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Shaman Pathways - Following the Deer Trods: A Practical Guide to Working with Elen of the Ways Kindle Edition
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Shaman Pathways - Following the Deer Trods
A Practical Guide to Working with Elen of the WaysBy Elen Sentier
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2014 Elen Sentier
All rights reserved.
Contents1. Deer Trods,
2. What is Following the Deer Trods?,
3. Ways to Work with the Deer Trods,
4. The Three Worlds,
5. The Four Elements,
6. The Six-Armed Cross,
7. The Interface,
8. The Web of the Trods,
10. Familiar Spirits,
13. Deer Folk,
Following the deer trods is to walk the path of the awenydd in Britain.
Deer trods are the footprints of deer, the cloven-hoof prints you sometimes see when out walking in wild places. They are one of the tracker's signs that deer are in the neighbourhood; they can also tell how long ago the deer were there, the size of the animals, perhaps something about their gender and species, which way they were going, whether they were running or walking or jumping. They are full of information if we can only read it. In this book they refer specifically to the footprints of Elen of the Ways, the deer goddess. Working with them we can learn about life, the universe and everything.
Elen is known to have been part of our lives here in Britain for more than 14,000 years. A reindeer engraved on the wall of a cave in South Wales was found to date from at least 14,505 years ago. This makes this reindeer the oldest rock art in the British Isles, if not North-West Europe.
In September 2010 Dr George Nash from the University of Bristol Department of Archaeology and Anthropology discovered the carving at the rear of the Cathole Cave in South Wales on a small vertical limestone niche. It is a stylised reindeer, drawn side-on and carved with a sharp-pointed tool, probably made of flint, by an artist using his or her right hand. The reindeer's elongated torso has been cross-hatched with vertical and diagonal lines, while the legs and stylised antlers comprise simple lines. Such technique argues serious artistic ability.
So our British ancestors, of more than 14,500 years ago, were skilled artists ... with all that implies.
So far this is the earliest rendition we have discovered, but that doesn't mean it is the earliest, it's quite possible archaeologists will discover even older mentions of the reindeer. Elen has probably been part of our lives from the dawn of human times, since we first followed the reindeer, although there is no archaeology as yet discovered to "prove" it.
Elen is an antlered goddess. The only female deer who carry antlers are the reindeer. They are ancient and once, more than 8,000 years ago, ran all over Britain. In those days we were still a forested country and actively part of the Boreal Forest, the great forest that stretches all around the northern hemisphere from the tundra down to the latitude of Land's End in Cornwall. Since agriculture got going here in Britain some 6,000 years ago the forests have been cut down, the habitat changed and the reindeer gone, although a herd have been reintroduced in the Cairngorms.
The absence of forests and wild reindeer does not mean that Elen has left us too, she certainly has not! She is still here throughout the land, you find her name in springs, wells, place-names all over the country. They may turn up as Helen instead of Elen, the Christians took her over and changed her name, calling her St Helen, and messing and mulching with her stories, but she's still there. She's waiting for us to notice her again and ask to work with her.
This book guides you into the beginning of following in her footprints for yourself.
Old Custom ...
I was born on Dartmoor and grew up on Exmoor, my family followed the deer trods for generations. It was custom back then in the 1950s and was carried on quietly in many country places and some towns too all through Britain. Nobody talked about it much, it was just what you did. Not everyone followed the old ways then any more than they do now although there is a growing interest nowadays. People want to find the traditions of our own lands rather than always borrowing someone else's because it's better known and has been written about far more.
We're a funny old lot in this country, we riddle quite as well as Zen teachings and most of our lore – we call it grammarye – is hidden in stories and songs that require some work on the part of the reader/listener to discern what is really being said. My husband is a musician and much attracted to Mozart. He says of Mozart's music that it comes in layers; at the top is the pretty, catchy tune that you can hum along with; then there's the beauty of the way the whole thing is put together, the intricacy and the intimacy; then there's the deep stuff that Mozart put there, which calls the spirit if you allow it to.
The same goes for our grammarye. You can read the romanticised Victorian Mabinogion stories; you can attempt the academic descriptions and deciphering of them; or you can work with them yourself, perhaps with the help of someone who has gone there before and whom you trust, and see what the stories themselves have to gift you.
