Six Miles Away: Herne The Hunter And Elen Of The Ways

For a new weeks (more) I’m living near the Great Windsor Park,  and it is just some 6 miles away. It is full of deers and a multitude of wild life, amd it’s a wonderful area. In ancient times this was part of the larger Berkshire  Forest, and it was replete of old myths, even today.

You know I can’t stop looking for myths and stories around, and I have two myths for you, today. One of:

  • Herne the Hunter, and another of 
  • Elen of the Ways.

Herne The Hunter

Of, Herne the Hunter he is said to have antlers growing from his head, rides a horse, torments cattle, and rattle chains. The latter may be mythological ‘right’, but the latter sounds theatrical. And it is, as it becomes from the words of William Shakespeare. 

Herne the Hunter, either used a horse or was seen alone in the forest. He was said to be seen as a free and nobly forested-spirit, and was (because of his antlers) he was associated with deers. 

As a male character he was related to the fecundity and ecological balance of the forest. To Druids, Celts and many others Herne the Hunter symbolised alertness and potently, his reverence and his spreading tree-like antlers to epitomise the forest. Stags are also associated with shape-changing, and appear throughout celtic mythologies several people became stags for a while. Even at least one occasion it was said  St Patrick became a shape-shifting deer using the féth fíada. Féth denotes ‘mist’, and fíada originally means the ‘knower’.

There is an old tale goes that Herne the Hunter,
Some time a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns…

(In The Merry Wives of Windsor, the Shakespeare  pays tribute to the ghost of Herne the Hunter, wandering Windsor Forest).

It was said that he was especially close to a huge oak tree, known as Herne’s Oak. As these things happen, that tree was felled in 1796, though others said it was a different tree that was Herne’s Oak, though that was, itself, was blown down by winds August 1863. 

However, Queen Victoria planted an oak tree and it stays for all to see – along with a number of many other oaks and other trees. Perhaps, the balance of the forest is that life and death moves on, but the myth of Herne the Hunter continues as long as we remember him.

Whatever, the view of Herne the Hunter is, it is (I believe) a welcome thought. With Herne the Hunter we remind ourselves, in story, myths poetry, ritual, of the flora and fauna, the need of forests, of life and death (and life), and of the great balance of nature.

Elen Of The Way

Elen of the Ways is our second Celtic (Druid etc), ‘antlered’-person, changeable and who is, also, elusive in the forest. 

Here’s a mythology: In The Dream Of Macsen Wledig (part of the Mabinogion), Mackenzie is out hunting but gets sleepy, and has a dream.

Elen of the Ways is depicted as a mysterious woman of power who knows how to gets what she wants. Macsen Wledig slept, and he experienced a dream.

In that dream, he travelled way across mountains and along rivers, and undertook a sea voyage. He crossed an island and found a magnificent castle, and there was a beautiful woman and he fell in love with her. 

Macsen had found the woman of his dreams within his dream! Ofcourse, he never gets his kiss. When he moves to kiss her he awakens, and in the waking world he can see no Elen of the Ways.

And so, Elen of the Ways, is said to be to all look for her. She may assist those who travel the world’s ways and roads geography, and also perhaps she may assist us in our spiritual journeys or our slumbers, as we listen for her dreamful advices.

I’ll Show You Something To Make You Change Your Mind: Perception

20181211 ILL SHOW YOU SOMETHING TO MAKE YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND PERCEPTION

I’m still in London and it looks as though I’ll be here until after Christmas, when I’ll then journey back to Wales for a while. It’s easy to understand Wales as the land of ‘myth and magic’, for that is was it is, but what of London?

The world exists as you perceive it.
It is not what you see, it is how you see it.
It is not what you hear, but how you hear it.
It is not what you feel, but how you feel it.

Rumi

London is a bustling modern city of more than eight million people, a ‘powerhouse’ of activity and trade and modern buildings that reach to the sky. But, there’s more.

Look deeper, and it too is a place of ‘myth and magic’, and I do believe wherever you are, if you scratch below the surface (metaphorically) there is more there than meets the eye.

