What have you learned about your spirit from the animal kingdom? DISCUSS it here
Topic : ANIMALS IN SPIRIT
Topic Editor: Kathleen Moore
“All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.” Cecil Frances Alexander
Birds and beasts inhabited the earth long before man appeared on the scene. All the research that has been completed proves this as undisputed fact. But from the beginning of time, man has always looked for knowledge about, and has tried to find the meaning behind anything that wasn’t, well, man. Man has looked at creatures with awe and wonder, with fear and faith. The relationship between man and animals has been everything from tumultuous and violent to respectful and adoring. But throughout time, man has often looked to the animal kingdom to find his own spirit.
MY PERSONAL QUEST
I have been interested in animals all my life. This is a dramatic understatement! Not only am I “interested”, but I experience a deep and very powerful sense of joy and peace while in their presence. What is it about some of these creatures that I’m so drawn to? Why does my heart race with this unidentified outpouring of emotion? And why do they make me feel so close to God when I’m with them? Through my own personal research and writing of a series of articles, I hope to answer some of the questions I have about the impact these “animal spirits” on man’s relationship with a Higher Power as well as how animals have affected our ongoing relationships with each other.
This article will focus specifically on the deer as an animal spirit. In the future, I hope to continue the series and include information about the eagle, the dolphin, and others that have particularly touched my life.
In Celtic mythology, the deer is a magical creature, able to move between the worlds. In many tales, humans are transformed into deer. For example, St. Patrick was said to have transformed himself and his companions into deer in order to escape a trap laid by a pagan king.
In the Welsh tale of Culhwch and Olwen, the antlers of the stag, one of the oldest animals in the world, are compared to tree-branches and thus may represent fertility. Since they are shed and regrown every year, they may also symbolize rejuvenation and rebirth. Cernunnos, the Celtic Horned God, was depicted with the antlers of a stag. He is said to be a god of fertility and plenty, and to be the Lord of the Beasts. According to some, his antlers symbolize a radiation of heavenly light. Images of stags were supposedly used to symbolize Cernunnos in non-human form.
In the Celtic tradition, the hunting of a hind (a female deer) was symbolic for the pursuit of wisdom. This motive is also found in Greek mythology, where one of the tasks of Hercules was to capture the hind of Mount Ceryneia. This hind had golden “horns” and hooves of bronze and it took Hercules a full year to capture her alive.
Greek mythology tells of how Actaeon followed a stag during the hunt and came upon a valley where the goddess Artemis happened to be bathing. Artemis was furious when she discovered the mortal Actaeonwatching her naked and turned him into a stag. Then, she set his own hounds upon him and they tore him apart. Another myth involving Artemis recounts how she killed two giants who had tried to violate her. She turned herself into a white hind and walked between the giants. When they tried to strike her with their javelins, they killed each other instead.
To the Native American Pawnee, the deer is a guide to the light of the Sun. The Panche Indians of Colombia believe that human souls pass into the bodies of deer after death and therefore eating the flesh of deer is forbidden to them. In ancient Mexico, deer were sometimes depicted carrying the Sun.
In Cambodia and ancient China, the stag was also associated with the Sun, though in a negative way, since it was thought to bring drought. The Chinese god of Salaries, Lu-shing, was often depicted riding on a deer. In China, the deer still symbolizes immortality and nobility.
Ancient Norse mythology tells how four stags browsed the foliage of the world-tree Yggdrasil, in this manner eating away the buds (hours), blossoms (days) and branches (seasons).
An early Christian text states how deer would spit water into a crevice where a poisonous snake hid. When the creature was thus driven out of its hiding place, it was trampled by the deer. The legends of several saints tell of a cross appearing between the antlers of a stag.
DEER SPIRIT IN THE BUDDHIST TRADITION
Buddhism considers all of life to be evolving toward higher consciousness. To the Buddhist, any practice by which man sustains himself at the expense of other sentient beings is considered wrong. Buddhism considers non-human life to be Divine just as is human life. Animals are seen to be an evolving kingdom of living creatures destined in time to attain perfect enlightenment. All of life is seen to be one. According to this conviction, to harm any living thing is to do injury to the One Eternal and Divine Life. Since animals are considered to be traveling towards enlightenment just as man is, neither are they to be harmed, discouraged or hampered in their progress.
