The Deer as a Symbol
Published in Rock Art Papers, Volume 11. Ken Hedges, Editor. San Diego Museum Papers 31,1994 (145-156).
Thomas R. Hersh
Los Angeles, California
The deer is a common image in rock art of all ages. For example, it is a principal Upper Paleolithic motif with a definite dating of 30,000 B.C. (Kenny 1975: xiv).1 This paper is about deer in myth and folklore, the verbal counterparts of rock art. I leave it to others to attempt the uncomfortable "leap in imagination" (Jacobson 1993: 212) from mythology and folklore to archaeology.
I have found two scholarly studies devoted to the deer (and elk) in European and Asian archaeology and mythology. Dorothea Kenny, in her 1975 dissertation called Cernunnos, presents an invaluable array of European and Asian deer tales. However, her central thesis — that the deer has always been associated with the calendar because of its shedding of antlers — seems to me to be imposed on the data. When I first thought of researching the deer motif, I assumed that the idea of the shedding of antlers would predominate, but this theme seems almost non-existent.
In a more recent study, The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia, Esther Jacobson argues against existing theories that, in ancient Siberia, the deer image represented a male deity or the sun. She maintains, instead, that it was "... rooted in a symbolic system revolving around the Animal Mother: the deer-mother as Tree of Life and as source of life and death. Essentially female, it was gradually arrogated to the male as a sign of his power" (Jacobson 1993:46-47).
My research dovetails with Jacobson's view of deer as female, but I would add that the deer symbolized a female-goddess from the male point of view. It was an aspect of male psychology, an example of what Jung called an "anima" figure-a fascinating image that takes a man into the deeper levels of the unconscious, into the mundus imaginalis.2 Perhaps 60% of the deer tales I have read concern the elusiveness of the deer in the hunt, and, therefore, express the psychology of male hunters. The hunter chases a fast and elusive deer deeper and deeper into unknown areas of a vast forest, into some strange world.
A word about the biology of the deer. Deer are widespread, especially in the Northern hemisphere. Deer, elk, and moose are in one genus. They have genuine antlers made of bone. Antelope, sheep, and goats, on the other hand, have horns rather than antlers. Unlike antlers, horns are made of keratin, the material of fingernails or hair or claws. There is undoubtedly much about the deer that is lost forever to modern city dwellers that was known to native hunters.
In what follows, I identify five main, though not necessarily independent, deer motifs in mythology and folklore. The motif of elusiveness is statistically the most significant. I will first present examples of the other four. My examples are representative only and are not meant to be all-inclusive.
1. Antler as Protection
1. Antler as Protection
The first motif is the antler as protection: antlers appear on Celtic helmets; on the walls of fortified cities like Zurich and Bern, protecting the cities; and there is even a stag head next to the altar of Doberan Abbey in Germany to protect the abbey against the overflow of the Baltic Sea (Kenny 1975:244, 338, 351). Similarly, the Hopi men of the Horn Society close the trails into their village with elk and deer antlers, so no one can come in (Tyler 1975:113f). The village becomes an elk in relation to its neighbors. There are also stories of individuals, like Merlin the magician, who fought with antlers, and the antlers placed in prehistoric burials across Europe and Asia (Kenny 1975:286, 104f) may have been put there to protect the dead.
2. Deer as Victim
2. Deer as Victim
The second motif is deer as victim. Even though deer are strong and far from defenseless, the deer is hunted by man and animals. In a sense, it is a "persecuted animal" (to use the phrase of Feliks, 1981:269), and people in trouble sometimes identify with it. Man is a predator, but at other times he is a victim. Feliks (1981:212-213) argues that Psalm 22 may hint at a hind, a female deer, grazing in the fields at dawn:
Dogs surround me; a pack of evil ones closes in on me, like lions [they maul] my hands and feet ... But You, 0 Lord, be not far off ... Save my life from the sword, my precious life from the clutches of a dog. Deliver me from a lion's mouth [brackets in text; the Jewish Publication Society translation]
Significantly, this is the psalm the gospels have Jesus saying on the cross. It reminds me of a Mayan prophecy that speaks of a time when "the deer will cry out" (Bierhorst 1974:203). As pursued victims, deer stand in a traditionally female role that fits with deer as a symbol of the female.
