A magical moment occurs when in the dappled light of forest trees you spot a gentle doe staring at you with her deep, dark, liquid eyes. We all feel the grace and peace she bestows – awestruck by an instant of unity.
Deer, ancient creatures, are members of the Cervidae family – first appearing in Mongolia 10 – 20 million years ago. Sixty species of deer have adapted to all different habitats and are found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. Deer, who can live for up to twelve years, are very social and travel in large groups – herds.
Symbolically the female deer – doe or hind – differs from the male deer – buck or stag. Young deer are known as fawn, calf, or kid.
Gentleness, Kindness, Grace
Doe is emblematic of gentleness, kindness and grace all around the world.
Deer are herbivores – eating only vegetation. Every part of a doe’s life is performed with gentle grace – quietly nibbling on leaves and grasses, running swiftly from a predator, gazing soulfully at the world around her and caring for her young.
In some species the herds are segregated, coming together only for mating. Doe takes sole responsibility for her young. Fawns are born with temporary white spots, creating a camouflage from predators. At first fawns stay put while nurse frequently. After a couple of days they follow their mothers everywhere. Fawns are weaned at two to five months old. Doe fawns can stay with their mothers for up to a year whereas the young bucks leave within a few months.
Red deer, indigenous to the British Isles, appear in many Celtic legends. Hind, the female red deer known as Eilid in Gaelic, is a graceful being who represents caring and kindness.
Folk tales from many traditions depict a gentle woman or goddess who is changed into a doe by a wicked sorcerer.
In a Celtic story Sadb, Nature Goddess of the Tautha dé Danann, was turned into a doe by an evil Druid after refusing to marry him. After three, long years living wild and running from hunters she wandered into the forest near the home of Fionn mac Cumhail, leader of the Fianna. His hounds found and refused to kill her so he brought the doe to his home. Now in safe haven she transformed back into the the Otherworld Goddess. The two fell in love.
A year later, while Fionn was away battling Vikings, the evil Druid tricked Sadb. As Doe again, she birthed a son, naming him Oisin, “little fawn.” Later she was taken away by the Druid never to be seen again by Oisin or Fionn.
Fionn ultimately found his son who likewise became an heroic Fenian warrior. Having inherited his mother’s gentle nature also he became Ireland’s great Warrior Poet. Oisin later renounced the warrior side of his nature when he followed his heart, his love – Niamh – to the Otherworld, the Land of Eternal Youth.
Love, Compassion, Harmony, Peace
Deer symbolizes the heart. The mandala which depicts the Hindu heart chakra Anahata, often includes an image of a deer within its circle. Anahata cultivates universal love which sparks intuition and heart intelligence.
To Buddhists, deer symbolizes harmony, peace, and compassion.
If is believed that the Buddha, in a former life as a Bodhisattva, was a stunning golden deer with sapphire blue eyes and fur that sparkled like precious jewels. Knowing that his beauty could get him killed, the Bodhisattva stayed in the forest far from hunters’ arrows. One day he rescued a man from drowning, making him promise never to reveal his existence. Yet fate intervened.
The Queen dreamt of a golden deer who stood on a throne, preaching in a human voice. She asked the King to find this extraordinary creature. So the King offered a huge reward to whomever could lead him to the golden deer.
The man who the Bodhisattva had rescued, tempted by wealth, broke his promise and led the King to the deer.
Seeing the deer the King raised his bow, ready to strike. Nonetheless the deer did not run. – he approached, asking in a human voice how he had been found. The king pointed to the man the deer had rescued. Then the deer explained what had happened.
The King grew angry – proclaiming death to the man. But the deer begged the King to spare him. The King – moved by the deer’s compassion – let the man live and invited the deer to court. Fulfilling the Queens’s prophecy, the deer stood on the throne and taught dharma. The deer preached the importance of compassion for all beings.
In Tibet the rooftops of monasteries and temples often have a Dharma wheel, which refers to the process of teaching Buddhist Dharma, flanked by two deer.
Deer’s presence in your life reflects the need for and importance of compassion; that through gentleness, grace and kindness one achieves compassion – living from the heart chakra thus finding peace – a truly powerful healer.
Two species of deer are native to North America – the whitetail and the mule deer. Before Europeans arrived the land was filled with deer – an estimated 40 million whitetail and 10 million mule deer. By 1908 deer were almost extinct in North America. Wildlife control programs were implemented and over the last fifty years the deer population has recovered well.
Both Native Americans and Celts considered deer as sacred providers of fertility and abundance. Native Americans, believing that deer willingly sacrificed themselves to sustain the people, prayed to Deer for a good hunt and promised to only take what was needed for their survival, perhaps a lesson of compassion learned from Deer.
Deer dances are practiced by many Native American tribes as a prayer to continued success in the hunt and for the well-being of the people.
Stories from Native American tribes of the Eastern Woodlands and the Central Plains tell of Deer Woman, who is associated with fertility and love. Seen as a doe, a woman, or as a hybrid of the two, she helped women conceive. She also lured men, especially adulterous or promiscuous ones, either to their death or to an endless yearning for her. This is reminescent of some of the Celtic stories of deer women who led men away – men who had over hunted or were unfaithful – to the faery world.
Doe is sacred to the Celtic Earth Goddess, Flidais, who milked deer and cow – providing wealth and abundance for her people. In Celtic forests hinds transform into goddesses to protect deer from the hunt.
Deer reminds us that gentle kindness is needed in all our relations – that greed and betrayal harm the human community.
Deer possesses great sensitivity, having excellent night vision and a visual span of 310 degrees, a sense of smell around 1,000 times stronger than humans have, and superior hearing which allows deer to determine the distance of a sound.
Doe masterfully blends in, becoming one with her environment. Deer never doubts her intuition. Quickly assessing her situation by focusing all her attention on looking, smelling and listening., she runs swiftly away when danger is sensed.
The Huichol people of Mexico place great importance on intuition, symbolized by their Magical Deer Spirit, “Kauyumari,” which they believe lives in the human heart. Deer and corn are their guiding spirits.
Deer prompts you to live fully in each moment, to seek oneness with all, to trust your intuition and then to take appropriate action with a gentle approach.
Vigilance, Alternate Paths
While grazing calmly, Doe remains ever vigilant of her surroundings. She moves about frequently and can change directions quickly – all part of her protection strategy for herself and her vulnerable fawns.
Doe reminds you to remain vigilant – opening your ears to unspoken threats to your well-being, opening your eyes to alternate paths, and gifting the ability to detect subtle differences between options.
Roe deer, the other deer species indigenous to the British Isles are associated with the edges of woods and forests – liminal spaces for these liminal creatures most active at dusk and dawn. It is in the liminal spaces – the in-between – the places of transition – that we are best able to experience life’s mysteries and all the deep symbolism found there.
The Celts believed that the sacred Hind comes to us from the Otherworld – a world we approach through the liminal spaces. Deer guides you through these spaces where you are gifted with new spiritual insights, new ways of being.
In so many ways Doe is connected to the sacred and the power of a gentle and loving approach to life. Doe reminds us to remain alert, observant and vigilant and to always trust our intuition. Ultimately Doe shows how to navigate in the spirit of love for all beings. A state of wholeness is achieved only though love – bringing us always closer to the unity promised by life’s mysteries.
Sources: Legendary Native American Figures, Celtic Mythology, Words of Light, The Journal of Mythic Arts, Learn Religions, Tibetan Trekking, Live Science, One Kind Planet, British Deer Society, Mother Earth News, Havaheart, FaenaAleph, Shamanism, California Psychics,
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on 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, which are found everywhere in the natural world. 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.