There is a park in Japan called the Deer Park of Nara. It was set aside centuries ago as a sanctuary to the experience of the brotherhood of all living creatures. In this park, deer walk side by side with people in true companionship. The deer’s natural qualities of graciousness, gentleness and dignity make them perfect messengers of the sacredness of life. It was in a deer park that Buddha preached his first sermon. In Buddhism, there is a mandara (sacred drawing) which depicts a deer standing on a white cloud with the Tree of Life above its head. Because the deer is considered the messenger of universal love, meditating upon this mandara is said to open one’s consciousness to the mystery of infinite peace.
DEER SPIRIT IN THE SHAMANIC TRADITION
“In the beginning of all things, wisdom and knowledge were with the animals, for the One Above did not speak directly to man. He sent Animals to tell man that he showed himself through the beasts, and that from them, and from the stars and the sun and the moon, man should learn . . . for all things speak of the One Above.”
~Chief Letakos~ of the Lessa Pawnee
Shamanism was defined by the late Mircea Eliade as a technique of ecstasy. While in an ecstatic trance state, it is believed that the shaman’s soul leaves the body and ascends to the sky (heavens) or descends into the earth (underworld). The shaman makes use of spirit helpers, with whom he or she communicates, all the while retaining control over his or her own consciousness. A shaman may exhibit a particular magical specialty such as control over fire, wind or magical flight. But the most common of these specialties is healing.
A basic principle of shamanism is the belief that all living things have a spirit and that we live in relationship with the other inhabitants of our earth. We, as humans are in a position of equality with, rather than dominance over all other forms of life including trees, animals, birds and the wind. These are beings who, like us, are alive, conscious, intelligent and have spiritual natures beyond the physical. All life forms are regarded as peers, in full possession of Spirit, Knowledge and Power, and are considered Sacred. We depend on each other for survival and well being, and must strive to keep the lines of communication open and nurture our relationships with all non-human communities.
In shamanism, the deer is associated with gentleness, caring love, sensitivity, graceful beauty, innocence and keen observation. Deer blend well with their environment, but are very sensitive to every sound or movement. Because of these well-developed senses, it is said that deer can see through illusions and guide through chaotic situations. Deer people (those that are born with characteristics of deer spirit and carry the gift of “deer medicine”) are often described as being swift and alert. They are intuitive with well-developed, even extra sensory perception and they can also learn to detect subtle movements, hear things unspoken, and use their intuition to avoid danger.
Deer can show us to be kind, gentle and patient with other people. Furthermore, deer can teach people how to love unconditionally; meaning to love not what you wish to be, even in another person or in yourself, but what is. Deer medicine teaches us to use the power of gentleness to touch the hearts and minds of wounded beings that are trying to keep us at bay. Deer has the gentleness of spirit that heals all wounds. Deer does not push to get others to change. Deer loves them as they are. Deer people apply gentleness to a situation and become like the summer breeze: warm and caring.
They carry the message of purity of purpose, of walking in the light to dispel shadows. They know the work that they must do, and go about that work without fanfare or need for personal glory or recognition. There are no shadows about deer; no ulterior motives, no hidden agendas, no lies or misrepresentations, and it is not possible for deer to knowingly hurt anyone or anything. Children feel safe and secure around deer people and are drawn to their peaceful nature. Deer work very well with children because of their innocence.
Just as they lead heroes to other worlds in many myths, deer can lure a person to new adventures, which are often opportunities to gain more wisdom. When this happens, a person should not be afraid to follow. However, one should stay alert, keeping eyes and ears open, for adventurous journeys are not always without danger.
Deer medicine brings beauty and grace to any surrounding. Just as the deer bounds from one place to another, a person with deer medicine often moves quickly from one situation to another, often never staying long enough in one place to get a “full meal”.
Deer’s medicine includes gentleness in word, thought and touch, ability to listen, grace and appreciation for the beauty of balance, understanding of what’s necessary for survival, power of gratitude and giving, ability to sacrifice for the higher good, connection to the woodland spirits, and alternative paths to a goal. The gentleness of Deer is the heart-space of the Great Spirit, which embodies His love for us all. Deer teach us that the only true balance to power is love and compassion.
