The Reindeer Goddess Part One: Saints And Empresses, Antlers And Sovereignty

Helena of Constantinople | SpiritMAMA Blog

Helena of Constantinople | Spirit Mama Blog(Note: As this article is now a few years old, many of the links have sadly broken. Nevertheless I will keep it in it’s original form – just with the links out. The quotes are originally from my research.)

The beautiful and intriguing, alleged reindeer goddess of ancient British Isles, ‘Elen of the Ways’, needs more investigation. I feel in my heart that there is a horned goddess out there so of course in my scientific brain, I have to find proof enough of her existence that it will satisfy my intuition – my guts.

This intuition told me right away that there is something, something that needs more exploration there. So it’s been fun these past few days, searching out the origins of Elen in history – and running across her in the blogosohere as well.

I found a few references to Marion Zimmer Bradly and The Mists of Avalon series – apparently she wrote in the character of ‘Elein’ in The Priestess of Avalon, who was a priestess of Elen of the Ways. And Elein compared her to the goddess Nehallenia of the Netherlands (perhaps also Celtic), who was goddess of sea ways. She also intertwined her with Elen Luyddogg, the brief Roman empress Welsh saint, ‘Elen of the Hosts’, and  St. Helen(a) of Constantinople, also empress of Rome.

As far as I can tell though, this points back to Caroline Wise and her manuscript Elen of the Shimmering Ways, because it was published in 1986. Bradley’s book was published in 2002 and in fact everything I have found that refers to Elen of the Ways, dates later than this original manuscript.

In it Wise says that she has been researching this goddess for 25 years. She in fact named the goddess ‘Elen of the Ways’ after coming to the conclusion that this goddess was one and the same as the Empress ‘Elen of the Hosts’ of Wales, who was responsible for building a network of roads across her territory (more on this in a bit).

This is important because it means that any reference to Elen of the Ways we come to from this point on, points back to Ms. Wise, and we have to go backwards to her, rather than forwards in our search.

In doing so we find it was actually she who decided (through her research) that all of the versions of Elen, Helen and Helena in history were in fact aspects of the same being.

It is her who decides that all notions of a reindeer goddess, across space and time, are one in the same – and who decides that this Elen persona and the reindeer goddess are the same:

Elen is elusive, ethereal, gossamer, yet in my research and experiences over the years, she has allowed me to follow her quicksilver thread and revealed herself in her various guises.

As the Green Lady, she peeps out between the trees in forests and woods. As a British Venus, Goddess of Gardens, she is the Flower Bride: at her Holy wells, mainly to be found in the North of the country, she is guardian of the underground streams that carry the sacred waters. These underground streams have themselves become a metaphor for the secret continuation of sacred wisdom. She is the Guardian of the ancient track ways, the Leys, the kundalini currents in nature, and as the Horned Goddess, she leads us to the first trackways, the migratory tracks of the reindeer and later, she leads us to the path of the red deer through the forests. From here she leads us to the lost Shamanism of the isles of Britain, and we can follow her across Scandinavia, Russia, Mongolia, Siberia, India and beyond.

She has pointed me to ancient London, and to the stars. She has appeared with the fairy folk and she has revealed mysteries of the abstract, magical concept which links sovereignty to the fertility of the land.

My introduction to her came in 1983. I had been working closely with Paul Devereux and the Ley Hunter Magazine, and he gave me a copy of a journal sent to them for review. It was simply titled ‘Helen – Pagan or Christian’. To the contributors, Helena was synonymous with ‘Elen’, and the various ‘Elens’ ‘Elaines’ and Helenas who appear in mythology. They suggested that these figures have become confused and entwined, and include: Elen in the Mabinogion, Helen the Mother of Constantine, a grail barer, a bar maid, and an Essex girl who was daughter of Olde King Cole. My instincts told me that if we could unravel this confusion, instead of seeing a lot of separate characters tangled up together, we would find many faces of the same figure.

Pretty exciting stuff! Until you read this guy’s article (link broken) – which clearly states (and I’ve found this elsewhere) that Elen of the Hosts of Wales lived 60 years or so before St. Helen empress of Rome did – that these two are historical figures. Sure they both had a son name Constantine – and sure their names sound the same and yes they were both sainted and history seems to have mixed them up a bit here an there. But the history is quite certain as to who they married and who their children were – which are completely different stories that ripple down to the present day; St. Helen being the mother of ‘Constantine the Great’ and it looks like all of Wales and a lot of Britain claims ancestral ties to St. Elen, her husband Magnus Maximus and their five children.

