In many European mythologies, the deer was associated with woodland deities. Two tales of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the wilderness, tell of her wrath and retribution visited upon those who trespassed into her domain. By controlling the weather she kept King Agamemnon’s fleet bound for Troy confined to port, to avenge the killing of a stag sacred to her. Another hunter, Acteon, used a stag’s pelt to sneak up on Artemis whilst she was bathing in the forest. As punishment for seeing her naked, she changed him into a stag and sent him back into the woods to be hunted down and killed by his own hounds. Other woodland goddesses, such as Diana, the Roman equivalent of Artemis, were similarly associated with deer and their perceived qualities of gracefulness and swiftness.
In Irish mythology, Finn mac Cumhail, the legendary leader of Ireland’s heroic band of warriors known as the Fianna, cornered a beautiful white deer, which his hounds then refused to dispatch. That night Finn was visited by the goddess Sadb, who explained that a spell had turned her into the deer Finn had chased, a spell from which his love could release her. Though they became lovers, the magician who cast the spell reclaimed Sadb when Finn was away repelling a Viking raid on Dublin, and though the Fianna searched the land, Sadb could not be found. Some years later, however, another of Finn mac Cumhail’s hunting sorties tracked down a naked, long-haired boy whom once again his hounds refused to kill. The boy did not know his father but knew his mother to be a gentle hind who lived in fear of another man. Details of the story convinced Finn that this was his son, and he named him Oisin, meaning fawn. Oisin too became a heroic Fenian warrior, though he also inherited some of his mother’s gentler arts and was acknowledged as Ireland’s greatest poet.
In Celtic religion, the stag was a symbol for the god Cernunnos, “The Horned One”. Cernunnos has often portrayed with antlers himself and was a god of the forest and wild animals. He was also seen as a god of ‘Plenty’, and the large Celtic ‘Cauldrons of Plenty’ often featured deer motifs amongst their ornate decoration. The magnificent Gundestrup Cauldron, for example, shows an antlered man alongside a deer and other wildlife. Though this is often regarded as a representation of Cernunnos, his pose in a half lotus position suggests he could also be a Celtic shaman.
Though different species of deer, as well as wholly magical versions, played their part in different mythologies, in northern Europe the reoccurring theme of the deer as the animal of the hunt, and specifically the chase, revolved around the red deer. These animals, especially the antlered stags, were large, alert and swift beasts against which royalty, aristocracy, and other wealthy patrons could pit their wits. Laws and taboos denied the common folk access to this bounty, though we are all familiar with medieval outlaws like Robin Hood who risked severe punishments for the taste of venison. The word venison originally applied to the meat of any of the wild animals of the chase, including wild boar, for example, the word being derived, via the French, from the Latin ‘venari’ meaning ‘to hunt’.
When antlers were not kept as a hunting trophy this hard material was carved to make early jewelry and buttons and continues to be used to make handles for anything from hunting knives to walking sticks.
Two of Britain’s greatest medieval playwrights drew on deer folklore in their plays. Christopher Marlowe mentioned the belief that “The forest deer being struck runs to an herb that closeth up the wounds.” In The Merry Wives of Windsor William Shakespeare writes
“There an old tale goes, that Herne the Hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;”
Though Herne’s oak was certainly a local landmark in Windsor great park until 1796, there appears to be no mention of a deer-like Herne in folklore prior to Shakespeare, though he has variously been associated with the leader of the ‘Wild Hunt’ or with Cernunnos, the Horned One.
The Myths and Lore surrounding the Stag run across the world from Meandash, the mythic Saami Reindeer, all the way back to the earliest history from Sumerian of Dara-Mah ‘The Great Stag’. Much information comes from Dr. Bobula Ida’s 1953 comparative myth essay on “The Great Stag, a Mesopotamian Divinity”. However much of this mythic idea (or meme) can include all horned animals! So as this subject is so wide-ranging I shall concentrate on 3 real species of Deer – the Roe Deer, Reindeer, and White-Tailed Deer and try to concentrate mostly upon the Northern Tribes (i.e. Celt and Norse) views on the Stag and Doe.
White-Tailed Deer: Odocoileus virginianus
Roe Deer: Capreolus capreolus
Reindeer: Rangifers tarandus
White-Tailed Deer: Open deciduous, coniferous or mixed woodland and Agricultural land.
