Elen of the Ways by Chesca Potter
I began this journey best part of sixty years ago. As a child and young person I was brought up in the Old Ways in a village on the edge of Exmoor. My mother’s mother was a witch from the Isle of Man and my father came from a family of taleweavers and cunning folk. Uncles were gardeners who knew plant spirits, and woodsmen who knew the ways of the wood and its animals; one could all a wild falcon to his fist. The next-door neighbour was a wise-woman, herbalist and healer; she was midwife to both the new-born and the dead; we children would be delegated to help her with both these tasks. My aunt was keeper (and owner) of the sacred well which had been known for millennia and, up to the middle of the 20th century, was a place of pilgrimage; its water gives “clear-sight”. I was steeped in the old ways of this land from birth.
As a child I had no idea of the strangeness of the path I trod, how unusual it was to many people in the 20th century. It was just the way, the way it had always been. We've largely forgotten our ancient heritage here in Britain, following the paths of other lands, but the old ways were well known to our ancient hunter-gather ancestors and the awenyddion (the spirit keepers) who led them in pre-historic times. The ways are hidden deep in the ancient tales and myths of Britain. The cunning folk and spirit keepers of Britain have known this lore from time out of mind but, in the way of all esoteric and occult traditions especially oral ones, it is very well hidden in the stories and song of this land.
The connections of the old ways with the much better known eastern chakra system began for me when I was studying transpersonal psychology with that wonderful luminary, Barbara Somers. Barbara, along with her partner Ian Gordon-Brown, founded the Transpersonal in Britain. I met Ian first, through the Alice Bailey work, and got hooked on the Transpersonal ... and so I met Barbara. One of Barbara’s loves is the Tao: I was at her workshop on the Ten Oxherding Pictures when she began to speak of the three cauldrons of the Taoist tradition. The more she spoke the more threads of connection were made for me … to the Cauldrons of Poesy, that crazy, amazing, riddling Gaelic poem that one of the old women in the village used to tell to us kids when I was little.
My mind stopped following Barbara, and went off on its own, following the deer trods of my own kenning and finding they linked across the globe to a another tradition with similar meanings. Barbara saw it, saw me drift away; I recall her smiling, nodding to me and, later, she asked me where I’d gone. I began to try to explain, difficult because all the threads were still unravelled around me like a ball of wool a kitten has played with but it made sense for her although she had no knowledge of the Gaelic poem. Like me, she loved it when things around the world come together to show sameness rather than difference; she encouraged me to get my teeth into making the connections and telling out the story. The book, The Celtic Chakras, grew out of that.
Born on Dartmoor and growing up on Exmoor I lived all my formative years in deer country, mostly the great red deer, one of the two ancient native species left here on this island along with the roe deer. Once upon a time reindeer ran wild here too, they are gradually returning to our shores as the Cairngorm herd witnesses. The lore tales of our village, and of Dartmoor too, tell of the Deer Goddess, a wonderful antlered figure and a mother goddess … but the female deer on the moor don’t have antlers, who is Elen, how is she is crowned?
Reindeer are the only female deer who carry antlers. The deer goddess of the stories is antlered and drawings of her in this land go back well before the beginning of the last Ice Age. The old wise-women of the village told us that she is our earth-mother; that she leads us along the life-paths in this world and in Otherworld and, most importantly, between and across the worlds. They would say her antlers spring from her mind-spirit, to offer us path-choices in the physical world, both in our everyday lives and in spirit.
I’ve followed the deer trods all my life and this new threading of ideas to reformulate the old chakra lore hidden and fragmented in the stories has been a major work for me. I began with the Lady herself, with the deer goddess, Elen of the Ways.
The story most people know best is from the Mabinogion, The Dream of Macsen Wledig. This story tells of a Roman general from Galatia who dreams his perfect woman and goes to find her. One of Elen’s attributes is that she is Lady of the Dreampaths; she sends out a dream to find the king she needs as her guardian, for Elen is not a human woman but Sovereignty, the spirit of Earth.
The Celtic concepts of queen and king are very different from our modern ones; the queen is Sovereignty, she is the Earth, the Land; the king is her guardian and husbandman. For perhaps most of humankind’s time on this Earth we knew this, it’s only in the last couple of thousand years, most especially since christianity, that everything has been turned topsy-turvy and the queen been made subservient to the king. In the old ways she has her place at the centre of all things, the great womb and container for Life.
So Macsen sets out to find his dream. As in all good stories it takes him a year and a day (a very significant time for Celts) but he arrives on her shores, enters her caer, her stronghold, and finds her. They are wed and Elen asks Macsen for her bride-gift … she asks him to build her three caers as strongholds for the warriors who hold the body of the land. He does this thing; then Elen builds the roads that link them together, they are still called sarn elens in Wales, meaning Elen’s roads. She then becomes known as Elen of the Hosts, queen of the warriors who guard each caer.
I took this story and sat with it, allowed it to play through my mind and with my spirit, asked Elen to show me what it was about at a deep level.
Threeness is a staple of the Celtic tradition, it’s perhaps best known through the triskele.
Elen asked for three caers: each caer held warriors: the caers were linked together by roads.
In the eastern tradition which I’ve also studied deeply the chakras are in pairs … heart + solar plexus, throat + sacral, crown + base. These three pairs all come together in the brow.
In the Taoist tradition there are three cauldrons which hold the three essences of spirit – the ones Barbara Somers was telling about when inspiration struck me.
The Ancestor by Chesca Potter
Cauldrons of Poesy there are three cauldrons which hold the three essences that go to make up the poet/bard.
