Sisterhood of the Antlers

Stories of the Ancestral Mothers of Scotland from folk magic and the wise women who honored them. Rooted in the Bean Feasa (Wise Woman) tradition.

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The Old Antlered One. The First Story For An Antlered Advent

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

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The Old Antlered One

I am a product of the land I am from. If you were to cut me open you’d find that my bones are made from her compacted soil, my lungs carry her air and her rain and thunder still flow in my blood.

For as long as I can remember the land and I have engaged in deep conversation. Not a conversation of words, a conversation of sensation, the brush of a crow’s wing, the power of a threshold, the invitation to rest by a familiar tree trunk. All these things developed over the years deepening through visions alongside burying relatives into the same sacred soil.

One conversation is the body’s familiarity with the beat and tempo of walking the undulating landscape. The squish of bog and star moss islands, a high step through bracken, stepping stones over the stream. Wading through the swimming dance of high grass, following the sheep trails through bouncy clumps of heather and the heart-beating scramble up mountainside scree - these are all sensations that my body remembers, an inherited pattern past down through the generations that speaks of home. Even though my father’s family (and my mother’s two generations back) are Irish they too are intimate with the land, a similar landscape.

I have listened intently to this landscape all my life, sat by the boulders at the edge of the loch (Lomond) marked by the striations of long-gone ice ages and drew my fingers across the rock scars like they were an ancient language.

If myth really was the power of place speaking, then I had to bend my head daily to its murmurs’
— Martin Shaw. Scatterlings. Getting Claimed in the Age of Amnesia

A Disappearing Act

When I was young my dad used to take us walking up around the local 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 ripped up the roads, made all the cars disappear and with a final blink  I removed the houses and the streets. I always wanted to see what this place looked like a long, long time ago. Then I would hold my breath to see if I could see the old ones that I knew used to live here, the ones from the times before the roads and the cars and the houses.

Even though I never saw those ancient people, I felt them. I felt the presence of the energies of the land, sensing that these lands were sacred and up by the stones at the top of the hill was a place where this world flowed into the other worlds. 

Years later I began to see those original people on the move and it took a while to realize that they were following great herds. Probably more years before I realized these herds were reindeer. While studying the Geology of the area at University I came across an article which described the finding of a reindeer antler not too far (as the crow flies) found in glacial moraine unearthed in the building of a railway line. Proof that reindeer really were in the area. 

This is a story about my experience of 'The Old Antlered One' as I call her.  She is the spiritual bedrock of this place. I encountered her before I knew anything of antlered goddesses or antlered women and at that time my main source of an antlered creature was Herne the Hunter from UK kids programs such as Robin of Sherwood and the Box of Delights. 

In her essay 'Elen - Goddess of the Ways' Caroline Wise recalls: 

'Thinking of Mascen's  dream journey, and my idea that this may connect to shamanic flight, I decided to try an experiment. Not having fly agaric to hand, I induced a method of astral projection and invoked Elen. I visualised myself  walking through snow, in a bleak landscape. Soon I was 'astral travelling'  now above the land and completely in the moment and no longer needing  to consciously invoke the images. Looking down I saw a pathway littered with bones and antler. It had the appearance of a simple rail track, laid out on the snow, and I realised that this represented the migratory route of the deer. I was following this track that had seen millions of beasts over millennia. I knew it went back aeons, before the Ice age, a memory that was in our genes and in the land itself. The bones and antlers represented the ancestors of the beasts who still, where they could, walked these paths today. I was 'told' that these were the 'oldest pathways in the world'. I felt a huge rush of energy, and the path suddenly rose up, looped out and back on itself, and the bones and antlers formed into a skeleton of a giant elk, rearing up in front  of me. It twisted around and started to move forward. This was so dramatic that I snapped back form my astral journey, much to my frustration - if I had stayed with it, I am sure it would led me to discover more.  I have never been able to retrace that track!

While meeting a great elk figure was the end of that story for Caroline, meeting a great skeletal figure is where my story begins.

