Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council removes witchcraft deity name 'Cernunnos' from massive statue in Hillsborough Forest Park
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In June last year the News Letter reported concern in Hillsborough about the new 5m tall horned statue of the pagan deity Cernnunos located on the main lakeside walk.
The council said the statue - which reportedly cost £140,000 - was described by sculptor Idan Zareski as "a Celtic mythological Big Foot hidden in the forest based on Cernunnos, (“Horned One”), who in Celtic mythology is an archaic and powerful deity, widely worshipped as the ‘Lord of the Forest’."
It was part of a trail of 10 sculptures which cost ratepayers £707,000.
But Dr Bob Curran, a former lecturer in history at Ulster University and a prolific folklore author, was taken aback at the location.
“Cernunnos was associated at one stage with something like Crom Cruach, a pagan deity of pre-Christian Ireland reputedly worshipped with human sacrifice," he said.
Cernunnos is also a central figure of worship for modern witches, he added.
Concerned ratepayer David Megarry led a delegation of concerned ratepayers to meet council officials about the matter last summer.
"We were told there were 151 complaints about the statue which the council replied to," he said.
A source told him the cost of the statue was £140,000, which he put to the officials.
"They did not deny it," he added.
A local mother-of-three, Lyn, was also part of the delegation.
"I told the council that when I lived in west Africa many people worshipped these sorts of things," she said.
"They are very serious about sacrificing to them so it is not something I want to see in my local forest with my children there. It made them uncomfortable.
"We saw some children running to it for a photo, but others started crying when they saw it."
"If it is something which can cause any discomfort, why should we have it there?
"My friend from west Africa has also seen it. He says that he rejected all of those things from his own culture and asks: ‘Why do I now have to have them forced on me by another culture?’
"Why not just have something neutral rather than something that will cause offence?”
(The sculptor, Idan Zareski, spent most of his childhood in Africa though it is not known if he drew his inspiration for the statue from there or not.)
However, since the delegation met the council it is now noted that the information panel at the statute has been replaced with a new one which removes all mention of Cernunnos.
A council spokeswoman explained: "There have been various working titles used for the art pieces as the trails and the project has evolved."
They added: “The Big Foot sculpture is a piece of public art which has proved very popular with visitors. As we all look at and interpret art differently, it is not surprising that the sculpture has evoked different responses.
She confirmed there had been 150 complaints since 2022 but said almost 500,000 people visited the park last year.
They added: “We respect parents’ decisions not to visit the Bigfoot sculpture and signage is in place around the trail for directional purposes.”
However, an individual who describes themself as an "Eclectic Pagan & Esoteric Satanist" strongly defended the statue.
Going by the name Pup_Persimmon76 on the public discussion website Reddit, they commented on the original News Letter story, asking why it was "always Christians who complain about non-Christian things?".
(Nobody in the original story mentioned Christianity).
Imitating the concerns raised by ratepayers, they added: "This is a family park, I heard those people have sex rituals… Oooooh he looks strange and is in the woods."
Invited to comment on the name change, they told the News Letter: "I'm glad it's still standing. I see no issue with the change of name, if it was the artist's decision."
It is not known if the sculptor had any input into the change of name.