The Gods of the Wild Wood

She is the river

He is the road

I stand between them

Neither one nor the other

But guided by both.

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Several years ago, I met the Stag Queen. She was silver and she was wild beauty, though “she” was never right for her. Still, she told me it was acceptable, and so it is what I use. I have seen her as a stag with a mighty rack of antlers, with long silver fur. I have ridden her to the river, and it was there I met the Other, the Dark Hound.

For years, I have questioned who these spirits are, though I have strongly felt them to be deities. I have laid shrines to them, know that the solstices are important to their worship, yet I know very little of either of them.

A few months back, I came across a picture that made me pause. Though, it was less the picture and moreso the description that came with it. The wild wood, the horned woman, she of the hidden paths…these connections made me pursue the thread of the Stag Queen as Elen of the Ways, from the Welsh pantheon. I put out a call on tumblr requesting confirmation that there was historical precedence for this goddess and asking for resources. The answers that came back were mostly affirmative, and a few offered me the resources I had requested. I ordered the two books recommended and began to read…

…And it fell flat. The book was a slog, full of “historical” claims without historical evidence, and the information made me uncomfortable, for it did not feel right with what I knew of the Stag Queen. Some things fit, many things outside the book fit, but it was still akin to putting a square peg into a round hole.

tumblr_najaj8IYTy1rxekheo1_500As I began this research, I perused the Welsh pantheon looking for an idea of who the Dark Hound might be. I know that he and the Stag Queen were of the same pantheon, so if I had a breakthrough with one, I knew that the other would follow shortly.

Eventually, I narrowed it down to two options: Gwyn ap Nudd and Arawn. I began to operate under the assumption he was the latter, especially after coming across a prayer that fit the epithet I most strongly associate with the Dark Hound: He Who Waits. Arawn fit much more strongly than Elen fit for the Stag Queen, though I still felt intrigued by what was offered by Gwyn ap Nudd, especially his blackened face, which felt appropriate given what I know.

And yet…two weeks ago, as I sat at my desk that Friday while working from home, I turned and faced the wall of shrines behind me. I looked at first the shrine to the Stag Queen, and I said aloud that I did not believe she was Elen of the Ways. And then I turned to the Dark Hound’s shrine, and said aloud that I thought it possible that he was Arawn or Gwyn ap Nudd. Still, the idea has been spinning in my mind as I ponder who they might be, for no other Welsh goddess fits with what I know of the Stag Queen, and I know they are of the same pantheon and intrinsically linked.

Which leads us to Saturday.

After our Persephone ritual, we sat and talked and divined and talked some more. Later in the evening, I found myself speaking with Brooke, expressing frustration over the Stag Queen and the Dark Hound. She listened then offered me the idea of Apollon and Artemis as the Dark Hound and the Stag Queen respectively.

I’ve wondered if the Stag Queen was Artemis in the past, though I never pursued it. Of all the goddesses that I have come across, Artemis fits the best with what I know of the Stag Queen: associations with hunter and prey; stag imagery; woodlands and forest imagery; silver, silver, and more silver; faint lunar associations, though she also insists upon solar; a sense of the chthonic; and a blending of gender, ending as neither female nor male, but both and neither. All things that have associations with Artemis.

And then Brooke shared something interesting with me. A few years ago, after she had stepped away from Kemeticism, I read of her encounters with a god she called “Lord Ghost.” He, too, was strongly associated with stags, especially a crown of antlers and bone, the same kind of crown I see the Stag Queen wearing from time to time. He was of the mountains, a strongly earthen deity. As she told me about him on Saturday, I felt drawn to it, as much of what she shared resonated with what I knew of the Stag Queen. And then she dropped the gauntlet: Lord Ghost was Artemis. She shared with me the Orphic hymn to Artemis:

[35] XXXV. TO DIANA [ARTEMIS]

The Fumigation from Manna.
Hear me, Jove’s [Zeus’] daughter, celebrated queen, Bacchian [Bromia] and Titan, of a noble mien:
In darts rejoicing and on all to shine, torch-bearing Goddess, Dictynna divine;
O’er births presiding, and thyself a maid, to labour-pangs imparting ready aid:
Dissolver of the zone and wrinkl’d care, fierce huntress, glorying in the Sylvan war:
Swift in the course, in dreadful arrows skill’d, wandering by night, rejoicing in the field:
Of manly form, erect, of bounteous mind, illustrious dæmon, nurse of human kind:
Immortal, earthly, bane of monsters fell, ’tis thine; blest maid, on woody hills to dwell:
Foe of the stag, whom woods and dogs delight, in endless youth who flourish fair and bright.
O, universal queen, august, divine, a various form, Cydonian pow’r, is thine:
Dread guardian Goddess, with benignant mind auspicious, come to mystic rites inclin’d
Give earth a store of beauteous fruits to bear, send gentle Peace, and Health with lovely hair,
And to the mountains drive Disease and Care.

