The heART of Ritual

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The Deer Mother: Earth's Nurturing Epicenter of Life and Death



The animal mother is one of the most ancient images of birth-giving goddess, spanning continents, millennia, and cultures. Marija Gimbutas notes that the image of goddess as doe is widespread in historical sources and folk memories and that the deer is one of the primary forms of the birth-giving goddess from the Paleolithic. The reindeer goddess as creator of life, guardian of birth-giving, and protector of the herds is so powerful that she sets the sun in motion for the cycle of seasons, melting the ice in the spring so the reindeer can travel to give birth. She is a transforming and protecting deity.


Gimbutas' research reveals that the earliest deer cults are found in the Magdalenian level, dating about to 14,000 years ago. Evidence from Cantabrian Spain, east of the well-known Altamira cave-painting site, consists of ritual burial of deer remains in an egg-shaped depression decorated with colored clay and carved deer antlers; another site reveals sandstone plaquettes with engravings of deer, reindeer, and other animals.


Exerpt from "The Deer Mother: Earth's Nurturing Epicenter of Life and Death" from "Goddesses in World Culture" by Kathryn Henderson. Edited by Patricia Monaghan . Art by Hannah Willow.