Click here to read Part 1, published Sunday March 18.
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.
The Deer Goddess of the Ancient Caledonians were called Colossal Old Women. They were all local spirits, all with different names. Their stores were similar, however as they went with the herds, milked them in their respective districts. Their deer were called “fairy cattle.” The deer were always in the care of the female. In many myths the fairy woman transforms herself into a deer, often antlered.
The bean-sidhe are mistresses of the place and are called the Cailleach or Cailleach Mhor (Huge Od Woman). They are the giants of Celtic myth who sang to the deer calling them “darling deer” or “beast of my love.” All these giantesses are wild, showing no sign of domestication and they date back to Paleolithic times.Deer Priestesses
In the Highlands, the wise-woman was called Glaistig. The hunters knew that the deer were the goddesses’ own cattle and a part of her spirit and would visit the local Glaistig to ask her blessing on the hunt. In return, they shared their game with her and there would be apiece for the goddess herself. The rest was shared with the tribe.
St. Helen of Caernarvon is a third possibility in the naming of Elen. She was the lawful wife of Constantius Chlorus and the mother of Constantine the Great, born about the middle of the third century. On the death of his father, Constantine, who succeeded him, summoned his mother to the imperial court, conferred on her the title of Augusta, ordered that all honor should be paid her as the mother of the sovereign, and had coins struck bearing her effigy.
She lavished on the land her bounties and good deeds, she “explored it with remarkable discernment”, and “visited it with the care and solicitude of the emperor himself”. She was known to the Celts as Elyn.
Fairy Lullaby by Alexander Carmichael
On milk of deer I was reare
On milk of deer I was nurtured
On milk of deer beneath the ridge of storms
On crest of hill and mountain.
Deer trods are the footprints of deer. Those who follow the deer trods in Britain are called awenydd which means spirit keeper. The Awenyyd call their path, walking the deer trods – following the ancient ways of the deer goddess. They honor the spirit of the Earth and work with the spirit of the land. As shaman, they journey and serve as wise counsel and as healers.
There certainly were reindeer in the far north in North America. I live in Texas. We do have deer here and there is no reason we cannot honor Elen right here in Texas. We can do that by knowing our place, by knowing our land and learning about the ecoregions of this land. Here in Austin it is the Edwards Plateau and the Blackland Prairie. We can learn about our indigenous people.
Here in South Central Texas, the indigenous tribes were known as the Tonkawa which translates to People of the Wolf. They were not farmers but were rather hunters and gatherers. They modeled how they lived after the habits and patterns of the wolf. They were primarily a peaceful people getting along with all the neighboring tribes and even the white settlers and were often found camping together. Maternal clans were the basic unit in Tonkawa society. Children became members of their mothers’ clans, and men lived with their spouses’ clans.
We study the local native trees as well, species such as ashe-juniper, live oak, willow, pecan, mesquite, Texas mountain laurel, red oak, river birch, and many more.
At any rate, we don’t have to be in England or Scotland or in any other the many places the deer goddess was honored. We can do that right here in Texas, by honoring the spirit of this place, by working with the spirit of this land. You can do this as well. You can follow the “trods” of your own place.
There is one other thing, reindeer seemed to rely on instinct for their survival. The Old Mother who led them had spent many years doing this, following in ancient footpaths, one place to another. Much was based on instinct, by knowing the land and those who lived upon it and trusting that food, water and shelter would be there waiting.
We need to remember to also use our own natural instinct. Not all paths are visible and sometimes we just need to trust our gut. If we do all of this, then we too are walking the deer trods.
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.
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