If any word could define Elen Luyddog, it would be ancestrix. Her importance lies in the children she bore, whether she and they were real or only mythical is almost unimportant – she and Macsen were significant enough that almost every royal house in Britain wrote pedigrees tracing their lines back to their union. However, for those that claimed this lineage, it was Macsen’s status they wanted to buy into. This fact has passed many people by. It is assumed that Elen is the important figure; she is ‘Celtic’, and she built all those roads, therefore she must have been an important goddess.

Upon reading more, it seems that the antlered Elen was the personal gnosis of Wise and her colleague Cheska Potter – who continually saw her during their research, as a deer or as wearing antlers – and made the connection with reindeer:

In 1990, by quite a magical synchronicity, I realised why my friend was seeing a female deer with antlers. The only kind of female deer to have antlers are Reindeer. As I learnt this, things started to tumble into place in my mind at great speed. I could now fix Mascen’s dream of Elen more firmly as ‘Shamanic’ flight, and with the Reindeer as the key, Elen of the Leys led to Shamans further afield. And a colleague from Bulgaria told us shortly after this, that Elen was Bulgarian for Reindeer (I can find no proof of this!). But it seemed significant that not only does the female reindeer have antlers, but she is stronger than the male and does not shed her antlers in winter. It is an older female reindeer that leads the herds.

Reindeer Goddess | Breakfast with the Gods

Both articles referenced above mention the existence of iron age statues of a female deer-woman, with antlers. This I find very interesting in that it proves the existence of the goddess is some form.

So the idea seems to be that there was an ancient reindeer or deer goddess (reindeer haven’t been in Britain since the end of the last ice age), the sovereign goddess of Britain even before it was Britain – an ancient forest goddess of the animals. And this idea is mixed in with the stories of the two sainted woman of antiquity, first Elen, which gives us the idea of this goddess being one of the lay ways or meridians of the earth – a pathfinder – and Helena because her story is similar to Elen’s – mixed in with the mythos of the goddesses of sovereignty, like the Morrigan or Rhiannon.

Goddesses of sovereignty are not a new concept and are prevalent in old Britain and elsewhere. Sovereignty could only be given by Divine right to a king, by the goddess who represented and embodied the land. Ultimately none could rule without her approval, which was bestowed by way of sex or a marriage contract.

Easy to see St. Elen of Wales in all of this. It was her marriage to Magnus that gave him Britain and which in turn helped him in his conquest of the Roman emperor of the time, enabling him to take the title. It was she who had the roads built throughout her land, between her castles, that enabled his armies to attack and be victorious. An it is she whose names are still on those ancient Roman roads throughout the British Isles – named Sarn Elen or Elen’s Roads.

Roman roads in Britain are often called Sarn Elen, but it is possible that the original Elen’s causeways belong to a much earlier period. Evidence of earlier paving is found under some of the roads, but the straightness of the Roman roads must have impressed the locals. The Celts associated straight paths with magic and the Otherworld, the paths that fairies took from one mound to another, the straight path of a magical spell, and the spirit flight of the shaman. It is significant that Elen is first beheld in a dream, then goes on to build a network of magical roads across Britain. Some associate these with ley lines, the ancient trackways that are said to join together ancient sites, such as tumuli, burial mounds, hillforts, stone circles and so on. It is possible that Elen is the guardian of these, or perhaps she is the guardian of the paths of dreams and visions.

She is certainly a pre-Roman goddess, and possibly much older than the Celts. The first trackways across Britain are said to have been reindeer tracks; Elain is Welsh for deer, and it is possible that Elen is one of the horned goddesses portrayed in Celtic art, such as the two figures found at Lackford and Icklingham. Reindeer are the only deer where the females bear horns, though they died out in Britain at the end of the last Ice Age, so race memories of her must be very ancient indeed. Some of the Sarn Elen tracks are associated with the Wild Hunt, led in some places by the Horned God, and in others by the Death Goddess. Some say that the tracks we call ley lines are spirit paths that the souls of the dead travel to the afterlife. Perhaps she was a psychopomp, guiding wayfarers on unknown paths in this world and the next, or a shamanic deity who guided the spirit flights of witches. Certainly, many people have experienced strange things on the Sarn Elen. The Welsh revered Elen as Elen of the Roads who at Beltane (1st May) opened the season of travel.

