What does it mean if you see a white deer in the woods?
The deer is one of the most silent and elusive of woodland creatures in its native habitat. However, they have adapted also in our industrialised and heavily farmed landscape.
Interestingly Great Britain have more deer now than at any time in the last ten thousand years, to the point where they can be a serious pest.
Britain’s native deer species, the red and the roe, have been joined more recently by fallow, probably a Norman introduction, sika, muntjac and Chinese water deer, both introduced to Britain about a hundred years ago.
For ages Deer play an important role in history and folklore.
For example, according to Welsh tradition, the stag is one of the five oldest animals in the world.
From the gentle, silent grace of the hind, to the proud independence and masculinity of the stag, from Robin Hood and the terror of Herne the Hunter in Windsor Forest, to the sweet Bambi and the ubiquitous pub sign for The White Hart, deer are everywhere, still today.
Fleetingly (and rarely) fortune may bring you a sighting of a deer without pigment in its coat, that appears completely white.
Leucism is a rare genetic pattern that causes a reduction in the pigment of an animal’s hair and skin, when natural colour of the red deer ranges from dark red to brown.
They are often thought to be albinos but, unlike albinos who have characteristically red eyes, deer with leucism have normal colouring in their eyes.
Seeing a white deer is considered an omen throughout the world, an elusive yet magnificent beast.
The Celts thought that white deer were messengers from the Otherworld, but it also played an important role in other pre-Indo-European cultures, especially in the north.
Not by chance, the colour white has long been associated with purity. In modern society, people have acted to protect the white stag as a vestige of beauty, and the hunting of the white stag has often been met with anger, because of its rare and elusive nature.
For early man, the deer represented a valuable resource, providing nourishment, clothing and other accessories.
King Arthur was left frustrated by his attempts to capture one, as were the Kings and Queens of Narnia, who chased the creature through the woods and found themselves tumbling out of a wardrobe.
British kings down the centuries have seen the white deer as a hunting trophy, despite the bad luck that is meant to follow the killing of such a treasured animal.
In Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox, the white stag was partly responsible for the conversion of the martyr Saint Eustace, who saw a vision of Christ between the stag’s antlers and was told that he would suffer for Christ. A similar legend is associated with Saint Hubert.
According to others a sighting of a white deer means a challenge or difficulty ahead.
But, in any case, perhaps a white deer is one of those creatures that just signifies change, sometimes good, sometimes bad.
According to a Scots legend, in 1128, David I, King of Scotland decided to go hunting on the Feast Day of the Holy Rood, against the wishes of his priest. While hunting he saw a huge white stag, and while giving chase he was thrown from his horse.
The white hart charged forward to kill him, so David – son of Malcolm Canmore and St. Margaret – called on God to save him. As the king grasped the hart’s antlers, they miraculously turned into a large cross, and the beast raised its head and vanished. Inspired by his vision, King David built a shrine to the Holy Rood, meaning Holy Cross, on the spot where the miracle occurred.
The ruin of Holyrood Abbey can still be seen today, at the foot of the Royal Mile next to Holyrood Palace. The White Hart Inn in Edinburgh’s grassmarket, reputedly the oldest pub in the capital, took its name from the legend.
In Native American mythology there is the Chickasaw legend, Ghost of the White Deer. There is also a Lenape legend about white deer that predicts that when a pair of all-white deer is seen together, it is a sign that the indigenous peoples of the Dawnland will all come together and lead the world with their wisdom.
Moreover, many tribes and indigenous peoples throughout the world have similar myths as Seneca, Roanoke, Algonquin, Nanticoke, and Pocomoke tribes all relate sightings of the Great White Deer.
In Kamakura, Japan, the Engakuji Temple, which was founded in 1282, is the head of a branch school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. There a herd of divine white deer are said to have emerged from a cave to listen to the sermon of the temple’s founder the day it opened.
There is tale that comes from Kilmersdon, in the eastern Mendip Hills, Somerset that concerns a lord who was weighed down with the woes of the world. At the time there was a great pestilence among his people, and despite all his efforts, nothing the lord could do would stop the death and pain and sorrow from spreading across the land.
One evening, while he was riding through the woods with a heavy heart, through the trees he saw a flash of pale fur, and a white hind bounded across the path in front of his horse.
The lord followed the deer through the trees, picking his way through the brambles as quick as his horse would allow, but after a few minutes it had disappeared.
After that time, however, the lord was filled with inspiration and hope: his chance encounter with a white deer in the woods had refreshed his spirit, and allowed him to look at the situation in a new way.
And thus, following his directions, the people around him soon started to pull together, make plans, and work to improve the situation as best they could. Slowly, under his lead, the community of that place found fresh energy to deal with the illness facing them, and to find a way to renewal ahead.
All of this thanks to the white hind.
Sometimes a simple folk tale carries a powerful message. Out there in the remaining woodlands of Britain, there are deer aplenty, and a very few of them are white.
But still today, as we travel through rough times and dizzying changes, there is still hope to be found. Perhaps we will all find our way through the wild woods yet, and be changed by what we encounter there….
Images from web – Google Research