The Reindeer Goddess by Judith Shaw


Judith Shaw photoWinter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere is the day of the least daylight and the longest night. Long before Christmas our Northern European ancestors celebrated the Winter Solstice, the moment that heralds the return of the sun and with it the promise of new life in spring. Without the comforts offered by modern technology, this time of year must have raised fears in the hearts of our ancestors; fear that the sun would not return to its summer glory, fear that there would not be enough food for the winter, fears that surface most easily in the dark. A celebration of light would have been most welcome and needed.

The longest night was called “Mother Night” as it was during this time that the Goddess worked her magic to nurture the seeds laying dormant in the dark womb of earth so that new life could emerge in spring. It is a time to celebrate the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Many of the elements associated with Christmas have their origins in our Goddess worshipping past: evergreen trees, holly, mistletoe, the wreath, lighting candles, and yes even our favorite Santa Claus and his reindeer who both have their origins in Northern European Sun Goddesses.

Saule, the Lithuanian and Latvian goddess of light and the sun, took to the skies on the Winter Solstice in a sleigh pulled by horned reindeer.  She journeyed with the aide of Her smith, who forged a golden cup in which to catch Her tears which then transformed into amber. During Her flight through the heavens she threw these pebbles of amber, like little bits of sun, and apples down to the world of humans below.  She was a spinning Goddess who used her skill to spin the rays of sunlight onto the world.

Saule, Sun Goddess painting by Judith Shaw

                                  Saule, Sun Goddess, gouache on paper by Judith Shaw

Saule ruled all parts of life, determining life, death and the well-being and regeneration of all.  She was the sun, riding every day in Her chariot across the sky. She also welcomed the souls of the recently departed into Her apple tree in the west.

Sami children with reindeer

Photo location: Jokkmokk, Swedish Lapland. Photo by Joyce Le Mesurier/National Geographic Photo Contest

Beiwe was a Sun Goddess of the Sami or Lapps, the indigenous people of the Nordic countries. The Sami were reindeer herders who relied on the reindeer for their survival. Beiwe, Sun Goddess, nourished them and their herds and helped Her people maintain mental health during the difficult months of darkness. She flew through the heavens with her daughter, Beaivi-nieida (sun maiden) in a ring of reindeer antlers flinging fertility and life back onto the land. On Winter Solstice Her people  smeared offerings of warm butter on doorposts to help Her gain strength for her flight high into the sky. Beiwe, like Saule was associated with spinning. Spinning wheels and flax were left as offerings on Her altars.

The Norse goddess, Frigga (Freya) was also a spinning goddess. She sat at her spinning wheel during the Winter Solstice weaving the fates of the year to come. This celebration was called Yule, from the Norse word for wheel. Christmas is often called Yule or Yuletide. The Christmas wreath was adapted from Frigga’s “Wheel of Fate,” symbolizing the cyclical nature of life.

Rozhanitza, Slavic Winter Goddess is also associated with reindeer and the Winter Solstice. She is Rozhanitsa, Deer Goddess embroiderydepicted as a horned Goddess with reindeer antlers. Folk art of red and white embroideries were made of Her for solstice celebrations. On Her feast day, December 26, cookies made in the shape of deer were given and eaten for good luck.

Reindeer are the only members of the deer family whose females have horns and are stronger and larger than the males. The males shed their antlers in winter, leaving it to the Deer Mother to fly through the long, dark night of Winter Solstice. The Reindeer was a sacred animal to our ancient ancestors of Northern Europe. The doe was seen as the giver of light and life. Their horns were associated with the tree of life and often times they were depicted carrying the sun, the giver of life, in their horns.

Reindeer Goddess, painting by Judith Shaw

                                             The Reindeer Goddess, gouache on paper, by Judith Shaw

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Deer Stones, Photo by Karin Sofie

Esther Jacobson in her book, The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia, concludes that the deer images found throughout the early nomadic and semi nomadic cultures of the vast steppe and mountainous regions of Eastern Europe and Asia are evidence of a Deer Mother as the source of life and death. Monolithic “Deer Stones” are found through out this region, carved with stylized depictions of reindeer as if in flight.

Horned Goddesses are found in the Celtic world also. Elen of the Ways, in Her most ancient form was the Guardian of the Leys, the ancient track ways. In Her guise as the Horned Goddess, She led the way on the migratory tracks of the reindeer.

With time the reindeer became the deer in many Celtic myths. Elen of the Ways also opened the pathways for the red deer in the forests of Northern Europe. Flidais was associated with the deer who she milked to provide sustenance for Her people.  As more time passed the deer became the cow. From Brigid to Boann, many Celtic goddesses are associated with a sacred cow.

We can learn from the wisdom of the past, a time when humans understood more clearly our tiny part in the cosmic web of life. and the necessity of honoring the earth and all its life. At this time when the shadow side of human nature once again seeks dominance through naked self-interest and the promotion of fear and hatred of others, let us remember and honor the Ancient’s belief in the Reindeer Goddess, the Sun Goddess and the Mother’s Night when She both flies high in the sky and dives deep into the earth to nourish and promise a renewal of life in the coming spring. Though it may be dark now, the light will return.