Roe Deer: Open deciduous, coniferous or mixed woodland. Open moorland in Scotland Agricultural land if sufficient cover is available.
Reindeer: Arctic tundra and adjacent boreal forest
Body Length: 100-220 cm/ 3 – 7 ft.
Shoulder Height: 60-100 cm/ 3-3.5ft.
Tail Length: 7-21 cm / 2.8-8.4 in.
Weight: 40-125 kg / 70-400 lb
The fur of the white-tailed deer is a greyish color in the winter then more red comes out during the summer. It has a band of white fur behind its nose, in circles around the eyes, and inside the ears. More white fur goes down the throat, on the upper insides of the legs and under the tail.
Only the males have antlers, which they shed in January to March, and grow out again in April or May.
Body Length: 120-220 cm / 3.34 – 6 ft.
Shoulder Height: 60-90 cm / 2-3ft
Tail Length: 7-21 cm / 2.8-8.4 in.
Weight: 60-318 kg / 132-700 lb.
In Summer they can appear
• Dorsal reddish brown. Rump patch cream to buff – although their coloring can be cream.
• Ventral paler.
• Head – black nose often has white rim above, sometimes extending onto the muzzle. White chin. Characteristic ‘mustache stripe’
• Pale/olive grey, grey-brown or blackish. Rump patch white, inverted heart shape, with ‘tush’ of anal hair.
• The throat may have one or two paler areas.
Antlers short, usually less than 30cm long, approximately vertical, forming lyre shape, almost round in cross section. Commonly three tines on each antler in adults. Pedicles by about 3-4 months old, first antlers (button or simple spike) at 8-9 months. Full antlers usually by two years old. Antlers cast late October to January, fully formed by March. Adults shed velvet in April, young and poor condition animals shed later. Rarely, antlers present in females.
Body Length: 120-220 cm / 4-7.3 ft.
Shoulder Height: 87-140 cm / 2.9-4.6 ft.
Tail Length: 7-21 cm / 2.8-8.4 in.
Weight: 60-318 kg / 132-700 lb.
The double-layered coat is made of two layers: a guard coat made of straight, tubular hairs and a woolly undercoat. Coloration is quite variable, ranging from pure white through tan to dark brownish grey, with the undersides and rump lighter. The legs are generally dark, as is a band which runs along the lower torso. There is a small dewlap covered with long white hair along the throat, while the face is generally darker. Unlike many deer species, caribou calves are born without spots. The hoofs are very large and form a nearly circular print – functioning as snowshoes to keep the animal from sinking in the snow. The complex antler is found in both sexes, with a long, sweeping rear beam and forward projecting brow tines which may be palmated, forming a shovel-like projection. Antler length in females is 23-50 cm / 9-20 inches, while in males they can grow to be 130 cm / 52 inches long, weighing up to 15 kg / 33 lb.
White-Tailed Deer: an alarmed snort. Fawns and Does may bleat whilst Does and Bucks can also grunt.
Roe Deer: an alarmed, often repeated, bark. During the rut Does make a high-pitched piping call to attract a buck who makes a rasping call when they meet.
Reindeer: an alarmed snort, a bawl, and a grunting roar (made by rutting males).
Gestation Period: 7 months.
Young per Birth: 1 or 2
Weaning: At about 6 weeks.
Sexual Maturity: 1.5 years.
After mating, which lasts from October to December, the doe will give birth about 7 months later to one or two fawns. The fawns are spotted with white, which they lose by their first winter. Fawns can walk at birth and nibble on grasses a few days later.
Gestation Period: 9 months (of which 4 months of no embryonic growth followed by 5 months of fetal growth).
Young per Birth: Up to 3 but usually 1 or 2 kids
Weaning: At about 3 months.
Sexual Maturity: 14 months.
Although mating occurs in August, with the births occurring through May to June, the fertilized egg does not implant until January. This is thought to be an adaptation to avoid giving birth after a harsh winter.
Gestation Period: 228 days.
Young per Birth: 1
Weaning: At about 6 months.
Sexual Maturity: 2.5 years.
Most mating occurs in October, with the births occurring in late May and early June. Born for speed, a caribou calf can follow its mother within one hour of birth, and can outrun a human after only one day!
