An ode to slowness

Between the Fox and the Owl by Donna Howell-Sickles

Fridays are my day for re-visiting posts from the Myth & Moor archves, often ones that touch on themes we've been discussing during the week. This post first appeared in the autumn of 2012, presented today with new art. 

From "Ode to Slowness" by Terry Tempest Williams:

"I want my life to be a celebration of slowness.

"Walking through the sage from our front door, I am gradually drawn into the well-worn paths of deer. They lead me to Round Mountain and the bloodred side canyons below Castle Rock. Sometimes I see them, but often I don't. Deer are quiet creatures, who, when left to their own nature, move slowly. Their large black eyes absorb all shadows, especially the flash of predators. And their ears catch each word spoken. But today they walk ahead with their halting prance, one leg raised, then another, and allow me to follow them. I am learning how to not provoke fear and flight among deer. We move into a pink, sandy wash, their black-tipped tails like eagle feathers. I lose sight of them as they disappear around the bend.

Three Does and a Kid by Donna Howell-Sickles

"On the top of the ridge I can see for miles... Inside this erosional landscape where all colors eventually bleed into the river, it is hard to desire anything but time and space.

"Time and space. In the desert there is space. Space is the twin sister of time. If we have open space then we have open time to breath, to dream, to dare, to play, to pray to move freely, so freely, in a world our minds have forgotten but our bodies remember. Time and space. This partnership is holy. In these redrock canyons, time creates space--an arch, an eye, this blue eye of sky. We remember why we love the desert; it is our tactile response to light, to silence, and to stillness.

"Hand on stone -- patience.

"Hand on water -- music.

"Hand raised to the wind --  Is this the birthplace of inspiration?"

Desert Mule-eared Deer

Yes, I believe it is.

I firmly believe that inspiration is born in the land, born of the land, and borne to us on the sacred winds: in the Utah desert where Williams lives, here on my beloved Dartmoor, in the green spaces of London and Manhattan, and wherever you are too. We all need the land and we all need the wild, in all of its various manifestations -- for creative work, and for the art we make everyday of the lives we live.

That's not to say there aren't other forms of inspiration, or artists who make good use of them. But right now, for me, on this beautiful and ailing planet, this is one of the forms of inspiration we need the most, and that matters the most. I think about this constantly as I work with the tools of myth and fantasy. How can I use them in service to the land? How do I let the land speak through me?

I start by living a little more slowly, a little more attentively -- for my art cannot speak for wild lands or wild neighbors if I'm not listening to what they have to say.

In Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit extolls the value of moving through the world more slowly:

"Musing takes place in a kind of meadowlands of the imagination," she writes, "a part of the imagination that has not yet been plowed, developed, or put to any immediately practical use...time spent there is not work time, yet without that time the mind becomes sterile, dull, domesticated. The fight for free space -- for wilderness and public space -- must be accompanied by a fight for free time to spend wandering in that space."

Indeed.

And Then There Were Three by Donna Howell-Sickles

The art today is by Donna Howell-Sickles, who was born and raised on a 900-acre farm in Texas.Watching the Big Bear by Donna Howell-Sickles

While studying for a BFA at Texas Tech University, she came across a postcard of a cowgirl from the 1930s and became fascinated with the history, iconography, and mythology of cowgirls throughout the American West. Her distinctive art is now shown in galleries and museums across the United States and Europe.

Although she's best known for vibrant pictures of cowgirls and their horses, I'm especially drawn to her imagery of additional animals and birds: dogs, deer, bear, crows, owls, and the like. The artist is conscious of their mythological connotations, and often employs such imagery to tell symbolic stories about the inner journeys of the women in her work.

Please visit her website if you'd like to see more; or look for her book: Cowgirl Rising: The Art of Donna Howell-Sickles (from Greenwich Workshop Press, 1997).

It is Written in the Stars by Donna Howell-Sickles

Deer by Donna Howell-SicklesThe passage by Terry Tempest Williams is from an essay in Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert (Pantheon, 2001). The passage by Rebecca Solnit is from Wanderlust: A History of Walking (Viking, 1997). Both books are highly recommended. All rights to the text and art above reserved by the authors and artist.


