We have just passed another marker in the cycle of the seasons – Fall Equinox – the second moment in the circle of the year in which day and night are of equal length. It is a time to begin our quiet reflections on the growth experienced during the previous periods of the year; a time when a greater understanding of balance is sought; a time when our hearts are filled with appreciation for the bounty offered by Mother Earth while at the same time feeling trepidation about the approaching winter.
Looking back over the animals I have covered for the creation of my next oracle deck – Animal Wisdom – I find myself called to Deer wisdom, both Doe and Stag, during this first moment of transition from the light half of the year to the dark.
Roe deer, who are most active at dusk and dawn – liminal moments – and indigenous to the British Isles are associated with the edges of woods and forests – liminal spaces. It is in these spaces – in the in-between, in transition – that we are best able to experience life’s mysteries and all the deep symbolism found there. In these moments we are not quite who we were but we are not yet who we are in the process of becoming.
White deer, a rarity found in nature, are found in myths around the world as the harbinger of the magical, mysterious experiences awaiting in liminal space.
White deer frequently appear in Celtic legends as the one who signals that sacred or forbidden ground has been entered, calling the seeker out on an important quest.
White deer were often sighted in the forests around King Arthur’s court, leading the knights out to adventures with gods, goddesses and otherworld beings. Yet this amazing being’s ability to avoid capture became symbolic of the elusive nature of the quest for purity and glory.
I discovered this old legend, The White Hind of Hope, retold by Lisa Schneidau in her recent publication – Woodland Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland.
Long ago in the Mendip Hills of Somerset, the lord of Kilmersdon was greatly concerned by the affects of a plague stalking his lands. Nothing he did helped ease the pain and suffering of his people.
While out riding in the forest one evening and sadly contemplating the situation, he saw a flash of white through the trees. Suddenly a majestic white hind leapt across the path right in front of him and then bounded away through the trees. The lord quickly followed only to lose the hind shortly thereafter.
True to form the white hind was not caught but the lord’s heart was opened and hope replaced despair. Now he felt new inspiration concerning the difficulties of his people and land. The people followed his lead. Together, with energy generated by hope, they found solutions to managing the epidemic. Together they found the path to renewal.
On the other side of the world in Taiwan, the Thao people of Sun Moon Lake tell an otherworldly tale of a white stag. It goes like this –
A band of expert Thao hunters went on a hunting trip intending to find food for their tribe. But luck was not with them as they searched and searched and found no prey with which to sustain their people.
Finally the moment arrived when their dogs became excited – barking and running back and forth toward the woods. To the hunters astonishment a magnificent white stag emerged from the cover of trees. The dogs and hunters jumped into action and the chase began.
Yet the white deer proved to be as elusive in Taiwan as in the Celtic lands. They tracked the white deer for days, climbing up and down mountain peaks and going further and further into unknown territory. Knowing that their people were counting on the fruits of their hunt for survival, the hunters desperately forged on in pursuit.
Finally, feeling success was surely theirs, they cornered the white stag on the edge of a lake. As they moved in for the kill the deer leapt up and dove into the water where it disappeared, never to be found again. The bewildered hunters collapsed on the shore, exhausted from the failure of their efforts and hopeless about their situation.
Then a miracle occurred. While collapsed in this hopeless state by the water’s edge, their feet were dangling in the water. Too despondent to move, they felt strange creatures swarming under the water around their submerged feet. They were amazed by the water creatures. These men, who dwelt deep in the Taiwanese mountains, had never seen fish before.
Quickly they overcame their fear of the unknown and realized that the fish could provide nourishment for their families waiting back at home. After feasting to regain their strength, they returned home laden with baskets of fish for the people. The mysterious White Stag had led them to this treasure of sustenance. In time the whole Thao tribe relocated to the lake and became fisherman. Today that lake is called Sun Moon Lake.
These stories illustrate a part of deer symbology shared by both Doe and Stag – Deer guides us through the liminal spaces where we can seek answers in the spirit realm and receive new insights. Deer gifts us with the ability to use these insights and find new solutions to situations that seem insurmountable. Deer wisdom helps us navigate the uncomfortable moments when the old way no longer works and yet the new way is not yet clear.
May Deer wisdom be with you as we move from the bright shining days of summer toward the dark, quiet nights of winter.
Sources: Island Folklore , The White Hind of Hope, retold by Lisa Schneidau
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 – to be released this fall. 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.
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!
11 thoughts on “Deer – Inspiration For Liminal Times by Judith Shaw”
What beautiful paintings and stories! You have really captured the essence of deer with this post and it is so timely as we enter this time that is not only liminal in terms of seasons, but in terms of all that is going on in the world. Thank you for bringing the beauty and mystery of the deer to FAR!
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So true what you say – “we enter this time that is not only liminal in terms of seasons, but in terms of all that is going on in the world.” We’re in one long, slog of break down…..
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Yes, the white deer is perfect for these liminal days & times. It’s sooooo easy to lose hope, but as my friend, Sunny, reminds me, “My hopes are not always realized, but I still hope.” It can be hard to hope at times, but …
Your post was perfect for me today, Judith. Thank you! And thanks for your painting and photographs
love your friend’s saying. It is easy to lose hope but without it we have only despair. It’s also hard to accept that our hopes for might not be realized in our lives but maybe someday in the future they will.
Judith – didn’t have time to comment on this post but its been on my mind – in my life deer are also present in liminal space – and of course, I have them around the house ever since I lived here – but psychically – especially introspect I see them as animals who invite us into that space between worlds – never an easy time. This summer I have had two living here at the house – mother and son – and my life is in that space – neither here or there! Your paintings are of course, quite spectacular – i especially loved the one of the doe!
Oh by the way… I had a friend who lived until he was 104 and when he was young and still a hunter he actually SHOT a white deer – I remember hearing the story and not quite believing it because this was a gentle man of integrity – the pieces never fit – this act must have played out in his life because the white deer is an archetype as we know….but then I remember he shot grouse every fall until he could no longer walk – In this case the man came out of an old Maine hunting tradition when men shot animals for food – he certainly did. Just can’t judge – but it is hard – and hunting today has disintegrated into trophy hunting a truly babaric practice.
You have such an amazing connection with animals. I always love hearing about your personal encounters. I also know the liminal space well having lived in and through it many, many times in my life. It is hard when you’re there and scary, but the other side has always been better for me. I continue to hope that this liminal moment in our world will find us all in a better place once we get to the other side of this worldwide transformation.
I also feel very differently about hunting for food which I can understand and accept as opposed to trophy hunting which is repulsive. I don’t know if I could actually kill, skin and gut an animal myself but I guess if I was starving and no other food was available I could.
In Northern Wisconsin albino deer number 200-300. It’s illegal to shoot an albino, so they survive.
So great to hear that it’s illegal to shoot them. So many animals need protection.
Judith, so glad to see this article on deer and the amazing white deer. I have been privileged to see the white deer (ghosts of the forest) several times in Wisconsin and Minnesota. It is always a mystical experience and life-changing experience for me. Thank you for this work.
What a blessing you received! I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to see a white deer! Thanks so much for reading.