Look at it one way, here, and you see a twenty-first century, modern city, perceive it afresh and you also see, almost seemingly superimposed onto it, a place that is altogether otherworldly of which many people only get glimpses that are fleeting and easily ‘drowned out’ by modern life. But, not you.

Let me take you by the hand and
Lead you through the streets of London
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind.

‘Streets of London’, song, 1969, Ralph McTell

‘Myth and magic’ all around us, around me, around you wherever you are? Take for instance, the story of Bran. Bran the Blessed, sometimes called Bendigeidfran or Brân Fendigaidd, which means ‘ Blessed Raven’ in Welsh). He was a giant, a king of renown in Britain as recorded in the Mabinogion.

In one of the many battles mentioned in the Mabinogion, only seven men survived the battle, and they are told by a mortally wounded Bran to cut off his head. The story goes that they did this and (as sometimes happens in these ancient stories) Bran’s head continued to speak for some considerable time. Once silent, and some time later, the seven men take Bran’s head to (what is thought to be Grasshold Island, near Dyded in Wales).

There, they and the head remain for eighty years without perceiving the passage of time. They are later instructed to take Bran’s head to London, to White Hill where it is to be buried. Once there, they buried Bran’s head, and the thought was then, that because of that act the Kingdom would be protected against all foreign invasions and the country would remain and not fall. This is a wonderful story full of great meaning, imagery, ‘myth and magic’.

‘We are not makers of history. We are made by history’. Martin Luther King Jr

But, what of modern London?

Nearby is Subways (food), the Gourmet Burger Kitchen (food), and Wagamama’s (always my favourite food places, but I really don’t always have food on my mind) and there are many offices, tower blocks, businesses; and nestling along the bank of the River Thames on one side, the approach to Tower Bridge, Petty Wales, and the A3211 road and Tower Hill underground station on the other sides is the site of the Tower of London. This is one of my favourite historical sites in London.

That site, surrounded by ancient buildings and with other notable places within such as the Executioner’s Mound, the Torture Room and Traitors Gate, has, at its centre the actual Tower of London complex. The significant building there, built on a small hill (or mound) is the White Tower, built is the early 1080’s.

Could the White Tower be built on White Hill as mentioned in the Mabinogion? I like to think so, that there is a connection.

There is a long superstition, and if you’ve visited the Tower of London then the Yeoman Warders who guard the Tower will also tell you, that the ravens that hop around the grounds are important. Whilst they remain within the grounds of the Tower of London the Kingdom would be protected against all foreign invasions and the country would remain and not fall. Does that sound familiar?

Could the promise of protection for the realm be connected to Bran’s head and that ancient story, and the promise made when it was buried? I like to think so, especially as Bran’s proper name of Bendigeidfran or Brân Fendigaidd, means ‘Blessed Raven’ in Welsh.

There is a connection.

Brans head, I believe is buried there, the promise was given then, and still operates, perhaps conditional on the ravens, a reminder of Bran, remaining in the grounds of the Tower of London. Fortunately, the ravens have never left the Tower of London by their on accord and never will! Thus,  the realm is safe. There is some irony here.

Again, those who have visited the Tower of London and have heard the Yeoman Warders recite the myth will know that the wings of the ravens are ‘clipped’. The birds can hop, but not fly, and because of that the promise of the country’s safety is guaranteed against any foreign invasion.

‘It is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception and compassion and hope’. Ursula. Le Guin

And, so I’m still in London, a place of unbridled myth and magic, a place where another realm seems to operate unknown the many business workers that travel in daily, and I suspect that that is the same wherever you are, if you ‘scratch below the surface’, perceive afresh and suspend that twenty-first materialism that so easily clings to us and blinds us. If we don’t look anew we will only see the same mundane view; but if we look anew, perhaps using our imagination, then a whole new world, a world of both the physical and spiritual opens up, for, there is really more, oh so much more around us than meets the eye.

‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.’ Matthew 7.7, The Book

Look around your locality. What do you see? Now take another look. Use your imagination. Take your time. Pause. Relax. Look deeper, and then deeper still. What do you really see?