Sources: Gather- Wild Food/Magical Cookery, Shamanic Drum, Winter Goddesses and Traditions, We Are Star Stuff,

Postscript – While I was working on this article, news broke about the death of thousands of reindeer due to the warming of Siberia. Read a report on that situation on Huffington Post.

Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life.  Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her artwork.  She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith now makes her home in New Mexico where she paints and sells real estate part-time.  She is currently hard at work on a deck of Goddess cards. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints and paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.

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Categories: Christmas, Earth-based spirituality, Folklore, General, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, Pagan Holidays, Paganism

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31 replies

  1. I think I see two 2017 Solstice/Holiday cards in the offing. Beautiful post, beautiful drawings.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Judith. In my understanding, exceedingly creative artwork like this is a form of dreaming. It’s a waking form of dreaming but still we are accessing our subconscious. A dream dictionary online at cafeausoul.com says that in our dreams “wild animals portray the need to express our authentic feelings in an unbridled way.” That makes sense to me. And this gorgeous reindeer, is shown twice: one bridled, one unbridled. I noticed there are two birds perched in the antlers in the unbridled painting. Because birds fly “they can be representative of higher thought, inspiration, conscience, hopes and your ability to transcend limitations.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sarah, Thanks for your insight. I do often feel when working that i have left myself, my ego behind. It feels almost like being a channel for the images to flow thru and that is like dreaming I suppose.

      The words from the dream dictionary really ring true. More and more lately I feel called to paint and draw wild animals. As so much of life on Earth is in danger we certainly need to reconnect with our authentic selves – not an easy task in this world which continually chases the next shiny bauble.

      Also when I was working on the painting of Saule and Her reindeer I hesitated to put the bridle as I hated for the reindeer to be tied like that. But then I thought how could she effectively pull Saule through the sky without being attached. I suppose magic could work but I wanted the physicality of it. So I put it there lightly and felt that she agreed to being connected in that way.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this beautiful invocation of Mother Night and Deer Mother and the images ancient and new–especially your Reindeer Goddess. It is heartbreaking that these beautiful, life-giving animals are suffering from human-induced climate change. We need to be aware. Thank you for posting the link to the article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Elizabeth, Yes it is so very heartbreaking – the reindeer both symbolic of life, the spirit, soul and body of it all and in physical reality the life-blood of the reindeer herders – for these amazing animals to be starving to death due to the insanity of humans – well it breaks my heart….. we have moved so far away from our ancestral roots and the understanding of the interconnection between all life. I couldn’t agree more of the need to be aware.

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  4. Thanks for those solar goddesses and female deer. This post completes the midwinter meditation I wrote at the first of the month. Many thanks!

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  5. I grieve our arrogance and ignorance toward creation…and toward the one we call “god”. But I see movement toward a more wholistic spirituality that rejects “my god is best” and opens to other images and manifestations of the One who transcends all our understanding. I hope it’s not too late.
    I like your artwork Judith. There is a feeling in it for me of beauty, strength with gentleness, light, movement (evolution?) Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have a spinning wheel I love spinning and spiraling. I love reindeer. I love the Sami culture.i visited DE.nmark Norway and Sweden . I wish to visit Finland and Lapland.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds wonderful Michelle! I bet spinning must put you into a very meditative space. I would love to visit the Nordic countries but have not had the chance yet (though think I’ll go in the long days of summer).

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  7. Reblogged this on Tales of the Fox and commented:
    Reindeer are very close to my heart, as a Scandinavian Pagan who has some Sami ancestry through my mother’s bloodline. Judith Shaw wrote this wonderful article on the Reindeer Goddess in some of her forms, which you all may enjoy as well. Blessed be the Reindeer Mother!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Lovely to see your seasonal essay and artworks, look forward to reading them! Blessings, Helen

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  9. Thank you very much for this article. There is also the reindeer goddess associated the Magdalenian people of the Pyrenees who made the cave art at Niaux. They occupied the region between 17,000 to 12,000 years ago and were believed to migrate with the herds North as far as Creswell Crags in Derbyshire UK each year. Another authoress who is worth looking up regarding deer goddesses in Northern Europe is Elen Sentier.

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  10. This is wonderful, Judith. Thank you!

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  11. Thanks, Judith, for this delightful recounting of the deer goddess in many northern lands. It makes me want to rework “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” just like I reworked “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” I never liked the end of that song, so I lured Puff out of his cave and introduced him to Susie, who decided to stay (as opposed to little Jackie Paper).

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  12. “Saule ruled all parts of life, determining life, death and the well-being and regeneration of all.” – Love to know about the Pagan Goddesses and everything before, today there’s no stories – so boring!

    Thanks for the post Judith, God bless you. :)

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Trackbacks

  1. The Reindeer Goddess by Judith Shaw | GrannyMoon's Morning Feast
  2. A Goddess for Winter Nights – The Reindeer Goddess | Judith Shaw - Life on the Edge

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