from Anna Franklin (link broken)

Easy to see how the two historical figures of Elen and Helen could be mixed up as well – given their similarities… but I’m not sure. It all seems like a bit of a fancy to me. I know how difficult it is to find these ancient gods and goddesses, when we have so little to go on. I appreciate that a lot of our reconstruction comes from personal gnosis, as well as research into history. In this case I’m not totally convinced that Elen and Helen were the same person – and I’m not totally convinced that either are aspects of the ancient antlered goddess. I mean, can’t we have a prayer stone or something with her name on it?

Having said that, I have only just started researching and I certainly haven’t read Ms. Wise’s whole manuscript yet. Can’t even find it!

More from Caer Feddwyd (broken link):

Despite the fact that Elen had never been considered to be a goddess before the late 20th century, and despite the fact that the evidence for her divinity trickles away like water when you examine it closely, it remains true that Someone out there, and possibly more than one Someone, is answering to the name ‘Elen’. This may be the ancestral spirit of Elen Luyddog, or it may be something else altogether. After all, who can guess at the true names of the gods? It is not unlikely that a goddess, perhaps because she likes the offerings being given, or because she is a powerful being in that particular locality, chooses to answer when a name is called.

As a polytheist, I often ask the question: ‘When is a god not a god?’ The boundary between gods, land spirits, ancestral spirits, Little Folk and other entities can be blurred. Now, while Elen Luyddog may not have been a goddess worshipped by the Pre-Christian Britons, I have no problem believing that she could be a powerful ancestral being that has become attached to the roads that she has been associated with for at least eight hundred years, or that another entity interested in these roads has begun answering to the name of Elen.

So I’m not sure of Elen, beyond the statement above – that she could be a very powerful ancestor spirit – and that is pretty cool in and of itself! What I am sure of, is her – the antlered One.

It’s easy to see how the world has been inspired by the enigmatic and tantalizing figure of the horned goddess – goddess of animals and the wild greenwood and of pathways. The story is beautiful and intriguing and desirable! For me this goddess must exist – I feel that she does in some form or another.

So where this leads me is to want to pull apart Elen and the reindeer goddess for a moment, and see what I can find out about the latter, without the entanglement.

I was going to write a part two of this article, but I came across a stellar one already done. I reblogged with comments. Read part two here.

     

18 thoughts on “The Reindeer Goddess Part One: Saints And Empresses, Antlers And Sovereignty

  1. Also, I’ve always seen references to the names Helen and Elen as meaning ‘Light’ Or ‘Bringer of Light’ or as linked to the Sun. In Reindeer folk traditions I believe that the Doe is supposed to bring the sun in her antlers at solstice or something similar, which would suggest that rather than Elen coming from the ancient greek Helen, as often suggested – perhaps Elen meaning bringer of the sun/light derives from the much earlier cultures and that the Greeks took it from there.
    If Elen is linked with the Deer tracks and wandering hunter gatherers who came to Western Europe at the end of the last Ice age, then the myths of Elen originate well before Ancient Greek culture.

    https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/deer-masks-021960

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    1. “Oh wondrous headed doe… Amongst its horns it carries the light of the blessed sun…” Hungarian Christmas Folk Song

      Yes! Here’s a good article on the Solstice and reindeer. The female reindeer keep their horns in the winter. They are associated in many cultures, with pulling the sleigh of the Sun Goddess across the sky on the Solstice, bringing back the sun (Pre Santa Clause).
      https://gathervictoria.com/2017/12/15/doe-a-deer-a-female-deer-the-spirit-of-mother-christmas/

      That’s a great link thanks. Love those deer masks! Amazing.