3. Deer as Riches3. Deer as Riches
The third motif is deer as riches or wealth. This is easy to understand for a hunting people. For example, the Pueblo Indians used the hides of deer for clothing, the meat for the table, the sinew for bow strings, and the bone for implements (Tyler 1975:58). For us the nearest equivalent might be money itself, with which we get our necessities.
Even in agricultural societies, however, the deer brings crops and riches (e.g., Tyler 1975:69ff for the Pueblos, and Hultkrantz 1979:126 for the Diaguita of Chile). A Navajo story even speaks of the "Deer-Farmer" who grows his own food out in the wilderness (Wyman 1970:35). In China, the character for the stag's name and for enjoyment of prosperity are pronounced the same, and the Gallic Cernunnos was the god of abundance (Charbonneau-Lassay 1991:122).
The connection of deer with water is ubiquitous. It is assumed in Psalm 42:2 ("As the hart pants after the water brooks, so my soul pants after thee"), and the Midrash on Psalm 22 reports that the hind is
...the most God-fearing of all animals, for her love for her young is very great. And so when the other animals are thirsty, all of them come to the hind, knowing that her deeds are God-fearing and that when she lifts her eyes to heaven, the Holy One, blessed be He, will show mercy to them also. And what does the hind do? She digs a hole, puts her horns into it, and pants; and the deep causes waters to come up for her sake, for it is said As the hart panteth after the water brooks ...[Braude 1959:309, my emphasis]
There is a parallel in the Pueblos where deer are universally bringers of water and rain (Tyler 1975:75, and see Hultkrantz 1979:51 for the Mundurucú of South America).
There is also the nearly universal idea of a Keeper of the Animals to whom one makes offerings to get deer. For the Cochiti, there is the kachina who "grows deer like corn" (Tyler 1975:72). For the Evenks of Siberia, there was the "mistress of the clan lands" who sent game animals. She was a giant cow elk or doe, and Jacobson sees her as the Animal Mother of tribe and animals (Jacobson 1993: 192ft). In the Claus Chee Sonny version of the Navajo Huntingway myth, "All livestock lives because of the deer. That is what keeps the animals moist, breathing, walking about, and altogether alive" (Luckert 1975:54).
Methods for befriending the Keeper are manifold and complex. Examples may be found in Tyler (1975:62ft) or Taksami (1984) for Siberian peoples, and an account given by Parsons in 1932 is worth repeating. An eye-witness told her that when deer meat was needed for a ritual at Isleta and it could not be found, they asked the hunt chief, who made a
... circle of pollen, leaving a gap toward the east. Then, waving a feather in circular fashion as he talked, he concluded with imitative calls of mountain lion and wolf. "He told one of us to open the door. He began to sing. In came a big deer with big horns." While Wildcat Boy, as the hunt chief is called at Isleta, kept on singing he motioned for the door to be closed. "The deer walked into the circle of pollen." Then the chief closed the gap in the pollen circle, tapped the deer gently on the forehead and it dropped down dead.[in Tyler 1975:68]
If we dismiss this outright, I think it would be an intellectual prejudgment and would evidence a mistrust of the objectiveness and/or honesty of the Indians. It is possible that there are people who are so deeply connected to nature that they can bring about events like this. Science must be open minded.
4. Guilt over the Hunt
4. Guilt over the Hunt
There are stories that seem to be justifying the morality of the hunt. In a Pueblo story, a deer, elk, antelope, and eagle were originally cannibal monsters, and that is why a god made them human food (Tyler 1975:144ff). A similar story from the Siberian Ostiaks and Voguls tells how the elk once had six legs and lived in the sky and got so conceited that God Numi had its two back legs cut off and thrown down to earth (Kenny 1975: 157). A Zuni story tells of a time when people were weak, because they only ate corn, rabbit, and seed. They imagined a deer, as the gods instructed, and it was, thereby, inserted into reality for them to hunt. Tyler thought of these stories as rationalizations that have a god (not us) determining who eats who (Tyler 1975:71-72, 115).