The art of hope

Flora McLachlan

Flora McLachlan

I'm still immersed in Conversations with Barry Lopez by William E. Tydeman, allowing myself only a few pages during my coffee break in the woods each day, drawing the book out and taking the time to really think about what I'm reading. Today, I'm struck by following passage on hope -- for "hope" and "goodness," it seems to me, are too often portrayed as banal, Pollyanna-ish qualities, when in fact it takes great courage and clarity of mind to reject despair, reach for the light and make something beautiful and whole out of lives and times so dark and fractured.

Flora McLachlanThe passage begins with Lopez noting his desire to explore the relationship between emotion and landscape in the context of nature writing (a publishing label, I should acknowledge, that he personally dislikes) -- and the single emotion that he's most interested in exploring this way is hope. I find that interest significant for Lopez can hardly be accused of naivity, having spent a lifetime on the frontlines of activism for social justice and our ailing planet, and having faced true evil in his early years.* Those who thoroughly understand despair have my attention when they speak of hope.

"I think you can evoke aspects of the land in prose in a way that makes people hopeful about their lives, " he says. "I think you can also describe landscapes that are not just physically but metaphysically dreary, and that those descriptions can make a readers lose a sense of hope about the subtle possibilities of their own lives. For me -- and maybe there is some mode of critical thinking about this -- the creation of story is a social act. It's driven by individual vision, of course, but in the end I think story is social, and part of what makes it social is this impact it can have on the psyche of the reader.

"My sense is that story developed in parrallel with the capacity to remember in Homo sapiens. I don't mean 'Where did we cache the food last spring?' but memory operating at a more esoteric level, recalling, say, the circumstances that induced loving behavior. Story, it seems to me, begins as a mnemonic device. It carries memory outside the brain and employs it in a social context. So you could say a person hears a story and feels better; a person hears the story and remembers who they are, or who they want to become, or what it is that they mean. I think story is rooted in the same little piece of historical ground out of which the capacity to remember and the penchant to forget come."

Flora McLachlan

The First Leaves by Flora McLachlan

After reading these words, I flip back to the book's introduction by William Tydeman and find this passage I'd marked last week:

"Most times when Lopez speaks of hope, I am reminded of the simple-minded approach so many critics and intellectuals take toward place-based writing and its expression of hope. Lopez and I agree with an analysis made by Christopher Lasch, who conveys a nuanced view of the multilayered meaning of hope. He argues that 'Hope asserts the goodness of life in the face of its limits.' Hope does not require a belief in progress or prevent us from expecting the worst but, rather, hope 'trusts life without denying its tragic character. Progressive optimism, often confused with hope, is based on a denial of the natural limits of human power and freedom -- a blind faith that things will somehow work out for the best. It is not an affective anecdote to despair.' Those who challenge the status quo and support the popular uprising  for social justice 'require hope, a tragic understanding of life, the disposition to see things through.' Hope is what we need."

It is indeed.

Flora McLachlan

Thistledown by Flora McLachlan

The art today is by Flora McLachlan, a printmaker born in Sussex and now based in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. "My pictures are records of things seen and imagined by twilight or moonglow," she writes. "I take inspiration from my studies of English literature, myth and legend. I try to express a sense of the enchantment I feel is embedded in our ancient landscape. I try to imagine the secret face of the land, when the light fades and the creatures come out to roam. I’m feeling for a lost or hidden magic, a glimpse through trees of the white hart.

"My preferred technique is etching. I love its atmosphere, the deep mysterious blacks and the glowing whites. During the long etching process, my original idea changes, and grows, with the working of the metal. The act of creation continues with the printing of the image; many of my etchings are underprinted with a painterly mono-collagraph plate, and most are complex and demand a concentrated and meditative approach to the inking and printing."

To see more of McLachlan's beautiful work visit the artist's website; and Foxnest, her Etsy shop.

Crossing the Water by Flora McLachlan

The White Hart by Flora McLachlan

Flora McLachlan

* I recommend Lopez' s  beautifully-crafted & wrenching autobiographical essay "Sliver of Sky,"  published in Harper's in 2013, with a trigger warning for abuse issues.

The passages quoted above are from Conversations with Barry Lopez: Walking the Path of Imagination by William E. Tydeman (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013). All rights to the words & images in this post reserved by the authors & artist. A related post from February: Alison Hawthorne Deming on art, culture, and radical hope.


