The mythology of deer

When asked to describe deer, people often use terms such as “gentle,” “beautiful,” and “graceful.” These adjectives are not surprising given how deer are depicted in world history and mythology.

Deer are symbols of majesty and beauty and have roots in ancient history. Deer have for centuries represented the embodiment of peace, grace and gentleness and their image is used by many cultures to symbolize love, beauty and caring.

The mythology and symbolism of deer are found in histories of such people as the Druids and Celts but deer also have meaning for ancient and modern peoples around the world. As a beautiful mammal, their image is significant to cultural, spiritual and supernatural events and central to myths, stories and folklore.

Deer also play an important role in world religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism, and Judaism. They are prominent in Indigenous spiritual beliefs and cultural practices where reverence and respect for deer are expressed, particularly for the stag (male deer). The stag is most often depicted by a variety of cultures as bold, swift, a leader, strong and skilled, a moving symbol of power.

In many visual and written illustrations, human beings and deer appear as close companions and in some cases, humans adopt the face or antlers of a deer, images more common in stories of war, invasion and other human strife. Deer also have a supernatural significance and appear as apparitions of divinity and in legends of spiritual awakening.

During this peaceful Christmas season, many people have images of deer as part of their seasonal decorations, with many illuminated deer set into front yards. There is an irony that while with one hand we place plastic and wire deer into winter Christmas scenes, with the other deer are often vilified as pests, as nuisance animals and as predatory vegetarians that destroy urban landscapes and rural farmland. They are hunted and culled while their natural habitats are continuously destroyed, leaving them few options to successfully avoid conflict with human activity and settlement.

It is possible to co-exist peacefully with wildlife, and helping develop an understanding of how to do so will continue to be a goal of the UWSS in the New Year.

Wishing everyone a gentle and kind Christmas.