The 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 a 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.
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