Symbolic meaning of stag
Buddhist Symbolism | Celtic Symbolism | Self-Development | Shamanic Symbolism

The Symbolic Meaning Of Stag and Deer

In the mainstream – or exoteric circle – the stag/deer is recognised as a symbol of spiritual authority. More precisely, the symbolic meaning of the stag is given as regeneration, intuition and gentleness.

These interpretations of the symbolism are not entirely wrong. However, they only give you a small piece of the jigsaw. Subsequently, the advice offered by commentators on various websites misses the mark.

Looking at the interpretations from an esoteric standpoint, the symbolic meaning of stags and deer point to the process of individuation. This involves transforming energy (regeneration), trusting your instincts when new information surfaces (intuition), flexible thinking and the ability to think on your feet (swiftness).

When interpreting symbolism, it’s a mistake to use the precise word offered by authorities. They typically use an acronym. Exoteric essentially means, “that which is deemed suitable for the general population.”

In other words, it’s misleading.

To benefit from symbolism, you need to understand the esoteric meaning. That’s what Master Mind Content symbolism courses teach you. We interpret symbolism in relation to psychology, quantum physics and epigenetics.

The purpose of teaching symbolism in relation to self-development is because it’s a very useful way of understanding your psyche. Really useful.

“The analogies between ancient myths and the stories that appear in the dreams of modern patients are neither trivial nor accidental. They exist because the unconscious mind of modern man preserves the symbol-making capacity that once found expression in the beliefs and rituals of the primitive. And that capacity still plays a role of vital psychic importance. In more ways than we realize, we are dependent on the messages that are carried by such symbols, and both our attitudes and our behavior are profoundly influenced by them.” ~ Dr. Joseph L. Henderson, Man and His Symbols

I will explain the esoteric symbolism in more depth throughout this article using myths from Native American, Mexico and the Celts, Hinduism and Buddhism.

But first, let’s take a quick look at what exoteric sources say. In doing so, I can show you how important it is to take the pieces of the jigsaw and create a bigger picture.

Now that you’re here, my intention is to show you how to follow the path that guides you to the Truth about consciousness, universal energy and your inner world.

Stag with flaming antlers

The Exoteric Meanings of Stag and Deer

In this section, I will address the mainstream (exoteric) interpretations given for stag and deer and give you a hint of the esoteric meaning. The reason for this is to show you how the exoteric meanings offered by “authorities” are misleading and should not be interpreted literally.

Remember what I said above about collecting pieces of the jigsaw. Here are the pieces.

A general list of symbolic meanings given for stag/deer from around the web include:

  • Spiritual superiority
  • Vigilance
  • Swiftness, to change direction quickly
  • Regeneration/rebirth
  • Shape-changing
  • Graceful
  • Magical
  • Travel

When you understand the deeper, esoteric meaning of symbolism, the snippets above give you enough to work with. What you need to consider is the ancient sages that devised symbolic meanings chose certain attributes of an animal’s nature and physical qualities.

If you apply the meaning too literally you get interpretations offered by mainstream sources.

For example, Faena Aleph says stags have spiritual superiority because, “Like a crown, the antlers grow beyond its body, bringing it closer to the sky and making it sacred.”

Spiritual superiority actually means self-realisation which enables you to raise your vibration. There are no gods in the sky you have to get closer to before you are spiritually superior.

Spirit animal, on the hand, says: “The deer horns are great means of defending and asserting yourself.” This is when you are not being as gentle as a deer which they also mention you have to be.

The “horns” do not represent aggression, although Stags do use their antlers to ward off intruders that pose a threat.

The antlers are actually linked with regeneration (death and rebirth) because they fall off and grow again. This symbolic reference of this relates to the transformation of energy (which is what happens when you grow “spiritually or come to a moment of self-realisation).

Deer do symbolise aggression only in terms of motivating yourself to change. Breaking habitual behaviours requires courage. If you see the synchronicity of deer in a short space of time, it could be a reminder for you to adopt these aspects of their nature in the right moments.

Gentleness also has another meaning. The innate nature of deer is sensitivity and intuition. When exoteric interpretations give a symbolic meaning like “gentle”, it may be an acronym. Therefore, “gentleness” would mean “sensitive” and not gentle.