There is also the common idea that killed deer do not really die and can return with the proper ritual (e.g., Tyler [1975:71-2, 79] for the Pueblos or Siikala [1984: 73] for hunting societies in general) or that the deer himself gives the hunter permission to hunt (Evers and Molina [1987:47] for the Yaqui). Since the Yaqui refer to deer as "younger brother," a close analogy to their deer hunt might be a modern man's job "hunt" in a serious recession for a job held by his younger brother. Think of all the rationalizations this "hunter" might use: "God wanted me to have the job," and the like.
5. Deer as Guide to the "Other World"
5. Deer as Guide to the "Other World"
The fifth motif is far and away the most common. The basic idea is of a man who goes into the wilderness to hunt deer. A deer leads him further and further away from his ordinary, domestic life and takes him to another world, called by various names.
The shyness of the deer undoubtedly contributes to this motif. According to Scrope (1838: 18), "There is no animal more shy or solitary by nature [than the red deer of Scotland]." The author of the book of Job points to the shyness by asking, "Canst thou mark when the hinds do calve?" (Job 39). And Claus Chee Sonny seems to be expressing the "invisibility" of deer when he told Luckert (1975:49) that Deer-people, particularly Fawn, can "transform" themselves into certain plants.
There are also many who have been impressed by the speed and light-footedness of the deer. This seems to lie behind the Siberian Ket idea that reindeer formerly had wings (Jacobson 1993:175) or Claus Chee Sonny's story that the Deer-people crossed a narrow ravine using "sheet lightning, zigzag lightning, rainbow, and the roots of sunlight" (Luckert 1975:49). The speed of the deer seems also to have influenced Artemidorus's interpretations of deer dreams (1990:106, 214), and the biblical Naphtali was a messenger, because he was fleet of foot like a deer — "as swift as the nimble hart, ... [who] could run across a field of corn without breaking an ear" (Ginzberg 1968: 109, 209).
This shy and speedy, not to mention valuable, animal draws the hunter deep into the wilderness, into "another world." What is this other world?
In the most down-to-earth form, the other world is the wilderness itself. In fact, in Old English, "wilderness" meant "wilde doer" -- "wild deer" (Evers and Molina 1987:44).
A Scottish hunter of the last century wrote about the Scottish Highlands where he hunted,
And now what do you think of this wild region [the Scottish Highlands]? Do you not almost feel as if you were wandering in a new world? Here, everything bears the original impress of nature, untouched by the hand of man since its creation [it is Eden]...In such a place as this, the wild Indian might fancy himself on his own hunting grounds. Traverse all this desolate tract, and you shall find no dwelling, nor sheep, nor cow, nor horse, nor any thing that can remind you of domestic life....when I show you a herd of these magnificent animals [deer], with their pointed and wide-spreading antlers, ranging over the vast tract, free as the winds of heaven, I think you will agree with me that there does not exist a more splendid or beautiful animal...he gives grace, character, and unity to every thing around him. How you feel I know not; but when I first trod these glorious hills, and breathed this pure air, I almost seemed to be entering upon a new state of existence. I felt an ardour and a sense of freedom that made me look back with something like contempt upon the tame and hedge-bound country of the South.[Scrope 1838:50-51, my brackets and emphases]
6. Deer as Alluring Woman
6. Deer as Alluring Woman
This wilderness experience represents a clear danger to the hunter's family. The deer leads the hunter from his family, physically and psychologically, and is represented symbolically in stories as a magical woman (or in association with magical women).
In Scotland it is said that fairies often shaped themselves as stags (Kenny 1975:141-142). One Scottish hunter saw fairies milking hinds. On another occasion, this same hunter took aim at a hind, but when he was about to shoot, it was transformed into a young woman. When he put the gun down, it became a deer again. When he aimed again, it again became a woman (Scrope 1838: 117-118). A Korean hunter shot a deer who was a fairy, and his wife got angry at him because he spared her (Choi 1979:44). A Siberian Nganasan shaman went into a hill and saw two naked women who looked like deer. They were covered with fur and had deer antlers on their heads, and they let him pluck a hair from each of them to make his shaman's robe. One was pregnant, and she released a deer-baby into the world for people to hunt (Kenny 1975:171-172).3
The allure of these deer-women, of these "goddesses," for the hunter went further. I quote from Scrope (1838:118) regarding the beliefs of the Scottish Highlanders.
