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Deer Worship in Mythology

In many different circles, the deer is an important animal in mythology. For example, the ancient Greeks worshipped the creature because of its connection to one of their goddesses , Artemis. In this article, you will also learn how the deer figured into the cultures and beliefs of Hindus, Scythians, Celts, and Christians.

Greek Worship

Artemis represented the Hellenic goddess of forests and hills, childbirth, virginity, fertility, and the hunt. This is why the goddess is often seen with a bow and arrows slung over her back or in her hands. Sacred to Artemis is the deer , commonly placed in artistic depictions of the goddess. An interesting myth regarding Artemis is her treatment of Actaeon, who caught the goddess taking a bath in a pool while nude. She turned the poor soul into a stag, which was torn apart by his own hounds.

Hindu Worship

The Hindu faith associated the deer with the goddess Saraswati, who represents knowledge, music and the arts. As the consort of Brahma and the wife of Vishnu, the goddess is responsible for the birth of the Vedas , the oldest sacred text of Hinduism. In one myth, Saraswati takes the form of a red deer (called Rohit). Since she is the goddess of learning, men who saw themselves as intelligent would wear deerskin for clothing and sat upon mats made from deerskin.

Other examples of the deer playing a significant role in mythology includes the following instances:

·    The Scythians were an ancient Iranian culture who mostly led nomadic lives traveling on horseback. The stag served a purpose for the people, as it often appeared in motifs in their artwork, especially throughout funeral sites. They worshipped the animal for its swiftness, which they believed quickened the speed of dead spirits. Some excavations have uncovered interesting antlered headdresses worn by horse found on certain burial sites.

·    A large deer with golden horns has appeared in the pages of Slavic fairytales.

·    In the Shinto culture, deer are viewed as messengers to the gods of the religion, as seen in the white deer that arrived from Kashima Shrine as a divine messenger.

·    Insular Celts saw deer as supernatural animals that they dubbed ‘fairy cattle.’ The creatures were herded and milked in local communities and in each district , a good fairy giantess existed. The fairy would transform into a red deer. People living in West Highlands believed that the fairy was in charge of choosing the deer that would be killed on the hunt that took place on the following day. Other Celtic figures in their myths that have a connection to the deer include Sadb (who became enchanted into a deer when she refused the love of another), Oisin (whose name translates into “young deer” or fawn), and Flidais (a shape shifter who is worshipped as the goddess of nature and ruler of wild beasts).

·    Christians associated stags with Saint Hubertus (or Hubert) , the patron saint of hunters, mathematicians, opticians and metalworkers. It was he who people turned to when they wished to cure rabies. A legend has it that when Hubert converted from the aristocratic life to becoming a saint, an apparition of a stag with the crucifix between its antlers appeared.