Stories from the Barn

A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands

Christmas Deer a Female Deer

Female reindeer

Doe a deer, a female deer, a Christmas deer.

Advent Day 23
Why do we associate reindeer, the Christmas deer, with festivals at this time of year? Long before Christianity and Christmas, the mother of the forest and the northern Winter lands, drew a sleigh across the sky. She was the female reindeer and she was drawing the sun goddess across the sky at Winter Solstice.

It is the female reindeer that wears the antlers in Winter, the male has shed his. Somehow the image has become a male Christmas deer but we know that the deer who draws the sleigh of Father Christmas is female.

The doe reindeer, the face that appears on thousands of images to celebrate Christmas, is not the male Rudolph deer. The Christmas deer that we all have the image of standing in the snow, is a female reindeer. She leads the herd and as she draws the sun goddess across the sky, light of the sun shone out of her antlers.

The female reindeer, bringing hope in the cold Northern Winters.

In the coldest Winters on earth, thousands of years of Northern people were dependent upon the life giving female deer. She supplied milk, meat, furs and kept the herd together. She led them to the places of shelter and nourishment. It was this life giver who was revered by the Northern people of Scandinavia, Siberia and the British Isles. Her antlers were buried in graves, carved on stones, adorned as head dresses.

The wondrous female deer is drawn flying through the skies, her antlers carrying all manner of creatures along with the sun and moon. Like the Holly King she took her people from light to dark, this Christmas deer, this female deer.

Across the Northern hemisphere there are many flying goddesses connected to the Winter solstice. Why is this? Imagine being in a world without electricity, without food stores, no central heating. The landscape offers no fresh vegetation, frozen ground. All you can do as the sun gets lower in the sky is to sit and wait. Outside all is dark and cold. The only thing that offers hope is the female deer. She is the bringer of all hope. Of course she is venerated as a goddess or spirit, a Winter spirit. She is depicted flying on a sleigh throwing amber pebbles (symbolizing the sun) down chimneys. In some of these Northern lands her feast days are in late December. In other traditions her antlers are considered as part of the spiral of life, holding nourishment in her antlers.

Female reindeer

Mushrooms and the Christmas deer.

Many of these flying stories are thought to have come about because of the hallucinogenic Amanita Muscaria mushroom. The archetypal red toadstool with white spots that these female deer eat.  Shamans of these Northern lands would eat the mushrooms themselves and experience the illusion of flying. Once airborne these Shamans would toss the red mushroom down chimneys. Are you starting to see a story emerging? Some of these Shamans were depicted wearing a red costume covered with white spots. Just to add these Sha ‘mans’ were actually Sha ‘womans’, dressed in red cloaks trimmed with white reindeer fur.

Mushrooms and Christmas

The story is repeated from culture to culture and from different periods of time but it is a common theme. No wonder the turning point in the year was and still is welcomed by us all in the Northern hemisphere. The long Winter nights giving way to the light, Spring and rebirth, obviously it must be one of the most important stories for mans survival.

Welcome then the Christmas deer, the female deer, the flying deer carrying the female Shamans. Look out for her, dropping the sun down the chimneys as she passes overhead at the Winter solstice.