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Deer Totem Animal

Deer (regardless of species) are prevalent and found in many countries throughout the world. For millennia deer have played an integral role in man’s life and spiritual development. For example, Prehistoric man painted the deer on cave walls as Lascaux France, archeology has found deer objects that were used for rituals, and there are myths and lore of deities coming in the guise of a deer to aid someone on their journey or quest. The deer also has supernatural associations with the Otherworld or Underworld serving as a messenger. This Musing blog will explore the history and spirituality of the deer and how Deer Medicine can assist you in your life’s journey and spiritual growth.

Deer Facts

Facts are from the Conserve Energy Future

  • Deer are ruminants (essentially, hooved mammals that eat plants) that belong to the Cervidae (aka, deer) family and of the Artiodactyla order. The Artiodactyla order includes those animals that are mammals with even toe hooves, with each of the feet having two small and two large hooves (i.e., cattle, pigs, giraffes, camels, sheep, hippopotamuses, etc.).  There are approximately 50 species of deer, some of the more commonly known are the reindeer, red deer, elk, white-tailed deer, moose, etc. Originally, deer were native to Asia, North American, Northern Africa, Europe, and South America, however later they were taken to other countries such as the Republic of South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. [Conserve Energy Future]
  • Almost every species of deer has antlers, which sets them apart from other ruminants. Antlers grow from the head and are not formed with Keratin, unlike horned, rather antlers are formed of bone. The antlers are shed each year so they may grow new ones. As the animal gets older, the antlers will branch out more. While the new horns are growing (which happens fast), they are covered in velvet skin that helps to form the bone. What is even more impressive is that this velvet tissue grows faster than any other tissue on the planet!
  • Deer have eyes on the sides of their heads and impressive night vision giving them a wide angle of vision (310 degrees) to avoid predators.
  • Deer have enhanced hearing. They may rotate their ears in different directions without moving their head. Their hearing enables them to detect higher frequencies, even better than a human’s hearing.
  • A heightened sense of smell helps the deer to smell predators from far distances. Deer regularly lick their nose to keep it moist, as the odor sticks to it and enhances their smell.
  • Deer are social animals that congregate in herds led by one dominant male leader. One male can watch over an entire herd of 100,000 females!
  • Deer have three main ways in which they communicate—visual, vocal, and chemical. Various parts of their bodies produce scents that convey information such as social status, sex, physique, and when danger is near.
  • Baby deer, called fawns, have no detectable smell to keep them safe from predators. A doe will stay with her babies for 1-2 years.
  • Reindeer are the only deer species that are domesticated and coexist with humans.
Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt with deer

Deer Mythology

Greek

Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, is strongly associated with the deer in Greek mythology. It is said her chariot is drawn by deer.  The story goes that Actaeon, the son of a priestly herdsman, one day witnessed Artemis bathing in a pool and was instantly transformed by Artemis into a stag. Actaeon’s own hounds did not recognize him and tore him apart. In the story of the Labors of Hercules, her is tasked with capturing Artemis’ sacred Ceryneian Hind (aka, reindeer).

Buddhism

In India, there is a Jataka tale or birth story, where Lord Buddha incarnates into the form of a deer. There are a number of variations of this story, but each title features the word deer—”The Story of Ruru Deer” and “The Golden Deer”. Each version features the importance of karma and being compassionate and empathetic.

Hinduism

Other stories from India tell of the Hindu Goddess Saraswati, who may take the form of a red deer called Rohit. Saraswati is the goddess of learning, and men would use deer skin as clothes or mats to sit upon. It is said that the god Shiva may be depicted with a deer or holding it in his hand.

Celtic

In Celtic mythology, deer were believed to be supernatural beings or could be a god who could take the form of a deer. In some Scottish and Irish lore, deer are referred to as “fairy cattle” and are cared for and milked by an otherworldly woman or goddess. This goddess had the ability to shapeshift into the form of a red or white deer. This same goddess would also determine which deer would be killed in a hunt.

In Ireland, The Cailleach Bhéara translated to “The Old Woman of Beare”, lives on an island off the coast of County Cork. She cares for a herd of deer and to help them to avoid capture or slaughter, she will take the form of a deer to lead the herd to safety. The Beare peninsula is allocated with the lands of the dead, which gives this story more of its supernatural element.

Huichol

The Huichol people of Mexico have a legend about a magical deer that symbolizes the power of maize (corn) to sustain the body and the peyote cactus that feeds and enlightens one’s spirit. For some groups, the deer is an adopted totem or power animal, as it embodies the qualities of the tribe. For the Huichol people, the deer embodies the characteristics of being light, flexible, and humorous. Oddly enough, this group has never gone to war, nor fought against the Spanish or Mexican governments, but followed their own traditions and beliefs. The Huichol continue to hunt deer as a food source and sacrifice deer in their ceremonies. One such ritual includes making offerings to the Deer of Maize to ensure a good crop and the Deer of Peyote to provide them wisdom, and spiritual guidance, as well as inspire their creativity.

