Moderator’s note: This marvelous FAR site has been running for 10 years and has had more than 3,600 posts in that time. There are so many treasures that have been posted in this decade that they tend to get lost in the archives. We have created this column so that we can all revisit some of these gems. Today’s blogpost was originally posted December 25, 2015. You can visit it here to see the original comments.
One of my colleagues at Feminism and Religion recently wrote of Xmas and Feminine Wisdom. My blog, for Christmas Day continues this exploration.
Elen of the Ways is a figure primarily studied by scholar, Carolyn Wise. She wrote two core articles available on the web here and here. Wise writes that in order to “track” and find Elen of the Ways she had to peel back the layers:
…to the earliest track ways, the migratory tracks of the Reindeer and Elk. Elen moves across vast tracts of time, and land, cloaked and masked appropriately for each age.
As the Green Lady, she peers out between the trees in forests …As a British Venus… she is guardian of the underground streams that carry the sacred waters. 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 and later, 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.
…part goddess, part dream, part saint, a green lady and a water nymph, primordial mother and patroness of deer, and guardian of the Old Straight Tracks and solar alignments. …Elen is as real as the roads named after her, as solid as the ancient paths that carry her presence.
What are these tracks? Part of the story can be explained by understanding that there are ley lines, or energy paths throughout the globe. These paths were “tracked” by shamans, pagans, and regular folk and still exert their influence today in very recognizable ways. People celebrated earlier this week on the Solstice (December 21) at Stonehenge. “One of the most important and well-known features of Stonehenge is its alignment on the midwinter sunset-midsummer sunrise solstitial axis,” a spokesperson said. “The midwinter sun sets between the two upright stones of the great trilithon.” The solsitial axis is part of the ley line network that connects sacred sites such as Newgrange in Ireland, a sacred burial mound which lights up only the morning of Solstice.
At dawn in Newgrange, on the mornings surrounding the solstice a narrow beam of light enters the 62-foot long passage and lights the floor. It moves along the ground, from the window box until it lights the rear chamber. This Neolithic light show lasts 17 minutes….Local expert Michael Fox told National Geographic, “Archaeologists have classified Newgrange as a passage tomb but it is more than that. ‘Ancient temple’ is a more fitting label: a place of astronomical, spiritual, and ceremonial importance.”
If light that travels around the world lighting up sacred sites and bringing the gift of light to all corners of the world starts to sound like Christmas, let’s extend that thought to understand the connection to flying reindeer. According to Caroline Wise,
…the only kind of female deer to have antlers are Reindeer. 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.
So as I like to tell my students, “the McDonald drive through version” of what we’ve heard so far is: Most likely, yes, Rudolph is a girl/female reindeer, keeping her antlers leading a herd of female reindeer keeping their antlers, traveling with Elen (Santa) throughout the sky giving the gift of light—the light of Rudolph’s red nose that keeps the sleigh on track—following the ley lines around the world, and lighting up the sacred sites, turning the sacred wheel towards spring.
Wise continues the thread of Elen and Christmas thus:
…Leys as shamanic flight paths was relevant to Elen in her guises of both Empress and the Reindeer-woman…the Father Christmas story is based on the shamans of the Sámi people. These people (and other reindeer 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 from the reindeer. ..the Father Christmas story is based on the older, non-Christian Shamans of Lapland. …to aid their shamanic flights, the shamans needed the properties of the Fly Agaric mushroom, the fabulous red and white toadstool of fairy stories. 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.
The shaman 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. He carries back the gifts of healing, 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.
And Christmas trees?…the Fly Agaric is found mainly at the base of the silver birch and pine trees. It can be found beneath conifers, mostly evergreens, such as cedar, and the spruce and firs used for Christmas trees. …Reindeer Shaman spirituality was holistic within its environment, a complete cosmology including the people, the herds, the landscape, the stars…Therefore the trees that the mushrooms grew around were an an important part of the whole.
Here in Long Beach, CA, I helped facilitate our Solstice ceremony this past week-end, in my first official duty as an ordained priestess of the Temple of Isis. For our celebration we each chose to celebrate a different goddess and do a teaching on her ways & wisdom. I brought in Elen of the Ways, also to posthumously honor of our founder, Laura Janesdaughter, who introduced Elen to our group. Laura included our eating candy canes in her Elen ritual—imagining that we were shamans consuming the red and white mushrooms. We danced then, in candlelight, imagining our sacred flight into a goddess past with the antlered Elen of the Ways lighting the winter sky.
Santa Claus– Saint Nicholas — Flying Reindeer– Rudolph– Navigational Paths– Ley lines- -Antlered Goddesses—Female Reindeer– Elen of the Ways.
May this story bring you joy and interest in Elen. I wish you a very merry Christmas, happy Solstice, and blessed Winter Holidays, Feminism and Religion community. May your flight into the turning of the seasons be navigated wisely, safely and with connection to an ancient goddess lineage by Elen of the Ways.
Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University; and a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.