This symbol of the White Stag has been cropping up for me again lately, and is one that has been with me a long time, so thought I would do a post on it. It is not specially about Deer as symbol, which is somewhat different (though related) and I will do a different post on that symbol (some time).
Before I started to research it I knew very little about it, in truth, except for an innate knowing that the image of the White Stag feels powerful and pure. I have coincidentally images of the White Stag at home here, given as gifts, and when I was looking for an image to ''hold'' on the site, the Cosmic Child resting full of trust against The White Deer summed up many subconscious or unconscious things for me, and I instantly was drawn to it. So, in this sense exploring its meaning is interesting for me.
Deer, but White Deer in specific, have been considered by Celtic people to be messengers from the Otherworld. Cernunnos, the horned god, is associated with stags.
Cernunnos"The Horned One" is a Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld. He was worshipped all over Gaul, and his cult spread into Britain as well. Cernunnos is depicted with the antlers of a stag, sometimes carries a purse filled with coin. The Horned God is born at the winter solstice, marries the goddess at Beltane, and dies at the summer solstice. He alternates with the goddess of the moon in ruling over life and death, continuing the cycle of death, rebirth and reincarnation.
Paleolithic cave paintings found in France that depict a stag standing upright or a man dressed in stag costume seem to indicate that Cernunnos' origins date to those times. Romans sometimes portrayed him with three cranes flying above his head. Known to the Druids as Hu Gadarn. God of the underworld and astral planes. The consort of the great goddess. He was often depicted holding a bag of money, or accompanied by a ram-headed serpent and a stag. Most notably is the famous Gundestrup cauldron discovered in Denmark.
Gundestrup Cauldron (Dated between 200 BC and 300 AD), found in Denmark
The White Stag is often associated with the Unicorn, although I'm sure there have been many more sightings of the Stag. :) Because the whiteness came from a medical condition it would have been rare and therefore have felt unusual for hunters who saw the White Stag. This would naturally have created traditions of taboo around harming it. I have met a stag in a forest once, an ordinary one, huge, full-antlered, and it is an awesome sight. Your breath just naturally becomes completely still and time feels dream-like. This animal at peace moves very differently than the kinds of movements modern human is used to ~ it is stately and slow and deliberate, absorbed, ethereal.
Because the White Stag has been elusive to hunters it has come to represent the Spiritual Quest. It draws the hunter on to ever new places.
“As the hart pants after the fountains of water; so my soul pants after thee, O God.” (Ps 42:1)
And though the Stag leads the hunter on a wondrous chase, the one who kills the White Stag is said to be cursed. There is a story, though I don't know how true it is, that Archduke Franz Ferdinand killed a White Stag a year before his assassination.(Ferdinand was an obsessive hunter whose own diary records a lifetime kill tally of over 250,000 animals!)
In King Arthur's legends he and his men found the magical Pellinore's Well because they were in pursuit of a White Stag. In the Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan is supposed to have been the White Stag (transfigured) who led the children out of Narnia. He had been the first animal Lucy's brother had seen there too, drawing the Witches chariot. That White Stag could grant wishes to anyone able to catch them.
It is a symbol in almost every culture.
“This white one represents the sacredness of all living things and they should be left alone, never hunted or bothered. When we see them, we should take notice of our own spirituality and think about where we are with it.”
From an Ojibway Story of the White Deer (Native American)
It is sometimes said to have the Sun or a Cross between its antlers or on its forehead ~ the White Stag has been considered a symbol of Christ. It is said that Christ appeared to the Roman soldier Eustace in the form of a White Stag.
Lord of the forest, masculine power of regeneration, giver of bounty, beauty and mystical signs, fights when cornered but prefers to run away. The antlers of the stag have long been a symbol of worship and are associated directly with the fertility of the God. The pagan Horned God in his many incarnations, often appears wearing a headdress of antlers or in some depictions, the horns grow directly from his head. In some Pagan paths, there is a correlation between the shape of a pair of horns and the crescent moon. The image of a stag with a full moon between his antlers represents both the male (the antlers) and the female (the Moon) aspects of the Divine.
Indepth article on Stags and Deers mythology and symbolism here ~ http://www.druidry.org/library/animals/stags-and-deer