Dream Gates

Dream Gates

The Deer, the Christ and the magnetism of symbols

posted by Robert Moss

St Eustace, 1501 engraving by Albrecht Dürer

The heartfelt responses to my post on the healing gifts of the Deer lead me to talk today about how the power of this  living symbol brought outer and inner events together in a magical way.

Several years ago, I immersed myself in a study of symbol of the antlered deer in myth and religion. I found, as I reported yesterday, that in many ancient and indigenous traditions, the antlers are a symbol of spiritual authority because they grow above the physical head, reaching towards the realm of spirit. They signify regeneration, because they die and grow back, bigger than before. They are worn by Cernunnos, the ancient Celtic Master of the Animals, by Mongol women shamans, and by the rotiyaner or “men of good minds”, the traditional chiefs of the Six Nations of the Longhouse, or Iroquois. Visually, deer antlers suggest the shape of a tree, even the World Tree that shamans climb; the resemblance is in the French word for antlers, which are called thebois - wood – of the deer. There is a mystical connection between the deer, especially the flying deer (cerf volant) and the early kings of France.

Studying religious iconography in France in 2005, I became fascinated by the moment in the history of the Western imagination when the old pagan image of the Antlered One fused with that of the Christ. You can view the results on the facade of the great Gothic church of St-Eustache at Les Halles, once the site of the famous market. Look up and near the top, lording it over the gargoyles, you’ll find the figure of an antlered stag with the Calvary cross between his antlers. According to legend, St. Eustace (to give him the Anglo version of his name) was formerly a pagan Roman general named Placidus, who reveled in the hunt until one day he confronted a magnificent stag through whose deep eyes the Christ light shone. Christ spoke to him through the deer. The general gave up hunting and converted to the new religion. This moment of conversion through the agency of the deer has been memorialized in numerous painted and woven and sculpted images, including a marvelous 15th century painting by Pisanello that I viewed in the National Gallery in London and the 1501 engraving by Albrecht Dürer shown here.

The St.Eustace legend may be an invention, designed to claim the lustre of a commanding symbol of the old ways for the new religion, just as churches were placed on the sacred sites where pre-Christian rituals were celebrated. However, the theme of the power of the deer spirit to tame the killer in man resonated with me deeply, because on a mountain in the Adirondack mountains of New York, I had heard a similar tale from mountain men who knew nothing of Placidus or Eustace: that three hunters, on separate occasions, had come face to face with a great stag in that wild terrain, and that each time, something in the deep, steady eyes of the deer had persuaded the hunter to lay down his rifle and go home.

Not long after that trip to France, I was talking about the theme of Christ in the Stag on my cell phone, while walking my dog in a park in upstate New York that is notably clean. As I described the stag with the cross between his antlers on the church at Les Halles, I glanced down and saw an orange cardboard disk at my feet. It bore the image of a stag with a Calvary cross shining between his antlers. This was one of those moments when the universe gets personal. I knew that in that moment, the symbol that was blazing in my mind was shining back at me, on the grass at my feet.

I put the cardboard disk in my wallet and have carried it ever since, a token from the world. I did not identify the source of this version of the stag with the cross until, on my way to give a talk at a bookshop in Vancouver B.C. some months later, I stopped at an Irish pub across the street. I needed to use what Canadians call the washroom, and as I did what boys do, I saw the image from the cardboard disk in front of my nose, in a framed poster for Jägermeister, a herbal liqueur whose name means “hunt-master” and (I later learned from my youngest daughter) is a favorite on college campuses with kinds who want to get “hammered.”

Jung noted in his foreword to his most important work on synchronicity that “my researches into the history of symbols… brought the problem [of explaining synchronicity] ever closer to me”  His experiences of symbols irrupting into the physical world led him to sympathize with Goethe’s magical view “We all have certain electric and magnetic powers within us and ourselves exercise an attractive and repelling force, according as we come into touch with something like or unlike.”  I learned from the Deer that such powers are magnified when our minds and our environment are charged with the energy of a living symbol. In a chapter on “Symbol Magnets” in my new book Active Dreaming I discuss the broader play of this kind of magnetism.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Johann_von_Tritheim

    Beautiful! Beautiful!!

    • http://www.mossdreams.com Robert Moss

      Many thanks, Johann.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Irene

    You write “of the power of the deer spirit to tame the killer in man” that “resonated with me deeply.” And today, just reading these words (and the post as well as yesterday’s post), just pulled me, in a very sycronistic way, even deeper into the wave of understanding the ever & rapidly growing Deer symbol as a very personal medecine for me.

    I have been meditating with the Stag that appeared in my heart center to heal my bones. When this image appeared to me, I knew that it was a gift of personal medecine for life. An image that I would return to over and over again. Yesterday, while sitting with this image in mind, I intuitively held a black stone in my left hand. This is no ordinary stone, oh no. It’s a small round black stone that I bought at a Gemstone/Earthstone Fair a few years ago. I don’t often work with crystals and stones and I have very few of them, but the ones I do have, I love. And this particular stone, when I first saw it, litterally pulled me towards it with such force that I could only observe myself walking with incredible intention directly to the man selling this stone as I blurting out with gusting force almost spitting on the vendor “I’ll have that stone right now please” (before even knowing the price)! This stone, I decided, is just sheer magic for it literally absorbs all pain, emotional, mental and physical. It’s my secret stone that I never share and never really talk about.

    So yesterday I was sitting with this stone and the Stag image feeling, but not understanding, a deep connection between both. Today, I saw the image on yesterday’s post and before even reading it I already knew something that I didn’t yet know. But it’s so close! And as I read, it hits me like a brick wall. The 3 other stones I play with are all, for me and my inner child, animal eyes. Quite literally cat, horse and dragon. Now I know that this black stone is Deer’s eye! It’s so obvious and explains a hell of a lot.

    Thanks again, Robert! For helping me see and better understand my own symbol toolbox.

    • http://www.mossdreams.com Robert Moss

      Irene – Beautiful to have the deer’s eye stone to keep this energy close.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment MJ

    Your info and dream of antlered ones gives me goosebumps, as my power animal is an elk, and has been quite strong around me for a long time. I looked into my Finno-Ugric heritage, and found that antlered ones were very old guides to my ancestors.
    The antlers not only signify connection to the higher realms but for me also help to keep other energies away, by swinging the head around, providing a safe surround. Interesting.

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