They are mostly active at night but they can be active at any time. They will feed mostly just before dawn for several hours and again from late afternoon until dusk. A deer’s home range is usually less than a square mile. Deer collect in family groups of a mother and her fawns. When a doe has no fawns, she is usually solitary. Male bucks may live in groups consisting of three or four except in the mating season. During the winter white-tailed deer will form herds to keep warm. When they are disturbed they make a snorting sound and stamp their hooves to alert other deer to danger. When they run away they will raise their tail, which will stick up like a white flag. This alerts other deer to danger and gives the fawns something to follow. They have very good eyesight and hearing, but depend mainly on their sense of smell to detect danger.
Small-medium sized deer, relatively short body and long legs, no obvious tail.
Black nose and white chin distinctive.
Characteristic flaring of rump patch (white) and ‘bounding’ when disturbed.
Roe deer are active throughout the 24 hour period but more likely to inhabit open spaces during darkness hours.
Solitary or in small groups – mixed or single-sex. May see groups e.g. up to 8 or 12 individuals, sometimes to 60, in agricultural fields. Large groups seen in fields in winter may reach 25 individuals per square kilometer where food and cover abundant in young plantations (stands 5-15 years old). Males territorial April to August, usually exclusive. Territory and range size varies with habitat Male range size usually slightly greater than female range size. Winter range of males may be the same as summer territory. Non-territorial males have larger ranges overlapping with those of several territorial males. Territory size 10-200 acres / 4-80 hectares; maximum territory about 50-60 hectares; generally may maintain for up to three years; rarely longer. Often tolerate and aggregate while feeding outside territories. Females: maintain range from one year to next, but not defended. Overlap with one another and with those of one or more males. Young females (second and third year) may share a range of mother or emigrate.
Reindeer / Caribou:
A highly nomadic species, caribou may travel 5,000 km / 3,000 miles in a year, the longest documented movements of any terrestrial mammal. In addition, most populations undertake extensive migrations in the spring and fall. During these migrations, herds move at a rate of 19-55 kilometers/ 11-33 miles per day. The caribou’s maximum running speed is 60-80 kph / 36-48 mph. When walking, a tendon in the foot slips over a bone producing a clicking sound. Amplified due to numbers, a migrating herd of caribou sounds like a bunch of castanets gone crazy! Caribou are excellent swimmers, and will readily cross large rivers or lakes. When swimming, adults can maintain a speed of 6.5 kph / 4 mph, and when pressed can swim at 10 kph / 6 mph. The sense of smell is the most heavily relied upon to find food and located danger, as the senses of sight and hearing are not well developed. During winter, caribou paw through the snow to reach the vegetation hidden beneath. Population densities are very sparse – generally 0.5 animals per square kilometer of suitable habitat. However, during the migration period, concentrations may exceed 19,000 animals per square kilometer!
White-Tailed Deer: Up to 20 years but usually around 10.
Roe Deer: Maximum of 16 years. Bucks usually only survive 5 years whilst Does survive for 6 or 7 years.
Reindeer: Up to 20 years.
White-Tailed Deer: They commonly eat green plants in the summer, corn, acorns and other nuts in the fall and the buds and twigs of woody plants in the winter
Roe Deer: Leaves, buds, and shoots of deciduous trees and shrubs, plus forbs; fruits and seeds.
Brambles all year; deciduous browse and forbs in summer; heather, blueberry, other woody browse in winter; grass in small quantities, more in spring.
Reindeer: Leaves, herbs, lichens, sedges, fungi.
White-Tailed Deer: Large predators such as lynx, wolves and mountain lions
Roe Deer: None in the UK otherwise large predators.
Reindeer: Large predators, mainly bears, and wolves.
Hungary / Mongolia / Russian Steppes / China
A new deity to gain major status in the Neo-Hittite era was Karhuhas (or Kurhunta), the ‘Stag God’. He was probably fertility and/ or protector god of nature. His identification with the stag is significant. The stag was not a particularly important animal to very many deities and religions in the other historic IE pantheons. Bears, boars, raven, and many other animals are well represented as the totemic animals of gods and goddesses across the IE spectrum. However, in Classical times the stag was of paramount importance to the Scythians and other peoples across the Eurasian steppes. The subject of the most striking Scythian gold jewelry, the stag has even been found as tattoos on the so-called ‘ice princess’ in the Altai Mountains. Here at the eastern extremity of the IE steppe culture zone, her frozen body was recovered with Scythian style stags still plainly visible on her skin.
