Published on 17 February 2021 at 17:56




Symbolism and stories through the centuries



As we will see below, Deer is associated with various situations. Basically, as an animal that lives in the forests, it is associated with freedom, nature and wildlife. it is also associated with woman, attraction and beauty, things, that is, of sacred significance and ideals. Deer hunting is like searching for a coveted woman who will never become the wife of a common mortal. That is why the Deer is associated with alien and unreal concepts and it is not by chance that in the stories we will see below, it accompanies deities, fairies or even leads to God himself. It symbolizes the Other World, the search for Truth and many times Purification. that's why those mythical and legendary heroes who wounded deer later found great trouble, disease or curse. The Deer is not a Leo, who will be killed by the Hero to tame his bestial instincts, nor a Dragon, to gain some precious treasure, power or immortality. the Deer is far away. He is a guide. It is a challenge and a dream. And woe to any violator of a sacred rule found in his way. Because then the Deer becomes Punisher or comes like Omenos, an evil oracle bearer of the Other World.

In Celtic tradition

For the Celts, as well as for the Greeks and all the peoples whose religion was essentially a cult of nature, the Deer was a sacred creature, along with the serpent, the bull and the horse. Cernunnos, the god of forests and the equivalent of our Pana, had deer antlers while in many representations he is depicted from the neck up as a deer. Flidais, patron saint of herds and goddess corresponding to Artemis and Roman Diana, appeared to humans in the form of a red or white deer. a druid transformed into a deer Sadhbh (Saba), the wife of the hero Finn McCul (Fionn mac Cumhaill), leader of the Irish warriors Fianna. their son took the name Oisin which means "little deer" and was lucky enough to visit the fairy Tir Na Nog, traveling with the white horse of the golden-haired Niamh. A similar journey was made by Pwyll, the prince of Dyfed, when he was seduced by a deer, as a result of which he crossed the borders of the Alien and met his terrible king, Arawn, with whom they changed forms for a year and a day. Pwyll was forced to stay in the Other World standing on one leg. Another story from Wales tells of Lleu Llaw Gyffes, who married Blodeuwedd, a woman made of oak blossoms. One day, as he was accompanying her to the forest, he saw a wounded deer, which was none other than his own soul, to be sent to the Other World by Gronw Pebr, the lover of his unfaithful wife. Indeed, Gronw surprised Lleu by killing him with his spear. later Lleu returned as an eagle to take his revenge.


In  Scandinavian  tradition

In Norse mythology the world is part of the Tree of Life, Yggdrasill. Four large deer eat the leaves of the tree, one in each direction of the horizon. these deer are Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Durathror and symbolize the four winds, the four phases of the moon and the four seasons. these deer descend to the well of the Urd protected by the three Norns, the equivalent of our Squadrons, to quench their thirst and leave the honey dripping from their horns. In Valhalla, the land of the gods, is another deer with a similar ability. this is Eikpyrnir (Eikthyrnir) and from his own horns pours the water that forms twelve rivers.


In  Central Europe, Balkanian and East  tradition

In Bulgarian traditions, Samodivas (Vilas) are nymphs riding deer. They have all the known characteristics of fairies, from beauty to alienation. if someone kills their deer, they blind him or curse him for a lifetime.
Cursed not to be loved by any woman are also the hunters who will kill deer in France, because these creatures are transformed fairies. something similar happened in Ireland, where Beare witches transformed into deer to escape their pursuers. Giles the Hermit of Greek origin also lived in France. he was accompanied by deer who were given to drink from their milk. There is a similar story in Turkey, with the Deer Elder. Another saint associated with deer is our Saint Eustathios, the patron saint of hunters, while its history is the same as that of the Catholic Saint Hubertus.
Umberto was an avid hunter. He did not stop hunting either on Sundays or on public holidays. He once went out hunting on Good Friday, where he met a fast deer with big horns. He chased it all day, but it kept escaping him. The deer led him across a mysterious ravine and then, after letting him wander for a long time in the lost, he came to meet him. a cross shone between his horns and in a human voice, he asked Umberto to tell him why he was chasing it. From that day on, Umberto embraced Christianity and became a preacher. as for the deer with the cross, it became its symbol, as well as the trademark of the hunters' favorite liqueur, the Jagermeister. Another deer with numerous lighted candles on its horns appeared in Saint Ladislaus, Hungary, when he went hunting with his brother.
Thousands of years ago, according to a Hungarian legend, the sons of the giant Nimrod, Hunor and Magor, once hunted a white deer. The brothers separated and arrived in two different areas, where they reigned. The Magyars come from Magor and the Huns from Hunor. Attila believed that his origin was based on that white deer that led the ancestor of his tribe.A similar story exists in Japan.