-Source: http://www.theoi.com/Text/OrphicHymns1.html#35

It is line seven she drew my attention to: “Of manly form.” For Brooke, it fit that Lord Ghost, a deity she had assumed masculine or male, was actually Artemis, especially with the goddess being described as manly or masculine herself.

Then, our discussion turned to the Dark Hound. Brooke is a devotee of Apollon, in the Orphic tradition, and the mythology of the Orphics link Apollon with the image of a black wolf. We discussed the possibility of the Dark Hound being, possibly, a black wolf, thereby linking him to Apollon. What I know of the Dark Hound, which is very little, also fits:

You are the Unmaker

And you are breaking me

Piece by piece

Having waited so many moons

You carve into me

And unmake me

It is up to me to put myself together again.

-A poem for the Dark Hound

In the Orphic tradition, it is all about the Labyrinth, the deep darkness of the heart, where you are unmade and then put together again. Reading this piece I wrote months ago, when I was merely aiming to put down in words the ideas and thoughts running through my mind, I wonder if a part of me has known for a while, the idea that the Dark Hound may be Apollon.

I gave my personal book of prayers and notes to Brooke to read, showing her the two short prayers I had written for both the Stag Queen and the Dark Hound. Not knowing anything of either deity, she told me she would think these were written for Artemis and Apollon. And then she told me that she had kept quiet about this for quite a while, but that she had always wondered if these two deities of mine truly were Artemis and Apollon, coming to me in different guises than one might expect. And it made sense, and a part of me recognized a truth to this.

And still, I hesitate. There is something of the Hellenic pantheon that makes me pause before I take the step forward. Part of it, I think, is its popularity, and I often worry of whether I do something because it is my truth or if I do it because it is something that I have heard enough times that it becomes something of a truth. So, too, do I worry of the concept of hubris, though Brooke has explained it in a way that differs from what I have had foisted upon me in the past as its definition. It is, instead, now something I can  understand and perhaps even embrace.

Brooke lay the cards for me, confirming that whoever the Stag Queen is, she is very earthy, mountainous, and wild; she has the sense of the roots of the mountain. All these things I can trace back to Artemis. All of these things have a subtle ring of truth to them.

And yet still I am hesitant.

I am hesitant to agree that the Stag Queen is Artemis, that the Dark Hound is Apollon, though both I have felt drawn to since first beginning my way down this winding, twisting path. I wonder if I am so desperate for answers, for a face to put to the name, that I will accept this answer, not for truth, but because I wish it to be easier.

I have no idea who the Stag Queen is, nor the Dark Hound. It is possible they are Artemis and Apollon, though I still feel drawn to Gwyn ap Nudd of the Welsh. Elen has presented herself, but I do not believe she is the horned goddess I have felt in my life for the last five years. Of that, at least, I am sure.

It is possible, and I have wondered this these last few days, that Gwyn and Apollon are both the Dark Hound, both showing themselves to me as similar faces, and now is the time to accept them both into my life and on my path. After all, there is now an empty shelf on my wall of shrines, after I took down those for the land spirits and the ancestors yesterday.

Still, I don’t know. That’s part of the problem with this little thing we call religion, especially one as experiential as the various Pagan paths often are. In the end, though, all I can do is walk the path and pray that answers will come my way.

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2 thoughts on “The Gods of the Wild Wood

    1. Kaye

      I’ve wondered that, too! They do sometimes feel that way, both ancient yet newer. It’s another reason I’m hesitant. I don’t want to just say, “Oh, it’s definitely Artemis and Apollo” or “Definitely Arawn or Gwyn,” because that’s easy. I’m finding strong parallels between them and gods we know of, though, which is why I feel I need to do in-depth examinations of what I know about both. Which, admittedly, isn’t a lot.

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