We can only guess how ubiquitous this iconography was expressed in the patterns on clothes and other perishable material or for how long it lasted. The stag was one of the favorite motifs of the so-called Kurgan peoples in previous millennia, and so its pedigree as an object of veneration amongst the IE peoples is very ancient. As a wild and majestic animal, we should not doubt that the genesis of this deity’s veneration began before the Neolithic period. It is thought that the ‘Stag God’ originated in the steppes. He was brought to Anatolia by the early Indo-Iranian peoples who left their Kurgan burials at Trialeti and elsewhere in the region and mixed with the Hurrian and other peoples as far as northern Anatolia.
The symbol of the cosmos and the mother of the sun was symbolized as a large horned female doe. The great horned doe often was shown carrying the sun in her horns, in some cases, the sun itself was symbolized as a stag the son of the doe of the legend. The Hungarian regos (bards) tell a story that illustrates the stag as the carrier of the sun.
The hind represents not the sun, but it’s mother, the heavenly firmament, the cosmos, which carries the stars, the sun and the moon in its ‘horns’. For these reasons the Scythian stags often represented the horns of the stag-like flames.
Hungary – The Legend (which can be traced over many parts of the world)
A long time ago, thousands of years ago, in a distant land in Asia there was once a great and powerful kingdom. It was bordered by tall mountains in the north and a great southern sea in the south. From the mountains, two mighty rivers flowed southwards to the sea watering the flat lowlands. The people who lived there were famous for their arts, sciences, and wisdom. They lived in abundance and plenty.
It was following the great flood that the people from the northern mountains settled here and founded a new land. The king of the land was the giant hunter Nimrod, the descendant of the great king Etana (Tana in Hungarian, Kus-Tana in Kushan-Scythian, or Etana in Sumerian, the king who lived in the 3rd millennium B.C. and according to the legend of Gilgamesh he established the city of Kish and the first Mesopotamian empire, following the flood). Nimrod founded great buildings and cities and founded the great pyramid of the city of Babylon 201 years after the flood as a haven against future flooding (Simon Kezai, Gesta Hungarorum, ca 1282) and as a temple to god.
Here he married his first wife Eneth and she later bore him two twin sons called Hunor and Magor. He later had other wives and from them were born other sons and daughters who became the ancestors of the Parthians/Persians (In the medieval version it was the Persians, the inheritors of the land of Iran, that are mentioned instead of the aboriginal Scythic Parthians; in other medieval references though it is the Parthians which are mentioned as being related). The language of these people was similar to the Hungarians but not quite the same.
His firstborn sons were his pride and they spent much time with their father, growing up in the palace and later they accompanied him on his many hunts. Nimrod was a famous and great hunter who loved the sport (c.f. Bible, ‘like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the lord’). During one of his hunting expeditions, he took his sons with him. During the hunt, he spotted some game and separated from his sons to pursue it. The two young men continued their own search and came across a wondrous beast, a great horned doe, which shone in multicolor lights and its antlers glittering from light (Mahmud Terdjuman, Tarihi Ungurus The History of the Hungarians, 1456; Translated by Joseph Blaskovich, Prague, 1982).
Enchanted by the heavenly beast they gave chase to it. The animal led them across glades and meadows onward toward the west. At dusk, the beast vanished so the two princes and their men camped for the night. At dawn, the hind reappeared and the chase continued afresh. It lead them through foreign lands and across the mountains of Adjem (western Iran), through wild and dangerous swamps of Meotis (The Sea of Azov, an inlet of the Black Sea, associated with Meotis because of the common ancient name of this sea and because the Magyars and Huns lived there before their settling in Hungary. It is unlikely however that this was the original sea of the ancient legend) until they entered a beautiful bountiful country. Here the hind led them to a lake and jumped into it and disappeared. This swampy land, called Meotis, was surrounded by the sea on all sides except one where a shallow swampy land connected it to the mainland making it difficult to enter. It was rich in birds, fish, and game and was situated on the borders of Persia.