The most extraordinary superstition prevalent was that of the Liannan-Spell, or fairy sweethearts; and all inveterate deer-stalkers, who remained for nights, and even weeks in the mountains, were understood to have formed such connexions. In these cases the natural wife was considered to be in great danger from the machinations of the fairy mistress.
Apparently this danger existed in other countries as well: a Bavarian hunter in the forest pursued a snow-white stag that changed into a beautiful woman who took him by the hand, and they fell into a deep well (Kenny 1975:357); a Taos mythical man, Little Dirt, is said to have married a doe (Tyler 1975:79); and a Warao Indian (from the Orinoco Delta of Venezuela and Guyana), whose wife had left him, shot and cooked a deer, one of whose legs changed into a beautiful woman who he married (Wilbert 1970:405ff). And see Luckert (1975: 139ff) for his discussion of the "intermarriage with animals."4
The danger of these deer-women from the other world is expressed by the idea that witches can become deer. Tyler (1975:74) says that, for the Tewa, any deer may be a witch or a bewitched person, and a line from an Eskimo lament quoted in Kenny (1975:166) sums up the danger: "The celestial reindeer allures but to deceive thee!" (cf. Gubernatis [1872:chapter 9] for India).
7. Danger of Becoming a Deer
7. Danger of Becoming a Deer
A danger even greater than falling under the spell of a deer-woman is for the hunter in the wilderness to himself become a deer. This is said to have happened to a 4th-century Chinese hunter who fell and became a stag and then ran away (his son gave up hunting) (Kenny 1975:192-193). And there is the European story about Brüderchen and Schwesterchen, who fled their stepmother into the forest, where Brüderchen was turned into a roe or a little stag because he drank from a forbidden pond (Kenny 1975:367). There was also a Tewa boy, born on a hunt, who is said to have eventually turned into a deer (Tyler 1975:78).
We may guess that the danger of such a transformation would have been greater for tribal men who often hunted by dressing as deer and imitating deer behavior. In the 16th century, de Bry made a beautiful engraving of this method of hunt for a book on the Indians of North America (Alexander 1976:42). Bean (1974:57) reports that Cahuilla hunters often wore deer headdresses and imitated the deer in order to sneak up close, and Evers and Molina (1987:47) report the same for Yaqui hunters. Luckert even says that Navajo hunters who dressed as deer, "become deer temporarily." Referring to the work of W. W. Hill, Luckert says that hunters "ate from branches, slept like animals, and communicated among themselves by using animal cries" (1975:141-143).
We also have records of dancers imitating deer. There is an engraving from 1705 of a Siberian Tungus dancer with antlered headdress singing, dancing, and drumming (Halifax 1982:82), and we have Tyler's description of such dances for the Zuni (1975:68f).5 As in the hunt, the danger of identification must have been great. There was a report from Jemez that deer dancers (who presumably were imitating deer) changed into deer and ran into the mountains and never came back (Tyler 1975:259).
So-called "Deer fever" must have been a threat to hunting societies. Luckert discusses "a kind of general craziness" called the ajilee illness in Navajo. His informant placed "uncontrolled sexual passions" in this category.
But in his broader view, ajilee symptoms are also seen by the practitioner to be present in the shyness or wildness of deer, wherever domestic livestock behave shyly or tend to revert to the wild, in the symptoms which result from eating hallucinogenic plants, in the restlessness of his younger Navajo tribesmen and in their latent desire to roam, in the increasing number of divorces, and in the general "American way of living" which is displayed above all by White people's excessive mobility. In short, all things which disrupt a home-centered life.[Luckert 1978:10-11 ]
In the Deerway myth given by the informant, a large buck pronounces the ajilee illness as the punishment for lack of respect for deer: "You will go crazy ... You will have no mind of your own — just like a deer who-wanders from one place to another." It is appropriate that the cure is the "Bringing-Home" ceremony where "all those who have gone crazy out there ... are brought back ... they come back into the hogan" [Luckert 1978:54, 48-49].
