Remembering the Deer Mother of Winter Solstice
Written by Danielle Prohom Olson & originally published on Gather Victoria Doe, A Deer, A Female Reindeer: The Spirit of Mother Christmas “Oh wondrous headed doe… Amongst its horns it carries the light of the blessed sun…” ~ Hungarian Christmas Folk Song Long before Santa charioted his flyi
Long before Santa charioted his flying steeds across our mythical skies, it was the female reindeer who drew the sleigh of the sun goddess at winter solstice. It was when we “Christianized” the pagan traditions of winter, that the white bearded man i.e. “Father Christmas” was born.
Today it is her beloved image that adorns Christmas cards and Yule decorations – not Rudolph. Because unlike the male reindeer who sheds his antlers in winter, it is the larger and stronger doe, who retains her antlers. And it is she who leads the herds in winter.
So this season, when we gather by the fire to tell children bedtime stories of Santa and his flying reindeer – why not tell the story of the ancient Deer Mother of old? It was she who once flew through winter’s longest darkest night with the life-giving light of the sun in her horns.
Ever since the early Neolithic, when the earth was much colder and reindeer more widespread, the female reindeer was venerated by northern people. She was the “life-giving mother”, the leader of the herds upon which they depended for survival, and they followed the reindeer migrations for milk, food, clothing and shelter.
And from the British Isles, Scandinavia, Russia, Siberia, across the land bridge of the Bering Strait, she was a revered spiritual figure associated with fertility, motherhood, regeneration and the rebirth of the sun (the theme of winter solstice).
Her antlers adorned shrines and altars, were buried in ceremonial graves, and were worn as shamanic headdresses. Her image was etched in standing stones, woven into ceremonial cloth and clothing, cast in jewelry, painted on drums, and tattooed onto skin.