The two young men were filled with sadness and remorse because of the loss of the hind. They returned to their father and asked him to build for them a temple at the site where they could retreat and contemplate and prepare themselves. They then lived in the temple for five years, and on the sixth year, they were longing to return to the world when a great teacher came to them and taught them the ways of being a great king (Terdjuman Mahmud, Tarihi Ungurus, 1456).
They and their men then left the temple and scouted the nearby territories. In the evening they camped and in the morning they awoke to the sound of music. They followed the source of the music to a clearing in the forest where they spied the dancing and singing of young maidens who were celebrating the festival of the horn. The name of a hind is ‘horned’ in Hungarian and this celebration was of the hind. The maidens in the clearing were the daughters of the Bulars and amongst them were the two beautiful daughters of the king, Dula. (Simon Kezai, Gesta Hungarorum, ca1282 – The Persian version only has one prince, who similarly marries the queen of the women, who called herself a doe with the name ‘sar-istani’ Sraw=horned in Avesta).
The two young men were so enchanted by the two princesses that they resolved to marry them, so they and their men kidnapped all the women and married them according to their custom. They settled on a great island in the lake, which was well protected. Their descendants multiplied and populated the nearby lands, founding the 108 clans of the Scythian nation (108 was a ‘holy number’ related to the astronomical rate of precession of the equinoxes. It’s also a holy number among Buddhists and the Buddha himself was alleged of the Scythian Sakia tribe! Of course, this was the Scythian view). The descendants of Hunor and one of the princesses became the nation of the Huns, while the descendants of Magor and the other princess became the nation of the Magyars.
In northern Siberia, the heavenly reindeer, symbolized by the big dipper, steals the sun, and that is why there is no sun for half a year in the Arctic. When the mythical hunter, who is often symbolized by a bear, kills the female reindeer, it starts the new days.
This is an important key to the stories, for the chase after the stag is a hunt for the return of the sun, which during winter is taken away by the stag. The hunters are searching for its light and heat. The recapturing of Stag then brings back summer. The girls of the legend are the does, the daughters of light (Leukepius in Greek), who return the light and fertility of the sun. For that reason, they have names which indicate ‘light, white, burning..’: Dula=Gyula,Gyul…, Sar=gold,light, stag. Bular or Bugur=stag in Turkic.
According to the Saami legend, their nation will die when the god Groma, son of the devil, fires a third arrow into Meandash, the man-reindeer he is pursuing. For Nadezhda Bolshakova, decades of Soviet rule, which effectively banned the culture and language of her people – also known as Lapps, although they consider the name derogatory – brought their extinction perilously close.
‘But now I have hope that the third arrow will never be fired,’ she said, speaking in the village of Lovozero, a two-hour drive south-east of the Arctic port of Murmansk through vast tracts of birch forest dotted with the dark spikes of conifers.’ From Reuters – Oliver Bullough
This shows the symbiotic relationship the Saami’s have with the Reindeer which unsurprisingly figures heavily in their mythology. There are many tales and versions of tales with Reindeer in them.
The Santa Claus myth is irrevocably tied into Saami legend as Reindeer regularly get high on Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria – they are the archetypal Toadstools and have a red cap with white spots) and are seen to leap around, giving rise to the story of Santa’s flying reindeer. Saami shamans have a custom of deliberately feeding the mushrooms to their deer, and then collecting and drinking the urine because most of the toxins are filtered out by the reindeer’s digestive system.
An ancient legend of the Saami tells of a cursed woman who is transformed into a white reindeer who wanders the snowfields of the Midnight Sun luring all hunters who cross her path to their deaths. She cannot be stopped by bullets, but the spell is finally broken when her husband attacks and kills the White Reindeer with cold steel!
Ancient Norse mythology tells how four stags browse the foliage of the world-tree Yggdrasil, in this manner eating away the buds (hours), blossoms (days) and branches (seasons):
…There is an eagle sits in the branches of the ash, and it has knowledge of many things, and between its eyes sits a hawk called Verdfolnir. A squirrel called Ratatosk runs up and down through the ash and carries malicious messages between the eagle and Nidhogg (the Dragon/Snake that eats the roots).
Four stags run in the branches of the ash and feed on the foliage. Their names are Dain, Dvalin, Duneyr, Durathor. These four stags have been thought to represent the four winds. As it says here:
Yggdrasil suffers hardships more than people realise. Stag bites above, and at the sides it rots, Nidhogg eats away at it below.