Native American

Deer Woman (also known as Deer Lady) is a legendary spirit associated with love and fertility. She watches over women, children, and men who are respectful of women and children. She can become vengeful and even murderous to someone who has harmed women or children as a form of justice. She is said to appear as either a deer or as a beautiful young woman with deer feet.

Japan

In the Japanese religion and lore of Shinto, deer are one of the messengers of the gods. They are highly revered, and white deer are given sanctuary at Kasuga Shrine in Nara Prefecture. Nara, a city within this prefecture, has the deer as their symbol. The Itsukushima Shrine, located in Miyajima, Hiroshima also has many deer that roam within the area and are given protection. The deer at these locations are very tame and many people come to feed them and to make offerings at the shrine.

St Hubertus / St Eustace in a 13th-century English manuscript (Biblioteca Marciana)

Legends & Lore

European Folklore

Some works of fiction during the Middle Ages described a white deer or stag of supernatural origins. This mystical and magical deer one might encounter on a quest of chivalry, like those found in Arthurian lore, or in poems. Another legend was chronicled about King Clovis I, who was given a divine sign—the appearance of a huge deer, that showed where his army could pass safely.

Fairytales

Deer are commonly featured in fairy tales. Some examples are a French fairy tale, The White Doe, where a princess is turned into a doe by a witch. The Enchanted Deer originates in Scotland, and a young man falls under a curse where he is turned into a deer. In other tales, a prince or hero will wear a deer skin or deer costume as a disguise to escape or achieve a goal on a quest, like in the Persian fairy tale, What the Rose Did to the Cypress.

Antlered figure from the Gundestrup Cauldron, interior plate A

Shapeshifting

Other lore describes how a person can transform into an actual deer (aka, shapeshifting), such as The Princess Transformed into Deer and Brother and Sister, and the Romanian story called The Golden Stag.

Deer as Helpers

In some legends, deer appear when humans need help, like in the Italian fairy tale The Dancing Water, the Singing Apply, and The Speaking Bird. Here the deer comes to the aid of twin children serving as a sort of foster mother. In the Portuguese tale, The Hind of the Golden Apple, a deer talks like a human and assists the hero by giving him a golden apple.

A gilded wooden figurine of a deer from the Pazyryk burials, 5th century BC

Deer Totem and Its Medicine

Deer are sensitive animals and are very attuned to their environment and its cycles. As a revered spirit animal, deer are admired for their sweetness, composure, and grace.

Deer are a symbol of innocence and purity reminding you of your divinity. Their agile and swift nature reminds you to move forward and swiftly through life’s obstacles with grace. Embracing your sensitivity and trusting your intuition can help you avoid unnecessary dangers along your journey. Be vigilant in listening to your surroundings and those around you, so you can make adjustments. Make it a practice to connect daily with nature and allow it to provide you with healing and spiritual guidance.

Regeneration

Since deer antlers fall off and grow back, it symbolizes the cycle of how we regenerate when learning new things or overcoming obstacles that assist us in personal growth. This process of evolving represents the mystical and magical aspect of the deer, and our own ability to transform is indeed magical!

Innocence and Wonder

The gentleness of the deer is like the innocence of a child. The deer encourages you to look at things from a new perspective, like a child with no prior knowledge, and perhaps see the bigger picture. As a baby fawn loses its spots, it is ok to change your mind about old behaviors or patterns of doing and thinking that no longer serve you.

Listen to Your Instincts

A deer’s heightened sensitivity works much like a compass, pointing it in the right direction. You are urged to not ignore that niggle, nudge, gut feeling, and determine what you need to do. Following your intuition is your soul’s way of assisting you on your path of learning and discovery.  However, that is not to say you should go into a situation blindly.

Be the Observer

A deer is always aware of its surroundings. It observes and uses its senses of hearing, smell, and sensitivity to assess and make thoughtful choices that are in its best interests. Those things that do not feel aligned or safe, are avoided. This includes learning to use discernment when it comes to trusting people. There is nothing wrong with being a little cautious and deciding what is the safest and best choice for you.

Duality of Deer Medicine

Everything has an opposite and the gentle deer and its medicine are no exception. When you are triggered, this is the shadow side of your being, and it requires healing. The deer reminds us to not be timid and not to let fear keep us from taking action. Do not let victimhood and the feeling of vulnerability or defenselessness put in you a state of denial. And while sensitivity can be a beautiful thing, one can be overly sensitive, overreacting, and making situations more than they really are. This is your ego getting the better of you and the situation, so do not allow your mind to blow things out of proportion. Again, it is all about living in balance and being at peace with ourselves and our environment.

If you are interested in learning more about other spiritual topics, check out my other Musing Blogs. Even better, if you are on a spiritual path or wanting to develop your personal growth schedule a Spiritual Reading or Coaching Package! I would love to assist you with your journey.

Blessings,

Nancy

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Anthony Roberts

Patrick Perkins

 

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