My primary animal spirit connection, for over 30 years, has been red deer hind and I’ve worked with an archetypal deer goddess for many of these years too. Over time, I found her name was Elen of the Ways and sometimes she appears with antlers. My reindeer drum and Saami birch and antler Kuksa cup which I shared at our April grove meeting honour my connection to Elen. Since Locksley asked so nicely, I said I’d post more about Elen here.
So who is Elen of the Ways?
Elen of the Ways, also called Elen Luyddog (Elen of the Hosts) is mentioned in the Mabinogion in the Dream of Macsen Wledig. In the tale, she represents Sovereignty and is said to have inspired the building of the ancient roads and trackways across Britain, Sarn Elen in Wales being one of the most famous reputedly named after her. Her story also has some links to the later christianized figure of Saint Helen with whom aspects of Elen’s myth have become at least partly conflated.
Elen is also mythically associated with deer and increasingly with the archetype of the antlered goddess. But I hear you say, female deer don’t have antlers!? But yes, some do! Reindeer, which once also roamed Britain, are the only female deer which also bear antlers. Besides Elen’s mention in the Mabinogion, there is relatively little published about her (see post comments for some links) and there is some debate about whether her link to deer and in particular her depiction as an antlered goddess is an ancient or a relatively modern association, inspired by the artist Chesca Potter’s visions and illustrations of Elen with antlers.
And then there is her name…Elen in various languages translates as hind, deer or reindeer e.g. Gaelic Eilid and Middle Cornish Elen = Hind (I use Eilid as part of my name ;) ) Welsh Elain = fawn (some say deer); and reputedly Czech Jelen = deer and Bulgarian Elen = reindeer!
My personal feeling is that the current resurgence in perception of Elen as a deer/reindeer goddess is tapping in to a more ancient memory in the landscape and trackways of Britain that Elen evokes and guards. Elen, whether antlered or not, is typically invoked as a goddess/guardian of the trackways and dreamways by those who work with her and I made and dedicated my reindeer drum in her name.
For anyone who wants to know more about Elen of the Ways I’ve posted some links in the comments box of this post.