Germany & Celtic Europe
‘The Horned One’, Cernunnos is depicted with ram horns or antlers. His most famous depiction is on the Gundestrap cauldron, where he is the main figure and has exaggerated antlers that recall the Scythian stag art. As a god of fertility and wild animals, his nature and name suggest a link to the Hittite Karhuhas. The development of Cernunnos in Celtic religion may have been early or he may have been adopted after the eighth century BCE when Scytho-Cimmerian elements invaded central Europe. Cernunnos seems to have been the origin for the later Celtic Underworld god who, with his hell-hounds, periodically road through the night skies on his Wild Hunt. While steppe culture influenced Celtic art at this time, the ‘Horned One’ may be at least one legacy of steppe religion in Celtic history. There also appears to be linked with this Celtic God and the ancient Green Man symbolism. There is also a link through Neolithic Cave art where there is the depiction of people, either for hunting or for shamanistic practice, dressing in Deer hide and wearing antlers.
In Greek myth, meanwhile, this animal is most prominently found as the Keryneian stag, a fantastic beast with golden horns and brass hooves. It was sacred to the huntress-goddess Artemis.
Another Greek myth tells of how Actaeon, a great hunter, followed a stag during the hunt and came upon a valley where the goddess Artemis happened to be bathing. Artemis was furious when she discovered the mortal Actaeon watching her naked and turned him into a stag. Then, she set his own hounds upon him and they tore him apart.
Another tale recounts how Artemis killed two giants who had tried to violate her. She turned herself into a white hind and walked between the giants; when they tried to strike her with their javelins, they killed each other instead.
The deer was said to be a fairy creature that could pass between the worlds. This was especially true for a white deer. Fionn’s wife Sabha became a deer when she went to the Otherworld. Beautiful women frequently became deer in many tales while fleeing from hunters. The Druid Tuan mac Carill is the sole survivor of a group of early Partholanian Irish settlers. He lives at first as a wild man of the woods eventually becoming a stag, an eagle, a salmon and eventually, is reincarnated as himself at a much later date to give the ancient history of Ireland to the more recent settlers.
The symbol and reverence of the stag amongst the Anglo-Saxons is a tradition that is very likely to be rooted in the most ancient of Germanic culture and religion. In England, we know such reverence of stags was already a strong custom even in the days of Saint Augustine, for he is quoted as condemning the ‘filthy practice of dressing up like a horse or stag’, a tradition that seems to resemble closely the English custom of hoodening. Like so many of the other animal symbols connected to the Anglo-Saxons, we only have to look at the Sutton Hoo ship burial for evidence. Within the burial was found a spectacular scepter that was topped off with a beautiful stag figure. The scepter to the King who carried it symbolized his power and high status. And it could be that amongst the Heathens the stag was regarded as the noblest and proud of animals, and would, therefore, be a most appropriate symbol of a King and his leadership. Extremely strong evidence pointing to the use of stag images, but not only their images but the worship of stags too, is found in a quote from Saint Aldhelm who wrote to a friend the following:
…where once the crude pillars (ermula) of the same foul snake and the stag were worshipped with coarse stupidity in profane shrines.
A later, medieval, English addition to the Stag legend is that of Herne the Hunter. The name Herne maybe a linguistic cognate with the Celtic Cernunnos. In modern times his shamanic-style appearance in the TV series ‘Robin Hood’ has increased his popularity.
In Celtic mythology, the deer is a magical creature, able to move between the worlds. As in Eire, many tales have humans transformed into deer. For example, St. Patrick was said to have transformed himself and his companions into deer in order to escape a trap laid by a pagan king. In the Welsh tale of Culhwch and Olwen, the stag is one of the oldest animals in the world, along with the blackbird, the owl, the eagle, and the salmon.
The antlers of the stag are compared to tree-branches and thus may represent fertility. Since they are shed and re-grown every year, they may also symbolize rejuvenation and rebirth. Cernunnos, the Celtic Horned God, was depicted with the antlers of a stag; he is said to be a god of fertility and plenty and to be the Lord of the Beasts. According to some, his antlers symbolize a radiation of heavenly light. Images of stags were supposedly used to symbolize Cernunnos in non-human form.