Paradoxically, in China, every imaginable part of the body of the deer was used as tonics, stimulants, and vitalizers — for growth, for potency, and for strength of the organs, bones, muscles, blood, and senses (Read 1931:numbers 364-369). Read also mentions that the United States Pharmacopoeia IX recommends a five per cent tincture to restore power in nervous exhaustion.6
The paradox is only apparent. In Navajo terms: people with the ajilee illness have become too deer-like, but lethargic, depressed, exhausted, and impotent people need more of the "Deerway." For the Navajo, this can be gotten from a plant eaten by deer. Luckert says of this "Deer-plant" that it heals because "it carries the life-sustaining essence of the divine Deer-people of primordial times" (1975:59).
The collective danger to society of a man who has gone the way of the deer, a man-deer, might have been symbolized in Europe by the image of the devil himself. Such a man was sighted in Scotland in the last century and was said to have been "a gay decent-like chiel, if he hadna had a terrible heid o'horns an 'fearfu' lang hairy legs wi' great cloven feet" (Kenny 1975:311, quoting from McPherson). In his stag form, this "Gudeman" was seen by a Corgarff school-master who was hunting on his vacation: Mr. Cattenach shot the stag several times, but the bullets glanced off. He was told by local people, "It was only Auld Hornie" (Kenny 1975:311).
The most famous example of the transformation of man into deer is the case of the Greek hunter Actaeon who came upon the goddess Diana bathing naked in a pool. Furious at being surprised, she turned Actaeon into a stag, so he could never tell what he saw. He was then hunted down and torn apart by his own hounds. He could not command them to stop, because he no longer had his human voice.
The 5000-year-old Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic tells a similar story (though it is about gazelles) and even gives a cure (Dalley 1989:52ff). There was a wild man named Enkidu who "knew neither people nor country ... With gazelles he eats vegetation, with cattle, he quenches his thirst at the watering place." A hunter becomes upset and reports back to his father that Enkidu "kept pulling out the traps that I laid. He kept helping cattle, wild beasts of open country, to escape my grasp. He will not allow me to work [in open country]" (cf. the beautiful story in Tyler 1975:61-62). The hunter's father tells him to go to the city and get the harlot, Shambat. The hunter's father says, "When [Enkidu] approaches the cattle at the watering place, she must take off her clothes and reveal her attractions. He will see her and go close to her. Then his cattle, who have grown up in open country with him, will become alien to him."
So again we have the same issue: the struggle in a man between his attraction to women and his attraction to the wilderness. For Enkidu, the attraction to a real woman is stronger (though, in the story, it is a woman of great allure), and Enkidu is seduced from the wilderness into the city and its society. In a Taos Indian story, a chief's son, while hunting, stops to drink at a spring and turns into a deer. It is also a woman, his grandmother, who knows how to turn him back into a boy (Tyler 1975:76-77).
Not only are some deer people, but some people are deer. For example, in one version of an Irish myth, Oisín tells of his father's pursuit of a "lovely doe" and how he (Oisín) was born, presumably of this doe. At 21, Oisín was hunted down. He was covered with hair like a deer. He says, "They shaved me from head to foot...and put clothing upon me in place of the coarse hair which covered me before" (quoted by Kenny 1975:334). Then he could walk around with people, even though still a deer.
8. People as Animals: A Theory of Psychological Types
8. People as Animals: A Theory of Psychological Types
Inherent in such stories is a theory of psychological types describing different personality types by reference to animals. To apply this in our times, the gang members in South Central Los Angeles call their territory "the Jungle." They seem to feel guiltless in making a living by stealing. We can think of them as "lions" who go on the prowl when hungry. Their victims are old, weary, young, or unwary "deer."
To pursue this idea a little further, it seems to be a near universal idea that people are descended from animals. In Genesis 49, Jacob calls his son Naphtali "a hind let loose," and Naphtali is the ancestor of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Deer Tribe, if you like. "Hersh," the name of the author of this paper, means "deer" in German (perhaps a translation of the Hebrew Naphtali), and so his ancestors originally may have been in the Deer Tribe. His thinking may be "Deer-like."7
Even in the modern world we speak of "cat people" or "dog people" — people who have a special empathy for cats or dogs. We know of people who are more comfortable with animals than with people and others who feel contempt for the "tame and hedge-bound" cities. Modern society uses the term "antisocial." In olden times these people might have been described as having turned into animals.
