Elen is thought to have been a forerunner of many other Celtic goddesses, including Brighid and Helen of the Hosts. She has also been linked to Sheila-na-gig statues (carvings of a nude woman holding her legs open to expose her genitals), which were sometimes incorporated into medieval church architecture. These statues seem likely to be a reference to Elen or Brighid’s role as healer, source of wisdom and inspiration, and her role as fertility goddess of the land. A particular statue residing in Colchester Castle Museum has the word ‘Elen’ extolled on one of its legs, which is all the more significant because Saint Helen, her Christianised aspect, is associated with Colchester.
In the Welsh medieval romances known collectively as The Mabinogen, she can be found in a story named ‘The Dream of Macsen Wledig’. In this story, she rules over the country of dreams and builds the highways from one fortress to another, across the length and width of Britain. Macsen, a legendary Roman emperor, dreams of her sitting on a chair made of red gold, wearing white silk shifts with red fastenings across the breast, and a gold brocade surcoat with a mantle pinned by a brooch. Her hairband was made of rubies and gems, and her belt of red gold. Macsen sent out envoys to find her. Eventually, she was discovered at the fortress of Segontium, near Caernarvon. He met her, and soon afterward she became Empress of Rome. She claimed Britain from her father as a wedding gift, and supervised the roads throughout the realm.
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