The Horn of Plenty
The Horn of Plenty, also known as The
Cornucopia is a classic antiquity
that assumes a horn-like shape and is believed to symbolize nourishment
and limitless abundance. It shape in a large container overflows with
produce such us flowers, nuts, grains and fruits. The name takes roots
from Latin language with the term Cornu meaning horn while Copiae
represents abundance or plenty (Adkinson, 2009). In modern culture, the
Horn of Plenty signifies the numerous roads every individual can embark
on and travel through as he makes choices while seeking for fulfilling
opportunities as well as pursuing his destiny. There are several
symbolic messages stemming from this symbol all taking root from
various folklore stories and mythologies.
As the Greek mythology would have it, the Horn of Plenty is associated
with to legends: Amalthea and Zeus as well as Amalthea’s horn
Hercules. Notably, it is believed that the symbol dates back to the 5th
BC. The first mythological description connects the symbol with
Zeus’ infancy. The story narrates how upon his birth, Zeus
placed under nymphs Adrasteia and Ida’s care by his mother
Goddess Rhea as well as his grandmother known as Goddess
Adrasteia and Ida are well known daughters of king of Crete commonly
known as Melisseus. It’s during this period where Zeus was
nourished by milk from the phenomenal goat Amalthea and as a token of
his appreciation, he placed the goat among heavens constellations. This
was followed by the rewarding of Adrasteia and Ida with one of
Amalthea’s horns which was conferred with the magic of
fullness of whatever the possessor of this horn desired for sustenance.
Another version of Amalthea and Zeus tells a story of how the goat
nurtured and raised Zeus from the time he was an infant while shielding
him from his father, Cronos. Amalthea is believed to nurse and protect
Zeus in the mountains of Crete preparing him to become a future God.
However, one day as they were playing, Zeus broke the goat’s
accidentally and in his remorse, he offered to repay Amalthea by
granting Amalthea the wish of having the horn filled with whatever she
wished on perpetual basis.
The second myth tells the story of Hercules, son of Zeus and the
Princess of Alcmena. The myth tells of how Achelous (God of the River)
fought in a battle against Hercules in attempt to win the love of King
Aeneus’ beautiful daughter Deianira. Diring this battle,
transformed himself into various creatures as part of his tactics to
defeat Hercules and at one point, while being pinned to the ground by
Hercules, he transformed himself into a serpent then a bull but was
overpowered by Hercules who managed to break one of his horns. With
this defeat, Achelous shifted back to his god-like form and returned to
the river. There are two varying ends to this mythology. One, Hercules
and Deianira took this horn and filled it with fruits, flowers and
grains in celebration of their marriage and two, naiads (water nymphs)
possessed the horn, sanctified it filling it with fragrant flowers and
abundant fruit before awarding it to the Goddess of Plenty who called
it the Cornucopia (Huggens, 2013).
The Horn of Plenty was used in various ways. First, in the ancient
world, the horn of Plenty was a largely popular religious symbol. It
was stamped on Jewish coins commencing in the Maccabean period and was
also used in rings and seals as well as architecture. It was also used
in the Hellenistic era, where most civilizations were greatly
influenced by the Greeks (Nasrallah, 2010). Traditional European
cultures also commemorated the end of harvest through creating corn
dollies or corn maiden that were aimed at ensuring prosperity and
fertility in days to come and its earliest forms involved the use of
the Horn of Plenty (Adkinson, 2009).
1. A Rome mint (Traianus Denarius). Source: (Huggens, 2013).
Additionally, with Christianity becoming the official Roman religion,
Abundantia (a Roman Goddess often portrayed in 3rd century coins and
heavily associated with the symbol) was banned along with other pagan
spirits. However, some followers were hesitant on banishing this symbol
thus went underground with Abundantia which would later resurface in
medieval Europe in the mould of Dame Abundance. During this period,
worshiping of Abundantia was only by witches and in secret. It was
believed that Dame Abundance visited at night bringing endless luck and
prosperity (Nasrallah, 2010).
2. Abundantia with the Horn of Plenty. Source: (Adkinson, 2009).
As a ritual tool, this symbol has adopted numerous forms depicted both
in ancient and modern times. Initially, it was in its original actual
curved horn form but that has changed and fashioned out with other
materials such as ceramics, wicker, stone, metal or wood. Presently,
most Cornucopias take the form of horn shaped baskets. Today, the Horn
of Plenty is used as a ritual tool in several ways. First,
used during the fall equinox offerings where cornucopias are filled
with overflowing assorted fruits, nuts, flowers and vegetables in
thanksgiving mode. It is also used during ritual feastings, sign of the
season, house blessing, prosperity magic and deity invocation
In conclusion, this symbol was a powerful figure depicted in paintings
in medieval Europe but has changed over the years. Today, they are
autumn centerpieces taking various forms and depicted in numerous
artworks. This symbol still resonates with people to this day and its
relevance to fruits, earthly prosperity and abundance remains relevant
and unchanged across centuries.
Adkinson, R. (2009). Sacred symbols: A visual tour of world faith. New
York: Harry N. Abrams
Huggens, K. (2013). Complete guide to tarot illuminati.
Nasrallah, L. S. (2010). Christian responses to Roman art and
architecture: The second-century church amid the spaces of empire.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.