown, although he may be associated with Derg Corra, the early Celtic "Man in the Tree." Cernunnos is a Roman name meaning "horned one." He is often associated with Herne the hunter, a character of British folk myth, and the "Green man" of European architecture. Roman invaders associated Cernunnos with the god Mercury.
The reason we don't know his real name is because the Celts had no written language, but they did leave us their art. Over 60 known depictions of the Horned god have been found in Europe, spanning a time period of over 500 years. The most famous depiction of Cernunnos is probably the one from the Gundestrup Cauldron, which was found in Denmark. Here, as in most of them, he's depicted as a man with stag horns sitting cross-legged in the lotus position. He's also usually surrounded by animals, especially a stag, and he's often shown holding a very odd animal - a snake with ram's horns.
The ram-horned serpent is particularly interesting. The serpent occurs in myths all across the world, and is nearly always associated with knowledge. Usually these associations are purely pagan, but remember that it was a serpent that tempted Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge. It is also commonly associated with death and the otherworld..
There is undoubtedly a connection between our modern horned devil and the Celtic Horned god. Since Biblical references never describe Lucifer as horned it is most likely that the early Christian church transformed Lucifer into the Horned god because of the snake-knowledge link, or because by making the opposition Celtic god "evil" they could more easily persuade his followers to convert to Christianity. So the angel of light was transformed into a Neolithic shaman wearing horns and carrying a hunting weapon? Maybe!
The god Hermes/Mercury carries something that echoes the twin-spiral theme of that ram-horned snake - a staff entwined by two snakes. Hermes was originally a herdsman, he was called "Master of the Animals". He eventually became a messenger and leader of souls to the underworld. Bringing messages from the Otherworld and helping the dead pass over are both traditional shamanic roles.
Shamans "travel" in trances or meditation - both Cernunnos and Pashupati are depicted in meditative positions.
Cernunnos on the Gundestrup Cauldron
Pashupati depicted on a seal
Traditional shamans wore animal skins, horns or feathers to heighten the mental/spiritual link between themselves and those animals - just as Pashupati and Cernunnos do.
Shamans believed their connection to animals allowed them to control them, a highly valuable skill to a Neolithic hunter!
Herne is the hunter,
Hermes is a herdsman and "master of the animals",
Pashupati is a shepherd and sometimes called "Lord of the Animals"
and Cernunnos, the Horned One, is both lord of the hunt and the animals.
So how does a symbolic shamanic figure depicted as a god in India end up all over Europe?
The answer may lie with the Celts. These nomadic people seem to have originated somewhere on the Indo-European Plateau. There is historical evidence that they were living around Kazakhstan, East of the Caspian sea, before 2,000 BC. They had many different tribes and clans. Each group had their own favourite gods, but one god they all had in common was Cernunnos. They were an adventurous wandering horse-loving people who roamed extensively through both Europe and Asia. Long before the Romans began conquering Europe the Celts had already expanded as far as Britain and into Asia as well.
Did the Celts take the idea of the shaman from Asia or did they have their own shamanic ancestral past, same as those ancient people who painted their shaman hunters in the caves in France? One thing is fairly certain - there are far more connections and links between cultures and continents than we often realise. Take a look at some of the Tungus people here and you'll see what I mean. They look more like the "Indians" you'd see in an old Western movie than Eurasians.. and their "shaman" is dancing wearing reindeer horns on his head.
When the first peoples made their way from Asia into the Americas did they take the idea of the "Saman" with them?
Perhaps the Indigenous peoples of the Americas practice Shamanism after all?