Many Native Americans believed deer and other animals with forked horns and antlers represented forked or double nature. The white-tailed deer was thought to be an animal helper, but the dark-tailed deer meant danger. The Hopi deer dance was to bring the rain, the California Yurok White deer dance was for a bountiful wild crop and the Zuni deer dance was to bring a cure for illness. When the Cherokee traveled during harsh winter weather, they rubbed their feet in warm ashes and sang a song to acquire powers for the four animals whose feet never were frostbitten — opossum, wolf, fox, and deer.
To the Pawnee, the deer is a guide to the light of the Sun. The Panache Indians of Colombia believe that human souls pass into the bodies of deer after death and therefore eating the flesh of deer is forbidden to them. In ancient Mexico, deer were sometimes depicted carrying the Sun (which is curiously similar to the ancient Steppe myth).
In the Celtic tradition, the hunting of a Stag was symbolic for the pursuit of wisdom.
The hunt for wisdom motive is also found in Greek mythology, where one of the tasks of Hercules is to capture the hind of Mount Ceryneia and obviously also in the many Karhuhas myths. The range of that myth suggests the age of the Stag, or Deer, as a worshipped, totemic animal. In Celtic tradition, the Stag is one of the five oldest creatures in the world. We have Palaeolithic cave paintings of Stags and their antlers were an essential tool during the Stone Age and were a tool involved in making the Megalithic structures, including Stonehenge. From the Saami, and other tribes, whose lives are reliant upon Deer we can understand how central their knowledge was. When you, your family and tribes clothing, diet, tools and thus survival are reliant on a single animal then they become symbolic of life. The knowledge required to hunt them becomes irrevocably tied up with the knowledge required for life. Thus the Hart and Hind have become an ingrained mythic symbol in western society and still are via Santa Claus.
The antlers of the stag are compared to tree-branches and thus may represent fertility. Since they are shed and re-grown every year, they may also symbolize rejuvenation and rebirth. Cernunnos, the Celtic Horned God, was depicted with the antlers of a stag; he is said to be a god of fertility and plenty and to be the Lord of the Beasts. Cernunnos, Herne, and Ingvi-Freyr have all been linked with the Green Man, Lord of the Beasts and the Wild Hunt imagery.
According to some, his antlers symbolize a radiation of heavenly light. Images of stags were supposedly used to symbolize Cernunnos in non-human form. This also ties up with Ugric legends of the Stag, son of the Heavenly Doe, who steals the Sun between his antlers. This ties up with the Yule/Alban Arthuan/Mid-winter solstice when it is a famous hunter, often a Bear or man-bear, who chases down the Stag and brings back the Sun.
The Stag stands for solitary nobility, honor and a strong commitment to the protection of their herd. The stag is a symbol of protection and sexuality. They are extremely devoted to the care, and creation, of children. Stags focus on the balance of law and are rigid in their thinking on the issues of justice.
The Deer is associated with gentleness, caring love, sensitivity, graceful beauty, innocence, and keen observation. Because of their well-developed senses, it is said deer can see through illusions and guide through chaotic situations. People with deer medicine can also learn to detect subtle movements, hear things unspoken and to use their intuition to avoid dangers.
Name – Meaning – Language
Arasse – Stag – Elven
Ajalon – Chain/Strength/Stag – Biblical
Damh – Stag – Irish
Dain, Dvalin, Duneyr, Durathor – Names of the Stags – Norse
Dyani- Deer – Native American
Dymphna – Stag or poet – Irish/Gaelic
Hart /Heort – Stag – Old English
Hartley from the deer pasture – English
Hirsh/Hiruz – Stag – Old High German
Tokens and Artwork
The Scythian tattoo image from the Ice Princess can be used. Look for images of the Sutton Hoo Sceptre which has a Stag on the top, there is also the Gundestrop Cauldron and many other ancient items. Edwin Landseer painted many Stags, most famously ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ and the Stag or Deer have been a popular subject for artists from cave paintings, for example at Lascaux, to the modern photographer. Many houses and lodges over the world sport a pair of Deer antlers as adornment.
The times associated with both the Hoodening and Horn Dance appear at the beginning of September which is when, for many Deer, the rutting season begins. This is also the traditional time of year for the start of Deer hunting. This would time it with Alban Elfed/autumnal equinox.