As I grew up my family and the elders of the village led some of us children through the ways of working with the old ways, and through the stories, with lots of experiential work that enabled us – if we wanted to – to go deeper and deeper in following the deer trods.
If you like to follow me through these pages we'll have a nice bimble through the world, inside, outside and all around the edges, getting to know everything as well as we can. It's possible to become very intimate with the ways; you come to know in your bones that you are never, ever alone. Always, when following the deer trods, you are surrounded by friends ... if you will only look to notice them. And that's what learning to follow the deer trods is about, noticing, asking and listening ... as you'll likely have already guessed if you've read some of my other books.
So here we go ...CHAPTER 2
What is Following the Deer Trods?
Those of us who follow the deer trods in Britain are called awenydd in the old British language, Brythonic. Brython is the word from which our name, Britain, stems. Awenydd means spirit-keeper and comes from the word awen, which means spirit.
Awenyddion (the plural of awenydd) have served the British tribes for hundreds of thousands of years, as long as there have been humans living in our land. We call this path walking the deer trods ... following the ancient ways of the deer goddess as our ancestors did from Palaeolithic times. We still do the work now, in the 21 century, for everything that lives on the Earth and the Earth herself, the seen and unseen, the human and not-human. We journey to bring wisdom and enable healing for creatures, people, plants and the land herself.
In other traditions, and fairly generally around the world for the past 50-odd years, those who do this work have been known as shamans. The word shaman comes from the language of the Tunguska people who live in a region of Eastern Siberia. Their word shaman, which we now use to cover a multitude of peoples, means one who knows. In the British tongue we call this knowing kenning – think of the words of the folksong "D'ye ken John Peel?" – it means knowing and gives us another name for the people of the old ways, the cunning folk. The awenydd, the cunning one, the wise one, is someone who works in the ecstasy, who has fire in the head, someone who stimulates, animates, motivates and electrifies others. They journey out for their people and return bringing the wisdom.
We awenyddion honour the spirit of the Earth and work with the spirit of the land. For me, this involves all sorts of things from growing my own veg to politics as well as spirit walking, journeying and healing. For each awenydd the form of the path is different, but the purpose is always the same ... working for Mother Earth and all the life that lives and breathes and has its movement therein. This is so whatever its species and includes rocks and soil and what many folk call inanimate life, even one's fridge or car. Everything on Earth, every atom and molecule, and the Earth herself is animate ... everything has spirit.
So what does it mean to keep spirit?
It's worth playing with the thesaurus to expand our minds from the small interpretations we're likely to have of words. What does the word keep mean, what do we do when we keep spirit? I find the most appropriate ideas are honour, fulfil, observe and respect; and to be. The awenydd is spirit as well as a human being incarnate on Earth. The and/and principle is fundamental for following the deer trods; things are not either/or, they are inclusive rather than exclusive.
Other words the thesaurus gives for the word "keep" are preserve, retain, maintain, sustain and conserve, all of which give very good ideas about the jobs the awenydd does.
In order to do this over the past couple of thousand years we awenyddion have also had to hide, conceal and guard the old ways. The old ways, the cunning ways, the wild magic has been regarded as bad and subversive by many of the peoples who've come to this land as conquerors; the Romans, Christians and Normans especially come to mind. Indeed, the old ways don't lend themselves readily to conformist forms of government or institutions as commended by those peoples.
We are pagans. The word pagan comes from the Latin paganus and means "of the land". We are indeed of the land. It is well and rightly said that to get a group of pagans to agree about anything is worse than attempting to herd cats! And so it should be.
The Romans were not all bad, but not all good either, they sometimes took on our goddess and her guardian god under names they used at home; see the lord and lady who guard the springs at Bath for a good example of this.
Sul (Sulis, Sulei, Sulla) is a Brythonic, Gaulish and Galician goddess. Her name suggests various Indo-European words for "Sun". She is a healing goddess, associated with hot springs and sometimes known as the Bright One. Bath was called Aquae Sulis, meaning the waters of Sulis, by the Romans. They associated her with the goddess they called Minerva and thought of her as a solar deity. Sulis Minerva is one of the few attested pairings of a Celtic goddess with her Roman counterpart.
