Of the Land – What is Pagan for me?

The word comes from the Latin “paganus”, meaning of the land. To say it in Welsh is the word Wledig … reminding me of the story of Macsen Wledig whose legend is that he became the first (& last) British emperor of Rome. You can find one version of his legend at Early British Kingdoms and he’s also on Wikipedia under his Latin name. He died in Aquileia in 388AD. According to , Mary Stewart‘s The Hollow Hills, (a usually accurate author) there is a mosaic of his execution there.

Macsen is best known among Celts for the Mabinogion story, the Dream of Macsen Wledig. His name comes from “Gwlad” – country – nation – “holder of lands”, possibly nowadays meaning is “rural” or “of the land”. A fascinating blog from the Chief Constable of Wales tells more of its meaning and its association with dragons – the Welsh national beast.

My own name, Elen Sentier, comes out of this. Elen was Macsen’s wife, a woman of the Faer, a face of the goddess Sovereignty, the goddess of the Land of Britain. In the story Macsen builds three castles for her and she builds three roads between them – an analogy for the three Cauldrons of Poesy which are the pars of chakras in the Celtic tradition, similar to the three cauldrons of the better known Taoist tradition. Elen’s roads or sarns between them are like the eastern nadis that connect the chakras. Ooof! That was a wallop of heavy Celtic tech stuff, eh?

But I’ve had this lady, Elen, on my tail all my life and when I came to write she told me she wanted me to write in her name. She is called Elen of the Ways, Elen Sentier is that in that “Sentier” is French for footpath … the lady seems to like the pun.

Despite the fact that Dad thought I might grow up to be more ladylike if he sent me to school at a convent (LOL) I’ve always been pagan, always been of the land. I was born on Dartmoor and lived most of my childhood on the edge of Exmoor, two ancient and wild places down in the old kingdom of Dumnonia and full of British legend. My first novel, Owl Woman, is set there and built around the legend of the sacred well in our village that was owned by my aunt, and actually set in the wall of our garden. It is about the meeting of worlds, promises made and broken to Otherworld and the consequences.

Dyfrig dances Ceridwen Between the worlds
Dyfrig dances Ceridwen Between the worlds

I now live in the smallest of the old British kingdoms, Ergyng, in the between-worlds land of the Welsh Marches, absolutely bung-full of British legend – we even have our own Merlin-figure, Dyfrig, with his school and his oak tower about five miles up the road from me and born in my local village. Dyfrig has inspired my latest novel, Oak Man, on which I’m working frantically at the moment, it’s about a teenager, Jenni, who meets an old tramp who asks for her help … of course, the tram is Dyfrig, in disguise and with some memory loss. Jenni helps him, learns magic and they win out the day by the skin of their teeth. The story is set here where I live and in the ancient deer-park where Dyfrig had his school and his oak. It’s the first in a series, all set at sacred sites in Ergyng, with Jenni at their centre. I’ve got no write-up for it yet as it’s not finished … but I have done the cover ad this is it.

 My whole life has been formed around “the land” where I live, even the twenty-five years I worked in London. There I had so much to do with “Fountain International” and knew Hamish Miller (he helped me learn to dowse) and so got very involved with the Star Patterns of alignments in the city. London too is an ancient place, with a great mythos about how it came to be, I found working there fascinating and stimulating … and again, always the connection with the land.

This connection with the land goes out from sensing the moods of rocks, earth, magma, all the mineral kingdom, expanding into the vegetable kingdom – promoting my passion for gardening – and to the animal kingdom, the loves of my life. It even gets me into the human kingdom, the fourth kingdom of nature, although I do have serious issues with many on the selfish way humans treat the rest of creation.

And that’s another thing about being pagan. The connection with the land, being “of the land” makes it impossible to treat anything else as a lesser being just because it isn’t human, doesn’t look like me, and maybe I have difficulty understanding it when it speaks to me. That must be ultimately frustrating for non-human beings! We must appear deaf and stupid to them the way we take no notice. And that reminds me of one of my favourite books, Jinian Footseer by Sheri S Tepper. In that the heroine, Jinnian, gradually discovers that her “talent” is to be able to speak with and hear other creatures. When she finally understands this she realises how patient they have all been with her complete lack of realisation that they’ve been understanding her and speaking with her all her life … a very embarrassing place LOL.

All of this, all this connection, of being of the land, has drawn me to write. And to teach. My novels – as well as being mystery and exciting – are about walking between the worlds. This is the theme of my whole life, walking between the worlds. The phrase comes from one of our ancient and famous British shamans, Thomas of Erceldoune, probably better known from the song “Thomas the Rhymer”. This quote from Wikipaedia tells a little about him …

Thomas Learmonth (1220-1298; also spelled Learmount, Learmont, or Learmounth), better known as Thomas the Rhymer or True Thomas, was a 13th century Scottish laird and reputed prophet from Earlston (then called “Erceldoune”). He is also the protagonist of the ballad “Thomas the Rhymer” (Child Ballad number 37). He is also the probable source of the legend of Tam Lin. Sir Thomas was born in Erceldoune (also spelled Ercildoune – presently Earlston), Berwickshire, sometime in the 13th century, and has a reputation as the author of many prophetic verses. Little is known for certain of his life but two charters from 1260-80 and 1294 mention him, the latter referring to the “Thomas de Ercildounson son and heir of Thome Rymour de Ercildoun”.

True Thomas’ coined the phrase “walking between the worlds”, his ballad-story shows how it happened for him, how he met with the Queen of the Faer, travelled between worlds with her and gained his magic. The Queen of the Faer is yet another representative of Sovereignty. I walk in his footsteps.

Yes, walking between the worlds, that’s pagan for me. Being in continuous touch with the Land, the Spirit of Place, this gorgeous planet that supports us despite what we do to her, that’s being pagan for me. Being “of the land” …