Celtic Goddess: Elen-Elaine of Avalon

Celtic Goddess: Elen-Elaine of Avalon


Ann Staniland:

“You beckon me through the mists of time and space, to walk with you, 

to hold your love deep within my body, deep within my heart, 

to feel my soul enfolded within the ecstasy of your nature. 

Elaine, Helen, Elen, I hear your call and breathe you in.”

I have always loved walking the land, connecting to the seasons and the cycling of the sun and moon and stars- opening up and surrendering to the mystery and awe of it all – the sacredness of the land – the beating heart and soaring soul of the Goddess. Walking on this earth, this living soil that holds all of the life and memories of our ancestors, all previous life on earth, feeling the connections between life and death and rebirth I feel close to the Goddess – and this is where I found my connection to Elaine of Avalon. For she is a traveller, a way shower, beckoning us on our soul’s journey to the heart of the mystery.

 

We feel her call at Imbolc as she cracks our soul seeds wide open and entices us to follow her in her dance. I perceive Her in the North-East, the place of new beginnings and renewal rooted in the death and wisdom of the past. Her tree is the apple with its star-seed hidden deep inside, and it’s invitation to open our hearts to love. She is air and fire, spiritual will tempered with love, the chalice and the blade, and the ancient leylines, dragon lines of the earth are her well-trodden path; the Sweet Tracks around the isle, the Mary and Michael leylines, the ebb and flow of the earth’s tides as the red and white Dragons of Avalon wax and wane in turn.

Her place is there, deep within and without, that ineffable place that is the heart of the mysteries. And, indeed, when I was asked to be a ceremonialist in this year’s Goddess Conference, Sovereign Goddess of Avalon, and to work with Elen-Elaine, it felt that she was a mystery, leaving me feeling quite adrift and untethered.

I knew little of Elaine and yet I “knew” that she beckoned me, this dream like character, through the mists of time and place, to follow her, to search for both her soul truth and mine.

I began to read, to research, to dream, to pray, to walk the land. I knew that she could be found in the Arthurian myths of Avalon, a medieval romance written by Thomas Malory in the 15th century and based upon earlier writings of Chretien de Troye and other unknown authors. Among many things It told tales of knights, of a Holy Grail, a great Round Table, of the love of Lancelot for Arthur’s wife Guinevere, of death and destruction and Arthur’s final journey across the waters to Avalon. It seemed a tale where heroes hogged the centre stage and Elaine’s part in the myth was almost an “aside”. But as I travelled deeper the reality is that she was “set aside,” made less than, demeaned when she was at the heart of it all.

In Mallory’s Christian romance Elaine is a Grail Maiden- a bearer of the Holy Grail – a vessel believed to have contained the blood of Christ and to be the path to communion with God for those who were worthy. Elaine’s tale tells of destiny, of magic and enchantment, of her seduction of Lancelot and the birth of Galahad to fulfil the destiny of the Grail, and to restore the wasteland of her father, the Fisher King. In this version of the tale Elaine is depicted as a vessel enabling the acting out of a particular male experience, not the vessel itself. And yet, and yet, she called to me………..

“I am the vessel, as so are you, as so is all of nature.

keep journeying dear soul to the heart of my mystery”.

And so, I journeyed on.

I read more, researched more, prayed more, walked more, and dreamed. My dear soul sister, friend and fellow priestess, Ali Harrison, bought me a book for my birthday- “The Enchanted Life“ by Sharon Blackie. 

I devoured the book – I couldn’t get enough – I listened to Sharon’s online lectures and was bowled over by her vast knowledge of the tales and mythology of these ancient isles – she provided the trackway that I had been searching for, back to mythology way, way before the birth of Christ. Myths and stories written down in Ireland about the 6th century CE, but whose roots went back far before patriarchy and the rise of Christianity in these isles. Here we find tales of maidens with grails that predate the Arthurian legends, myths grown in different soil, that take us back to an earth based, Goddess-centred time when in the past, for a while, women and nature and creativity were respected and divinity was experienced in an embodied way.

The ancient pre-Christian myth of the Well maidens is retold by Sharon Blackie in her book “If Women Rose Rooted“, and takes place long ago in a Kingdom called Logres ( the west of England, Cornwall and Wales). In this kingdom all was well, for a while – humans lived in harmony with the earth and wanted for nothing. Not only this, but the land of the Fisher King (the otherworldly kingdom from which all fine things came, not only fine food and drink and fabrics, but all the beauty of the wild creatures) could be found here coexisting with this material world. 