Watching the deer

The Watcher in the Wood

The Book of Fairy Poetry illustrated by Warwick Goble
This Morning I Watched the Deer

by Mary Oliver

This morning I watched the deer
   with beautiful lips touching the tips
of the cranberries, setting their hooves down
   in the dampness carelessly, isn't it after all
the carpet of their house, their home, whose roof
   is the sky?

Why, then, was I suddenly miserable?

Well, this is nothing much.
This is the heaviness of the body watching the swallows
   gliding just under that roof.

This is the wish that the deer would not lift their heads
   and leap away, leaving me there alone.
This is the wish to touch their faces, their brown wrists -
   to sing some sparking poem into
the folds of their ears.


then walk with them,
over the hills
and over the hills

and into the impossible trees.

The White Hind by Arthur Hughes

This is the wish

Deer in DevonWords: The poem above is from Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, 2004); all rights reserved by the author. Pictures: An illustration from The Book of Fairy Poetry by Warwick Goble (1920), "The White Hind" by Arthur Hughes (1870), and deer in Devon.


Dreams of deer

Brother and Sister by Cremonini

I have another deer poem for you today, a psalm for the wild ones of the forest.

Fawn by Kiki SmithThe enchanted deer in the pictures above and below come from two classic French fairy volumes. Above is "Brother and Sister" from Les contes de Grimm, illustrated by Cremonini (Editions Fabbri, 1965). Below is "Bright, Dear Deer, and Kit" from Le livre des bêtes enchantées, illustrated by Adrienne Ségur (Flammarion, 1956). Selections from Le livre des bêtes enchantées and an earlier volume, Il était une fois, were published in the U.S. as The Golden Book of Fairy Tales, translated by Marie Ponsot (Golden Books, 1958).

The illustration on the right is "Fawn," by the German-American artist Kiki Smith. Alas, I have no idea where the final photograph is from...but isn't it marvelous?

Bright, Dear Deer, and Kit by Adrienne Segur

Old photograph, provenance unknown


Into the Woods, 21: Following the Deer (Part IV)

Woodland tapestry detail

Psalm
by George Oppen

Veritas sequitur ...

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down —

That they are there!

                                  Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

                                   The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

                                    Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

                                     The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.

Woodland tapestry

Holy Grail tapestry

skin
by Lynn Hardaker

i press
ochred hands onto the walls of this cave. my skin. my shelter.

my fingers crawl like night insects
to sing the running of the animals,
the wind of the chase, the beating of hearts and hooves
across the plains, of stone and dust.

each night i dream the chase
across my eyes’ black-lidded sky
each night
my body slick with sweat and smeared with ash
i run

as i run,
i hear the beating of the drum i’ve made -
taught and resonant - from my own skin,
feel the weight of the weapon i’ve made
from my own bone.

i leave the fire-painted walls
of this illusion

and i run

under the cool, many-eyed gaze of the night
i run until i feel my heart will beat its last beat and tear through my skin
i stop

my fear as dry as the dirt in my mouth.

i lower my antlers to the pool
and drink the stars.

Detail from the Holy Grail tapestry

Detail from the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries

The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestry

The Faces of Deer
by Mary Oliver

When for too long I don't go deep enough
into the woods to see them, they begin to
enter my dreams. Yes, there they are, in the
pinewoods of my inner life. I want to live a life
full of modesty and praise. Each hoof of each
animal makes the sign of a heart as it touches
then lifts away from the ground. Unless you
believe that heaven is very near, how will you
find it? Their eyes are pools in which one
would be content, on any summer afternoon,
to swim away through the door of the world.
Then, love and its blessing. Then: heaven.

Go here for Following the Deer (L'Envoi)

A detail from the Winged Deer tapestry, medieval French

Tilly and the deer

Deer tapestries above: The Woodland tapestry designed by John Henry Dearle for Morris & Co. (English, late 19th century); The Quest for the Holy Grail tapestry designed by William Morris for Morris & Co. (English, late 19th century); a detail from one of the four Devonshire Hunting Tapesteries (medieval French); one of the seven tapestries in the Hunt of the Unicorn series (medieval Dutch); and Tilly sits with the winged deer in the tapestry hanging over the studio sofa. (The design is medieval French.)

