March Wind Moon: Elen, Deer and Ash

The month of March is named for the Roman god of war, Mars. A time of winds and storms, blizzards and frost, this blustery month continues to stir things up from the depths, until the Equinox half way through when in the North the power of the Sun reaches tipping point, ushering in the full blossoming of spring. Blackthorn is now already in bloom, and primrose, crocus and daffodil push themselves out of the Earth to spangle the landscape with cheerful yellow bells, dancing in the wind and the promise of the warmth to come.

In the Celtic tree alphabet, the period between February 18th and March 17th was ruled over by ash (N, nuin), one of the most sacred trees in both Celtic and Norse tradition. A symbol of strength, even the warrior aspect as befits the  month of March, this tree can strangle the roots of other trees and block out sunlight with its canopy, but can also hold its power in water and is often planted in marshlands and by the sides of holy wells. It is therefore associated with deep ancestral wisdom, especially in Norse mythology, where the World Tree is said to be an ash. Yggdrasil holds the nine realms of the cosmos within its branches and roots and is tended by the Norns, the weavers of fate and destiny who spin the fabric of the world into existence and carve magical runes into the trunk. Each morning the leaves of Yggdrasil fill the valley with a sweet glimmering dew that holds the memory of yesterday. One of the Norns collects this precious elixir and pours into the well of Urd, the Well of Memory. In this way, the wisdom of yesterday can be brought forth to the present, and the world is kept healthy and in balance.

The World Tree is also associated with several magical animals, one of which is a deer, or stag, that feasts on the branches and allows the waters to flow through his antlers into the wells and rivers. In Celtic mythology, the deer, or hind, is also sacred and firmly linked to the realm of the Otherworld. Fairy women are said to take the form of deer, and a white hind is considered to be one of the most magical of all messengers. In Welsh mythology, the stag is named as one of the five oldest animals in the world and counted as one of the five totem beasts of Britain.

The connection between humans and deer is an ancient one that extends back well into the Ice Age. Thousands of years ago, the massive Irish elk walked the Earth, standing at over two metres tall with antlers that extended out another 3.5 m, and the wild reindeer herds roamed extensively over most of Western Europe. Some of the most exquisite Ice Age art features reindeer, for example the Magdalenian mammoth tusk ivory showing reindeer swimming (now in the British Museum) and the cave paintings at Font-de-Gaume France (see above). It was probably during this time, when the hunter gatherers of the Ice Age roamed the land in harmony with the seasons that the ancestral antlered goddess of Britain was born. Elen of the Ways as we now call her, the guardian spirit who through the reindeer herds led us to safe living during both the natural abundance of summer and the harshness of the snow-covered winters. The reindeer instinctively knew the ancient migration paths and trusted the grandmother deer of the herd to lead them to fresh pasture. Our ancestors in turn would follow the deer trods, which became sacred pathways or song lines on the Earth, often following geological patterns, water courses and prominent landscape features. These ancient pathways still crisscross the land like threads in a cobweb and have been honoured as sacred for many thousands of years, walked by generations in search of nourishment, both physical and spiritual. Sometimes they are straight like ley lines, other times they curve and meander like threads or song lines, and sometimes they connect with deep tectonic forces as dragon lines. They can still be felt in the landscape today and often link stone circles, megalithic sites, sacred wells and burial mounds with geological and other features.

Knowledge of this Palaeolithic ancestral land spirit has been preserved in the story of Elen and King Macsen in the Mabinogion, the ancient Welsh book of mythology. According to the tale known as ‘The Dream of Mascen Wledig,’ Macsen was the emperor of Rome and was there known as Maximus. One day, whilst out hunting, he and his men rested awhile by the river Tiber and as he slept, he dreamed that he was in an enchanted land surrounded by mountains where he came upon the most lovely island he had ever seen.   There in a magnificent castle in the centre of this island, he found himself in a splendid hall and here, seated on a throne, was the most beautiful woman in the world. But alas, just as Macsen was about to sit down and embrace her on her throne of gold, he woke up. Never had he been so bereft, and his days were filled with a love-sick yearning. Eventually, he sends out thirteen men from the place of his dream to find the enchanted land with the beautiful woman – and after much journeying they managed to do so, in the vicinity of Snowdonia at Aber Sain in Wales.[1]

The messengers tell Elen of the intentions of the emperor and though she is impressed, she insists that he should come in person to Wales to ask her hand in marriage – which of course he does. As a wedding gift Elen asks that three castles should be made for her in places of her choosing, and she then builds a network of magical roads between them, known today as Sarn Elen. This ancient track can still be partially followed and links Aberconwy in the north with Carmarthen further south. Elen of the Ways guards the ancient deer trods of the land, the paths that are often silver and sparkle under the moonlight when the chalk bedrock appears at the surface. She emerges in the ancient forests and woodlands where the secret pathways of animals and insects cross and mesh, where the underground mycelium connects all life in an unseen web. Her energy can be felt as we connect the ley lines of the Earth, grids that criss-cross the land in a form palpable to humans. As we continue to re-sensitise ourselves to the subtle energies of the Earth, it is fitting that Elen has been recognised and named in connection the Belinus line, the ley line that runs up the centre of the British Isles and is complemented by the more subtle energies of Elen. [2]


[1] See Sharon Blackie ‘If Women Rose Rooted’ for more details

[2] See Gary Biltcliffe’s  work on the Belinus Line for more details

2 thoughts on “March Wind Moon: Elen, Deer and Ash

  1. Wonderful writing Sarah. Takes me on a journey of knowledge, ancient wisdom and truths blanketed with a deep sense of connectivity between our ancient feminine energy, Mother Nature, mythology and everything I feel now – more than ever – we need a deeper connection to.

    Fascinating – thank you

    Sarah xxx

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