In the role of the White Hart/Hind, where the deer is a messenger from the Otherworld, then the time of year is associated with Samhain/Halloween when the bridge between the Otherworld and ours is thin and messages find it easier to arrive.
Ingvi-Freyr the Norse God, who has been thought a Stag-God largely because at Ragnarök (the end of this world’s cycle) he uses an Antler as a weapon, has his festival at Yule/Alban Arthuan/Midwinter. This time would tie up with the myths of a Stag God, son of the Celestial Doe, who steals the Sun between his antlers and has to be hunted and caught before the Sun can return. Often it is a Bear, or Bear-Man, who has to hunt the Stag and return the Sun.
The toils are pitched, and the stakes are set,
Ever sing merrily, merrily;
The bows they bend, and the knives they whet,
Hunters live so cheerily.
It was a stag, a stag of ten,
Bearing its branches sturdily;
He came silently down the glen,
Ever sing hardily, hardily.
It was there he met with a wounded doe,
She was bleeding deathfully;
She warned him of the toils below,
O so faithfully, faithfully!
He had an eye, and he could heed,
Ever sing so warily, warily;
He had a foot, and he could speed —
Hunters watch so narrowly.
— Sir Walter Scott
It is necessary to develop your own feeling and relationship with the Hart or Hind. Why are you drawn to the deer? How you will travel, feel or experience the deer is unique to your journey.
Prophecy and Divination
Beith is associated with the White Stag which symbolizes high ideals and aspirations. Beith is associated with beginnings, perhaps a fresh start where old ideas and unhelpful influences need to be cast aside.
Dear in dreams may represent gentleness, healing, and connection to the forest, which is said to symbolize the unconscious of the dreamer or they may lead the dreamer on a journey. An antlered stag, because of its cycle of growing and shedding antlers, represents fecundity, rejuvenation or rebirth. Some people interpret the stag as a sexual symbol since the antlers are used in fighting for the chance to mate. According to Jungians, the hind (female deer) in the dream of a man signifies his feminine side, the Anima, leading him into the wilderness. In the dreams of women, it represents their own femininity, in a primal, instinctive state.
Hoodening is an ancient custom that involves people or practitioners to dress up in animal skins or to carry the heads of animals in a ritual or some form of dance or parade.
This custom was recorded and condemned in England over a thousand years ago, which indicates that the origins of hoodening more than likely stretch back into the mists of time.
Saint Augustine in the 4th Century condemned the ‘filthy practice of dressing up like a horse or stag’. Archbishop Theodore in the late 6th Century is said to have condemned the practice of those ‘whom on the calends of January clothe themselves in the skins of cattle and carry heads of animals’. The Abbots Bromley Horn (i.e. Stag Horn) Dance has certainly been going since 1226, this occurs in September. Whilst today there are, in some form, surviving examples of such hoodening customs, the most well known and popular is that of Abbots Bromley Horn Dance and the Kentish Hop Hoodening.
Deer can show us to be kind, gentle and patient with other people. Furthermore, deer can teach people how to love unconditionally; meaning to love not what you wish to be, even in another person or in yourself, but what is.
Just like they lead heroes to other worlds in many myths, deer can lure a person to new adventures, which are often an opportunity to gain more wisdom. When this happens, a person should not be too afraid to follow; however, one should stay alert, keep eyes and ears open, for adventurous journeys are not always without danger.
Known active ingredients in Antler Velvet include minerals, proteins, collagens, fatty acids, and glycosaminoglycans – all vital components linked to human metabolic function. Western medicine (or health supplement companies) have just recently begun to expound the benefits of taking Deer Antler Velvet Powder. Glucosamine in it slowly decreases the pain of arthritis by rebuilding cartilage and significantly reducing joint swelling thus increasing mobility. It is a natural source of anti-inflammatory agents with the added effects of collagen, which lubricates and helps repair joints. Deer Antler Velvet is also a safe and natural treatment for boosting the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells.
Of course, in addition to this are the claims of a significantly improved libido which tie into the fecundity aspects of the Stag and Deer.
Algiz: This rune represents the horns of an Elk, which the Elk uses to protect itself. This rune has the meaning of protection. This is not protection by way of physical means. This is holy protection. Algiz is a holy aura that simply repels harm. This rune also represents a sanctuary, a holy enclosure or grove where all are safe.