We have explored the negative side of the transformation of man into deer, but, at least from our modern point of view, there wassomething positive in it as well. It apparently led to a softening of the hunter and an awakening of religious and moral feelings. The hunter began to feel from the point of view of the deer; he was "seduced" away from the hunter's view. It could have been a disaster for the hunter-predator to identify with his prey (for the Navajo hunter's identification with the wolf see Luckert [1975:142ff)). But there must have been a paradoxical twist even here. If the man who "became a deer" ever returned to society, he would have been most helpful in a hunt, because he could educate the hunters by telling or singing or dancing the inner life and habits of the deer. It may have been just such a man who "sang" the deer into the circle of pollen.
It would have been the shamans who would have gone through such transformations into animals. The Tofa shamans of Siberia wore streamers of textile or reindeer hair or reindeer skin referring to the body of the reindeer but also to "wings and feathers by which the shaman-deer regained the ability to fly" (Jacobson 1993:175, from Dioszegi). The deer was the Siberian shaman's steed (Jacobson 1993:176). And, in Europe, Merlin rode a deer, and St. Patrick was seen as a deer.
These are the men-deer who threaten the materialistic and worldly hunt but who introduce a "higher" morality. However, we evaluate this, it seems to represent a necessary stage of human development. In our stories, the men who follow the deer-goddesses into another world are the ones who bring back the new way of looking at things. These are the men who, at some point in their lives, refuse to rationalize the killing of deer. They go the other way. And it would be these shamans, if they did not become completely anti-social, who would have been able to "cure" others who had "dropped" out with the ajilee illness.
An exquisite example of the integration of the wilderness experience back into society is the Yaqui Indian deer dance. A hunter went alone into the wilderness and saw two large deer with long antlers entwined making, he thought, music. A fawn ran around them and jumped, dancing to the music. Next morning the hunter found the abandoned fawn amid flowers and sang to it. This man was the founder of the Yaqui deer dance (Evers and Molina 1987:50; there is also a Guatemalan deer dance, Paret-Limardo 1963).
In the Yaqui dance, by impersonating a deer, the dancer brings glimpses of the wilderness (here called the "Flower World") into the Indian village. The deer live in the Flower World, in the place "below the dawn" (Wilder 1963:178). The Yaqui dance brings two worlds, two states of consciousness, together in a positive manner. The Yaqui attitude toward the wilderness reminds me of Derg Corra in the Irish myth who feeds a stag with half an apple and himself with the other half (Kenny 1975:260).
We are also told that Yaqui shamans slept alone in the woods, and it is said that the chief of the deer sent them deer "wives" (Evers and Molina 1987:48). In another story there is a less-well-integrated person. This is a Yaqui Indian, who lived alone with his mother, and who could dominate deer and make them tame. But all his life he only knew his mother and animals and the desert (Evers and Molina 1987:48).
From the Navajo point of view the whole Yaqui people would seem to be suffering from ajilee illness. But the difference in perspective might be explained by saying that the Yaqui are a Deer people while the Navajo are, perhaps, a Wolf people.
The Flower World of the Yaqui has different names in different cultures. In the Tristan of Gottfried von Strassbourg, Mark chases a white stag, as large as a horse, who leads him to the Minne-Grotte (i.e., Lovely Grotto, Kenny 1975:124-125, quoting Weston). Similarly, the Irish Oisín hunted a deer who headed for the sea. Oisín caught one of her feet, and she pulled him under to Tír na h-Óige ("the Land of [Everlasting] Youth" — translation Ruth and Esther O'hara) (Kenny1975:170). And there is a snow-white stag with golden antlers that appears at Thuringia, and
only a pure-hearted Sunday's child, passing by night through the forest, can see and follow him. The stag leads to a treasure chamber and sheds his antlers by striking them against its rocky wall, thereby opening it up.(Kenny 1975:358, my emphasis)
Above Steinbach am Loge a golden stag appeared and pointed to a rich vein of gold (Kenny 1975:358). And the healing baths of Schwendi at Lucerne and those at Tirol were found by observing deer heal themselves by drinking from them. Similarly, at the Brunnelheide, a stag found a healing spring (Kenny 1975:359). Finally, two stags took the Siberian Ossetian, Nart Dzilau, to the land of the Seven Giants in the sky (Kenny 1975:174). (For relevant Korean stories see Choi [1979:38,62-63,119].)
