Deer have played a significant role in folklore and mythology, in partnership with cultures around the world, and throughout most of our known human existence.
Many European cultures equated deer with woodland deities, including Greece. Artemis, the Greek goddess of wilderness played the role of virgin huntress. One time, a man named Actaeon witnessed Artemis bathing nude in a pool. She transformed him into a stag and his own hounds tore him to pieces. Talk about revenge!
The Iron Age Celts also have stories of people and deities who took the form of deer. Finn mac Cumhail, leader of Ireland’s heroic band, the legendary Fianna, was out hunting, and his hounds cornered a beautiful white deer, but they refused his order to attack. That night, Finn was visited by the goddess Sadhbh who explained how she was that deer, under a magic spell from which the only chance of her release would come about by his declaration of love for her. A beautiful story, but a tragic tale.
Moving on to the 6th century, Saint Gregory of Tours wrote chronicles of the Merovingian rulers. His Historia Francorum contained a legend concerning King Clovis I, who prayed to Christ in one of his campaigns so they could find a place to cross the river Vienne. Considered as sign from the divine, a huge deer appeared to the king’s army and showed them where they could cross the river, and that’s (supposedly) what they did.
Deer appear in art from Paleolithic cave paintings , and they have played a role in mythology, religion, and literature throughout history, as well as in heraldry.
Their economic importance includes the use of their meat as venison, their skins as soft, strong buckskin, and their antlers as tools, including handles for knives. Deer hunting has been a popular activity since at least the middle Ages.
According to the many different interpretations of deer as animal messengers, including totem animals from the Native American traditions, a deer represents gentleness and suggests the use of kindness in each of our endeavours.
In addition to that, if a deer crosses your path, you are likely a compassionate person who gives and receives unconditional love.
In any case, it’s always wonderful to witness a visit from the deer, and to know what depth of their nature is revealed to us and included within each encounter.