Elen of the Ways
Olivia Robertson perceived shamanic force streaming from either side of the head
looking very much like antlers. The illustration above is from her spiritual autobiography "The Call of Isis."
In the 1980s two women who became priestesses of the Fellowship of Isis (Chesca Potter and Caroline Wise) experienced a series of visions of a previously unnamed and forgotten Goddess of Great Britain. They saw her as tall with red hair and wearing antlers. It was Caroline Wise who eventually found her name - "Elen of the Ways". Caroline's work over the years has provided the basis for materials available about this Goddess - she is considered the primary source for information on Elen, and rightly so. The essay below gives an outline of some of her findings. Caroline is currently working on her book about Elen of the Ways.
Elen, the Green Lady
Rt. Rev. Caroline Wise, AU
Isis of the Thames Lyceum, London
Originally published in the Mirror of Isis, Volume II, Issue no. 3, Samhain 2007
The essay below gives a flavour of my book 'The Horned Goddess' which is currently at the printers. It follows on from my monograph ‘Elen of the Shimmering Ways’ (Spiral Press 1986 with illustrations by Chesca Potter) and from a contribution to ‘The Aquarian Guide to Legendary London’ (Aquarian Press 1989 – edited by John Matthews and Chesca Potter).
Elen is elusive, ethereal, gossamer, yet in my research and experiences over the years, she has shown me glimpses of her quicksilver thread as she revealed herself in her various guises.
As the Green Lady, (as my colleague Chesca Potter and myself named her) 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 pathways that carry the sacred waters. As ‘Elen of the Ways’, the title I gave her in 1983, 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 track ways, the migratory tracks of the reindeer. From here she leads us to the lost Shamanism of the isles of Britain, and we can follow her gossamer thread across Scandinavia, Russia, Mongolia, Siberia, China, Iran, India and beyond, and across the land bridge of the Bering Straights into the Americas.
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 of sovereignty, which links to the fertility of the land to the ruler, via the goddess.
My introduction to her came in 1983. I had been working closely with the ‘Ley Hunter’ magazine, then edited by Paul Devereux. He gave me a copy of a pamphlet sent to them for review. It was simply titled ‘Helen’. To the contributors, Helena was synonymous with ‘Elen’, and the various ‘Elens’ ‘Elaines’ and Helenas who appear in mythology. They suggested that these separate figures had become confused and entwined, and include:
Elen in the Mabinogion, Helen the Mother of Constantine, a grail bearer, 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, we would see many faces of the same figure.
As I started to read this tiny booklet, I felt as if the kundalini currents were coursing through me, that here was a figure of deep significance to me. I was set on a course to find out more about her.
Elen moves through the ages cloaked in the appropriate mask. Identifying some of her masks and being allowed to peep behind them has been an exhilarating experience.
My own discoveries linking Elen to The Reindeer Tracks, shamanic practice and the ways of the deer, which I have frequently given talks about, came in 1989/90.
Elen and the King
I started my investigations with the evocative Elen that appears in the Mabinogion. This medieval masterpiece is a collection of magical tales based on mythical and quasi-historical characters. It probably based on earlier orally communicated stories.
Elen’ appears in the tale ‘The Dream of Mascen Wledid’, whose character is based on the Roman Emperor Maximus.
Mascen is out hunting with thirty-two companions.* They follow the ‘River that Runs towards Rome’. Mascen gets tired in the heat of the sun at noon so a tent is prepared and he sleeps. Mascen dreams a wonderful dream.
He dreams of undertaking an epic journey, where he travels across mighty rivers, mountains and valleys, all kinds of terrain, until he crosses a sea and eventually comes to a red-gold castle. In the castle he finds two auburn haired youths playing chess, and an old king whittling chess pieces.
On a red-gold throne sits a woman. She is the most beautiful woman Mascen has ever seen. She is Elen.
Mascen awakes, and pines for the woman of his dream. He sends men out on a quest to find her, which they do, in Wales, the land of red gold. They tell her that the Emperor wants her, and Elen says that if the Emperor wants her that badly, he can come and get her himself.