The Flower World, Tír na h-Óige, the Minne-Grotte, the treasure chamber, the rich vein of gold, the healing baths, the healing spring, the land of the Seven Giants are functionally equivalent. The deer represents physical riches, but also the riches of another world.
For believing Christians, the equivalent is the deer that leads the hunter deep into the forest and then turns and shows the hunter a crucifix between its horns. Many stories tell of saints who converted because of seeing a mysterious deer, for example, St. Hubert and St. Eustace (Charbonneau-Lassay 1991:120f) as well as Felix of Valois, Rieul of Senlis, Telo, Fantin, and Procopius of Bohemia (Kenny 1975:363f). In fact, in early Christianity, the deer was one of the most common allegories for Christ (Charbonneau-Lassay 1991:117). After all, Christ was a victim, alluring Christians to another world of great riches, the Kingdom of Heaven.
Typical also are Christian stories in which deer guide people to spots on which churches are to be built — Kenny (1975:348ff) gives five examples from throughout Europe. It was said that only deer know the path to heaven (Kenny 1975:124), which is the Christian way of saying that deer bring some people to another world.
The following is such a story charged with psychological significance. Graf Johann was addicted to the chase. Once a white stag led him deep into a thick forest. When night came, the Graf "sank to the earth, lost, exhausted and alone." He became filled with repentance and built a church on that spot (Kenny 1975:360).
Here we have the typical story of a lone hunter chasing an elusive deer. He gets lost in a deep, thick forest. He is exhausted and night comes. Then he has a major psychological experience and is filled with moral insight.
It is easy to picture what Graf Johann's male friends must have thought of this change — probably that the Graf had weakened and become effeminate, losing interest in the hunt, etc. They would have said that he had caught Deer fever.
The hunt symbolized a religious quest in myths such as King Arthur — in which Guinevere is carried off to Valeriri's other-world dwelling while Arthur and his court are hunting the white stag (Kenny 1975:124) — and it has heroic dimensions as in the story of Hercules's year-long hunt for the Golden Hind. The Huichol Indians say it outright: "The first pilgrimage ... was a hunt for the deer, Peyote" (Wilder 1963:154).
Medieval Jewish Kabbalists spoke of the "Kingdom" (Hebrew: Malkhut) which is the lowest of God's ten created realms. It is God's presence in this world (the Shekhinah). Malkhut is feminine and passive in relation to the nine higher divine realms of active male forces. "She" is also caIled the Queen, the Mother of the World, the Hind (of Dawn), the Well, and a Lily and a Rose, amongst other things (Tishby 1989:371, 379, 391ff).
Malkhut is one more name for the other world which is also personified as a female goddess: the Shekhinah, the Mother of the World, the Queen, Diana, the Navajo Mistress of the Animals,8 and the Animal Mother — the old Woman — Mistress of the universe who is the source of human and animal life (Jacobson 1993:176). Malkhut is the deep weIl into which the Bavarian hunter was pulled by the beautiful woman. It is Diana's pool. It is the spring and the forbidden pond from which the Taos boy and Bruderchen, respectively, drank before being turned into deer. It is the healing baths, and the Irish world under the sea (Tír na h-Óige). As Lily of the VaIley and Rose of Sharon, the Kingdom of Malkhut is also the Flower World of the Yaqui.
In the Zohar, Malkhut is the lowest of God's created worlds, the Garden of Eden — the wilderness, if you like. It is the Gate (or the Door of the Tent — Tishby 1989:399-400) and stands between the higher world of unknowable thought and our lower ordinary world. Malkhut is the Hind of Dawn, the most merciful mother. At night she goes deep into the darkness, to the mountain of light where, at midnight, she gets food for us, and she comes back and feeds us at dawn (Tishby 1989:394ff).