Connecting the two worlds was a series of wells that flowed from the otherworld and were tended by maidens. The well maidens served the land by offering food and drink to travellers in need-proffering sustenance from golden cups and golden platters but only as long as women, the Goddess and the land were respected. 

It isn’t a pleasant tale and I would recommend that you read it in full but needless to say, the well maidens were raped, the earth became a wasteland, patriarchy became dominant, and the well maidens with their golden cups and platters retreated back into the other world until a time when the grail can be recognised for what it really is- the divine feminine, the Goddess embodied within each one of us, the cauldron of creativity, the womb that contains the potential of all of new life, the unfolding of all creation through Her love, the fertile seeds and the ancient stories, the gateway to the otherworld – the mystery.

Elaine offers us an invitation to live in right relationship with the earth, with the Goddess, with women and the divine feminine that lives within us all. She lights the way, sparks us into action and challenges our disconnect from this living breathing sentient earth, where all of nature has its place and demands to be respected, not exploited. 

She is the pathway that leads us back to the ways of the Goddess and the values of the sacred feminine that live within us all. This is what Elaine (of Corbenic) as sovereignty of the land was offering Lancelot (du Lac) and offers us still. She walks the paths and ancient ways beckoning us on, as a Grail Maiden, a Well Maiden.

And, travelling further back still and looking more closely and we find her weaving her way through many other different myths and times and languages. The name Elaine is the French for Helen, Elen, Elen of the Ways, ‘elle’ is French and Spanish for She, for woman.

Whether it be Helen of the Hosts in The Mabinogion, Elaine of Corbenic in the Arthurian Romances or The great Neolithic reindeer Goddess, Elen of the Ways, or the sacred feminine within us all, the sovereignty of the Earth, of the body, is her business, as is travelling.

She is of the otherworld, Avalon, and also of this world. – she is the way shower who ignites our soul searching and leads us into the heart of the mystery. She is Sovereign Goddess and bestowes sovereignty on those who serve the land. She is the wisdom keeper who freely bestows her gifts if we do our part. Our task is to follow, to trust, to open our hearts and to love.

It has been such a privilege to have been asked to work with Elen-Elaine of Avalon and to realise that although she seemed unknown to me at first, she is indeed one of the most familiar Goddesses of all to me. Ever since I participated in a workshop on Elen of the Ways at Carolyn Hillyer’s 13-Moons gathering, I have felt her travelling with me and leading me on. Over the years she has impacted on me in so many ways. She is the tutelary Goddess of our trainee priestesses here in our Sheffield Temple, leading us around and within the Wheel of the Year.

Latterly during lockdown, she grounded me at a time when I felt totally uprooted. I heard her call and synchronously found an online herbal course “Weeds and Wild Medicine“ run by Edwina Hopkinson and Danielle Kaye – both women dedicated to the old ways, the wild ways, the ancient pathways of Elen, and the sovereignty of the land. Walking my local streets and woods, connecting to the wild and growing weeds that I had never given much notice to, my love of the earth and the sure knowledge that she will always provide everything that we need has grown. I have walked and foraged and made creams and tinctures, brews and salves and have been awed by how She nurtures and provides. I have felt Her presence close by nudging me to wonder off the path, to notice and find plants growing unseen yet in plain sight. She opened me up to what really matters in this crazy alienated world of ours, and I have found myself awed by her presence.

I would love to hear how Elaine has touched you and your life, and if you want to read more, I have included a list of books that I found useful, but most of all, get out on the land, kick off your shoes, dance under the full moon light, drink deeply of her gifts and live in right relationship with her. She is waiting there in the shadows, – She is calling to you – will you follow her into the wild.

Bright Imbolc blessings to you all and May Elen guide your way.

Book list:

Creating Form from the Mist. Women of Wisdom in Celtic Culture: Lynne Sinclair-Wood.
Ladies of the Lake: Jan Kusmirek.
Finding Elen.The Quest for Elen of the Ways: Caroline Wise.
If Women Rose Rooted: Sharon Blackie
The Enchanted Life: Sharon Blackie.
The Romance of King Arthur: Thomas Malory – illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

Art work:

Elaine of Corbenic by Arthur Rackham.
Elen of the Ways by Suzie Edwards Goose.
Ley Lines map of Glastonbury by Palden Jenkins
Pictures and video Sweet Tracks by Marion Brigantia


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