DEER IN DREAMS
Deer in dreams may represent gentleness, healing and connection to the forest, which is said to symbolize the unconscious of the dreamer. Because of its cycle of growing and shedding antlers, a stag represents fecundity, rejuvenation or rebirth. Some people interpret the stag as a masculine symbol, since the antlers are used in fighting for the chance to mate. According to Jungians, the hind (female deer) in the dream of a man signifies his feminine side, the Anima, leading him into the wilderness. In the dreams of women it represents their own femininity, in a primal, instinctive state.
HOW THE FAWN RECEIVED HIS SPOTTED SHIRT – A traditional Lakotah tale.
Mother Doe, Tawiyela, was very nervous and upset. She looked this way and that for danger lurking in the shadows of the chokecherry trees and the willow shoots along the creek bed. Her baby fawn, Tacincala, was just a few minutes old, and her heart was beating as loudly as a war drum in concern for him. Father Buck, Takhca, was watchful, too, observing all he could from the steep sidehill overlooking his family below.
“O Great Creator, I wish sincerely in my heart for a way to protect my newborn fawn,” prayed the mother deer, as she washed her baby with her tongue. “You have given all the parent creatures in this land some special kind of protection for their babes when they are born. The buffalo’s baby can run immediately and hide amongst his parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in the safe inner circle of the herd. The same can be said for the great “wapati,” whose grandmothers sound the alarm and sweep even the very young to safety. The bighorn sheep have little ones who can scramble to the highest cliff almost as soon as they are born. And the pronghorn child is so fleet of foot that he can run with his mother from danger almost before she has finished washing his face. My husband and I fear for our own little child, who has no such skills. He and I can run and jump away from any threat, but our son is weak and wobbly-legged and has no strength to run away.”
“O Great Creator of all creatures, please hear our plea and give us some way to save our child from those who would savage him and tear our hearts out by his death.”
At this, the Creator of all things appeared with a great wind which drove away all of the predators who had been lurking in the shadows. His heart had been moved by the mother deer’s sincere prayers, and he decided to honor her request. Then he called Tawiyela and Takhca to him. “This child is indeed in need of help,” said the Creator. “This is what we will do. Bring me a doeskin which has been worked as fine as goose down. Bring me your paint pots, and all of your bags of pigment powders, too.”
The father deer sprang through the trees to retrieve all of the items requested by the Creator, while the mother deer stood guard near her child. While the father deer was gone, the Creator bent low over the tiny baby that lay sprawled at his feet. He took a deep breath in and let a deep breath out. The trees swayed in the breath of the Creator. Then he took a deeper breath in, so deep and so powerful that he sucked all of the scent from the baby deer’s skin. Not an aspen leaf quivered in the Great Silence of the Creator and not even a tiny breeze of his breath came back out.
Takhca returned with the doeskin tied around his neck and his paint pots and little bags of powdered pigment secured to his antlers. He offered the items up with great respect to the Creator, singing as he did a little prayer of thanksgiving. “Pila maye, Wakantanka,” he sang. “Pila maye, Wakantanka.”
The Creator of all heaven and earth measured the baby with his great hand. Then he took a piece of flint from the earth beside him and cut the soft doeskin to fit the frail little body. He mixed the pigments carefully in the pots with a little black from the charcoal of many fires, some brown from the earth, and some white from the father’s pouch. He then added some creamy yellow and just a touch of sacred red.
Then the Great Painter dabbed these paints upon the baby’s shirt. When He was done, he pulled the shirt over the baby’s head to cover his back and his sides. “Make sure your sons and daughters wear this shirt from now on,” said the Creator, “and instruct them to lie quietly in place wherever you put them, never moving nor making a sound. As long as they are obedient to your instructions, they will be safe, for they are now invisible to all who prowl in the woods, and have no scent to give them away to your enemies.”
And so it is that the fawn wears a spotted shirt until he is big enough and strong enough to walk and run, graze in the meadow side by side with his family, and listen to the wind for signs of danger as well as for the voice of the Great Creator.
” The purple-headed mountain.
The river running by.
The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky
The tall trees in the greenwood
The meadows where we play
The rushes by the water
We gather every day.
He gave us eyes to see them.
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty.
Who has made all things well.”
To all who feel the wonder and beauty of nature, the spirit of creatures great and small, and the love of God who chose to bless us with their presence in our lives.
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