Another example of an acronym is graceful. It can also mean nimble which we also see in other terms given for deer; swiftness and the ability to change direction quickly.

Running deer

What this refers to is having a flexible and quick-thinking state of mind. The ability to explore problems you face from more than one angle is a gift that makes the process of individuation easier.

The ability to be flexible and think quickly on your feet also stands you in good stead in social environments. An easy-going nature is an advantage for building relationships.

The magic element, shape-changing and travel also refer to the same thing; energy which is constantly flowing and changing within you. Energy travels from cell to cell carrying information. Change the information in your energy and you change with it.

“Consequently, your physical, mental and emotional being is akin to the jack-knife of the boy in the story – the knife had three new handles and seven new blades replaced in it during the years of his ownership of it, yet he called it the ‘same old knife.’ But it wasn’t the same old knife at all, it was simply the successor or descendant of the original knife owned by the same guy. The boy was the only identical factor or element. Your “I am” is like the boy, your physical, mental and emotional being is the renovated knife. The I Am is the only constant, your body, mind and emotional states are constantly in a change of influx. You are your true Real Self, not the vehicle in which you occupy.” ~ William Walker Atkinson, The Inner Secret Or That Something Within

Self-development involves changing your thoughts, actions and emotions that do not serve you. Thoughts, actions and emotions are energy.

Energy transforms and all energy has potential. This is essentially what stag and deer represent. Let’s take a closer look.

The Esoteric Symbolism of Deer in Mythology

Once you understand the foundations of symbolism, you can use it as a tool for identifying problems in your life and deciding on the best cause of action. This may be a decision you have to make or even a weakness in yourself you need to change.

For example, if you have a problem that leaves you with negative emotions and a chaotic head, being able to interpret a symbol will help guide you towards a solution.

The reason for this is because the unconscious speaks to us in symbols. If you’ve ever had a weird dream you can’t work out, you will know this to be true. Being able to work out the symbolism in dreams, for example, is a major advantage.

“To ponder over ideas which convey very little to the rational side of one may not conduce at first to deep understanding. But, by permitting the mind slowly to dwell upon enigmas, whether they be actual dreams thrown up by the psyche or the mysterious dream-like references of alchemy – both use the same archaic symbolic language – by allowing the mind freely to drift from words, cryptic phrases and ideas, there are formed association tracks in the mind. Other words link themselves in strange combinations to the original thought.” ~ Israel Regardie, Gold

To identify the esoteric meanings of symbols, you need to dig a little deeper than accepting the interpretation offered by organised institutions such as religion, academia, cults and societies. These groups only offer misleading information.

Deer typically play their part in various world mythologies as an animal of the hunt and the chase. In psychological terms, this means looking for a part of you that is missing and exploring you unconscious for it; vigilance, swiftness.

In European mythology, deer are associated with the gods and goddesses of hunting. In Greco-Roman myths, Artemis and her Roman equivalent Diana, have a deer as their chief symbol.

Statue of Artemis with a deer

According to Carl G. Jung, Artemis represents the anima, the feminine aspect of the male psyche. She is an archetype representing the maturing psyche of a man and serves as a bridge in the development of his feminine principle.

For a woman, Artemis is the feminine aspect of her nature that destroys an over-developed ego that thinks too much. The mind is associated with the masculine principle.

In one myth, Artemis turns the hunter Acteon into a stag when he snuck up on her and watched her bathing naked. Here, Acteon represents the ego’s intrusive nature that pollutes pure wisdom – nakedness representing purity.

The information you need to fix problems and evolve comes from your unconscious by way of ideas and feelings. These thoughts are the voice of your True Self.

Yet, more often than not, you will dismiss these ideas outright, or talk yourself out of trying something new because it is easier to stay in your comfort zone.

The ego, programmed by fear, is the voice and the energy that keeps you in your bubble. The voice that provides new information is the True Self, unconscious content that will enable you to burst your bubble and discover the unknown.

This is what deer represent.