On hearing this, Mascen sets of, and after many adventures, Elen becomes his Bride. She becomes the Empress Helen, has roads built (magically) for the armies of Britain, and for the protection of Britain, (Elen Lwydogg -Elen of the Hosts). The roads are said to link castles across the land. As a Leyhunter this appealed to me – were these more than Roman roads, echoes of ancient pathways, Elen’s roads, memories of the Old straight tracks?
You can walk along her roads still. Sarn Elen, a network, which goes form Caernarfon, the site of Elen’s castle, into South Wales. It is known to be earlier than the Roman period, and being on her highway can be a magical experience, as you are poised in that numinous borderland where magic, myth, and history meet.
Mascen’s Dream is an Aisling, a visionary dream or experience where Sovereignty, usually represented as a woman, appears. (Lady Sovereignty). Elen plays that role here, as a daughter of a King. She is sitting on a golden throne. Her brothers are playing chess (Mascen ‘takes the Queen’) and the Old King is making chess pieces (indicating that the royal succession is in his hands?). The Chessboard represents the land of Britain. In chess, the King is vulnerable, and the Queen powerful. Elen, enthroned as Lady Sovereignty, has the power and authority to summon the king to her. But we are looking at more here than a tale of dynastic marriage between Britain and Rome, or the continuity of a royal line, or even a carefully crafted story for later rulers to claim ancestry form the emperor of Rome. An aisling of my own told me it concerned the awakening of the land, establishing a balance of the earth- energies through the meridians of the land, keeping the Wasteland at bay.
Elen is Mascen’s shakti, an eastern term for a divine woman who arouses the kundalini in a magical way.
But Lady sovereignty (like classical Diana in Her Grove at Nemi) has to be won. The man who is to be King, who must mediate and radiate the sexual life currents throughout the land must be strong and true. Mascen has won the Queen, who represents the goddess of the land, by staying true to his dream- woman and endeavouring to undertake his arduous journey at her command. Elen’s demand to the Emperor, no less, “If he wants me he can jolly well come and get me – he doesn’t just summon me!’ shows her as having authority even over the Emperor. It shows the authority of the Queen (goddess) over the King.
But I was struck be how the dream of Mascen worked on many levels. It also contains a description of ‘shamanic flight’. We are all familiar with tales of shaman’s and witches flying through the air in this trance state. I had read about South American Shamanism, and was familiar with the idea that in flight the shaman can see recognisable landmarks beneath him. But I recalled an extraordinary publication by a man called Tony Wedd, a New Age Pioneer, called "Sky Ways and Landmarks," (1961). Wedd proposes that certain alignments in England, marked with stones, flash ponds and tree-topped mounds, were to be seen from above. His interpretation of these phenomena was very much of the time they were written, but his intuition and observations – that what we now called ‘Leys’ were to be observed above, seemed relevant here. Mascen’s dream also reminded me of what archaeologists were calling ‘terrain oblivious lines’ – ancient tracks would often go straight across difficult landscapes rather than taking a more convenient, but less straight route. They make sense if they are to be seen from above. In the story, the alignments lead to Elen. I felt she was reeling us in.
The Reindeer Goddess
In the 1980s, before google and ABE books, every piece of information for my Elen quest had to be slowly mined. It took years to piece things together, an irony as a lot of the information that is easily available about Elen comes form my connections. But I was helped along the way with the Quester’s angel, synchronicity.
Chesca Potter, our colleague John Merron and myself visualised her as the Green Lady, a British representative of Green Isis and of Venus. We saw her as female equivalent of the Green Man, the foliate face found in old churches, who was resurrected in the 20th century as a symbol of the spirit of nature. She was to us, as mentioned above an activator and mediator of Kundalini, extending to the energies of the earth.
The antiquarian Harold Bayley, mentions Elen as a deity of Ancient Britain. He saw her as a guardian spirit or lost goddess of London, claiming that London was named for her.
Doe a Deer, a Female Deer…
Harold Bayley speaks of Elen as deity associated with those beasts of the huntress-Goddess, the greyhound and the deer. I’d had a dream in which Elen appeared as a shy female dappled fallow deer. I caught a glimpse of this deer through the trees, as a shaft of sunlight filtered through the green canopy and spotlighted her. And then she was gone. I felt she was teasing me, saying ‘catch me’ and wanting me to follow, but I knew her traces would be faint.