Publication credits: "Psalm" by George Oppen was published in New Collected Poems by George Oppen, 1965; "skin" by Lynn Hardaker was published in Mythic Delirium # 28, Winter/Spring 2013 issue; "The Faces of Deer" by Mary Oliver was published in New & Selected Poems, Vol. 2 by Mary Oliver, 2005.


Into the Woods, 20: Following the Deer (Part III)

Young Fallow Deer by Joshua Smythe

In the earliest time,
when both people and animals lived on the earth,
a person could become an animal if he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
and what people wanted to happen could happen -
all you had to do was to say it.
Nobody can explain this:
That's the way it was.

- after Nalugiaq (from Magic Words: Songs and Stories of the Netsilik Eskimos by Edward Field)

Peruvian deer vesselsCeremonial deer vessels from Chimbote, Santa Valley, Peru (100 BC-500 AD)

Iranian deer vesselIranian deer vessel, used for holding wine (1000-550 BC)

Pueblo Indian Bowl, Acoma, New Mexico - Polychrome Olla with Heartline DeerNative American olla from Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico. The exact date is unknown, but it's believed to be old, and the traditional "heartline deer" design even older.

Rutting deer buck

Hondoran deer vesselA ceramic deer vessel from the Hunal Tomb, Copan, Honduras (circa 437 AD)

Enchanted is what they were
in the old stories, or if not that,
they were guides and rescuers of the lost,
the lonely, needy young men and women
in the forest we call the world.
That was back in a time
when we all had a common language.

- Lisel Mueller (from "Animals Are Entering Our Lives")

Doe and Deer Jars by glass artist William MorrisDoe and Deer Jars, made of blown glass, by American glass artist William Morris, based in the Pacific Northwest.

Deer in Trees Bowl by C BaconDeer in Trees bowl by American ceramicist C. Bacon, based in New England.

White-tail deer

Deer and Doe Porcelain Boxes by Eleanor BartlemanDeer and Doe porcelain boxes by English ceramicist Eleanor Bartleman, based in Devon.

Long ago the trees thought they were people.
Long ago the mountains thought they were people.
Long ago the animals thought they were people.
Someday they will say, long ago the humans thought they were people.

-  from a Native American (Tulalip) story recounted by Johnny Moses

Go here for Following the Deer: Part IV

White-tail deer

The deer photographs above are: young fallow deer (by UK photographer Josh Smythe);  a deer buck at Dunham Massey Deer Park, in north-west England, during the rutting season (rubbing antlers in grass is a common rutting behaviour); an early morning doe and deer encounter; and two white-tailed deer-people.


Into the Woods, 19: Following the Deer (Part II)

Deer in Glen Etive, Scotland

This Isn't Happiness by Myeongbeom Kim

How to See Deer
by Philip Booth (1925-2007)

Forget roadside crossings.
Go nowhere with guns.
Go elsewhere your own way,

lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods

a leaping roe deer

old illustration, artist unknown

tiny muntjac fawn

White-Tail Fawn Reclining by Mark Rossi

inhabit old orchards.
All clearings promise.
Sunrise is good,

and fog before sun.
Expect nothing always;
find your luck slowly.

deer in morning mist

Deer On the Isle of Arran by Barbara Brassey

A Forest by Flora McLachlan

Fawn by Kiki Smith

Wait out the windfall.
Take your good time
to learn to read ferns;

Young Deer by Nicky Clacy

White-tail deer and fawn

Young Deer by Franz Marc

make like a turtle:
downhill toward slow water.
Instructed by heron,

drink the pure silence.
Be compassed by wind.
If you quiver like aspen

Deer in Ocean Surf by photographer Connie Cooper Edwards

Deer by Juliana Swaney

trust your quick nature:
let your ear teach you
which way to listen.

White doe

White Fawn by Kelly Louise Judd

You've come to assume
protective color; now
colors reform to

new shapes in your eye.
You've learned by now
to wait without waiting;

roe buck

Nature Girl by Christina Bothwell and Queen of Beasts by Fidelma Massey

as if it were dusk
look into light falling:
in deep relief

Out of Narnia by Su Blackwell

things even out. Be
careless of nothing. See
what you see.

