Many animals have some symbolic meaning, either in dreams, history and mythology, culture, literature, film, or other cultural creations. Deer are certainly one of those animals. All around the world and through the centuries, deer symbolism has been present. In stories, art, and film, deer have had cultural meanings which are in line with how we perceive these animals in the wild.
Deer are graceful, swift, and elusive animals. Their vulnerability reminds us to be gentle in how we deal with animals and nature.
Let’s explore more about the symbolic meaning and representation of deer now, and in a historical context.
The Deer as a Spirit Animal
The deer as a spirit animal represents the ability to be graceful and gentle in all areas of life. This is true even when faced with difficulties. The qualities of the deer inspire you and allow you to achieve challenging goals and deal with tricky situations with grace, using a gentle touch.
When you see the deer as a spirit animal, it tells you to show a gentle spirit to others and yourself. Deer remind us to live in an authentic way and be in touch with your center being.
Are you familiar with the chakras, especially the heart chakra? The heart chakra’s traditional symbol involves the deer. This symbolic animal indicates harmony and love for oneself and others.
Looking Deeper at Deer as Spirit Animals
While the deer represents grace, it also calls strength to mind. After all, its horns are there for self-defence. When you’re gentle, you must also be ready to defend yourself. The deer shows us how to combine gentleness and strength.
The deer also represents wisdom, especially the wisdom you can achieve when you connect with your inner child and the innocence that resides there.
A deer spirit animal will inspire you to change thought patterns or modes of behavior that aren’t helping you anymore.
The deer also symbolizes regeneration and a resurgence of heart and life energy. Remember the deer’s antlers always grow back after they fall off each year. It’s this quality that has made cultures see the deer as a representation of regeneration. Most people view this as a mysterious power. The deer encourages you to make use of this energy and renew yourself.
Deer as a Spirit Guide
See the deer as a spirit guide that can help you strengthen your intuitive powers and sensitivity.
Those who feel they have the deer as their spirit animal may have a calling to work on your sensitivity and psychic intuition. Develop how receptive you are and attune your intuition and senses.
If the deer is your spirit animal, you may find yourself constantly in action, watching out for dangers and opportunities. Those who feel an affinity with the deer’s spiritual aspects, may worry about predators. The predators could symbolize aspects of your life in which you feel excessively cautious. It means you need time to fully trust your environment and people.
Call on the deer’s power. This will help you get used to being around new people and surroundings.
If the deer spirit animal appears, it may mean you need to follow your cautious instinct in a certain situation. Other circumstances in which the deer may appear if you need to spend some quiet time alone, to find a better sense of inner peace.
What Does it Mean to Dream About Deer?
When you dream about a deer, it might mean you need to pay more attention to intuition and sensitivity. If you remember a deer in a dream, you may need to pay greater attention to what your intuition is telling you.
A predator stalking the deer or you in the dream means you probably need to think of an escape plan or be more cautious about something.
A dream about chasing a deer can indicate that you’re conquering certain fears. If you are the deer and you are being pursued by a predator, this can mean that you’re running away from something you fear.
The appearance of a deer in your dream may also symbolize someone in your life who has some of the deer’s qualities, such as vulnerability, shyness, or gentleness. A deer appearing in your dream can also point to the idea of self-sacrifice.
Reflect and consider whether you have been sacrificing yourself in some way. Examine whether or not this is really necessary.
Deer in Different Cultures
Deer have had significant symbolism for thousands of years in a variety of cultures. Wherever deer exist in the world, cultures have integrated their image and symbolism into their stories and mythologies.
Deer in Native American Cultures
One of the modes of symbolism in which we see the deer is the Native American totem.
In totem symbolism, deer are meant to express:
- Gracefulness and a graceful approach to life and its difficulties
- A gentle approach to others and life in general
- Intuition and sensitivity
- Connection to innocence and one’s inner child
- Regeneration and a magical ability to transform
- Understanding the mysteries of life
- Versatility and flexibility, as well as the capacity for changing direction
As there are species of deer in many different countries all over the world, a plethora of different countries and cultures have their own traditional ideas about deer and what they symbolize.
In modern Western cultures, we tend to think of the Disney movie, Bambi. In Bambi, we see the story of a baby deer’s mother being killed by hunters. This story reminds us to be mindful of what we do to the natural world. After all, every action we take has repercussions, potentially painful and damaging ones.
Deer in Japanese Culture
In Japan, the deer’s symbolic meaning is that of a sacred messenger sent by the gods. It was believed that in Nara, deer were believed to be visited by gods. These gods were also said to be seen riding white deer.
Even today, you can find deer carefully protected in the grounds around the Kofuku-ji and Kasuga shrines. They may no longer be considered divine, but they are well-protected. Japanese people often visit to pray and make offerings of tasty treats to the deer.
In Buddhism, the deer is a symbol of longevity, tranquility, and joy. When Buddha’s first teachings near Varanasi are written about, you will often see two deer (a male and female) together. They are usually shown near the Dharma wheel.
