Why would a goddess have antlers when only male deer have antlers? These ancient goddesses come from a time when people were closely connected with reindeer. They were hunter gatherers and followed the Deer trods of the reindeer in their migratory patterns. They depended on the reindeer for food, shelter, warm clothing. They survived because of the reindeer.
Both male and female reindeer grow antlers. The antlers begin to grow on males in March or April, for females it is May or June. The male loses his antlers at the end of rutting season (late fall) and the females keep theirs until they calf in the spring. They both grow new antlers every year and each year they grow in bigger.
It is the oldest female reindeer who leads each reindeer herd. Because of this, the people saw the Reindeer goddess as the Old Mother, their goddess upon whom they depended. This nurturing Creatrix Deer Mother, has been locations across the arctic regions of Siberia, from China to Finland, Lapland, Sweden and Norway, Greenland, and Iceland, across the Boreal Forest, into the British Isles, and even in North and South America. They are still found in many of the very cold climates around the world. There are still tribes who follow the reindeer as they migrate and live as we might assume that have always lived. The nurturing Creatrix Deer Mother is revered as the source of life, death, and rebirth by those who live closely with the reindeer.
Reindeer have what is called the migration urge (what we called when growing up in the military – itchy feet.) The reindeer knew in their bones, the ancient tracks that lead then across the land from pasture to pasture according to the seasons. What we need to understand: the people follow where the reindeer walk. They do not herd them as we do today with cattle.
The nomadic Scythians carried their reverence for the Deer Mother from the east, across the steppes and into Europe from around the 8th to the 4th millennium B.C.E. There is impressive evidence of the spirituality of Scythian culture in this art which bears witness to that of a doe image, first in petroglyphs and later in skilled rendering in gold, bronze, iron, wood, leather, cloth, and tattoo art.
Over millennia her image shifted from antlered reindeer and then to an antlered human image until her animal aspect was ultimately supplanted by the image of Goddess in human form.
Marija Gimbutas, (1989) notes that the Goddess as doe is widespread in historical sources and folk memories, reminding us that the deer is one of the primary forms of the birth-giving Goddess from the Paleolithic era. Her research reveals that the earliest traces of deer cults are found in the Magdalenian level, dating about to 14,000 years ago. The evidence from Cantabrian Spain, east of the well-known Alta Mira cave-painting site consists of ritual burial of deer remains in an egg-shaped depression decorated with colored clay and carved deer antlers; another site reveals sandstone plaquettes with engravings of deer, reindeer, and other animals.
The Sami people of Lapland see the Reindeer Goddess as linked with the sun Goddess, Geijen-neite, who came to earth to remind people of the need for reverence for the reindeer and to teach them how to care for their beloved animals.
The reindeer myth was found as far south as Greece as shown in this image of the Cerynian Hind.
In Greek mythology, the Ceryneian Hind (Greek: Ελαφος Κερυνῖτις Elaphos Kerynitis), also called Cerynitis or the Golden Hind, was an enormous hind, who lived in Keryneia, Greece. It was sacred to Artemis, the chaste goddess of the hunt, animals, and unmarried women. It had golden antlers like a stag and hooves of bronze or brass, and it was said that it could outrun an arrow in flight. The capture of the hind was the third labour of Heracles. (www.theoi.com)
Now to the British Isles …
Oh, lady of the moonpath bright,
and Sea-lanes laid by sun’s fair rays,
the Dragon paths from height to height,
and all the hidden holy ways
Oh Lady Elen of the Ways…
In ancient Britain She was Elen of the Hosts. She lives on more recently as Elen of the Ways. She is Protectress of the Pathways; whether they are physical, mental, or spiritual paths. She is Guardian of all who journey.
Through the ages, several Elen’s, Helen’s, and Helena’s have been combined. In myth and legend Elen is a representative of the land of Britain itself, marriage to whom confers regal status. Most likely a Goddess from a much earlier time who presided over the dream pathways; Elen of the Ways is a culmination of legend, myth, and history.
It is not known who She really is. Is she Elen, from the Mabinogion – or is she St Helena? Calling Her Elen of the Ways is a recent naming by Caroline Wise. However, many have seen Her in visions, while journeying or meditating. Several descriptions have been shared. She is a concept – an energy – now given a name.
From Wales and the Mabinogion we have the Dream of Macsen Wiedig, a story of magic that tells us about the crossings between the worlds. Elen sends a dream to a potential guardian-husband to see if he can interpret it and find her and Macsen succeeds. This story is about sovereignty. Elen grants Macsen the kingship through her own right. She is an otherworldly woman and Queen. He cannot be king without her. She is the Earth-Spirit; he is the Guardian of the Earth.
In these times we have lost this concept of sovereignty and this loss leaves us without a clear understanding of how to work with the Earth, how to respect the Goddess as sovereignty, how to ask her what she needs, rather than imposing on her with what we think is best. If we can find our way back to Elen’s Ways again we may be able to put ourselves back on track.
Elen guards the quicksilver threads, the energy lines, magical pathways that stretch across the sacred Isle of Britain connecting sacred wells, stone circles, dolmens, hilltops, and other sacred sites. Elen is honored at Beltane when she opens the roads to travelers.
Imagine a fairy chain stretched from mountain peak to mountain peak, as far as the eye could reach, and paid out til it touched the high places of the earth at a number of ridges, banks and knowls. Then visualize a mound, circular earthwork, or clump of trees, planted on these high points, and in low points in the valley, other mounds ringed with water to be seen from a distance. The giant standing stones brought to mark the way at intervals, and on a bank leading up to a mountain ridge or down to a ford the track cut so deep as to form a guiding notch in the skyline as you come up. – The Old Straight Track by Alfred Watkins.
…Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, next week, Saturday March 24…
Devereux, Paul, Fairy Paths & Spirit Roads, Chrysalis Books Groups, London, 2005
Henderson, Kathryn, Deer Mother/Goddess (paper), Sociality Department, Texas A & M University.
Sentier, Elen, Shaman Pathways: Elen of the Ways, Moon Books, John Hunt Publishing Ltd., Hants, UK 2013
Sentier, Elen, Shaman Pathways: Following the Deer Trods, Moon Books, John Hunt Publishing Ltd., Hants, UK 2014
Watkins, Alfred, Early British Trackways, Resurrection Press, Providence, 2004
Wise, Caroline, Finding Elen, Eala Press, London, 2015
Deanne Quarrie. D. Min. is a Priestess of the Goddess. She is the author of five books. She is the founder of the Apple Branch where she teaches courses in Feminist Dianic Witchcraft and Northern European Witchcraft. There she mentors women who wish to serve others as priestesses in their communities. She serves as an Adjunct Professor at Ocean Seminary College in a few courses and is the founder of Global Goddess, a worldwide organization open to all women who honor some form of the divine feminine.