Go here for Following the Deer: Part III

Deer by Akitaka Ito

The Low Edge of the Storm by Catherine Hyde

The deer imagery above is: a photograph of deer in Glen Etive, Scotland; "This Isn't Happiness" by Myeongbeom Kim; photograph of a leaping row deer; an old illustration of a leaping dear (artist unknown); photograph of tiny muntjac fawn; "White-tail Fawn Reclining" by Mark Rossi; photograph of deer in the morning mist; sketch of deer on the Isle of Arran, Scotland, by Barbara Brassey (1911-2010); "A Forest" by Flora McLachlan, "Fawn" by Kiki Smith, "Young Deer" by Nicky Clacy; photograph of a white-tail deer and fawn; "Two Deer" by Franz Marc (1880-1916); "Deer in Ocean Surf" by Connie Cooper Edwards; "Deer" by Julianna Swaney; white doe photograph; "White Fawn" by Kelly Louise Judd; roe biuck photograph; "Nature Girl" by Christina Bothwell & "Queen of Beasts" by Fidelma Massey; "Out of Narnia" by Su Blackwell; "Deer" by Akitaka Ito; and "The Low Edge of the Storm" by Catherine Hyde.


Into the Woods, 18: Following the Deer (Part I)

White Stag photograph by Jane Baynes

"As long as people have lived or hunted alongside the deer's habitats," says writer and mythographer Ari Berk (in "Where the White Stag Runs"), "there have been stories: some of kindly creatures who become the wives of mortals; or of lost children changed into deer for a time, reminding their kin to honor the relationship with the Deer People, their close neighbors. And there are darker tales, recalling strange journeys into the Otherworld, abductions, and dangerous transformations that don't end well at all. But all stories about the deer share some common ground by showing us that the line between our world and theirs is very thin indeed."

Diana and Acteon by Domenico Veneziano

Ovid's Metamorphoses, Ari continues, tells the story "of youthful Actaeon who spends the day hunting with his dogs on the hillsides, catching so much game that the slopes run red with blood. As the sun ascends the sky, he calls off the chase, bidding his comrades retire with the promise of renewing the hunt early the next day. Then he does a dangerous thing: he wanders for a time in a wood he does not know, and so comes by accident to the sacred grotto where Diana is accustomed to bathe with her nymphs. To Actaeon's great misfortune, he spies the goddess of the hunt naked and she, seeing him, blushes. Then lifting up her hands, she throws water in Actaeon's face and he flees that place. As he wanders back to find his friends he hears his dogs barking and sees that they are chasing him. Confused he calls out to them, but instead of his voice, he hears the bellowing of a great stag, for stag he now is, transformed by the goddess's vengeful hand. So he runs fast on four legs but soon his dogs chase him down and, tearing him apart, find their old master toothsome indeed. The myth of Actaeon is an early example of the connection of deer stories with the violation of taboos. Actaeon made three fatal errors: overhunting the hillside, entering a sacred enclosure unknowingly, and gazing upon the virgin mistress of the hunt. His punishment is perfectly suited to address his errors for he learns to see the world, though briefly, from the perspective of a shy creature who calls the wild home and instinctively respects its boundaries.

"In the medieval Welsh Mabinogion, does and stags appear as physical manifestations of the boundary between worlds. In the story of 'Pwyll,' the deer are followed into the forest during a hunt. But Pwyll, the prince, and his dogs are soon separated from his companions and he finds himself lost in the woods. Soon he hears other dogs and, following their barking, comes upon a clearing in the woods where he finds a strange pack—red-eared and white-furred—bearing down upon a stag. Pwyll chases those dogs off and sets his own upon the stag instead, most discourteously. When he later meets the owner of the white dogs—who is none other than the Arawn, lord of the Otherworld—satisfaction is demanded and Pwyll must repay Arawn by assuming his form and exchanging places, traveling into the Otherworld to kill one of Arawn's enemies. So following the deer is often a way into the Otherworld, or a sign that we are very close to its borders."

