Way back in 2004, Tamsin and I spent the afternoon in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, the day before flying back to the UK where we lived at the time. I decided to walk up through Skeleton Gorge to find a peaceful spot to sit and reflect on what had been a rather difficult year. Climbing up the side of the mountain generated some body heat and I decided to take off my shirt to prevent it from becoming drenched in sweat. Half way up the gorge, I encountered two ladies who were on their way down. As they passed me, one of them said, “Oooh, a naked man”. I laughed and carried on climbing, but a moment later a voice in my head said, “That is your name”. I was initially confused. Where did that voice come from… and what name was being referred to? The voice repeated the name – Naked Man!
Over the years since then, the name has evolved, revealing several layers of “clothing” that needed to be shed on my journey to becoming what the name implies. Each layer represents a barrier or mask that was added in response to religious and cultural indoctrination as well as the efforts of my own ego to provide unnecessary self-protection.
The first layer of clothing that was shed led to a reconnection with nature and the wild spaces that I had loved deeply as a young boy. This happened largely through a move back to South Africa, and a change in career in 2005/6. Shortly after that, I began a slow move away from Evangelical Christianity and the church culture that had dominated my choices for most of my life. The gradual deconstruction of my religious beliefs actually constituted several layers, which once removed, allowed me to consider my own sexuality and the central importance of it in my life.
In January 2020, I had a dream in which I was rowing across a cold dark lake in a wooden boat. I was aware of a monster lurking in the depths of the lake and I suddenly became aware that both I and the monster were dying. I also knew that the ONLY way to survive would be to merge with this creature and so I gathered the courage to dive down into the cold dark water to be swallowed up by the monster.
This merging with the monster was for me an integration of my shadow self, particularly aspects of my masculinity and sexuality that I was unconsciously trying to suppress. I no longer consider myself to be a Christian. I resist most religious labels and I guess the one that best fits is “Heathen”. The word heathen seems to be related to the Dutch word heiden or the German heide; generally meaning someone who inhabits the heath or wild open country. A place where there are no paths.
During this time, I felt compelled to look for a new name in mythology that reflected my new sense of self. The one that emerged was Cernunnos. Cernunnos was the mysterious, horned, Gaelic god of beasts and wild places. He inhabited the dark forests and was always accompanied by wild animals. He represented the divine masculine and yet existed in tandem with the divine feminine, the Goddess. He is a symbol of the purest masculine energy, untainted and fully connected with his strength and wildness, yet at the same time fully integrating his relational connections and anima.
For me, Cernunnos embodies the divine masculine presence – encouraging me to: remain true to my values, never sacrificing those values for personal aggrandisement or gratification; to be self-aware and focused on growth and development in my relationship with myself and with others; to not be afraid of my raw sexuality; appreciating the beauty of the feminine in its many forms and drawing it out in a way that makes women feel seen and safe at the same time. Cernunnos calls me to an ancient, non-dualistic, earth-based, mystic spirituality.
I felt a deep need to ritualise the rising of Cernunnos and so, last year, I travelled north with some friends to spend some time in the wilderness and to capture his spirit in me through photography. Here are some of those photographs: