by Selena Fox
The Cornucopia is also known as the Horn of Plenty. Its name comes directly from Latin -- Cornu (horn) Copiae (abundance, plenty). As a symbol, a Cornucopia is typically depicted as a horn shaped receptacle overflowing with fruits, grains, flowers, and/or vegetables. The word Cornucopia also is commonly used to signify abundance.
Legends about the origins of the Cornucopia come from ancient Greek mythology. One story connects it with the infancy of Zeus, the chief God of Pagan Greece. After giving birth to Zeus, His mother, the Goddess Rhea, and His grandmother, the Goddess Gaea, placed Him in the care of the nymphs Adrasteia and Ida, daughters of Melisseus, king of Crete. They fed Zeus on the milk of the wondrous goat Amalthea. Later, in appreciation to His wet-nurse goat, Zeus placed Amalthea among the constellations in the heavens. To the nymphs, Zeus gave one of Amalthea's horns and conferred on it the magic of perpetually becoming filled with whatever sustenance the possessor of the horn might want.
Another account links the origins of the Cornucopia with the legends of Herakles (Hecules), the son of Zeus and the princess Alcmena. Herakles and the River God Achelous fought each other over Deianeira, daughter of the God Dionysius. In an attempt to win this contest, Achelous shapeshifted into the form of a bull. However, Herakles defeated him and tore off one of his horns. Naiads, who were Water nymphs, took this horn, consecrated it, and filled it with fragrant flowers. The Goddess of Plenty then adopted the horn, and making it Her own, called it Cornucopia.
The Cornucopia came to become a sacred symbol associated with a variety of Pagan deities. In the Roman religion, this included Fortuna, the Goddess of Luck and Fortune; Plutus, God of Wealth; Concordia, Goddess of Peace and Harmony; and Flora, Goddess of Flowers. The Romano-British and Celtic Horse Goddess Epona sometimes was depicted in the form of the Great Mother carrying a Cornucopia. Nantosuelta, Goddess of the Winding Stream, appeared with a Cornucopia on some ancient monuments, as was Persephone, Greek Goddess of the Underworld.
As a ritual tool, the Cornucopia has taken a variety of forms in ancient and contemporary times. Originally, it was in the form of an actual curved horn, reflecting its legendary roots. Over the ages, Cornucopias have been fashioned out of other materials as well, including wicker, wood, paper, stone, metal, and ceramics. Today, most Cornucopias are in the form of curved horn-shaped baskets. In my own collection, my Cornucopia baskets range in size from 6 inches to more than 2 feet in length. I use the smaller ones on my personal altar and the bigger ones for large group rituals and festival community altars.
You can purchase Cornucopia baskets at a variety of places, including gift stores, crafts shops, flea markets, garage sales, and garden centers. After obtaining a Cornucopia, cleanse and consecrate it as you would any newly acquired ritual tool. One way to do this is by blessing it with tools of each of the Elements of Nature: Touch it with a bit of salt or soil (Earth). Annoint it with spring water (Water). Smudge it with incense (Air). Pass it over a candle flame (Fire). And, finally, using a quartz crystal, blessing wand, or other tool of Spirit, dedicate it to its intended purpose and align it with your spiritual practice and the form(s) of the Divine you work with.
Here are some ways to work with a Cornucopia as a ritual tool:
Fall Equinox Offerings: As part of a Fall Equinox ritual, ceremonially fill one or more Cornucopias with assorted vegetables, fruit, herbs, nuts, and other produce offerings as an expression of thanksgiving for agricultural bounty and/or the "harvest" of abundance in various aspects of life. In a personal rite, speak a thanksgiving as you place each item in the Cornucopia. In group rituals, each participant can verbally or silently express thanks while placing an offering item in the Corncuopia. After the ritual, leave the ritually filled Offering Cornucopia in a natural place overnight and later return to the Earth whatever contents have not already been consumed by wild creatures and Nature Spirits. In addition to serving as an offering receptacle during a ritual, the Cornucopia used in this way can also serve as a symbol of the harvest for the rest of the festival celebration. See the photograph on this page and the one on the cover of this issue for examples of Fall Equinox Offering Cornucopias.