“In the woman’s meditation, the Self appeared as a deer, which said to the ego: “I am your child and your mother. They call me the ‘connecting animal’ because I connect people, animals, and even stones with one another if I enter them. I am your fate or the ‘objective I.’ When I appear, I redeem you from the meaningless hazards of life. The fire burning inside me burns in the whole of nature. If a man loses it, he becomes egocentric, lonely, disoriented and weak.” ~ Louise-Marie Von Franz, Man and His Symbols

The Symbolic Meaning of Deer in Celtic Myth

In Celtic tradition, the symbolic meaning of the deer relates to the feminine principle (gentleness and grace).

We also find the shape-shifting (regeneration) reference here also. Characters are usually transformed into a deer, or deer turn into women to avoid being hunted.

For example, in Irish mythology, the goddess Sadhbh, wife of the legendary warrior leader, Finn mac Cumhail, was turned into a deer by an evil warlock she refused to marry.

Whilst out hunting in the forest, Finn’s dogs refused to kill a cornered deer. Later then night, Sadhbh came to Finn in a dream and explained his love would break the spell.

Love-based emotions are aspects of the feminine principle; care, nurturing and dedication. The feminine principle is also associated with intuition. The sighting of a deer, therefore, is a sign to pay more attention to your inner wisdom.

On a deeper level, to love another human being unconditionally requires you to be connected to your inner core. Love is not only about passion and care towards your lover, but also loving yourself without shame and guilt.

The stag is also the generative power of the male principle. Thoughts plant seeds that have the potential to blossom into something beautiful. This is the magical aspect of conscious and when you know how to transform thoughts into things you can say you are blessed with “spiritual superiority.”

In Celtic myth, the horned God Cernunnos, the god of beasts, is referred to as the “mediator of man and nature.” He is associated with the stag on rut thus is connected to fertility and vegetation – symbolic for the cultivation of new beginnings.

Cernunnos on Gaudustrop Cauldron
Cernunnos on Gaudustrop Cauldron

Stags are seen as a symbol of power because of their capacity for transformation. In turn, mankind’s regenerative power is the ability to attain states of expanded conscious awareness.

Esoteric Meaning of Deer in Buddhism and Hinduism

In Buddhism, we are told the deer symbolises harmony, happiness, peace and longevity.

We are also told that when a male and female deer appear either side of the Dharma wheel, “it is a direct allusion to the first teachings of Buddha.”

Let’s break this down.

Having highlighted the regenerative and caring qualities of the stag and deer above, it’s easy to relate these to harmony, happiness and peace, all of which are the same thing really.

Peace and happiness come when you achieve your goals which is the creative (fertility) aspect of the stag.

Longevity relates to the transformational quality of energy, and ties in with the concept “death and rebirth.” The Law of Thermodynamics shows that energy does not die but transforms.

In Hindu mythology, the god Vayu is often pictured riding a deer. In Sanskrit, Vayu literally means “Blower” or “Breath of life.” Here again, we see the idea of fertility; creativity.

We also see a connection with Genesis in the Bible. In the Creation story, God makes Adam by breathing the “breath of life” into him.

God is symbolism for Consciousness.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says that a vision leaves a man’s body, it will continue to live, but unless it is guided by Vayu, the man will be blind.

Blindness is symbolic of ignorance – being left in the dark.

‘Digging deeper, we also find that Vayu is the god that is traditionally associated with the heart chakra. Thus we see the emblem of the deer associated with love and harmony – the feminine principle.

Buddhist scripture also tells us Buddha was a golden deer in a former existence. Robert Beer, in the Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols says deer is a symbol of renunciation because ‘deers never sleep in the same place.’

Dharma wheel and two deer
Image credit: Dennis Jarvis

Again movement is implied here, and thus the constant regeneration of energy that creates your experiences in life.

So what about the two deer on either side of the Dharma Wheel. The official meaning of the Dharma wheel is it means the cycle of life. The esoteric meaning relates to the cyclical rhythm of energy that manifests as experiences. How you nurture your actions determines how you cultivate your energy.

The eight spokes of the Dharma Wheel also share attributes with the Noble Eightfold Path. This is the teaching Buddha gave in his first sermon in what is now called Deer Park in Sarnath. In the sermon, Buddha explained how we should experience life.

