Deer (mythology)

From Academic Kids

Deer have significant roles in the mythology of various peoples.

In paleolithic cave paintings the figure of a shaman wears antlers as the deer-spirit, notably the figure being called "The Sorcerer" in the Cave Trois Frres in southern France. The Celts had Cernunnos (possibly the horned figure on the Gundestrup cauldron) and Caerwiden, from which neo-pagans synthesized the figure of the Horned God. The stag was worshipped alongside the bull at Alaca Hyk and continued in the Hittite mythology as the protective deity whose name is recorded as dKAL. Other Hittite gods were often depicted standing on the backs of stags.

The Scythians had some reverence for the stag, which is one of the most common motifs in their artwork, especially at funeral sites. The swift animal was believed to speed the spirits of the dead on their way, which perhaps explains the curious antlered headdresses found on horses buried at Pazyryk.

In Greek mythology, the deer is particularly associated with Artemis in her role as virginal huntress. Callimachus, in his archly knowledgeable "Hymn III to Artemis," mentions the deer that drew the chariot of Artemis:

in golden armor and belt, you yoked a golden chariot, bridled deer in gold.

One of the Labors of Heracles was to capture the Cerynian Hind sacred to Artemis and deliver it briefly to his patron, then rededicate it to Artemis. Actaeon witnessed Artemis bathing in a pool and was transformed into a stag that his own hounds tore to pieces.

In Slavic mythology and folklore, Golden-horned deer is a large deer with golden antlers which often appear in fairytales. The legend of Saint Hubertus (or "Hubert") concerned an apparition of a stag with the crucifix between its horns, effecting the worldly and aristocratic Hubert's conversion to a saintly life.

Deer are considered messengers to the Gods in Shinto, and have become a symbol of the city of Nara.

It is sometimes thought that stories about spectral deer may be the based upon tales of the now extinct Irish Elk (Megaloceros giganteus).

Manufactured mythology

Quintus Sertorius, while a general in Lusitania, had a tame white stag which he had raised nearly from birth. Playing on the superstitions of the local tribes, he told them that it had been given to him by the goddess Diana; by attributing all his intelligence reports to the animal, he convinced the locals that it had the gift of prophecy. (See Plutarch's life of Sertorius and Pliny the Elder's chapter on stags (N.H., VIII.50)

The naming of the ship, the "Golden Hind", of Sir Francis Drake is sometimes given a mythological origin, though Drake actually renamed his flagship, in mid-voyage, 1577, as a gesture to flatter his patron Sir Christopher Hatton, whose armorial bearings included the crest "a hind, or." In heraldry, a "hind" is a roe.

In 2004, a television dramatisation of the life of Hercules in the manner of Xena: Warrior Princess, represented centaur-like Hinds with the upper bodies of women that are shown to have the ability to heal, but this took a lot of energy. They could assume human form and their blood was poisonous to the Greek gods, by nullifying their ichor. (Compare Kryptonite's effect on Superman.)


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