The Shawl of the Cernunnos


A topic I have not yet broached in these pages is the interweaving in my personal life and practice between the Tradition of Faery Witchcraft and the ecstatic visionary movement known as Radical Faerie.  Officially “called”–for it was summoned into existence like a long-sleeping spirit from a far fastness, rather than founded in the usual way–in the late Summer of 1979, the first Spiritual Gathering for Gay Men under the Radical Faerie banner was held at an ashram in the desert of the Southwest.  It was called by a group consisting of Harry Hay, John Burnside, Don Kilhefner, and Mitch Walker, but the resulting event drew together several diverse and disparate strands of nascent community that had been brewing from as far back, at least, as the late 1960s. The commune movement, expanding theories of gay consciousness, and the rebirth of Pagan spirituality were among the streams that were to flow into this new riverbed. 

As I mentioned in my memorial post honoring Margot Adler, Margot included a chapter on the Faeries in her 1989 revision of her seminal work, Drawing down the Moon.  In the early years of the Radical Faerie movement, an element of explicit Pagan spirituality was more to the fore in the substance of Faerie Gathering culture.  Even at the present day, many Gatherings take their names from the great Pagan festivals of the old calendar, such as Beltane and Lammas.  Practices such as the Naraya dance from the Shoshone peoples and kindred tribes (see for further info), yoga, and freeform nature spirituality are now just as significant, if not more significant, in the tapestry of Faerie spiritual culture.  But reading through firsthand accounts of the early Gatherings, one name that recurs is that of Cernunnos, the wild forest God whose Name comes from the Roman period in Gaul–most likely a title simply signifying “horned/antlered lord.”  (Click on the face of the Priestess of Cernunnos to hear the wonderful song about Him, “The Hunter,” by the 1990s Boston Pagan band, The Moors.) The most potent object associated with this ancient Forest Deity was “the Shawl of the Cernunnos.”  The face embroidered on the Shawl (see image above) may seem more reminiscent of Pan than the surviving representations of Cernunnos, in point of fact.  For the Faeries of the early years who tuned into this Current, Pan and Cernunnos were two faces of a deeply healing sacred Presence that brought freedom from guilt, healing from old and sometimes festering wounds, and ecstatic sexual congress which manifested in orgiastic rites very different from anything seen by this writer in 15 years of attending Faerie Gatherings in the Northeast.

Dennis Melba’son was the Faerie who bestowed upon the Circle the Cernunnos Shawl. Now too fragile to be brought out for display or handling very often, for some time the Shawl had been regarded as the one Sacred Relic bequeathed from the “old days” of the early Gatherings to later generations. The Shawl–affectionately known to some Faeries as “the Cum-Rag of the Cernunnos”–had taken birth in a moment of vision given to Dennis on September 24, 1979. When he offered it to the Spiritual Conference for Radical Fairies in August, 1980 (when he was 48 years of age), he wrote: “Perhaps in some Goddess-guided way, the shawl will be the power object that heals all our spirits.” In writing about an ecstatic “pandaemonium” that evolved from a Goddess-themed fashion show on the final night of the Gathering, Dennis experienced a vividly physical epiphany of the Great God Pan:

Suddenly there appeared before me Cernunnos, who pulled me into Him. The cape enveloped His body and we kissed. Then He asked me to lift the shawl above our heads and walk with Him around the circle, drawing Fairies closer to the central pole, where we hung the shawl for all to see. The circle drew in tighter and tighter. The seven Names of the Goddess were being chanted louder and louder. Suddenly there leaped into the circle a young dancer, fully clothed. He began to undress. All around the circle–now quite tight, perhaps 2-3 Fairies deep–buttons began to be popped, shoes untied, pants unzipped. Clothes were thrown at the base of the pole, offerings to Cernunnos, as naked Fairies leaped into the inner circle and began to dance. The Chant of the Seven Names grew faster, more insistent. Cocks grew hard. Mouths and bodies enveloped them. Strong arms encircled my body. The dancer leapt up the pole. The chant changed: Pan, Cernunnos, the Horned One Comes … PAN, CERNUNNOS, THE HORNED ONE COMES! The figure behind me pressed closer. I could feel His hard cock through the cape. He pulled me closer–pressing, caressing. The dancer came against the pole and was lowered gently into loving arms. I turned to see the face of my lover. No one was there.

I turned back into the inner circle. Naked Fairies were getting down on it all over. The outer circle began to chant: NO MORE GUILT. The bodies writhed in ritual Sex Majik that healed us all. The chants changed to groans and moans and sighs and whimpers and cries of ecstasy. The God descended. The Horned One came. (RFD issue 25, Winter 1980, pp. 14-15)

It’s been several years now since I had any word of the Shawl.  At one time, some Faeries felt that the time had come for the Shawl to be ceremonially cremated.  If this happened it may have been a rite enacted in secret and witnessed by a chosen few of the inner circle.  Whether here on the Earth Plane or on the astral, the energy of the Shawl lives on.  I did once see it and touch it and my time with the Shawl is one of my sacred ancestral memories.  Blessed be to all the Faeries of old that filled it with the joy of their laughter, their dancing and their ecstatic cumming.


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