Moreover, the male deer represents the regenerative power of the mind, the female deer is the nurturing aspect of the heart.

Symbolic Meaning of Deer in Taoism

Hexagram 3 of the I Ching describes a story of a man hunting deer without the aid of a forester for guidance. The hexagram is called Difficulty at the Beginning.”

The oracle explains that when you hunt deer with knowing the way, you will lose yourself in the forest.

“If a man tries to hunt in a strange forest and has no guide, he loses his way. When he finds himself in difficulties he must not try to steal out of them unthinkingly and without guidance. Fate cannot be duped; premature effort, without the necessary guidance, ends in failure and disgrace. Therefore the superior man, discerning the seeds of coming events, prefers to renounce a wish rather than to provoke failure and humiliation by trying to force its fulfilment.” ~ I Ching, Translation by Richard Wilhelm

The forest is symbolism for the unconscious and the forester, as a guide, is the ability of the conscious mind to make a discerning inquiry into the nature of the unconscious.

The deer, like the anima, is the bridge between the ego and the Self. It connects man (ego) with nature (Self). In other words, if you act on the instincts that surface from the unconscious without applying rational thought, you could run into trouble.

Symbolic Meaning of Deer in the Americas

For the native tribes of North America, the deer was a messenger and a totem representing sensitivity, intuition and fertility.

We’ve covered all these above, but there are a couple of shamanic legends I want to draw your attention to because they help to explain more about the symbolic meaning of the deer.

The first is a Cherokee legend that tells the story of “How the Deer got his horns.” The myth says that the deer and the rabbit were pitted against one another in a race to see which animal was quickest. The prize was a pair of antlers.

Stag with antlers

During the race, the rabbit was caught cheating by pulling out bushes to make a short cut to the finish line. By default, the deer was awarded the antlers.

To make sense of this story, it’s important to know the rabbit symbolises fertility and is considered a “trickster”.

With regards fertility, rabbit breed quickly. Fertility relates to thoughts, indicating the rabbit is the egocentric mind that is abound with thoughts.

Neuroscientists estimate the average person around 6200 thoughts a day. What’s more, psychologists believe that 90-97% of thoughts we have come from the subconscious.

The subconscious mind are recorded programs that prompt us to have habitual thoughts, thus we behave habitually also.

As ‘trickster’, the rabbit is related to the Jester archetype which has a habit of fooling the mind. Here we see how the habitual programs of the ego talk you out of pursuing the unknown and creating a short cut to your final decision of how to act.

For the Huicholes of central Mexico, the deer represents the language of the gods which deliver messages to mankind.

This concept corresponds with Hermes, the messenger of the gods in Greek Mythology – who incidentally is also a trickster (as an immature aspect of the psyche) and also associated with the Magician card in Tarot (as a maturing aspect of the psyche).

This idea is demonstrated in the Huichol myth of the Blue Deer where four hunters, representing the four elements, fire an arrow at a blue deer only to find the arrow buried in a Peyote cactus shaped like a deer.

Peyote is a psychedilc substance that is extracted from the San Pedro cactus and used in Shamanic traditions for healing.

This myth recognises the Deer has transformative energy that can bring about self-realisation is the healer.

In alchemical traditions, the four elements are qualities of the mind that enables you to delve into the unconscious and recover information that brings about individuation – the process of bringing unconscious to the attention of the conscious mind; self-realisation.

It’s also interesting to note the Magician is typically pictured in the tarot deck working with the four elements.

In addition, peyote represents the deer’s heart. Corn – a fertility symbol, represent its antlers. What’s more, the reproductive cycle of the deer is connected to the Huicholes’ ritual calendar.

To conclude, the deer appears in your life, it is a prompt to be flexible in your thinking and trust your intuition. Don’t simply listen to egoistic programs and do what you have always done. The art of self-development is to allow your unconscious to help you learn something about your True Nature.

Do you want to understand the secret language of esoteric symbolism? Team up with Master Mind Content and learn the art of self-development with one of our insightful Symbolism Courses. You will learn what esoteric symbols really mean and how you can use this powerful tool to make decisions with confidence and improve your quality of life.

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