Stag – Majestic Messenger of Light by Judith Shaw

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.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/DSS, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, CC BY-SA 2.0

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. 

By Claude Valette – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

By Judith Shaw – Inspired by The Deer Dance at Taos Pueblo, New Mexico.

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. 

Cameraman / Come on…if you dare

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.

Artemis Coin with Stag and Bull, By Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

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 at Bay (From Incidents in a Stag Hunt) MET DP328910.jpg
Created: circa 1495

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. 

Divinatory

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. 

Sources: Feed That Game, One Kind Planet, The Druid Way, The Pine Tree, Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia, USA Kilts, Wikipedia, Star Lore,

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,



Categories: animals, Earth-based spirituality, General, Goddess Spirituality, Myth, Paganism

Tags: , , ,

8 replies

  1. Oh such beautiful paintings and as usual an abundance of information! I am struck by references to the stags losing their antlers in the fall and growing new ones in the spring. Winter is a time of rest for deer who yard up together – winter is also a time of a scarcity of food. So in my mind there is a separation between the letting go into the dark of the year and the return of the heat of the sun and spring. Although we are moving into the longest night and as of tomorrow the sun will reverse its direction winter darkness will be with us for another cycle. Last night as I was staring into my fire (woodstove) I was drawn into the realm of the Ancestors who celebrated this Fire Festival as a holy time… a time to hear story, a time for prayer, healing, and self reflection a time to be with the dark. I also remember a recent post by Carol who spoke to this need to celebrate light all year long believing that we needed to do both – celebrate the dark as well as the light…and these festivals reflect her perspective.

    Like

    • Sarah,
      I think I did not get my own thoughts across well in this one. I see the connection with Stag and its cyclical antlers to Winter Solstice as an “initiation” toward the light, not an avoidance of the darkness and a reminder of the blessings of this time. Stag’s work has been done and now he rests as you say. Our work has been done and we rest at this time – though modern life can get in the way of our connection to the cycles of nature.

      After the solstice we do have a long road still to spring but the Fire Festivals and the Winter Holidays are to me a way in which we ritualize both our embrace of the dark time full of potential and transformation and our faith that the life-giving light of the sun will return, a time for self-reflection and growth.

      I used to dread this time with the long nights but not welcome it for the way it makes me slow down, relishing quiet time to reflect and dream.

      Like

  2. Love it! Good for that White Stag to keep going. (And good for Arthur to keep searching for wisdom.) Good for Cernunnos to stay true to himself.

    You do splendid research. And the art you always use to illustrate your posts is always wonderful. Hooray! Brightest blessings, happy winter holidays (all of them), and keep up your good work.

    Like

  3. As always Judith, I find your posts enlightening and inspiring. I have a question. In so many myths, the stag is hunted and killed. Do you think that is a patriarchal spin on older myths that would have honored the stag rather than killing it? I ask because it does appear there are older or indigenous myths that speak point to killing (eg: Huichol myth).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janet,
      You are right that in so many of the legends Stag is killed at the end of the hunt. You pose an excellent question which entered into my thinking also.

      I guess there are two levels of experience going on with Stag in our patriarchal world. One could be symbolized by The Arthurian Legends of pursuing but never really finding Stag – the spiritual quest so to speak. It seems kind of analogous to the search for the Holy Grail which is really about connecting with the lost feminine – the goddess – in my point of view. There is some connection I believe to the Deer Goddesses as Stag is her son.

      The others ends up with the killing of Stag. Deer was of course an important food source and the hunt was most likely necessary, but we just don’t have surviving stories from pre-patriarchal days in Europe.
      Maybe that has to do with alpha men needing to celebrate their ability to kill the alpha Stag thus proving and increasing their own masculinity (in their own minds).

      I think that European portrayal from medieval times stands in stark contrast to Native Americans rituals around deer. I do believe that most all of our legends have roots much older than the patriarchy and have been rewritten in the patriarchal world view. Modern pagans have rewritten the myth of Cernunnos, whose stories are lost, tying him securely to Stag, Winter Solstice and regeneration. I did not include that as I prefer to use ancient sources but maybe I should include it. I feel it’s through Cernunnos we might find an approach to deer that shows gratitude like in the Native American Deer Dances.

      And there is the sad reality that deer were hunted almost to extinction in Europe which is certainly reflected in the deer hunt stories and art (i.e. the tapestry of Stag being attacked included in my post).

      There are other very confusing things I found in my research. I think I’m going to need to do a follow-up post on Stag, exploring more fully these concepts. I find it much harder to explore the masculine archetypes.

      Like

      • You do bring up some interesting and deep points. It is true that the hunt is important in that it provided an important food source. The indigenous people did honor the animals they hunted and even asked for permission. I wonder if that is part of the source.

        I don’t know too much of Cernunnos. I look forward to learning more.

        Interesting too about the Arthurian cycles seeking out the stag and never really finding it. Boy that’s a rich material source.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh goodness Janet – you nailed that one!!! Never finding the stag hmmmm.

    Like

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: