Tuesday, 18 January 2011
Elen of the Ways
Few people have ever heard of the name of Elen, the name itself isn't really that old, and most of the information "known" about her is pretty much thanks to one person, Caroline Wise, who devoted a number of years into research on this elusive deity. The pantheons of Old Britain are vague as it is, the Celts preferring to keep their tales in oral form rather than written, but there are clues scattered across the continents as to who Elen was.
Elen probably began her reign back in paleolithic times. One of her titles is that of Horned Goddess, and thus Lady of the Beasts, a female equivalent of Herne or Cernunnos. But how can a Goddess be horned, when it's the male animals with the antlers? A little known fact is that it is the female reindeer that keeps her antlers during the winter, when the male loses his. Of course, this means that Rudolph is a girl...
Although they have been reintroduced to parts of Scotland, Britian last had reindeer roaming it's hills over 8,000 years ago, but they would have been an important resource for our ancestors - where they would have used just about every part of the animal in some way. Deer migrate, and our ancestors would have had to follow the migrations in order to hunt. Deer also follow the tracks of their deer ancestors, there are routes that are walked year after year, century after century, and a hunter knowing these tracks would have an advantage.
This is the origins of Elen, a reindeer goddess presiding over their migrations and their pathways, and this is where "the Ways" part of her name comes from. She has maintained that remit throughout the centuries, becoming interweaved into the Celtic legends and landscape to this very day.
Elen appears in the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh myths, in the Dream of Mascen Wledig, based, it is thought, on the Roman Emporer Maximus and his Empress Helen. Macsen dreamed of a beautiful lady, and travelled far and wide to find her. He eventually did so, in Wales, where she was the daughter of a king. Elen Llwyddog, or Empress Helen, has been thought to be responsible for building the roads across Wales that connected the strongholds in order to protect the country. These roads remain today, and are known as Sarn Elen, even marked as such on the maps.
She has links to the origins of Christmas too - and not just through Rudolph. The shamanic peoples of Scandinavia, the territories of modern day reindeer, have discovered a secret. In these regions also grows the hallucinogenic fly agaric mushrooms - toxic to humans, but not to the reindeer. I would be interested to know how it was first discovered, but the urine of the reindeer contains the halluginogens of the fly agaric, but not the toxins. A shaman could drink this to embark on his journeying (where his astral body would leave and return his abode through the smoke hole in the roof). Elen is again linked as a guardian to the astral trackways - the leylines.
Another link to the trackways is her mantle as Star Goddess. Perhaps she's an early incarnation of Arianrhod. If you could lie upon the ground the whole of a clear night, you would see that the stars and constellations move across the sky. Due to the turning of the earth, the stars follow a circular path, centred on the North Star. Here, at the centre of the circum-polar stars, is Caer Arianrhod, the heavenly Otherworld castle and abode of the dead.
There are few images of Elen, she appears with vegetation adorning her glorious red hair, resplendent in a green dress. Her mantle as Horned Goddess of the Beasts stretches also to that of Green Lady of the vegetation. She is Goddess of both fauna and flora. She is strongest at dawn and dusk, that yellow tinge to the daylight at those times I find incredible evocotive of her. She is the perfect consort to the well-known Green Man.
But another side of the Green Lady, is the inference that she is the land itself, linking her to the old traditions of the sovereign becoming wedded to the land via the Goddess. Indeed, a king wasn't a valid ruler until he was willing to undergo this ceremony. Another link going back to the story of Macsen Wledig.
So, Elen of the Ways, Guardian of the pathways both astral and corporeal, Star Goddess, Horned Goddes and Green Lady of Sovereignty. But I have recently discovered another possibly link, which I shall leave for you to decide whether you agree. I have been looking into the Cailleach also, Tansy has written about her before, but it struck me on how similar these two ancient deities were. Both are indelibly linked to the land, both Ladies of the Beasts, though one Light and one Dark, perfectly balanced. Perhaps it was not Brighid that should be equated with the Cailleach, but Elen...
Love and hugs
Cailleach & Bride blog entry
Cailleach blog entry
Caroline Wise's article