The Mystic Wood by John William Waterhouse

Running Deer by Alex Herbert, 2010

as crows fly
in the dawn light
on the cold hill
the deer are running

the thud of their hooves
on the bed of the stream
is the drum that rocks
the roots of the birch
and the wind that shakes
the birch tree’s leaves

- Scottish poet Chris Powici (from "Deer")

The Lady Clare by John William Waterhouse

Brother and Sister by Johnny Gruelle

Deer that roam the Western fairy tale tradition are guardians, guides, companions to the fairies, and occasionally fairies themselves in disguise -- or else they are men and women be-spelled, roaming the woods in animal-shape by day, briefly regaining their humanity each night. In Brother and Sister from Grimms' Fairy Tales, for example, two siblings flee their wicked stepmother through a dark and fearsome forest. The path of escape lies across three streams, and at each crossing the brother stops, intending to drink. Each time his sister warns him away, but the third time he cannot resist. He bends down to the water in the shape of a man and rises again in the shape of a stag. Thereafter, the sister and her brother-stag must live in a lonely hut in the woods . . . but eventually, with his sister’s help, (and after she marries a king), the young man resumes his true shape.

Brother and Sister by Carl Offterdinger

Ellen Steiber looked at this tale's archetypal patterns when writing her contemporary version, "In the Night Country" (published in The Armless Maiden).  "Fairy tales are journey stories," she says in a beautiful essay on the subject. "They deal with initiation and transformation, with going into the forest where one's deepest fears and most powerful dreams are realized. Many of them offer a map for getting through to the other side. Out of curiosity, I went back to the patterns of three in [Brother and Sister], since the very rhythms of repetition set them off and give them importance. There are three brooks, three days of the hunt, and three times that the queen's ghost speaks [after the sister's marriage to the king, when her role as queen has been usurped by her step-sister]. Each of these patterns presents challenge and transformation; they are the places of power in the story, the points where true magic occurs. In the first the brother is thirsty; he needs nourishment and finally gets it, a difficult metamorphosis being the price. In the second he must either follow his own deer nature or 'die of grief'; at great risk he runs with the hunt, and that act takes both brother and sister farther along on the path they must travel to a new state of being. (It's worth noting that in the fairy tales one can rarely remain in the forest — one takes what was found there and brings it back into the world.) In the third challenge, the king must recognize the [true] queen, an act that will restore her to life and lead to a redress of wrongs, a final ending of the curse, a coming into balance. As abuse [in a family] takes many forms, so does salvation. Here are three of many acts that can get you through: nourishing yourself, following your heart even at great risk, and being seen for what you are."

Perched by Kelly Louise Judd

Beloved, what can be, what was,
will be taken from us.
I have disappointed.
I am sorry. I knew no better.

A root seeks water.
Tenderness only breaks open the earth.
This morning, out the window,
the deer stood like a blessing, then vanished.”

- American poet and essayist Jane Hirshfield (from "Standing Deer")

Brother and Sister by Edmund Dulac

The White Deer by Adrienne Segur

In The White Deer (a.k.a. The White Hind and The White Doe), from the French fairy tales of Madame d’Aulnoy, a princess is cursed in infancy by a fairy who'd been insulted by her parents.  Disaster will strike, says the fairy, if the princess sees the sun before her wedding day. Many years later, as she travels to her wedding, a ray of sun penetrates her carriage. The princess turns into a deer, jumps through the window, and disappears into the forest -- where she's eventually hunted by her own fiancé, who does not know what she has become.

As she flees the arrows of the royal hunting party, the prince is as "unescapable as memory" in this passage from Eve Sweetser's poem, "The White Hind at Bay":

She leads him through briars, bogs
scent-killing brooks — inexorably
the following fate comes on.

Always, till now, some twist has let her out.
In exhaulted desperation
she sees the cliff before her.
From teeth and knives
her white hide is no protection
"Leave off these fawnish fantasies,
her kind deer parents often said
"What's a white skin?
Does every third-born son
wed a princess?"

Can wild hope save her?
Can she be again
the princess she was in childhood
(or was it dreamed of?)
exquisite and beloved,
ideal and human both?
It is so far — so long ago
she left off thinking of glass slippers
accepted her four hooves.

For All My Grandmothers by Kristin Vestgard

Old photograph, provenance unknown

two deer
came walking down the hill
and when they saw me

they said to each other, okay,
this one is okay,
let’s see who she is
and why she is sitting

on the ground like that,
so quiet, as if
asleep, or in a dream,
but, anyway, harmless;

and so they came
on their slender legs
and gazed upon me
not unlike the way

I go out to the dunes and look
and look and look
into the faces of the flowers;
and then one of them leaned forward

and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life
bring to me that could exceed
that brief moment?