Psychologically, this story symbolizes man's fate: to be caught between the wilderness Kingdom of the Heavenly Mother, on the one hand, and the ordinary world which is the exhausting daily hunt for survival. Mercifully, after the deepest night, lost in the forest of the hunt for survival, the Hind of Dawn feeds us little tidbits she has gotten from the highest world of light, the world beyond thought.
This idea is expressed in similar stories from around the world. In a Lapp myth (Kenny 1975:145ft), the god of heaven creates an Eden-like world from the body of his favorite little deer. He uses the world he makes from her body to separate the lower worlds of deepest night from the highest worlds of unbearable light. There is also a Chinese story (Kenny 1975:167) of a deer that stands at the junction between earth and sky on a path that can lead a man to the Celestial Palace in which lives the highest god. And an East Indian story teIls how the highest god became a deer to lead a man into the forest and to a sacred lake (Kenny 1975:273ft). If the man could resist drinking from this beautiful and forbidden water he would be instructed in stiIl higher mysteries.
The hind, the goddess, the Flower World, Eden, the mundus imaginalis — aIl this is higher than ordinary consciousness and is a doorway to a still higher place. Through this door a certain type of man can glimpse himself: a rich vein of gold; a healing spring; a forbidden pond; an elusive "other world"; a shy, restless, "crazy" roamer with uncontroIled sexual passions; a wilderness; a deep weIl; a perfect rose; a vitalizer; an aphrodisiac; a mother of all animals; even a satan and a Christ-like victim of the hunt, as weIl as an ordinary, domestic man.
Of course it is always possible that thehungry hunter will arouse himself from this dream, shake off love and morality, wonder how he had fallen victim to his victim, and, filled once more with feelings of power, again take up the hunt.
It is only by becoming fully conscious of this particular pair of opposites in himself — the wolf and the deer — that a new phase of the man's inner development can begin.
I wish to thank Elanie Moore for providing the pictures of deer motifs from the Great Mural area of Baja California to illustrate this paper.
1. Some examples of deer in rock art are given in the text of this paper. There are also pictures of deer from archaeological finds in many books, including the following: for Korea (Covell 1986: 132ft), for stone-age India (Brooks and Wakankar 1976), for ancient Sumer (Parrot 1961a:165, 168, 294, etc.], for ancient Assyria (Parrot 1961b:88, etc.], for Europe and Asia (Kenny 1975), and for Siberia (Jacobson 1993).
2. I borrow a word from the Persian Platonists referring to an intermediary world between the sensory world and the world of Intelligence (Corbin 1986:188,192).
3. For another version of how deer originally came from a mountain see Luckert (1975:22ff), and, for a general discussion of how our food comes from mountains, see Hersh (1992:172-173).
4. By extension, anything we love can "turn into" a deer and lead us away-like one's own father, as in the 4th-century Chinese story presented below and in another from The Chronicles of Michoacán. (Craine and Reindorp 1970:63-64).
5. There are many records, on rock art and from archaeological digs and from descriptions of rituals, of men wearing antlers or antler hats. For example, the so-called "chamois-priests" from the Paleolithic Abri Mège baton (Kenny 1975:Figure 7); or the 21 stag frontlets "certainly meant for wear" from Mesolithic England (Kenny 1975:14); or a 4th-century B.C. stag-horned human figure from the tombs at Ch'an-sha, Hunan Province (Halifax 1982:82); or the hats with horns or antlers "widely spread among most of Siberia's peoples since ancient times till today" [Smoljak 1984:247t); or the participants in the Dionysian rites of ancient Greece who covered themselves with deerskins (Charbonneau-Lassay 1991: 118). In such cases it is unclear to me whether these figures were hunters or dancers or shamans on some vision quest or something else entirely.
6. For old European uses of medicines made from parts of the deer, often having to do with antivenins, see Kenny (1975:332).
7. The German tribal name Cherusci means People of the Hart, and the ancestor of the Ossorians was born among the wild deer (Kenny 1975:374; cf a similar story from the Tewa in Tyler 1975:77f). And there are many personal names relating to deer such as Sigrid or Oscar, meaning Deer-loving.
8. Luckert (1975:140) identifies the Navajo Mistress of Animals with the Greek Diana.
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