11th April – First (and only) really rainy day of the holiday and so what better to do than to enjoy the cottage and struggle down for the morning until the worst of it had passed.
Somewhere during that morning, between drawing sheep (a revived pastime of many years gone by), my dipping in and out of research in advance of the next few days’ walks kept tripping me past a landmark on the maps that caught my attention. Several of the places I was looking at made reference to it and the name was what grabbed me; “Sarn Helen”… what was that?
It didn’t take me long to find out that Sarn Helen is an ancient 160 mile long route from Aberconwy in the North to Carmarthen in the West, plus a further section extending south to Neath across the Brecon National Park, “built” by Saint Elen of Caernarfon during the late 4th century. Elen (anglicised as Helen) is a Celtic saint whose story is told in the The Dream of Macsen Wledig part of the Welsh Mabinogion. She is depicted as the daughter of a chieftain of north Wales named Eudaf or Eudwy, who may well have lived somewhere near the Roman base of Segontium (Caernarfon) and as the wife of Macsen Wledig (Magnus Maximus). Clearly a woman of some sway, she had Macsen build roads across her country so that they could more easily defend it from attackers, making her synonymous with the idea of “protection”, earning her the name Elen Luyddog (Elen of the Hosts), Elen of the Ways (maker of roads and pathways) and associating her with the far older Celtic tradition of the Goddesses of Sovereignty.
This I could identify with…. a tour de force, a protecting force, goddess of sovereignty drawing significant lines of connection across her homeland…here was a saint of my own name that I could throughly identify with. No feeble female she; this woman had her husband acting on her useful advice (what a marriage!) and – best of all – she is best remembered for all these remarkable connections she made; connections which have withstood the test of time. It made me smile even more to realise that the Brecon stretch of Sarn Helen leads directly to the waterfalls at Ystradfellte… “my” Snow Falls” of the previous day!
Reading on, it is likely that the roads she had built were much more ancient than the Roman ones that she instructed, following routes that were well trodden paths to ancient sites, meandering past standing stones (*Maen Lilia, Maen Madoc…), weaving past so many waterfalls along its stretch (Swallow Falls, Ystradfellte, Lady Falls, Melincourt…) and its interesting to see just how closely it often follows water – yes, a practical consideration but, more than that, wouldn’t you want to bring all available power-sources “online” along your chosen route. In fact, she wasn’t creating a route here so much as strengthening connections that were already there, making them more defined and accessible in “all weather” and circumstance; a dot-to-dot of geography that was already significant to her and her people, drawing on the most current technology (made available through marriage…) in the name of preserving ancient “ways”. Again, I can so identify with that as its not so dissimilar to what I try to do with my own intuitive travels, the marriage of ancient wisdom with modern insight that I am all about and the words that I put out here on the internet for others to find when they are ready…
Through Caroline Wise‘s work (which I now intend to read thoroughly, having just purchased her book “Finding Elen: The Quest for Elen of the Ways”) I found Elen is associated with “the balance of the energies of the land, via the ruler, facilitating the sacred marriage”….everything that I am most interested in; you could say, the very core of all my natural preoccupations. Her track record goes back to the migratory tracks of the reindeer and elk; again, the routes, paths and connection points that the sacred feminine has been weaving and strengthening since the very beginning of time – my heart literally skips with the knowing that I have stumbled upon the essence of someone, not external to me but, core to my continued reason for being in this life and probably many others.
Could this be a Helen I had felt the presence of like a ghostly companion across time in so many places of that name that never felt connected to that other Helen (of Constantinople) for, try as I might, I had always felt my namesake must be closer connected with the soil I call home? There are at least twenty sacred wells across Britain named after Saint Helen; there’s even a window depicting her in the tiny ancient church in my heart-place at Silchester…. had I just found my girl?
Sarn Helen is more of a ramblers’ route, these days, than anything so continuously traversable…its landmarks slipped back into being quiet places that certain people beeline for because they are drawn by an energy that speaks to them. Something in that makes them seem all the more special to me; people have to want to go there, to be drawn by the impulse of the place, not accidentally travel that route because it has been claimed by tarmac as a convenience of modern life.
Yet, rainy-day pastime as all this was, there was a level at which it felt like I was absolutely meant to “follow this path” from my comfortable sofa on this particular wet morning and that I had just arrived at one such predestined meeting-point that had outlasted the ravages of time; a meeting with the essence of myself in epic-legend form. How wonderful was that!
(*Maen Lilia is said to go down to the nearby river Afon Lilia to drink of her waters from time to time; what a meeting place of divine masculine and feminine (perhaps one for our next trip…)
This is the fourth post of a week-long series written (by hand, in a notebook…quite a novel experience for techno-minded me) during a week spent in a cottage in Wales…all of which I am “editing-up” to sharable quality now that I have returned back home, adding pictures along the way.
Being the very diary entries of my days in Wales, the posts have an immediacy about them that comes direct from the moment of experiencing something that inspires or catches the attention yet I find they share so many themes in common that they are best appreciated if read together.
- Pause – Rewind – Play
- Letting go of the need for things to be perfect
- Taking back the wheel
I had briefly heard of Elen of the Ways and loved reading more about her here Helen.
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I’m so glad, I really recommend the book “Finding Elen”, Ive been getting such a thrill reading it and am sure another blog will come out of it, Ive even found a Facebook community based on it, quite the undercurrent of enthusiasts starting to gather out there which tells me Elen is an archetype ready to spring back to life due to just how applicable she is to current themes of female sovereignty and finding our way!
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