My friend Chesca, however, kept seeing impressions of Elen as an antlered woman, a vision that would not go away. As a brilliant visionary artist she was able to capture this persistent image. She showed me a small antlered woman statue in the British Museum, and I found that Elain was Welsh for ‘Fawn’, and that Jelen was Czech for deer, but the vision was of Elen as female antlered figure, and female deer didn’t have antlers.
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, I felt I was coursing with electrical currents. 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 form Bulgaria told us shortly after this, that Elen was Bulgarian for Reindeer. We have since found many convincing etymological clues linking Elen to Deer).
The research of various earth Mysteries explorers over the years shows that leys had several functions and interpretations, all of them probably valid. But it was the idea of Leys as shamanic flight paths that was relevant to Elen in her guises of both Empress and the Reindeer-woman.
I had heard the legend that the Father Christmas story is based on the shamans of the Sámi people. These people (and other societies) had a symbiotic relationship with the Reindeer. They would follow the herds along their migratory tracks. Their food, clothes, homes, tools, even needles and thread came form the reindeer.
It is now well known that the Father Christmas story is based on the older, non-Christian Shamans of Lapland. The story goes that to aid their shamanic flights and trance, the shamans needed the properties of the Fly agaric mushroom. This is of course, the fabulous red and white toadstool of fairy stories, the one our mothers warned us never to eat. Taking the mushroom can be risky, or at least unpleasant, because of toxins it contains. The Shamans noted that the reindeer ate the mushrooms, which grew around the silver birch trees, and suffered no ill effects.
He lets the substance pass through the reindeer, neutralizing the toxins, and then drinks its urine. The active ingredients are unaffected, and the shaman enters his trance and begins his flight.
Above the snow he can see the herds, see the predators, and gains helpful knowledge for the tribe. He gains wisdom of the plants and healing, as the fly-agaric opens the gateways for him to be able to commune with the spirits of the land, the beasts, and the ancestors bringing back the gifts of healing and prophesy, and also news of the herds.
When finishing his trance session, the shaman would enter the yurt through the smoke hole, and slide down the central silver birch pole with his bag of healing plants and his paraphernalia – Father Christmas coming down the chimney.
The shaman’s colours are red and white, like the Fly agaric and Father Christmas’s costume as he rides through the sky in his sleigh drawn by reindeer. Through various vision quests, I was shown that the migratory paths of the reindeer were the first track ways, walked for millennia by the beasts alone, and then followed by humans. I saw how, in the Palaeolithic times, before domestic herding, the shaman’s knowledge would show where the deer could be ambushed and corralled, often at the places where they forded the river. I believe that some of the places are still extant today, in places names and mark stones, which would be marked with a sign of the deer.
I mention the Samis as Elen led me to The Reindeer Tracks, and the Reindeer people.
Various Reindeer Peoples have been on their lands in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Russia, Siberia and Mongolia, since prehistory, living symbiotically with the Reindeer.
The persecution of these people and the suppression of their animist spirituality by Christians were extremely cruel. The racial and cultural persecution went on until the 1970s, with repercussions still being felt to this day. For the reindeer people in Russia and Mongolia, there was also the persecution and cultural destruction from Communism, and it now comes in the form of the capitalists looking for oil. This tragedy can be read about else where.
Their female reindeer spirit may appear as the daughter of the Beive, the Sun Goddess who is acknowledged at the winter solstice.
The Bone and Antlered Track
Thinking of Mascen’s dream journey, and my idea that this may connect to shamanic flight, I decided to try an experiment. Now I induced a method of astral projection and invoked Elen. I visualised myself walking through snow, in a bleak landscape. Soon I was ‘astral travelling’ now above the land and completely in the moment and no longer needing to consciously invoke the images. Looking down I saw a pathway littered with bones and antler. It had the appearance of a simple rail track, laid out on the snow, and I realised that this represented the migratory route of the deer. I was following this track that had seen millions of beasts over millennia. I knew it went back aeons, before the Ice age, a memory that was in our genes and in the land itself. The bones and antlers represented the ancestors of the beasts who still, where they could, walked these paths today. I was ‘told’ that these were the ‘oldest pathways in the world’. I felt a huge rush of energy, and the path suddenly rose up, looped out and back on itself, and the bones and antlers formed into a skeleton of a giant deer, rearing up in front of me. It twisted around and started to move forward. This was so dramatic that I snapped back form my astral journey, much to my frustration – if I had stayed with it, I am sure it would led me to discover more. I have never been able retrace that track!
