Meaning of name: It may derive from or related to Old English hæleþ which is defined as follows: hæleþ, heleþ, es; m. A man, warrior, hero [a word occurring only in poetry, but there frequently] : Gleáwferhþ haleþ the man wise of mind. Hæleþas heardmóde warriors sternminded. Additionally, the Old-Saxon helið derives from proto-Germanic *haluð- which means Hero, warrior, free man. It could be related to Middle English hél which is defined as followed: hél (a) Healthy, cured (b) in good condition, prosperous (c) whole, complete.
Function: Helið is considered by some to be a God or Goddess of healing, heroism, virility, prosperity and liminality represented by the Silver Well at Cerne Abbas in Dorset.
So little is known of this deity, other than he/she was believed to have been worshipped by the people of Cerne (Now Cerne Abbas) in Dorset as a deity of “place” which is to say, she was a significant figure to the local populace and worshipped as a goddess by them until the coming of St. Augustine in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. The Augustine they refer to is not the Augustine that travelled to England to convert the heathen inhabitants, but Augustine of Coventry who was later made into a Saint himself. He was largely responsible for the conversion of the people of Kent. He was commonly referred to as “The English Augustine”.
The following comes from the account of Goscelin, a Benedictine monk who lived in the 11th century and chronicled many of the English saints. It is translated from the latin original.
“St. Augustine, coming into the county of Dorset always announcing Christ’s holy Gospel, he arrived at a village where the wicked people not only refused to obey his doctrine, but very impiously and opprobriously beat him and his fellows out of their village and in mockery fastened Fish-tails at their backs: which became a new purchase of eternal glory to the Saints, but a perpetual ignominy to the doers. For it is reported that all that generation had that given them by nature which so contemptibly they fastened on the backs of these holy men.
And Saint Augustine having left these wicked people to carry the marks of their own shame, and travelled with his holy company about five miles further through desert and uninhabited places, being cruelly oppressed with the three familiar discommodities of travellers; hunger, thirst, and wearings, he that sate upon the fountain wearied with his journey, Christ Jesus, vouchsafed to appear visibly unto him with words of heavenly comfort and encouragement. Then the holy man, being refreshed with the sweet fountain of eternal life, fell presently upon his knees and adored the place of Christ’s footsteps, and striking his staff into the ground there straight sprung forth a clear fountain of crystal streams, in which all his fellows quenched the extremity of their thirst and gave infinite thanks to Allmighty God who had vouchsafed to help them in that necessity.
And the same place was afterward called Cernel, a name composed of Latin and Hebrew, for Cerno in Latin signifies to see, and El in Hebrew signifies God; because there our holy apostle Augustine was honoured with the clear vision of him that is true God and man. Moreover upon the same fountain in memory hereof a chapel was built dedicated to our Saviour, which, together with the fountain, my Author had seen; and the water cured many diseases.”
Gotselin wrote in another account of the same:
“Here the sinful people dazzled themselves by darkness, and hate the divine light, not only in what is spoken, but also in what is written. Truth was totally ridiculed and God’s Saints were scorned and were booed. They took away all their property and inheritance, no hand or idea was saved. But the news of god’s commandment and the example of the apostles, who shook off the dust of their feet against them, because they were worth their punishment, yet they were not injured, because they wished them all salvation and they were consigned to the divine judgment, so that Helio (Helia) and his followers irrespective of their holiness would know the scope of their penalty, both for themselves as for their posterity, because of their rejection of the precepts of life. And it is said that they who came out of water by the fish, were desirous for sanctity and they have received now eternal holiness, because they were able to dispose themselves from the permanent stigma, in spite of the fight which they were imposed of by the country who rejected frankness and generosity.”
And so we see that the English Augustine is credited with effectively dispelling the influence of Helið by forcibly converting the people of the local area and claiming that Jesus’ power brought forth the fountain of “crystal water” that purified those who visited. This can be interpreted (As many others things have been in Heathenry) as being an assimilation of current practice into a redirection of the same with a Christian emphasis, much like Yule became Christmas and Ēostre became Easter. So many folk traditions were simply “accepted” and given a Christian slant. It is not inconceivable therefore, that the Silver Well at Cerne Abbas, was a natural wellspring that the local inhabitants at the time worshipped as source of healing water and life, gifted to them by their God/Goddess Helið and then appropriated by Augustine when he converted them.
Helið, to me, is a Goddess associated with liminality by virtue of the presence of the Silver Well. I say Goddess, because to me that is how she appears when I have meditated on the Well. I refer to the Well as the Silver Well, not St. Augustine’s Well and I have taken the name for my Heorþ from it in dedication to that local Goddess. It is not beyond the scope of possibility that Helið is in fact a landwight, a being powerful enough to demand respect and offering from the locals who had wished to draw water from Her well, or indeed some ancient local hero that was associated with some great deed such as that I have written about on the myth I penned concerning the Þhyrs (Giant) of Cerne though no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise officially links the two stories
A story concerning St. Edwold who was a member of the Mercian royal family in the 7th century AD, tells of him having a vision of the Silver Well as it was called then, and then travelling to Cerne where he handed some silver pennies to a local shepherd in return for bread and water, before being shown the well. It certainly serves to suggest the Well was in existence long before the coming of Augustine and whilst there is no evidence that Helið was directly associated with the Well itself, the factors in the numerous accounts of the Augustine story refer not only to the God/Goddess but also to the Well itself and it is again not inconceivable that the Well may have been associated with her.
Wells are considered to be thresholds between this world and another, underground and into the darkness of the unknown. Helið, to me, exists in this state between the known and the unknown and invoking Her name and making offering brings forth her presence into that moment at the Well and sends tingles up and down my spine every time. To me She is intrinsically linked to the Well and to the surrounding area and I have felt Her presence there on many occasions.
Iconography: There is no known iconography attested to Helið however there is mention of “primitive pole worship” by Sir Flinders Petrie in 1926 which he took to be connected to the Giant of Cerne, however may allude to a form of Irminsul, which was a famous “Godpole” relating to the sacred pillar of the ancient Saxons. The Well itself, to me, is iconographic of Helið, and the indelible image of the Cerne Giant is another association if by virtue of geographic locality only.
*Credit to “Helith – An Anglo-Saxon Pagan Deity” by Swain Wodening & Gardenstone, a very handy PDF document you will find circulating the web with a little bit of digging.