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  2. Hello! I’m from Snowdonia/Dee Valley North Wales (Welsh speaking) as are my ancestors (Still related to most people there I’m sure, we definitely have a local look) There’s evidence to suggest that a continuity of habitation by the original mesolithic hunter gatherers has occurred in the area, due to its unique geography, unusual genetics and evidence found of mesolithic settlements dating to 8000BC. Anyway that’s just a bit of background… my middle name is Elen, given to me as it’s a traditional, ancient Welsh name. I had never heard of any Elen in myths, until someone told me a few years ago about Elen of the ways.
    A year or two later, I ended up on an unexpected trip to Bulgaria, as my friend’s Grandfather had passed away, and she had to move back home to support her family.
    It was an amazing trip, and it didn’t escape my notice that once again I’d found myself involved in the presence of Death or a mourning situation, which is not of someone closely related to me – something which seems to have been a continuous theme throughout my life – enough so that it led me to eventually look up what a ‘Psychopomp’ is.
    The house was in a traditional mourning period with a black bow on the door, and I was honoured to be invited to stay with the family during this special time.
    I drove my friend to her grandfather’s grave and generally supported her in the spiritual aspects of the journey.
    She took me up to the top offer the hill overlooking the small village and while we sat there sure told me the legend of the hill and her village.
    She told me that every spring at the start of May, the villagers would go up to the hill and wait for the first Deer to arrive. They would have a celebration and bonfire to thank the Deer for returning and would honour the deer as sacred. the next day they would kill the deer and make offerings as a mark the season had officially begun and to bring good luck and plenty to the village and it’s inhabitants. But one year the deer was late, and the villagers grew concerned, they waited for the deer to arrive for some days and when it eventually did arrive, they were so overwrought that they just killed it immediately, without doing the the rites and honouring ceremonies.
    After that, no more Deer came and the village was cursed.
    The Hill was called Mount Elen.
    I asked her if she knew that was my middle name, and she did not.
    The whole trip was full of unbelievable magical insights and occurrences, eventually leading me to release some old spirits that I’d been carrying a long while into the Black Sea, where it appeared that they had originated – unbeknownst to me.
    I found that the Bulgarian folk culture had much in common in it’s mood with the Welsh folk culture and I felt very at home there, it was as though I’d found my Bulgarian Grandmothers, they were so like my Welsh family.
    Before I heard of Elen or went to Bulgaria, I has started to work with what I could only describe as a ‘Clearing of the Ways’ – I had been drawn to energetic work (Mainly incorporating the areas from North Wales to Cornwall via Somerset) involving opening up invisible tracks of energy, which connect forgotten sacred spaces with other dimensions. I had no traditional or peer framework for this work, it just started happening. Needless to say I was surprised to discover Elen and her connection to these things, who also happens to be my namesake.
    I thought you would be interested to hear of these connections, plus further evidence of the Bulgarian connection of Elen and Deers. I found nothing about this story online but I can’t type Bulgarian so it may be there… So much of our European folk history is unrecorded anywhere but within our ancestral memories.

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    1. Wow! That is such a great story thanks for sharing. I wrote this article years ago now. I love that people run across it and then share their stories of finding Elen in different settings and contexts all over Europe.
      Sounds like you are doing some good work over there, clearing the ways. I’ve read of this before – people spontaneously being able to see ley lines and clear energies from places on the Land. I think the earth is calling all of this forth!

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  3. Elen, praised as the goddess of the ways, roads and hosts, but also the wisdom, wild woods and paths that cross both nature and human soul. She was also known as the horned goddess “Kern” which is again a Latin exonym of later period. And once again, the name “Elen” in other modern languages has no meaning whatsoever, that can be related to her mythological deer-like features, but – it has exactly the expected sense in Macedonian, where “Elen” is accordingly and correctly ‘deer’ or ‘stag’.

    More plausible explanation in Macedonian etymology of why the word “Elen” is related to the ways, roads, deer and hosts reveals its original sense from totally another perspective. Namely, the conventional dictionaries claim that “Elen” comes from “Helen” , which is further explained as corrupted version of “Selene” – a ‘goddess of the moon’, which is falsely ‘explained’ as “Greek word for moon”. But, the farce scheme of “it’s all Greek to me” doesn’t explain how or which part of selēnē has something to do with the moon. It presumes that selēnē means ‘light’, and the conventional scholars even searched support-words for this theory in Sanskrit and other sources. But, their theory is blatant manipulation – the sun emits incomparably more light in comparison to the moon, stars emit light too, yet no one calls them “Selene” for that reason. The bottom line of this improvised Eurocentric theory, offered as an excuse by today scholars, is always and again their universal escape-container “of Pre-greek origin”. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%CF%83%CE%AD%CE%BB%CE%B1%CF%82

    in Macedonian the root-word “selen” means ‘displaced, moved” , which is of course exactly what moon does across the sky. But not only the moon. The stars and planets do that too, and also the big herds of prehistoric deer and other horned beasts moved around seasonally, often covering large distances, exactly as the big herds of reindeer and caribou still do today. Hence also this forgotten (not ‘horned’) meaning in today slightly corrupted Macedonian word for deer -“Elen”.