Irish Elk

Irish Elk

My first experience with the Old Antlered One was meeting a huge skeletal figure. I knew she wasn’t an elk as she was female and her tall branching antlers pointed towards a link to reindeer as they are the only cervids with antlers.

The Old Antlered One

One night, close to Imbolc to the rhythmic heartbeat of the drum I sank down, down past the peaty layers of Loch Lomond, past the bones of ancestors, both human and animal. There in the darkness of that place between the worlds, I emerged at the top of the mountain, Ben Lomond. In that magical place I wasn’t simply myself, I was part me yet part ancient being. Skeletal, tall with huge branching antlers – her skeletal frame hidden behind a tall ragged cloak shimmering with galaxies and nebula's, we were in a place time had no hold.

I watched as she held out a bony hand - my hand - and commanded the sun to rise, and as it did she traced its path across the sky, leading it over to the west. As day changed to night she summoned up the moon guiding its path, - over and over she danced this dance setting the play of the constellations. 

 

Landmasses danced across oceans the world reforming and reshaping, then ice ages: ebbing and flowing, She ushered a thaw and a great greening covers the land, she dances to bring in life - dancing to bring in great clouds from the west, who released their rain when they meet the great mountain, flowing in small tributaries, gathering in streams until they poured into the loch. This is the dance of creation. 

I watch as the greens intensified, then transform into a burst of orange and browns before dying down and returning to their roots before the white takes over again. Green, golds and white, the seasons play out over and over. One by one she brings the insects, fish and birds, wolves, bear, auroch, and elk and the reindeer. Then people came, the people who followed the reindeer. They walked from mainland Europe following the huge herds. As they walked and camped they wove their own stories to the land, following the luminous strands this great antlered one had embedded in the earth. The paths that the reindeer follow are trails to sacred lands.             

Once everything was in place, this great creatrix bounded off to the west coast to the small islands that keep part of her story alive. Then she lay down, old and weary, sinking into the earth. Great trees grew from her bones, including the great tree that joins the worlds.                  

b2ap3_thumbnail_Screen-shot-2019-12-03-at-9.02.23-AM.png An Altar for the Old Antlered One                                                                        

Among these people that followed the women who wore antlers, around a fire they give thanks to both the reindeer and the old antlered one. They are the wise woman of the deer, the ones who know the presence of the old one. They are the ones who tend to her shrines in high places, shrines they tend to on dark and full moon nights. Times that they dance her dance.  Their steps following her steps, steps that take them between the worlds, and in that dance they dance their intention out into the star patterns, and down into the luminous strands which carry out in a great network out over the earth.         

In times of need, they adorn themselves in reindeer skins and to the with the beat of the drum shape-shift into reindeer and run with the herd.  


 

In our second Antlered tale for advent, we will be exploring the story of ‘She Who Runs With the Herd’


If you’d like to journey with She Who Runs With the Herds and honor the Old Antlered One through ritual and art click on the image below for full details of the course and sign up

 

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I am descended from a long line of wise women – for I too am a shapeshifter, a mythmaker, a woman who has always had one ear to the ground and a foot in the other world. I am a listener to old bones and a collector of stories that I gather from the shorelines, deep in forests or atop mountains. Sometimes my shadow shows my other selves sometimes crow sometimes bear, I am She Who Wears Antlers.

I am a radical doll maker, taking this tradition back to its roots and the hands of my foremothers. They remind us of our sacred connection to this world, the otherworld and our ancestors. I am a collector of stories, carrying old ones and those one who need retelling.

I am of the Bean Feasa tradition , a wise woman tradition that stretches back past pre-Celtic generations. People sought the wisdom of the wise woman in times of personal crisis and today this tradition can help us face this deepening global crisis.

I am a cultural activist working from the Bean Fesa tradition rooted in pre-patriarchy which honors imagination and creativity and provides us with tools that can help us overcome the psychological effects of patriarchy.

Visit my website for details of online courses, in-person workshops and our annual pilgrimage to the lands of the Ancestral Mothers of Scotland.

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