Nature Wisdom: Heart of the Deer

Pat Tuholske

By Pat Tuholske

November is Deer hunting season here in the Ozarks. The autumn morning frost triggers orange vested hunters to migrate to the woods, rifles loaded and ready. They sit in their spot, senses heightened, alert to the soft sounds of the Deer.

The Deer culture in our country is reflected in those bright orange hats and vests riding in pickups, setting up camp near favored haunts, stalking the track of the Deer. The wild rut drives restless stags through fields and ridge-tops. The Deer hunting season gets people into the woods connecting with all of Nature. Most Deer hunters I know hunt for food not trophies.

I pray for the Deer throughout the season, keeping vigil on our land. Blessing the herd, watching over it, knowing one may offer itself to be taken. Walking our property during Deer season, I wear bright colors, make noise and not wander too far from home. My dog wears a bell on her collar so she’s not mistaken for Deer.

The Deer population is abundant in Missouri. In many counties, they have become a nuisance, eating gardens and causing accidents. We have moved into territories the Deer used to freely roam and they have adapted to our presence. We must somehow live in harmony with this ancient animal.

Humans and Deer have had a long relationship. Deerskin was used for clothing, shelter and drums as the meat fed our ancestors. Deer Clans honored the Deer of ancient Earth with cave paintings, bone rattles and ceremonial masks. Archeological digs in Europe have unearthed mummies tattooed with Deer motifs. Ancient shamans considered Deer the oldest animal and a symbol of regeneration because of the stag’s ability to shed and regrow antlers each year.

Shamanic cultures know the Deer is a “giveaway” animal…a creature that sacrifices itself to maintain the spiritual balance in the world. Natives honor the spirit of Deer with tobacco, take its life force into their own and thank the Deer for giving its life so the tribe may live.

It is my simple wish that present day Deer hunters help preserve the balance as the Old Ones did by saying a simple heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving when they take a Deer.

In the mid eighties, I learned the Deer Dance from Brant Secunda, a shaman of the Huichol Indians in Mexico. The dance blasted open my heart! I trance danced until I would collapse in sweat and joy. Once, I was dancing in the living room, feeling myself shapeshifting into the Deer, swirling, running, stomping my hooves. I paused, breathing hard, and glanced out the windows to the oaks and lilacs in the front yard. As I looked out, there were two Deer looking in. We gazed into each others eyes for a long blessed moment. I hardly breathed or blinked, wanting to stretch the moment. Tears of gratitude welled in my eyes. Together we glimpsed that sacred place of love, peace and understanding.

I hope the Deer remembered me to their family and the herd still knows of the human dancing in the window with the open heart.

See Pat’s Wild Wreaths, Twig and Feather Art crafted from Ozark native flora and fauna at WillowRainHerbalGoods.com and at Green Door Art Gallery. Check out her Field Journal for musings on the Human-Nature relationship.