Reindeer have been important to humans since our early days as hunters-gatherers. Found in cave paintings throughout Europe and Asia, reindeer are depicted as soaring through the air, perhaps acting as intermediaries between the human world and the spirit world.
Journey, Confidence, Stability, Guidance, Endurance, Adaptability, Sensitivity, Abundance, Fertility, Light, Life, Rebirth of the Sun, Soul Journey
From the Paleolithic to the Upper Paleolithic, the reindeer provided many life-giving elements for early humans – highly nutritious meat, hides for clothing, and antlers for tools and adornments. Their hair is hollow, allowing it to trap air thus offering thermal protection. Hunting reindeer continues to this day – mainly as a form of indigenous subsistence. Reindeer speaks to us of Mother Earth and the many forms of abundance she offers.
Reindeer can run up to sixty miles/hour and those that migrate travel further than any other migrating mammals – over 3,100 miles per year. Call on Reindeer for protection on your journeys.
In addition to being swift and constantly on the move, Reindeer have unique feet which change with the seasons. In the summer their hooves expand and become sponge-like, allowing them to stay grounded in the soft, defrosted tundra. Winter conditions of ice and snow require a different foot style. During this season Reindeer’s hoof rims become exposed, allowing them to stay grounded on the ice and snow and to dig in the snow for food. When Reindeer appears know that you have help finding sure footing and maintaining stability in life.
Reindeer and caribou are basically the same animal. Reindeer is the only deer species to have been domesticated. The timeline of their domestication is somewhat unclear but it probably began after the climatic change at the end of the last glacial period when many large animals of the Paleolithic period were pushed into extinction. Don Moore, a wildlife biologist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, describes reindeer as a “mostly-domesticated race of caribou.”
Reindeer herding was and is a central part of this semi-nomadic life-style. The doe was greatly honored by these people. She was the “life-giving mother” who provided them with all their basic needs – milk, food, clothing and shelter. Reindeer milk is some of the most nutritious milk produced by any mammal.
Currently reindeer herding is practiced in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Mongolia, China, Greenland, Canada and the U.S. (Alaska). The name, reindeer, comes from the old Norse word for deer, “hreinn.”
Monolithic “Deer Stones” found through out Eastern Europe and Asia, are incised with stylized representations of reindeer in flight.
Of the 45 different species of deer, reindeer is the only one in which the females grow antlers. Male reindeer shed their antlers in early winter whereas the females shed theirs much later, making all of Santa’s flying reindeer female.
In a way they can. A unique subspecies, the Peary reindeer, has an elastic tendon in its legs, allowing it to bounce and maintain a leap by keeping its legs stiff and strong. According to Tony Vecchio, director of the Oregon Zoo, the Peary’s leg tendon allows it to leap 6 feet into the air and glide a good distance, all the while conserving its own energy. The flying reindeer depicted on cave walls and on ancient standing stones are always depicted at an angle, leaping up or coming down.
Today the Peary reindeer is found in the Alaska Archipelago and northern Canada. They are an endangered species, numbering fewer than 3,600.
Reindeer was a sacred animal to the semi-nomadic people of Northern Europe. Their horns were associated with the tree of life and often they were depicted carrying the sun, and/or birds, the moon and stars in their horns. And on the winter solstice it was the Deer Mother who took flight, bringing light and new life at the time of greatest darkness.
Saule, the Lithuanian and Latvian Sun Goddess, flew across the heavens in a sleigh pulled by her reindeer, throwing pebbles of amber, like little bits of sun, and apples down to the world of humans below.
Rozhanitza, Slavic Winter Goddess is also associated with reindeer and the Winter Solstice. She is depicted as a horned Goddess with reindeer antlers.
Beiwe was a Sun Goddess of the Sami, the indigenous reindeer herders of the Nordic countries. She flew through the heavens with her daughter, Beaivi-nieida in a ring of reindeer antlers flinging fertility and life back onto the land.
Today most of these stories have been forgotten. By the late 1800’s, after the publication of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in 1823, reindeer had become firmly associated with Santa Claus and his sleigh pulled by eight magic reindeer.
The Tungusic tribe of Eastern Siberia viewed Reindeer as a guide through darkness and through death. They believed that Reindeer carried the souls of their departed into the spirit realm.
Some Siberian legends told of reindeer and shamans who together ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms and took flight on a quest into the upper realms to gain and bring back wisdom for their people. Buried female shamans have been found with reindeer tattoos featuring antlers filled with small birds’ heads.
Reindeer noses are designed to allow for life in the frigid north – warming the air before it gets to their lungs, keeping Reindeer warm. Many esoteric traditions view breath as spirit moving through the body. Reindeer shows us a natural world in which the warm breath of spirit nourishes us continually.
Reindeer are also the only mammals who can see ultraviolet light. This heightened sensitivity allows them to see things more clearly in the glare of Arctic light. With this sensitivity Reindeer can endure these frigid northern environments with grace and ease. Call on Reindeer for help in using your own sensitivity in difficult situations.
When Reindeer appears know that guidance is with you and/or that you might be called to guide others. Reindeer offers confidence, stability, endurance, adaptability, and strength. Reindeer reminds you that even in the darkest times, light and life return. Reindeer promises fertility and abundance, although conditions might appear harsh. Reindeer guides you on your soul’s journey through life. Call on Reindeer when you need strength and endurance to go on, for protection in your travels, and for confidence and self-assurance.
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck from Judith’s Etsy Shop. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
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 art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.