I was astonished to find that these huge creatures, 12’at the shoulder and with 10’ antler spans, had existed in paleolithic times.
The Star Paths
Psychically gained information suggested Elen’s name as ‘Star Path’. This intrigued me – all over the world, ancient mythologal stories and heroes all have a counterpart in the constellations, as do ancient sacred sites – the work of FOI member and Druid Jackie Huxter Freer, for instance, shows that the Arthurian stories relate to the passage of the constellations as well as to fixed ancient sacred sites on the land. So here we have in Elen these strands of magical DNA flowing from the stars, through human consciousness to the land, and through the land.
The Path of the Star is an ancient name given to the famous pilgrimage to Santiago De Compostela, and of course is still there in the name – Compostela. Trevor Ravenscroft says it was a pre-Christian pilgrimage route extending back across Europe with Stone Henge as the solar site, Charters and the Venus site. This leads us to another fuction of Elen’s Leys, as sacred processional ways.
The specific constellation I associated with Elen is Cygnus, the swan, known as the Northern Cross. In the 1980s this was significant to me for a different reason. The mysterious Rosicrucian manifestos had burst forth after a new star was seen in the constellation of Cygnus. The Rosicrucians were hoping for a new age of enlightenment – the light ushering in the new age. They suggested a blending of the pagan and Christian mysteries. The symbols of the rose and cross also connect with Elen.
The Helene of Greek legend was born from a Swans egg, her mother being Leda. In earlier legend, it was Nemesis. Zeus takes the form of a swan to father Helene. He had chased Leda, her and they changed into various beasts – a typical motif in both shamanism and star myths. As a swan he caught her. In an earlier version, the egg is then given to Leda by Nemesis. Helene is placed in the Cygnus constellation, and Helen’s brothers Castor and Pollux joined the constellation of Gemini. Helene, mother of Constantine, who we’ll see more of later, links us again to Cygnus – as above so below – as she is attributed with finding the true cross at Golgotha, the cross that brings life and enlightenment. The Swan of Cygnus also lies across the Great Rift in the biggest mystical pathway of all – the magical Milky Way.
Cygnus used to be depicted in art as Saint Helen holding the True Cross, and the Christianised Saint Helen, mother of Constantine, becomes the patron Saint of archaeologists after finding the True cross of the Crucifixion at Calgary.
Enchanting the Land
I am currently creating a course for our Elen priesthood within the FOI based on the 32 companions of Mascen and Mascen himself on their quest for Elen and the mysteries of the land. Each represents one of the 33 points on spiral of The Circle of Perpetual Choirs. These ancient sites of sacred chanting were brought to our attention by John Michell, and in the 1980s and were meticulously researched by John Merron, Priest of Elen.
The course will be suitable for DCD and NOT members, and can work along-side the FOI degrees. It will give a deep insight into the magical land and the Earth Mysteries and can be worked with anywhere in the world. The Oracles along the way will include those of Bridgid, Brigantia, Diana, Isis, Arianhrod, Ceredwyn, Madron, Sulis, Athena, Blodwedd, and Elen. It will not involve toadstools!
About the Author
Caroline Wise was a long time member of the Fellowship of Isis. She organized the first FOI Convention, which took place in London in 1990. Caroline is a respected scholar and priestess who has worked and studied for many years in the ancient mysteries, earth mysteries, psychic questing and Goddess communities. Her in depth work has impressed other authors to contact her as a source for their own writing. She is a priestess of the goddess Bridget, and one of the original FOI members to experience psychic contact with the Goddess Elen of the Ways. Caroline is now retired from her work in the Fellowship of Isis, having resigned her posts within the organization on June 24, 2014.
Copyright © 2007 Caroline Wise. All Rights Reserved.
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