The seasons turn and again we reach the Winter Solstice – the longest night which marks the sun’s return to light in the northern hemisphere. Stag, in all his antlered majesty, symbolizes the return of the sun’s life-giving rays.
Forty thousand year old cave paintings of deer, who has graced Earth for at least 12 million years, point to eons of interaction with humankind. Generally “Stag” refers to a mature, male red deer, one of the largest deer species. Occasionally it refers to other mature large deer. Once widely distributed across the European continent, red deer is mainly found in the Scottish Highlands today.
Regeneration, Spirit Messenger, Spiritual Enlightenment
Deer, members of the Cervidae family, has over 50 species indigenous to all continents except Antarctica and Australia.
Deer are the only animals with antlers. Unlike horns which are permanent, antlers fall off and regrow every year. Except for reindeer, only male deer grow antlers.
The indigenous cultures of Northern Europe all honored Stag – grand symbol of the promise of Winter Solstice, of death and rebirth.
Stag is the masculine power of regeneration, a messenger from the spirit world and one who leads humans to spiritual enlightenment.
The Chukchi of the Bering Sea area interpret the five main stars of the Cassiopeia constellation as five stags.
In Norse mythology four stags feed on the foliage of the world-tree – eating away at the hours, days and seasons.
A Persian tale, changing the sex of the Hungarian legend of Wondrous White Doe with its ties to the Reindeer Goddess, recounts the story of Prince Rustvan-shad who, while hunting, encountered a marvelous blue stag with ruby red eyes and hooves of gold. The stag led him on a chase yet always eluded him, until finally jumping into a lake and disappearing. The Prince fell asleep. Upon waking he was led to a magical place by the sound of music and laughter. Here he found 13 young women with names indicating light, all dancing in celebration of spring. The Prince, in his pursuit of Stag, discovered new life.
Babylonians, believing Stag pulled the sun’s chariot, associated him with the sun’s rebirth at Winter Solstice. They had a constellation named Stag, which appeared around mid-winter.
White Stag in Celtic myth signals that the Otherworld is near – warning that a taboo has been transgressed or acting as guide on a spiritual quest.
King Arthur and his knights were forever pursuing White Stag who consistently avoided capture – symbolizing the unending human search for spiritual enlightenment.
Christians depict Stag with the cross between its antlers, representing Christ’s death and rebirth.
Another motif of medieval stories depicts Stag leading the hero to the best spot to build a fortress, church or monastery. In a Hungarian tale a prince went in search of a spot to build a castle fortress. Stag appeared and he gave chase. Finally he killed it on a hilltop – building his castle there.
The Ojibway of North America believe that white deer appears as a call to reflect on one’s spiritual path.
Stag is the generative power of the mind – the male principle. Stag leads you into the magical aspect of consciousness in which your thoughts, like seeds, can grow into beautiful creations.
Fertility, Virility, Magic, Shape-shifting, Peace
Deer was a primary resource to ancient humans.Their flesh and skin were important sources of food and clothing – their antlers and bones were excellent for making tools.
Stag, with the use of its antlers in fighting for mating rights during the fall rut, initiates new life. Like seeds that fall to the ground, he loses his antlers as we move into the dark of winter.
Stag begins to regrow his antlers in spring. Antlers are one of the fastest growing tissues found in the animal kingdom. Stag represents the creative life force of the universe.
Stag – strongly associated with the Celtic Antlered God, Cernunnos – is linked to peace and to the magical forest of Celtic lore. Cernunnos’ image appears on the Gundestrup cauldron but his stories are lost to us. In addition to sporting antlers, it is believed he could shape-shift into Stag. He rules over beasts and wild places and is depicted sitting cross-legged – reminescent of the trancelike posture of a shaman. He is a god of peace, acting as mediator between humanity and nature, between opposing forces.
Cernunnos and Stag are also connected to material wealth. A stone figure of Cernunnos from Rheims shows him accompanied by Stag and Bull drinking from a stream of coins. A stag image with coins falling from its mouth was found near Luxembourg.
In the Huichol myth of Blue Deer, an arrow shot at the deer is found buried in a Peyote cactus – shaped as a deer. Peyote, a psychedelic substance, is used by indigenous shamans for healing. Thus Deer has transformative energy that can bring about the healing powers of self-realization.
Still to this day the Pueblo People of the American Southwest dance the Deer Dance. The ultimate religious meaning of this male dance is a closely held secret but when I witnessed it I was transported to a time when humans lived as one with animals – a time when it was understood that life must give of itself to support the ongoing cycle of life. I have felt the bond the Pueblo People still feel with Deer, the gratitude offered for its sacrifice, and the joy in the regenerative nature of life expressed in the Deer Dance.
Leadership, Peace, Grace, Vigilance, Swiftness
Stag is fast – able to run up to 40 miles per hour. He can jump eight feet with a span of up to thirty feet.
Deer are social – living in herds. Stags and hinds generally live in separate groups with young bucks leaving their mother’s herd early in life. Sometimes a herd is led by Stag. Often the female-led herds are watched over by a herd of males living within the same territory.
Stag is generally not aggressive unless provoked. But during the rut Stag concentrates on competing with other stags for the right to mate. They engage in parallel walking, roaring and ultimately when evenly matched, fight by locking antlers and pushing. Sometimes the contest leads to serious injury or even death.
Stag illustrates how strength pairs well with grace. Ever vigilant, Stag swiftly turns and runs when faced with a dangerous predator, teaching that aggression is not always the best solution. Stag both reminds you to stand your ground when pushed and gifts you with the ability to make quick changes for a peaceful approach to dangerous situations.
Stag, popular in heraldry for medieval nobility, appears on the shield of King Richard II.
Stag was sacred to gods and goddess of the hunt around the world.
Sacred to Artemis, Greek Goddess of Wild Animals and the Hunt, her stag was a marvelous creature with golden antlers and brass hooves.
Cocidius, Celtic Forest and Hunting God, was also associated with Stag.
A stone carving of a hunter god found in the mountains of Le Donon in eastern France, portrays a man wearing an animal hide, his hands resting on the stag’s antlers who stands by his side.
The hunt symbolizes an exploration of your unconscious, a quest for self-realization. During medieval times, Stag was the ultimate animal of the hunt.
The Stag hunt was symbolic of the pursuit of wisdom in the Celtic worldview. The White Stag of medieval lore was always one step ahead of the hunters, leading them deeper and deeper into the magical forest where transformation could occur.
When Stag appears, remember to maintain faith in the eternal cycles of change – as its rack will return to full magnificence, so too will the sun return to its mid-summer glory – as our old way of being falls away, a new path opens leading us to a bright new future.
Stag in all his splendor calls you to take pride in who you are and who you are becoming.
Stag, strong and graceful, prompts you to remain vigilant, to use your intuition and sensitivity when assessing difficult situations. Stag, considered a gift from the Creator, reminds you to have gratitude for the abundance of nature and the mysteries found in the magical forest of your heart.
Most importantly, Stag guides you to transform – inviting you to see beyond the material realm to an understanding that external effects have internal causes; to seek answers in the spiritual realm. Stag helps you develop a flexible and quick-thinking mind as you change the energy of thoughts, actions and emotions that no longer serve you to new and brighter ones.
Take a moment to remember Stag’s wisdom on this quiet night of Winter Solstice.
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. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Wisdom. 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,