- American poet Mary Oliver (from "The Place I Want to Get Back To")

Deer Woman by Susan Seddon Boulet

"Deer is a common figure in American Indian myths, " notes Ari Berk, "often appearing in stories that continue the focus on families, kinship, marriage, child-rearing, hunting and pursuit. Among the Pueblos of the New Mexico, stories are still told of Deer Boy, a baby left in the grass, abandoned by its young mother, a girl of the village. It was a Deer Woman who found the human child and brought him home to raise with her own fawns. Time passed and the boy spent the days running with his fawn brothers and sisters. Some time later, a hunter from the village noticed strange tracks among those left by the Deer People. The Deer Woman knew the time had come for the boy to return to his people. She readied him to be caught by the hunter and told him what he must know about his real mother and what she looked like. She told him that to remain among his own people he must, upon returning to the village, be left alone and unseen in a room for four days. So he was found by the hunter and taken home and much happiness attended his homecoming. The boy told his family he must be left alone for four days and they agreed. But his birth mother, so impatient was she, stole a glance at her son before the four days were finished. In an instant the boy took on the shape of a deer and ran to the North where he joined his other mother and lived for the rest of his days among the Deer People."

From the Miners & Mayo series by David Bacon

The Yaqui (Yoeme) people of the Sonoran desert traditionally divide themselves into two related groups: the Vato'im (Baptized Ones), who remain in this world and integrate seventeenth century Spanish Catholicism with the rites of their own aboriginal religion, and the Surem (the Enchanted People), who went away to the Wilderness World to preserve the ancient ways. In the extraordinary Deer Dance, still performed at Easter and other times in Arizona and northern Mexico, a dancer takes on the shape, the movements, the consciousness of the sacred deer on the borderline between these two worlds, blessing the ground he walks on. Yaqui Deer Songs by Larry Evers and Felipe S. Molina is a beautiful account of a deer mythology that is not buried in history but still living, still a vibrant part of everyday life for the modern Yoeme. "Flower-cover fawn went out, enchanted, from each enchanted flower wilderness world, he went out...," the singers sing as the deer dancer moves, gourd rattles in his hands and strings of rattles bound around his shins. A deer head rises over his own, antlers decorated with flowers. "So this now is the deer person, so he is the deer person, so he is the real deer person...." The drummers drum, the dancer leaps, and it is the real deer person indeed.

Deer Dance by Kyle Bowman

Question: Can you tell us about what he is wearing?
Well, the hooves represent the deer’s hooves,
the red scarf represents the flowers from which he ate,
the shawl is for skin.
The cocoons make the sound of the deer walking on leaves and grass.
Listen.
Question: What is that he is beating on?
It’s a gourd drum. The drum represents the heartbeat of the deer.
Listen.
When the drum beats, it brings the deer to life.
We believe the water the drum sits in is holy. It is life.
Go ahead, touch it.
Bless yourself with it.
It is holy. You are safe now.

- Tohono O'Odham author Ofelia Zepeda (from "Deer Dance Exhibition")

Deer Man and Deer Woman sculptures by Wendy Froud

Native American writer and educator Carolyn Dunn describes the Deer Woman tales she grew up with in a short, poetic essay on the subject:

"Deer Woman's specific magic and myth surrounds marriage and courtship rituals," she says. "I write of Deer Woman from the Cherokee/Muskogee/Seminole/Choctaw perspective because this is what I know. But other cultures have encounters with Deer Woman or Deer Man. Ella Cara Deloria recorded several traditional Dakota and Lakota narratives which mirrored the Southeastern tribes' Deer Woman stories. The Karuk, according to the Karuk artist and storyteller Lyn Risling, have stories of the Deer Woman in which the spirit is associated with fertility and maturation rituals and prepares young women for marriage. The Southeastern stories are similar in that young people must be instructed in the choosing of a societally-approved mate in order for cultural survival and regeneration. In these stories, a beautiful young woman meets a young man and entrances him into a sexual relationship. The woman is so beautiful that the young man is often swayed by her beauty away from family, home, community. If the young man is so entranced as to not notice the young woman's feet—which in the case of Deer Woman are hooves—then he falls under her spell and stays with her forever, wasting away into depression, despair, prostitution, and ultimately, death.