As I drew these ideas out and began to make tables of correspondence for myself I could feel it all beginning to come together. Here is part of the table I came up with …
Chakra Pairs - Crown-Base/Heart-Solar Plexus/Throat/Sacral
Eastern traditions - Power/Love/Wisdom & Life/Consciousness/Mind
Cauldrons of Poesy - Warming/Vocation/Wisdom
Elen’s caers - Carnarvon/Caerleon/Carmarthen
3 worlds - Upperworld/Middleworld/Underworld
3 Celtic cups - Red Cup of Lordship/White Cup of Fostering/Black Cup of Forgetfulness
3 Celtic books - Red Book of Hergest/White Book of Rhydderch/Black Book of Carmarthen
Brighid’s roles - Smith/Healer/Poet
Brighid’s faces - Maiden/Mother/Crone
Drawing the table showed me I was on the right track to bring things together.
In the eastern tradition the chakras are linked together with threads; indeed (in all traditions) the chakras come about because each is a nexus of power-lines, a point where many lines come together. This took me to Elen’s roads, her Ways. She builds the roads between the caers to link them. They are the quicksilver pathways known all over the world – dragon lines, song lines, ley lines – they are the deer trods linking the sacred fires within our bodies and the sacred places within the land.
I was drawn to look further.
Arianrhod is another lady who called me on in my quest. Her name means “silver wheel”. The word chakra means wheel, sometimes fiery wheel. The word chakra comes from the Sanskrit and the all the proto-celtic languages come from this same root … the correlation was unmistakeable. Arianrhod’s name gives the same concept as the word chakra – the silver wheel.
Arianrhod is also lady of the spinning tower. A tower is another form of caer, and of spinning wheel. There is much, much more on this that I go into in the book but Arianrhod is another of the goddesses who show us the chakra system.
Ceridwen led me further and deeper into the whole cauldron thing, taking me through the poem of Poesy and out the other side.
Arthur and his comrades led me down into Annwfn on the ship Prydwen. The name Annwfn means “in-world” and that is worth thinking about; it takes me to Jung and what he called the unconscious, a place within ourselves that we don’t yet know and where our treasure is hidden. There, Arthur and his comrades visit seven caers, each with different warriors guarding them which took me to the seven chakras and to the 144,000 Rainbow Warriors who are the energy points within them. As well as the northern American prophecy these warriors are found in the Book of revelations and as the number of petals in the chakras in the eastern tradition. More links, more correspondences.
Brighid led me through her three faces and three jobs to a deeper meaning for her name, particularly the Gaelic version of it which is said to mean shining fiery arrow. Brighid is also patron of warfare (Briga) and her soldiers were called Brigands. Like most old words their origin and meaning is overlaid with centuries of “Chinese whispers”. Going back through the Middle English brigaunt, Middle French brigand, Old Italian brigante, brigare meaning to fight, the Celtic briga meaning strife to Old Irish bríg meaning strength we get some different ideas about brigands. Brighid and her brigands takes us back to the Rainbow Warriors again, the warriors who are and who guard the chakras.
Warriors, soldiers, brigands … took me to Morris Dancing, one of our ancient customs here in Britain. The Morris traditions get diminished to a manageable size when people think of them only as a bit of fun, a good excuse for downing some nice ale and attracting the girls, etc, etc, but they are far more than that. John Matthews has done some excellent research on the old ways. The cunning folk in my home village remembered, but it’s not a “big deal” to us but just “how it is”, how life is, part of how we hold and carry on the continuity of tradition that’s been overlooked and diminished in this country for a long time.
Likely you’ve seen Morris sides dancing, men with bells on their legs, in funny clothes, waving sticks and handkerchiefs; sometimes there’s a Beast, Dragon or Fool with them and, around Beltane there may well be a Fair Maid. Old ways that are still carried on now include the Bride; women who marry at this time sometimes ask the Morris side to carry them in and out of the wedding celebration; the representative of the goddess for their own wedding. I’ve done handfastings where this tradition has been included.
I go into all these aspects of the Celtic chakra wisdom of Britain in far more depth in the book.
Humankind has followed the deer trods for hundreds of thousand years all through the lands of the Boreal Forest. Called after the Greek god of the north wind, this is the huge world-forest that stretches from the tundra (latitude 72 o) down to the tip of Cornwall (latitude 50o) all around the northern world. Reindeer were common in Britain up to about 800 years ago, they are retuning again now in the Cairngorms. Walking the deer trods has inspired me to make the connections and remember again our ancient heritage, the heritage of all humankind that we have all known and will know again, each our own ways, through our own traditions. Branching like the tines of antlers, the ways of the deer goddess lead us through our land and through ourselves: the deer trods spin their storylines though all our lives.
• The Celtic Chakras helps you tread the path of the British native shaman. With it you can explore the lore hidden in the ancient stories; there are short, easy and safe pathworkings to help you find your way through the enchanted forest.
The Celtic Chakras comes out on 25 Jan 2013 - get it on Amazon
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Elen Sentier is a spirit keeper and taleweaver from a long family lineage. Her mother’s mother was a witch from the Isle of Man while her father was a taleweaver and cunning man whose family were closely involved with Annie Besant and Rudolf Steiner. She was born on Dartmoor, grew up on the edge of Exmoor and now lives (with husband, cats and wildlife) in the back of beyond by the river Wye in the Welsh Marches where she writes and teaches British native shamanism. To find out more go to http://www.elensentier.co.uk
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