The reason why deer are so important in Buddhism is the belief that in one of his previous lives, Buddha lived in the form of a golden deer that could communicate with people.
Deer in Celtic and European Mythologies
In the Scottish Highlands, red deer have had mythological significance for centuries.
They were traditionally referred to as “fairy cattle.” That’s because Highlanders thought that fairies milked the deer up in the mountains.
The link between woodland deities and deer is strong in European mythologies.
Deer in Greek Mythology
In Greek mythology, we see the story of Artemis, the goddess of wilderness. When others invaded her domain, she became angry and punished them. A stag she loved was killed, and she sought revenge for this. A hunter called Acteon killed a stag and used its pelt for approaching Artemis by stealth when she was bathing.
In retribution, Artemis transformed this man into a stag. She then had him hunted down and forced his own dogs to kill him.
In Roman mythology, the figure of Artemis is replicated in the goddess of Diana. She has a strong link to deer imagery, and she represents the deer’s symbolic qualities of grace and speed.
Deer in Irish Lore
In Irish mythology, there is the story of Finn mac Cumhail. Finn led Fianna, a brave group of warriors.
Finn mac Cumhail is said to have hunted a deer and cornered it, then trying to sick his dogs on it. The dogs, however, refused to kill it. Instead, they transported the deer home to Finn’s land. It was there that she was able to regain her real identity, which was as the lovely Sadhbh. At this point, Finn married Sadhbh, and soon afterward Finn left for war.
Without his protection, a druid again transformed Sadhbh into a deer.
Celtic Representations of Deer
The stag was significant in Celtic mythology, symbolizing a god called Cernunnos (which means “The Horned One”). Celts often represented this god with antlers. Cernunnos was the god of wild animals and the forest.
Perhaps you have seen representations of Cernunnos in which he is a Celtic shaman sitting in a half lotus position. One such representation is pictured below:
The symbolism of the stag if present in a wide variety of cultures. Even today, we see this symbolism in the hipster scene prevalent among young people in the Western world.
They use deer and antlers as symbols and even trademarks as who individuals are as human beings.
Many people also get deer tattoos. These tend to symbolize regeneration, love, family, tranquility, and nobility. Individual people may give the deer their own special meanings, too.
Symbolism of the White Stag
In traditional mythology, the white stag has a special meaning.
Centuries ago, some cultures though it was a sort of unicorn. This resulted in unicorn mythology and the symbolism of the white stag being intertwined.
In Celtic cultures, the white stag traditionally symbolizes the world of the dead or the Otherworld. As a matter of fact, many other cultures also see the white stag in the same way.
In Arthurian mythology, pursuing the white stag was a symbol of our yearning for immortality or the next life.
Red Deer in Myth and Legend
The red deer was prominent in northern Europe mythologies. In these stories, the deer were pursued as the quarry for hunters.
These tales often revolved around the chase. Peasants could not hunt deer. Being able to eat venison was something that belonged to positions of privilege.
Christianity and Deer Symbolism
The white stag is important even in Christianity. Traditionally, it symbolized Jesus. It was seen as a symbol of humanity being watched over and guided.
It’s fascinating that we see mythology and symbolism of and surrounding the white stag in many different cultures all around the world.
Deer in Literature
We see many of the aspects of traditional mythology and symbolism connected to deer in works of literature. In many instances, this is done with more subtlety.
For example, a deer may be mentioned in a relatively obscure part of a novel. Its symbolism may reverberate over the rest of the work of literature.
The representations of deer in English literature has changed over the centuries. We can especially see this in works between the 14th and 20th centuries. An interesting note is that deer skin was once actually used in book paper production.
When it comes to the symbolism and representation of deer in literature, the earliest works in which we see references to deer tended to have an informative purpose.
One example of a work on deer is History of Four Footed Beasts by Topsell.
Deer in Film
One of the best known American movies using deer symbolism is The Deer Hunter, a 1978 film starring Robert de Niro, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken.
As the legendary movie critic Roger Ebert has explained, The Deer Hunter has many different themes. It focuses on the subject of traumatized Vietnam vets. They spend time hunting deer, and the symbolism of that animal is clear. The deer embodies their own vulnerability. For them deer represent how they themselves were victimized in being forced to fight.
Another famous movie with the image of a deer is the animated children’s classic, Bambi.
Bambi is a baby deer that becomes an orphan when a hunter kills his mother. Again, here we see that the deer symbolizes vulnerability … Bambi is victimized by circumstances outside of his control. It encourages us to have more compassion for the powerless and be mindful of how we interact with the natural world.
Deer are Richly Symbolic Animals
As we’ve seen here, deer have held an important place in the mythologies of many different cultures all around the world.
The qualities we see in these animals, such as gentleness and swiftness, have long been revered. Even today, we still see deer symbolism in a wide variety of art and cultural productions.