This carving was on the front of the temple at Bath. You can see wings and snakes around the head, it looks like the Greek Medusa, whose head was worn on Minerva's breastplate after she was killed by Perseus, so likely this is what the Romans thought it was. But the gorgon has a flowing moustache and hair sticking up in bunches, which is the style of a Celtic man. Warriors would smear lime in their hair to make it stand up.
It's far more likely that this is a representation of Beli, Belenus. Belenus is a Sun god from our Celtic mythos and called the "Fair Shining One". This aligns well with Sul who is also called the Bright One and whose name may derive from words for the Sun. The Romans associated him with Apollo.
The Romans did do their worst to upend our knowing though, by making the god superior to the goddess, a beginning of patriarchy. The old ways always have the goddess holding and granting sovereignty, not the god.
After the Romans, the Vikings and Anglo Saxons were not particularly religious bigots and often still seemed to have a foot in both camps. In those times too women held land, were judges, led and organised battles and were not chattels; and we still elected our kings. The old ways still had something of a place alongside the "new religion", Christianity.
The Christians, however, were absolute religious bigots and very cruel with it, many still are. Cruelty seems to be an integral part of all three of the Religions of the Book (the Bible) – Christianity, Judaism and Muslimism. With the advent of the Normans in 1066 they came into their full power and did their best to crush us.
The Normans were frightful and their legacy still exists today in our governmental structure, hierarchy, the concepts of landed gentry and birthright, primogeniture or the right, by law or custom, of the firstborn male child to inherit the family estate. Before the Normans we elected our rulers! The Normans also put the kybosh on women's rights; women became chattels, property to be bought and sold, a form of slavery. My great aunt, Ursula Mellor Bright, was a political activist in the women's suffrage campaign and her efforts were fundamental in bringing in the 1882 Married Women's Property Act; this is what really got the women's rights movement back on the road after the best part of a thousand years. Needless to say it runs in the blood!
So, for the past couple of thousand years, and especially the past thousand, we of the old ways have had to hide and pretend we don't exist in order to survive. Did you know the witchcraft act was only repealed in 1951? There is still quite a strong aversion to anything except "established religions" nowadays. The other Religions of the Book, i.e. Judaism and Muslimism, are now part of the group of established and acceptable faiths, along with Hinduism, although they may still get glances askance from many people. Anything pagan is definitely something to be wary of for most.
So being awenydd involves having the ability to hide, conceal and guard spirit as necessary.
What about mind, sit-with and watch? These are very much part of following the deer trods and something you'll learn as you walk through this book.
To mind something is to give it your attention, to notice it, observe it and recognise it. It's also about learning it, being aware of it, understanding it, making its acquaintance and coming to know it in your bones. Becoming acquainted with spirit and becoming friends with it is vital for the work.
To sit with something is part of it too. Sitting with is one of the first things you learn. Sitting with the spirit of something, and the actual physical thing as well when possible, and allowing it to show you things, tell you about itself, is another fundamental part of following the deer trods. It's a big listening skill that involves learning to sit and listen without interrupting or asking questions all the time and certainly not translating what you hear into what you think it means!
Watching is another vital skill. It too involves observing without translation, just seeing what is actually there without interpreting. You cannot learn if you have a head full of preconceptions.
Like shamans all around the world, we who follow the deer trods work from the kenning, which we hone with the techniques above. This knowing works within the mind's eye, and is about discovering things for yourself, internalising what you come to know, making things your own rather than quoting the book-learned opinions of other people.
As I said, the Tungus word shaman means one who knows. This knowing is difficult to describe, but I'll try with this story ...
If I throw a bucket of water over you then you know you are wet. You don't need to read a book on it, go on a weekend course, get a degree ... you know, intrinsically, that you are wet. You're probably quite cross with me too! But you are certainly immersed in the whole experience of wetness and you know, without doubt, what it's like!
That's what I'm talking about; that absolute certainty that cannot be argued out of you by any intellectual means. This is kenning, and the ability to do it is called nous (pronounced nowse). The wisdom to know when it's appropriate to do something is called gumption; gumption is about knowing when and how to act, and when to leave well alone! It's strongly related to common sense which, unfortunately, is no longer at all common! None of these have much to do with the intellect, but absolutely masses to do with instinct and intuition, and that thing called body-knowing, which is another fundamental tool for following the deer trods.
