Within the extensive imagination of myths, legends and folklore, there are animals that, for one reason or another, have symbolic or archetypal characteristics: the lion, the eagle, the snake, and deer.
In many cultures, the deer is a symbol of deep spiritual authority. Its antlers are the characteristic that create the epitome of high honor and sacred respect. Making a crown, the antlers grow beyond its body, bringing it closer to the sky, hence a historically sacred symbol. During a deer’s life, the antlers fall off and grow again, attributing its symbol of regeneration.
In Christian symbolism, the deer represents piety, devotion and that of God taking care of his people. The Legend of Saint Eustace, for example, tells the story of the Roman general who, before becoming a saint, was out hunting and came across a magnificent and enormous deer. When Eustace looked at the animal’s eyes, the light of Christ shone out of them and the voice of God spoke to him through them. Placido, the Roman name for the saint, gave up hunting and became a Christian.
In Celtic tradition, there were two aspects of the deer: the feminine element, called Eilid and Damh, the masculine element; sacred, belonging to forests, independence, purification and pride. The stag is the king of the forest, the protector over all other creatures. Some Native American tribes entrusted the hunt to the deer, which was also associated with fertility. Cherokee legend tells how the deer procured its antlers after winning a race against a rabbit. The animals of the forest wanted to know which of the two was the fastest, but the rabbit cheated before the race and the deer won its antlers.
Symbolic of harmony, happiness, peace and longevity, in Buddhism, is the deer. When a male and a female deer are represented together beside the Dharma wheel, it is a direct allusion to the first teachings of Buddha near Varanasi. In one of these former lives, Buddha was a golden deer that spoke to men. According to that intimation, deer are by nature timid and serene animals and their presence in a place represents the purity of a kingdom bereft of fear. Whereas, in Tibetan legends, deer help men to solve problems.
For the wixaritarie people who inhabit central Mexico and are more commonly known as huicholes, the deer is an animal that translates the language of the gods for men. For the huicholes, the deer is the first shaman or mara’kame that later becomes an interlocutor between the shamans and other gods. Being closely linked to two plants: a deer’s heart is a peyote – the animal and the plant are one in essence – and corn, which is a deer is represented by its antlers. The reproductive cycle of the deer is connected to the huicholes’ ritual calendar.
In many traditions, correlated with kindness, softness and gentleness in one way or another, this animal is connected to the gods and the sacred. One of the reasons are those physical characteristics unique of deer – its stare, agility, speed and the antlers which inspire those values and symbols in the imagination of humans, and in its metaphorical nature.
To share in the wonder of the deer’s magic my grandchildren only vaguely aware of that rejuvenation for Gramma Trish, the bunch of ‘em embraced me, who all witnessed my heart and soul as breast cancer wreaked havoc with me. What would I have done? How would I have gotten through without their love when I needed it most? I’m not the gushiest Gramma, yet they saw I love them, showing me I have a caring family to hold onto. My people witnessed the deer’s rejuvenation as my survival after cancer’s arrow hit me.
A deer is the utmost of beauty and strength, a God-given fare with honor for my body. Being a huntress, I feel that spiritual tradition in my core when I hunt — its spirit is energized through my body. To that, the symbol of the deer’s antlers is my REJUVENATION, the essence of recovering from breast cancer.
With the breeze on my face and my grandkids laughter, Jesus, my dogs, the woods and husband were always my comfort as I recovered. I am getting back at it – families and doggie romping and fishin’ and gardenin’ and hunting to do. And being so, I am proud of my accomplishment as a survivor and proud to introduce my memoir, soon to be published…