"The Deer Woman spirit teaches us that marriage and family life within the community are important and these relationships cannot be entered into lightly. Her tales are morality narratives: she teaches us that the misuse of sexual power is a transgression that will end in madness and death. The only way to save oneself from the magic of Deer Woman is to look to her feet, see her hooves, and recognize her for what she is. To know the story and act appropriately is to save oneself from a lifetime lived in pain and sorrow; to ignore the story is to continue in the death dance with Deer Woman. Deer Woman instructs us that sexual attraction does not a proper marriage make; it is the societal and cultural responsibility of each tribal member to choose a mate wisely—therefore ensuring tribal survival into the next generation. Both the Karuk stories and the Southeastern stories illustrate this cultural responsibility."

Deer Maiden by Erich Schmidt-Kestner

Born by Kiki Smith

Navajo author and musician Joy Harjo finds Deer Woman in a bar late on a winter's night in her haunting prose-poem "Deer Dancer":

"She was the myth slipped down through dreamtime. The promise of feast we all knew was coming. The deer who crossed through knots of a curse to find us. She was no slouch, and neither were we, watching.

"The music ended. And so does the story. I wasn't there. But I imagined her like this, not a stained red dress with tape on her heels but the deer who entered our dream in white dawn, breathed mist into pine trees, her fawn a blessing of meat, the ancestors who never left."

Deer sketch by Daniel Egnéus

From Madhatters by Daniel Egnéus

Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan addresses the secret desire so many of us have to run away with the deer ourselves in this passage from her beautiful poem "Deer Dance":

That night, after everything human was resolved,
a young man, the chosen, became the deer.
In the white skin of its ancestors,
wearing the head of the deer
above the human head
with flowers in his antlers, he danced,
beautiful and tireless, until he was more than human,
until he, too, was deer.

Of all those who were transformed into animals,
the travelers Circe turned into pigs,
the woman who became the bear,

the girl who always remained the child of wolves,
none of them wanted to go back
to being human. And I would do it, too, leave off being human
and become what it was that slept outside my door last night,
rested in my sleep.

Deer people by Daniel Egnéus

"Convince the deer you are one of them," advises Shauna Osborne, a Comanche/German mestiza writer from New Mexico.  "Dance with them and they will show you the way. Pay strict attention to the leg positions and neck angles—that’s where the heart of their dance lies. Deer have this natural grace, this presence, on the dance floor that just can't be beat. Once you find it, you’ll know. Do some research: Ginger Rogers had a definite tinge of deer blood in her and my mother always swore that Travolta had to be part deer. "How else could he glide through the air like that?" she would demand. However, the best contemporary example of a deer dancer has to be, without doubt, Christopher Walken. He defies the laws of physics with such style and does it with a nonchalant matter-of-factness which all deer dancers should try to emulate. Treat his work as it should be treated—a sacred text of the Deer Dancers. Roll with this or roll with that—just make sure your feet never quite touch the ground. However, you must remember: when the song ends, the story does too."

Go here for Following the Deer: Part II

The watching deer

The enchanted deer imagery above is: "White Stag" photograph by Jane Baynes; "Acteon and Diana" by Domenico Veneziano (1410-1461);  "The Mystic Wood" and "The Lady Clare" by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917); "Running Deer" by Alex Herbert, "Brother and Sister" (the cover image for an edition of Grimms Fairy Tales) by John Barton Gruelle (1880-1938); “Brother and Sister” by Carl Offterdinger (1829-1889);  "Perched" by Kelly Louise Judd; "Brother and Sister" by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953); "The White Deer" by Adrienne Ségur (1901-1981);  "All by Grandmothers" by Kristin Vestgard; an old photograph (provenance unknown); "The Deer Woman" by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997); "Easter Procession, Rancho Camargo, Sonora" (from the "Miners & Mayos" photography  series) by David Bacon; "Deer Dancer" portrait by Kyle Bowman;  "The Deer Man" and "The Deer Woman" by Wendy Froud; "Deer Maiden" bronze by Erich Schmidt-Kestner (1887-1941); "Born" by Kiki Smith; three deer sketches by Daniel Egnéus; and a deer photograph (provenance unknown).