    Thus, the “Elen” (or Helen/Selene) of the ways, roads and hosts, logically finds its hidden primordial reflections in the following Macedonian words: “Selenye” – ‘migration, moving away’, “Naselen” – ‘settled’, “Odselen” – ‘moved away, migrated’, “Doselen” – ‘settled here, immigrated’, “Selo” – ‘a village, rural settlement’, “Naselba” – ‘urban settlement, suburbia’, but also “Delen” – ‘separated, divided’, and “Vselena” – which means both ‘inhabited’ and/or ‘cosmos’ (which is ‘inhabited’ with stars and planets).

    And last but not the least, there’s the ancient popular Macedonian fairytale of Silyan (corrupted form of “Selen”) the Stork, a folk story of a guy that transforms into a stork and travels to a faraway island, where he turns back into human. All of these popular traditions and words, from “Elen” to “Silyan” tell us the story of moon, stars, (horned) animals and human’s traveling and settle, ways, roads and hosts.

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  4. Thank you spirit mama. I was initiated by the female deer and I remember the day as if it were yesterday. It was on the exact day of the Harmonic Convergence (which I had no idea about Aug 1987) and I had a full out of body(the death kind, not the partial) in my back yard during the day after I mowed the grass. I thought while I was up above our 30 foot oak tree, if I am here, then is that “just” my body without me, down there?

    Then a female deer came into the back yard and within a moment, we were eye to eye about two inches apart. She read me all of my path and the worlds prophecies to come (I was 28 years old). I am sixty now and all of it came true (my collective work as a death shaman in which my initiations completed finally in 2016).

    In 2018, everyone of my prophecies appeared, the 12th of the 13 happened this week – the Hawaiian women doing a sacred dance to the erupting Volcano in Hawaii. So my journey started with Elen of the Ways but only for that year… That tells me she is a shamanic divinity of Prophecy. Because I had to pay all karma, the deer came to tell me that as well, I had a roman soldier life to be burned off of karma this lifetime, he joined the military in Rome at 17 years old and in 55 bce he went to England with the military the first time. Karma burns like hell when you really burn it off, that took 20 years.

    All is good, I am ready for the last part of the shift that starts in 2019, I hope you are as well. Blessings Phoenix

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  5. I had brief contact with this figure when I was seriously considering moving to Northern England. She appeared to me in dreams for the three weeks it took me to decide not to go, and she promptly vanished from them once the decision was made. I knew nothing about her when I had the dreams.

    I could have worked with her under different circumstances, I believe. Having worked as much as I have with both Kuan Yin and Brigid/Maman Brigitte, I don’t have a problem with figures who are both goddesses and not.

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      1. That was how I was eventually able to identify her. She had antlers, and while I’ve seen enough deer in my life to know they weren’t white-tail antlers, I didn’t know what they were until I started looking at photos.

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  6. Thank you for this. I, too have felt more and more bonded with what i intuitively know as a Reindeer Goddess. I discovered Elen of the Ways researching Celtic/British shamanism. I agree that the trail is sketchy, but I do know the Reindeer Goddess is real despite the reindeer move north with the ice the ancestral memory comes through. I also find resonance for this in the Cailleach, Mother of Herds. Happy searching.

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    1. Hi thanks for commenting! Funny you mention An Cailleach, she’s one of the matrons of the lineage that I’m studying under now. I am only just beginning to get to know her, as Mother Winter (brrrr) among other things. I hadn’t heard of her called Mother of Herds before. Thanks for that little trail. I hope to write a part three of this article soon. I’ll include what I find on Her.

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        1. Yes – it’s a Celtic ancestral lineage. My teacher is Australian by birth with Irish ancestors. Her teachers are Irish, Peruvian and Canadian First Nations – so a bit of a melting pot – but she teaches Irish cosmology, history and mythology. It’s called the White Bone.
          It’s somewhat reconstructionist – we use the triskelion (triple spiral) but we also call in the 4 directions.. so maybe a little eclectic.

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