Reindeer and the Antlered Goddess

Coins of the Canadian dollar
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has taken me forever to figure out what I wanted to write my R article (or Rrrrrrrrticle) about.  I have been thinking about Realms, Randomness, Reality, Reading, etc.  Then, as I was putting my little one down for a nap, it came to me: Reindeer.

Or, as they are known in North America, Caribou.

The Caribou is kind of a big deal in Canada.  Its image is found on the back of our quarter.

I can remember tales from when I was growing up on Vancouver Island about how herds of Caribou would swim the Georgia Strait from the island to the mainland each year in their migration.  Canadian Caribou can migrate thousands of kilometers every year.

I always wanted to see a huge herd of them swimming the channel to the island, but never got the opportunity to.  They’re stomping grounds were further north than we were, and fewer and fewer made the trek to the island as the years passed.

English: Caribou in Alaska using antlers http:...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Europe, the Caribou is known as the Reindeer.  It’s believed that reindeer were once found all across Europe and North America in arctic and subarctic regions, even as far south as Ireland in ancient times.

Long before St. Christopher began watching over Catholic travellers, the British had Elen of the Ways.  Much of her reverence and cult was lost until Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Priestess of Avalon helped her to regain some interest and popularity again.  While she may never be as well-known as Brigit or the Morrighan, her presence in the pantheon of the British Isles is solid.

She is depicted as an antlered goddess, keeper of ley lines, migration, and protector all who travel.  Elen wears the antlers of the reindeer, the only species of cervid whose females also grow antlers, and whose ancient migratory paths took them to Britain.

I was introduced to Elen when reading Priestess of Avalon, and for a long time, there was very little to be found in regards to an actual goddess by that name.  This article by Caroline Wise helped me tremendously when I was first seeking Elen out.

My family tree has Catholic branches, but is mostly Protestant (as are many of UK ancestry).  My mother did attend and graduate from a Catholic high school, and St. Christopher has always been the guardian of her small corner of our family.  Her plan was that each of her children receive a medallion when we first got our drivers license, and even though the Church has decided that St. Christopher was never real (or not important enough to continue being a saint), the medallion tradition is something I have carried on with my brothers and my SO.

There may come a time, however, when there are no more St. Christopher medallions to be had, and as we are all Pagan now anyways, it may be for the best that we return our care back to the one who watched over us so long ago.

Beyond the family tradition, my life has often felt very nomadic.  I have moved 8 times in the last 10 years, and I have often missed the feeling of having a stable home.  The connection of the caribou to Elen is a recent realization for me.  It feels very comforting to have the image of protection and care looking out at me from something as simple and common as a 25-cent piece.

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5 thoughts on “Reindeer and the Antlered Goddess”

  1. My moms side of the family is the Saami people who have a reindeer goddess who is similar to the N American’s “White Buffalo Woman.” I’ve never read that particular M. Zimmer Bradley’s book. I’ll have to check it out.

    1. It’s a great addition to the Avalon series. If I remember correctly, it takes place between Forest House and Lady of Avalon.

  2. I have *never* heard of Elen of the Ways! My father also wears a St. Christopher pendant and I was always fascinated by it as a kid. How amazing would it be to have Elen play the same role for us pagani! The connection you make with the caribou / reindeer is a brilliant one. I will be looking up the article you mentioned and doing some reading on her. Thanks so much for posting this!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      There are other deities who protect travellers within various Pagan pantheons. Elen caught my attention because of her connection to my ancestry and place in life 😉

      I still have my St Christopher’s medal. It hangs from the rearview window of my van.

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