Reindeer Spirit Animal – A Guide Through the Darkness by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photoReindeer 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.

Symbolic Meanings

Journey, Confidence, Stability, Guidance, Endurance, Adaptability, Sensitivity, Abundance, Fertility, Light, Life, Rebirth of the Sun, Soul Journey


Reindeer Spirit Animal by Judith Shaw

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.

But can reindeer really fly? The answer might surprise you.

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, Sun Goddess painting by Judith ShawSaule, 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.

Sources: National Wildlife Federation, MNN, What’s Your Sign, Reindeer, UPI, Elder Mountain Dreaming, Pure Spirit,

Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck from Judith’s website-click here. 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.

Categories: animals, Christmas, Divine Feminine, Earth-based spirituality, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General

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25 replies

  1. Interesting post, thanks Judith Shaw. Love your artwork, with the doves sitting on top of the deer antlers, as if the antlers were tree branches. Wow. So delightful too in the photos, the girl riding the reindeer, crossing a stream, and also that tiny child resting on the tummy of a reindeer.


  2. Wonderful post! So much I didn’t know about these great animals. Thank you for all the information. I will never think of reindeer the same again.

    I’m sharing this on my FB page. More people should know this stuff especially about the female’s antlers. Fantastic!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating! I wrote a bit about reindeer in one of my books, but you’ve given us twice as much as I knew, more than that. Thanks for this post. And, yes, more people should know about reindeer. Brava! And Happy Midwinter to us all.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful post, Judith! Wishing you merriment and joy!


  5. I LOVE this. Thank you so much for your work!


  6. I love your artwork of the reindeer! In a solstice gathering on the 21st, we all pulled a card from a deck around an altar with all of our “flames.” I drew the reindeer. Your artwork speaks even more richly to the meaning. Thank you for your beautiful narrative.


  7. This is the second time I’ve gone back to your art and post about reindeer. They’ve meant a lot to me for since I was 19—I’m 67 today. (FYI, when I was working as a bus-girl in NY, I even sketched a picture of a magic reindeer—that’s what I called her—and kept it with me in my wallet until my wallet was stolen in a “friendly” mugging.)

    I wonder: do you have a copy of the second piece of your artwork in that posting? The one with the deer taking off? I especially love that!

    Also, do you know anything about the Chucki People?

    Anyway, thanks for your works. I, for one, am very enriched by it.


    • Hi Sharon,
      Synchronicity is happening. I started working seriously on an illustrated fairytale of Reindeer Goddess today – it’s been on the back burner for awhile now. I just stopped that work for the day and saw your comment. I think Deer Mother/Reindeer Goddess is such an ancient archetype that speaks deeply to us today of the possibility of creating a world in balance and of a time when women’s power was valued.

      Anyway all of my work, including “the Flight of the Reindeer Goddess” (the one you mentioned) is available in print format.
      I have two types of prints.
      1. 8.5”x11” photo prints – printed on high quality photo paper with the image centered as large as it can be – life expectancy 20 years or so – $25 – free shipping to continental U.S
      2. Giclee prints – smaller paintings are printed on 11″ x 17″ printed on fine art paper with archival quality ink in limited editions of 25 with the image centered as large as it can be – each one signed and numbered – life expectancy of 100+ years.- $80 unframed – free shipping to continental U.S.

      I am not familiar with the Chucki People. Do they worship the Reindeer Goddess? I am so sorry that your drawing of Reindeer got stolen. You’ll have to do another one and carry it with you again.

      If you do decide to purchase a print you can contact me through messenger with a good email to use for invoicing.


      • What is messenger?


        • Sharon,
          It’s an app that allows people to message each other without having their email. It’s a Facebook product. If you are not on Facebook it might be hard to figure out. Alternatively you could go to my website – and contact me with the contact form found through the “Contact Me” link on the top menu with your email. That way no one but me will see your email and the same when I reply – only you will see my email. Hope that helps.


          • There must have been some snafu. I sent you my email address but I didn’t hear from you. I still would love to contact you. Should I try again?

            Stay healthy!


          • Hi Sharon,
            There must have been a snafu for sure as I never heard from you. Did you send me a message through the contact form on my website? Please let me know how you tried to contact me outside of this comment thread and do try again through my website.

            In the meantime I’ll contact the editors at FAR and find out how they can get my email to you. So sorry for the delay. After you send me a message through my website contact form please let me know here and I’ll be on the look out. Maybe your previous message fell into my spam folder.

            You stay safe too!!


          • I’ll try your website again. (FYI, I also tried twice before.)

            To let you know through here, I want to go for the x 8.5”x11” photo print. And I’m sure glad I wrote this today. (I was sure that something was wrong.:)


  8. Yeah, I DID send you a message. Oh, well. I would love to have the 8.5”x11” photo print. And I’m glad to be in touch again!


    • Through my website? If so that’s bad news as missing messages is not good. Please try again.
      Yes – great to touch base with each other. I’m always just an email away (once we get each other’s that is – yikes!)


      • OK – I just need your email so that I can send you an invoice. I did send off a request to one of the FAR editors to see if there is some way she can get my email to you or yours to me. I haven’t heard back from her yet.
        But I have another idea – you can send me a private conversation through Etsy. Here’s a link to my Etsy shop –
        There’s a button on the left “contact shop owner” that will be a private message to me. Just put your email there and I can then invoice you. So sorry for all this hassle. Technology is great but a pain when it fails us.


        • I just went ahead & bought it from Etsy since it was the simplest thing to do!

          Your work is soooooo beautiful.

          And you’re right–“Technology is great but a pain when it fails us.”


          • You’d think I could have snapped to having you purchase from my Etsy shop. Guess I’ll have to blame that on user error….. I’ll get it out to you today. Thanks!!



  1. Reindeer Spirit Animal | Judith Shaw - Life on the Edge

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