Sign of the Season: A Cornucopia can be used not only at Fall Equinox, but throughout the year to celebrate the seasons. Fill your Cornucopia with natural materials and symbols associated with a particular seasonal festival or sabbat. Some suggestions are included in the box on this page. As you fill your Cornucopia with associated seasonal symbols, spiritually attune it, yourself, and your home to the season, and then place the Cornucopia as a sacred seasonal decoration on your personal altar or elsewhere in your home. You also can use a Sign of the Season Cornucopia as a seasonal focal point on a festival altar and/or feast table. If you work with a Sign of the Season Cornucopia year round, the act of changing its contents can aid you in aligning yourself and your home with seasonal changes.
Ritual Feasting: Fill the Cornucopia with a particular type of edible ingredients, such as apples, berries, popcorn, crackers, chocolates, or other food to be served at a feast within or after a ritual. Set the filled Cornucopia in the center of the feast table not only as a decoration but also as a serving container. For juicy or sticky food, line the Cornucopia with lettuce, comfrey, other broad-leafed greens, tissue or wax paper.
Prosperity Magic: Place a Cornucopia on your personal altar as part of prosperity rituals. Fill it with dried sprigs of sage, cinquefoil, rosemary, thyme, mugwort, parsley, and/or other sacred plants, such as acorns, associated with well-being, prosperity, and good fortune. Dedicate the Cornucopia as a tool of abundance, and then place deep with it a written wish for a particular type of abundance. Envision the wish coming true. After the ritual has ended, keep the Cornucopia in a protected, yet visible place so that you see it every day. Follow-up by taking actions that can help your wish come true. After you have achieved your goal, give thanks by offering the contents to a sacred fire or by burying them in the ground.
Deity Invocation: Use a Cornucopia as an invoking tool in calling and/or aspecting a Goddess and/or God during a ritual. A Cornucopia is a suitable tool for working with various deities associated with Abundance, Good Fortune, Agriculture, Crops, Harvest, and Plants. In using your Cornucopia for Deity work, first fill it with associated vegetation and symbols. For example, for work with Flora, fill the Cornucopia with fresh flowers and for work with Pomona, fill it with fruit.
House Blessing: You can use a Cornucopia to bless your home or the home of a loved one. Fill a Cornucopia with herbs, flowers, fruit, vegetables, crystals, and other items associated with well-being and a happy home. After spiritually cleansing the home with incense and other tools, carry the filled Cornucopia clockwise around each room of the house as you focus on well-wishes. Then, place the Cornucopia in the main room of the home for at least a day and a night. After they have lost their freshness, bio-degradable ingredients can be removed and returned to Nature. The Cornucopia later can be used in other sacred ways in the home, such as a Sign of the Season or for Prosperity Magic.
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The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines, by Patricia Monaghan. St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn, 1997. pages 126-127.
Man, Myth & Magic: an illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, edited by Richard Cavendish. Volume 4. New York: Marshal Cavendish Corporation, 1970. page 518.
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods & Heroes, by Edith Hamiliton. New York: New American Library, 1953, page 287.
New Century Dictionary of the English Language, edited by H. G. Emery & K. G. Brewster. Volume 1. New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1946. page 327.
New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, edited by Felix Guirand; translated by Richard Aldington & Delano Ames. New York: The Hamlyn Publishing Group -- Prometheus Press, 1968. pages 91, 149, 154, 158.
Selena Fox is high priestess of Circle Sanctuary. This article is part of a work in progress and reflects her work in combining classical and contemporary Paganis. She began exploring Pagan cultures as a teenager and was a high school and college honors student in Latin and the classics. She led her first public ritual in 1971 as president of Eta Sigma Phi, the Classics honor society at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. She is interested in hearing from others who use a Cornucopia as a ritual tool. Contact her: Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary, P.O.Box 9, Barneveld, WI 53507; (608) 924-2216; email@example.com.; home page: www.selenafox.com