Celtic Animal Symbols: Deer, Stag

celtic deerThe deer was arguably the most important animal to the early Celts. Before agriculture or animal husbandry; venison was a staple food. Some of the oldest surviving examples of pre-Celtic Neolithic art depicts shape-shifting shamans in the form of deer, who may prefigure the shape-shifting gods and heroes of Celtic legend, as well as Cernunnos, the stag-horned deity of healing and plenty.

Carved stone cross from the Isle of Mann

The mythological Warrior-Bard Oisin was the son of Sadb, an enchanted deer, and could himself take the form of a stag. The “stag of seven tines” referenced in the opening lines of the Song of Amergin likely references images of Cernunnos, who is often portrayed with seven-tined antlers. Even the Christian Saints were purported to possess shape-shifting ability. St. Patrick’s “Deer’s cry” was a prayer that was said to give the saint the appearance of a fawn to his enemies.

More Celtic Symbols

Related Symbols:
SalmonCernunnos, HernePictish symbol


Sadhbh Browne February 11, 2013 at 9:05 pm

The name of the woman who gave birth to Oisín was Sadhbh (old Irish Sadb). She had been transformed into a deer by an evil druid and was able to take her original form on Fionn Mc Cumhail’s land. You can read the full story in the collection of Irish Folklore by Lady Constance Gregory.

Sources: I’m Irish, obviously.

Celestial Elf October 15, 2011 at 5:45 am

Great Post,
I thought that you might like my machinima film of
The Song Of Amergin, A Samhain Story,
Blessed Be By Stone and Star
Celestial Elf ~

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