The Running of The Deer

Oh the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,
The days are short, the night is long, the turning of the year.
–The Holly and The Ivy (alternate version)

A number of years ago, I visited friends in Perthshire, Scotland. My first morning there, I woke very early, as often happens after intercontinental travel. I walked out into the garden just as the sun was rising and came upon a large stag who seemed just as surprised to see me as I was to see him. We looked at one another for a long moment, and then he turned, jumped effortlessly over a stone wall and bounded off into the rose gold light. It was a magical image that has stayed with me ever since.

“The Holly and The Ivy” is an old song, written when the running of the deer (the hunt) was essential to survival, especially in winter. In many times and places, symbolic meanings have been attached to deer:

  • in medieval times, the stag was a symbol for Christ, who tramples and destroys the Devil. The stag was believed to trample and destroy snakes, a symbol for Satan;
  • deer antlers are the only mammalian appendages capable of repeated rounds of regeneration; every year they are shed and regrow. Perhaps this is the reason why the stag became a symbol of regeneration;
  • the Insular Celts held deer as supernatural animals, “fairy cattle” that were herded and milked by a localised and benevolent fairy giantess (a bean sìdhe) in each district, who could shift shape to that of a red deer (Wikipedia, “Deer in mythology”);
  • deer also play a magical role in the story of St. Patrick, who was said to have been transformed into a deer to save him from his enemies;
  • the transformation of man into deer also appears in the Greek mythology, when Artemis transforms Actaeon into a stag after he sees her bathing nude in a pool. Actaeon, as stag, is torn to pieces by his own hounds.

Bambi2While reverence for the deer may be planted deep in our ancestral memories, deer no longer hold the spiritual and life sustaining value that they used to have. With loss of habitat and destruction of their natural predators, deer have moved into the hearts of our cities, where they have become a nuisance and a danger. When deer are rampaging through our gardens on a daily basis, they don’t seem like magical creatures. We wish they would just go away. We talk about “the deer problem”. Our attitude towards these beautiful and graceful creatures has become conflicted: we are “of two minds”.

Next time: “Deer in the City”.

“The Running of the Deer", collagraph and embossing, 6″ x 10″

“The Running of the Deer”, collagraph and embossing, 6″ x 10″




27 thoughts on “The Running of The Deer

  1. Pingback: Deer in the City | the painting gardener

  2. We try to outwit the deer every year, but they are very clever and persistent (and hungry this year between the fires and the drought!). They are beautiful. I feel bad for them. I just wish they would go away. All those things. We moved into their neighborhood though, so with that in mind, we pay our rent with a few pumpkins and rose buds each year. The center panel of your piece reminds me of my shredded pumpkin patch, and I swear, the look in the eye of the deer in the bottom panel is exactly the one that deer gave me before she calmly walked away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Poor you, with a shredded pumpkin patch!

      I’m so glad you’ve stopped by. I forgot to say, when I commented on your post, that we are all too aware of the drought in California, as we depend on the abundant supply of California fruits and vegetables to see us through the winter. It is a serious concern; in fact, I’ve read that it’s the worst drought in 1200 years!


  3. A beautiful post commenting on a majestic animal that is becoming a problem, due to our infringement into its natural habitat. We must find creative ways of living with nature, and allowing it to expand and thrive alongside our human life-styles. The art work was also a delightful addition, with the embossing, able to be seen so well.


  4. As you know I have had my fair share of deer incidents in the past! It is very upsetting to arrive at work in the morning to find your efforts trampled and eaten, day after day. But it is a matter of perspective and I refused to have them “dealt with” as the boss called it. To kill a creature just because the roses are ruined is wicked. The print is just beautiful. 🙂


  5. Lovely work – and I see you have avoided “Christmas card” colours like red and green! I particularly like the impression of movement in the deer itself – and the eyes.
    I must admit I hadn’t heard any of those fascinating stories about deer.
    Does it ever strike you that the words of the original chorus of the Holly and the Ivy don’t match the tune very well? The playing of the merry organ part always seems hard to sing.
    All the best 🙂


  6. Interesting facts! You’re right about the ‘deer problem’, I also included in the catalogue ‘deer resistant’ plants 😉 following what everyone else does…it is a ‘human problem’ though.

    Great print (I don’t know if that’s how should I call it) – that deer is looking straight at you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s