Growing up I regularly walked the hills up above Loch Lomond, Scotland. Among the stones at the top of Carman Hill, I would sit ever so quietly, scrunching up my eyes and in my imagination I erased all the traffic and cars and then the streets and houses taking the land back to how it may have looked thousands of years ago. Then I would hold my breath, hoping I could see the Old Ones that I knew lived there. Even though I never saw those ancient people, I felt the energies of the land, sensing that when you climb the hills you enter into a place where this world and the otherworld flow into one another – a place where you could sense the ancient energies of the Ancestral Mothers and the antlered figure of the Deer Goddess.
From the viewpoint of Carman Hill it’s not too far as the crow flies to the little village of Croftamie where a reindeer antler was found during excavation work in 1857 (Glutton-Brock and MacGregort). The antler was dated to the upper Pleistocene which is around 11,7000 the time when the last great glacier started to melt and so the land bridge that joined Britain to mainland Europe, called Doggerland, was submerged below the North Sea.
I would love to have turned that antler over in my hands and magically turned back time so to watch those reindeer herds on their migratory route through these lands and the people who followed the reindeer. The reindeer herds would be led by an antlered female and the fact that this ancient female deity of the Deer Goddess has antlers links her to the reindeer, while in most deer species it is only the male who has antlers female reindeer have antlers.
I imagine them walking from mainland Europe following the huge herds, weaving their own stories into the land, following the luminous paths of the ley lines embedded in the earth, the paths that the reindeer follow, trails to sacred lands. Among these people were women, the Deer Priestesses, who wore deerskins, adorning themselves with reindeer antlers. In my mind’s eye I imagine seeing these women gather in flickering firelight, I can almost see their faces painted with ochre. They dance to the sound of their drums, dancing their sacred intention into the star patterns, and into networks of luminous strands, which traveled out over the earth. It is as if the earth still holds their magic.
To be alive today is to stand on the shoulders of all the women who have gone before us, some of their knowledge is knitted into our bones and when we too gather in circle and pick up our drums we can hear their voices….
Carolyn Hillyer in her inspiring book ‘Sacred House. Where Women Weave Words Into the Earth’ tells the story of that long lineage of ancestral mothers which stretches back to the women of the reindeer:
‘One thousand ancestral mothers, each one linked directly to you through your matrilineal line. Your foremothers were reindeer women that lie at the heart of the great ice. Your foremothers were reindeer women who followed the herds across the frozen tundra and along the boundary of the ice out to the very edges of the world, a polar terrain skirting the deep glaciers that sat heavily all across the northern land.
Now let us name our one thousandth mother – a woman with a reindeer soul. Her face will shift and alter since, to the eyes of each of us, she will appear in different forms and stand at a different place within the web of mother lines. What does she teach us, our ancestral woman from the time of ice? In her hands, early symbolic sacred images of women appear in carved or painted forms. The spirits of nature come alive to her for she carries the imagination and desire to listen to them. The lands awaken to her begin to sing the songs of rocks and rivers, returning sun and dancing moon, stars in the black above the tundra, wind within the forest pine. The herds and lone creatures sing to her, as she hunts or watches them through the days’.
I have talked to many people who this ancient figure appears to, some call her Elen of the Ways others the Cailleach (the deer protector); it is as if an ancient and wild piece of our collective selves is calling. The wildness of this great figure can act as a mirror showing us we too are wild. She can reveal new aspects about ourselves and embrace us in the great mystery and evoke the urge in us to fight for this planet in whatever way we can and as we do so we tap into that endless inspiration and strength from our ancestral mothers, the women of the reindeer.
Hillyer, Carolyn. 2014. Sacred House. Where Women Weave Words Into the Earth. Seventh Wave Books, UK.
Juliet Glutton-Brock, Juliet and MacGregort, Arthur. An end to medieval reindeer in Scotland. Proceedings Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 118 (1998), pp. 23-35.