The Mythology & symbolism of Deer

Last year, Cairine Green (Oak Bay former Councillor and current Heritage Committee Chair) wrote a lovely piece on the mythology of deer. We are re-posting it here as a gift to all of our supporters and readers, with warm thanks to Cairine.

Wishing all of you a peaceful and kind holiday season.

The mythology of deer

During this peaceful and joyous Christmas season, many of us use images of deer as part of our seasonal decorations, with many illuminated deer adorning front yards.

The irony is obvious.  We use the image of deer to decorate winter Christmas scenes but as wildlife, deer are often vilified as pests, nuisance animals or 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.

When asked to describe deer in positive terms, people often use words such as “gentle,” “beautiful” or “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.

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.

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.

Perhaps knowing the historical significance of deer throughout world cultural and religious practices, it is at Christmastime then that the image of deer may evoke in all of us feelings of peace, joy and kindness.

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