The Old Ways are our indigenous culture, born out of millennia of relationship with the land on which we stand. The Old Ways are also Shamanic; the indigenous British Shamanism whose practitioners are known as Awenyddion. Our ancestors lived in close connection with the land and the things that lived on the land; the animals, the plants and the trees, they had a relationship with them, knew their ways and learned from them (The Land Beneath Our Feet), they also had a relationship with the Otherworld.
Shaman, Pagan, Druid, Wise-Woman, Cunning-Man
To be a practitioner of the Old Ways you do not have to be a Shaman or practice Shamanism; a Shaman is just one of the roles within the Old Ways culture, there are many others. The wise or cunning men/women; the ones with the knowledge of the plants, the herbalists are another essential role. The mid-wives, the craftsfolk (basket-makers, weavers, wood-carvers et. al.), the alchemists; the Blacksmiths and all those who could take a natural substance and turn it into another – these are all an essential part of the Old Ways. The Old Ways are Pagan; they are animistic and polytheistic and by the time we got into the iron-age they had a caste of religious leaders called the Druids.
The Old Ways didn’t die out they slowly went into hiding after Christianity arrived (during some periods it was absolutely essential) and that is more or less where they have been ever since (hiding). The practitioners are still here as well; although you will have as much trouble finding them.
It has only been around 1500 years (give or take a few) since Christianity established itself enough to have a total grip on most of the British Isles (our Ancestors have been here for what is now thought to be 1 million years), although that grip was always more tenuous in the rural areas; it is the more rural areas where the customs and practices of The Old Ways remained strongest and where there is still a strong body of them today – they are still hiding; in the customs & practices, the folk stories & song of this land.
Given that farming only began 7,000 years ago taking around 2,000 years to spread cross the British mainland means that there was a preceding period of some 993,000 years when our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers.
This lifestyle over this vast period of time is where the knowledge, information and world-view of The Old Ways was born.
Our Ancestors followed the deer; Reindeer to start and then as the weather warmed the Red deer that replaced them. They drew images of these animals as their sacred totems on their cave walls.
A Shamanic Artefact
Headresses made from Red Deer skulls, used by Shamans in ritual practice – from the Star Carr Mesolithic archaeological site, dating to around 9000 BC.
Playing an important role in Shamanic ritual & hunting ceremony (at times one and the same thing), our ancestors relationship with the deer permeated every aspect of their lives. One of the oldest deities that we have is ‘Elen of the Ways’ – a female antlered goddess of Sovereignty (of the land) and guardian of the ancient trackways of Britain; a role that hearkens back to her very beginnings with our Palaeolithic Ancestors.
Over the aeons of time Elen has worn many masks, each one appropriate for the age; She still lives on in Wales in the form of three trackways that bear her name ‘Sarn Helen’ (Helen being the Christianised form of Elen).
So it is with the Old Ways, whilst their substance does not change they also do not remain static – they cloak themselves appropriately for the times in which they are living. This also applies to the practice of Shamanism, everything evolves – we are not trying to re-create a carbon copy of our ancestors practices, we cannot as their exact procedures have disappeared in the mists of time, this does not mean that we have lost the knowledge it just means that it has adapted as it has travelled through time and now wears clothing appropriate to the times in which we are living (more…. Awenyddion).
To become practitioners of The Old Ways we are therefore spared the requirement of going back to living in caves & hunting and gathering as our sole way of providing for ourselves.