In  Native American  tradition

The North American Indians are afraid of the Deer Woman. Legend has it that a spirit comes to lead men to death or to warn of something bad that is going to happen. the spirit appears in the form of a deer, an old woman or a beautiful girl, sometimes as half a woman, half a deer, like a Centaur. Its victims are usually unfaithful spouses or men who are not yet married. Story about the Deer Woman is widespread in the Sioux, Cherokee, Omaha-Ponca and many other tribes. This legend is reminiscent of the Sirens, as well as our Backbones, as in some variations the Woman-Deer deceives her victim by taking a human form, hiding her hooves. There is a similar legend in Finland, where a cursed woman permanently took the form of a reindeer and invites men to follow her in the midnight sun. this story reminds us of the Snow Queen, from the fairy tale The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, who obviously influenced C.S. Lewis in the book series "The Chronicles of Narnia". in contrast, for ice-dwelling Inuit, the reindeer plays a role in the creation of the world, like Mother Caribou, an ancient deity of gigantic proportions. In traditions of Mexico, India, China and Japan, the deer is the messenger of the gods and the bearer of light.


In  Ancient Greece  tradition


A horned and peaceful animal, it roams free in the forests with a fog of magic and mystery to accompany its grace. people did not always see it as prey, but also as something more, a creature of pride, holiness and respect. Dozens of times the deer became an emblem, already from the time of the caves, especially later, in the Middle Ages, when it adorned the coats of arms of knights and kings. Countless legends were born through hunting, giving the Deer a special place in the hearts of the people who clothed it with myths and unreal situations.
As a horned animal, the Deer once had its own cult. Like the cult of the deer and the bull, the deer cult developed in prehistoric times in parts of the Mediterranean and northwestern Europe, as well as in Siberia and the Caucasus. From the time of totemism it was believed that its horns had magical properties, while thanks to them the mystics saw in the Deer the Tree of the Soul, the tree that connects the earth with the sky and bears fruit despite the adversities of life. even in the language of dreams, the deer is a symbol of elevation, morality, virtue, happiness and fertility. It is no coincidence that in medieval times the Deer, especially the white one, was identified with the mythical unicorn, since both of these creatures symbolized purity, humility and virtue. for this the Deer was associated with saints, angels, miracles, even with Christ himself.
From Greek mythology the deer was the sacred animal of Artemis, goddess of hunting, the moon and virginity. according to Callimachus and Nonnus, there were a total of five golden horned deer with bronze legs. The four of them were dragging Artemis' chariot. The fifth grazed free in Kyrenia, where King Eurystheus sent Hercules to perform the sixth of his exploits. this deer led Hercules to distant places, beyond Greece, in the Land of the Far North, where the Sun shone day and night. In a sense, it led him to a fairyland. and when finally the hero got tired of chasing it, he struck it with his arrows, thus meeting the wrath of the goddess. Many years later, on the eve of the Trojan War, King Agamemnon killed the sacred deer of Artemis, with the result that the goddess asked for the sacrifice of his daughter, little Iphigenia. The goddess, however, took pity on the girl, gave her life, but took her to another distant land, the Land of the Bulls, where he made her her priestess. The hunter Aktaionas made the mistake of approaching Artemis while she was bathing in the waters of the lake. the goddess transformed him into a deer, which was eventually eaten by his own hounds. Kyparissos had a deer as a companion, which he loved more than anything else in the world. But one day while hunting, he spent it on prey and killed it. Uncomforted, he asked his friend, the god Apollo, to send him to Hades to be with his beloved deer forever. Apollo transformed him into the well-known cypress.
An additional element in Greek mythology is the incident of Aktaion, as it is worth mentioning the custom of "Deer King". Robert Graves tells us that on Mount Lycaeus in Arcadia there was a ceremony similar to that of Dionysus, which involved dressing a man in fur and deer antlers in remembrance of Aktaion's transformation. This ceremony spread to Sicily and later to the British Isles, and later gave way to the May Day deer festival, where people wore corresponding masks. According to Graves, the Deer King symbolized the cheating husband, which is why the concept of "cuckold" for men who do not have a faithful partner has remained until today. Also symbolic is the phrase "he wore his horns" which refers to the Woman-Artemis who transformed the Man-Aktaion into a deer.



Finally, it is worth mentioning the legend of Santa Claus or more correctly, Saint Nicolas. It is world-renowned that on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve, the saint comes to distribute gifts with his sleigh, which is dragged by twelve flying reindeer. Although this tradition has its roots in pagan beliefs where horned animals (goats or goats) dragged the chariot of the god Thor, Christmas reindeer became famous after Clement C. Moore's poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas ». in this poem of 1823, the Saint arrives at the narrator's roof and descends from the chimney to leave him his gift. then climbs up again to continue his night journey, shouting the reindeer by their names (Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen). Moore claimed to have read a tale from Finland, which spoke of eight deer flying and dragging a sleigh. A century later, in 1939, the author Robert L. May added with his stories the ninth reindeer, the well-known Rudolph with the red nose. 

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