Making Mistakes Successfully
The person who never made a mistake never made anything ... my dad said this to me when I was a wee kiddy and I've never forgotten it. It is just so useful and helpful to know that you may actually screw up, get things wrong, and be able to get over it without the whole universe collapsing on top of you.
Since I grew up Britain has very much bought into the American blame-culture; if something happens then it must be someone's fault and you should sue that person, blame them, incarcerate them ... there are no such things as accidents any more. Way back in the 1950s even dad said the world was getting to be run by that famous firm of solicitors ... Sooe, Gabbitt & Runne. I think he had a point! Blame and guilt, along with not accepting that shit happens, certainly isn't useful for following the deer trods; making mistakes successfully is.
(Continues...)Excerpted from Shaman Pathways - Following the Deer Trods by Elen Sentier. Copyright © 2014 Elen Sentier. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site. --This text refers to the paperback edition.
- ASIN : B00QW2HTOK
- Publisher : Moon Books (January 30, 2015)
- Publication date : January 30, 2015
- Language : English
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- Print length : 99 pages
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Top reviews from the United States
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Elen shares wisdom in a straight forward way that helps you to connect to the info on many levels.
It may appear to be small, but it is packed with wisdom.
Highly recommend this book for your shamanic or indigenous wisdom library.
I personally think it works best in tandem with Elen Sentier’s other book on the topic, also a Shaman Pathways book, Elen of the Ways; following the deer trods – the ancient Shamanism of Britain, which I reviewed in July 2014. This earlier book establishes the overall context much better and for me they belong together.
Following the Deer Trods begins with a summary of the ideas offered in Elen of the Ways. This works well, even magically, in the opening pages – but I was saddened by a seeming loss of perspective when we get to the Romans and beyond. The author shows no recognition of Christianity as a diverse, complex and internally contested path, not least in the Celtic lands; or of the effects which holding political power can have on religious traditions, regardless of the actual faith. There’s also no clear flagging of the extent to which the positive, Pagan side of the story is necessarily reliant on intuitive reconstruction, relevant records being sparse and problematic, oral traditions highly mutable over time, and material remains providing only limited insight into hearts and minds. There is so much we don’t know, and will never know, about our ancestors, their traditions and what it was like to be them. When talking about them, we do best to avoid the language of certainty.
For me the book picks up from that point, providing the promised guide to working in a series of well-organised practice chapters. The main areas covered (in my language) are meditation, energy work, service, shamanic journeying, relationships with familiar spirits (power animals), and working with trickster figures. The author also discusses the ‘journey horse’ or method of trance induction – and the relative merits for this purpose of drumming, the sound of waves, rain, or a flowing stream; the steady roaring of wind; the recorded purring of cats. That bit of the discussion is a true gem, reflecting a lot of playful trial and experience.
These chapters also lay out a basic cosmology for the work – a cosmology of three worlds (middle, lower, and upper) on the vertical axis and four elements radiating out from the middle world on the horizontal, with the nigh universal notion of the world tree/tree of life very much in mind. Elen describes the image of the six armed cross as a means of bringing them together. She talks about her understanding of the inner world of the journey as a place of ‘interface’, the portal which she, as awenydd, and the Otherworld co-create as a meeting place between them.
The instructions for practice are highly specific and directive and therefore best-suited to people who are new to this kind of work, who don’t have access to hands-on teaching or established learning communities, and who need nonetheless to be strongly held as they begin their exploration. Other readers will look to the offerings provided as a source of new or variant ideas, or information about a specific way of working.
My heart didn’t sing, when I read this book, as it had when I read its predecessor. But it makes its contribution and, with the one significant reservation about the presentation of history, I’m happy to recommend it.
By learning to follow the deer Trods we can learn to follow the threads that lead us to and from Otherworld. The exercises teach us to do this first of all by listening and then by getting to know in the bones of our own bodies, the backbone of the world tree which in British shamanism is the Oak. Elements are introduced as the threads that weave to and from then world tree, the weft to its warp and exercises are given to help find these subtle bodies within ourselves. Exercises are also given to open and close the portal, or interface with Otherworld, to journey within sacred space, to the world tree, to meet familiars or familiar spirits and meet teachers as well as an exercise that brings you closer to the ancestors.
Top reviews from other countries
I would have liked it to be longer.