"Originally Artemis herself was a deer, and she is the goddess who kills deer; the two are dual aspects of the same being. Life is killing life all the time, and so the goddess kills herself in the sacrifice of her own animal."
Sometimes we consciously track the sightings of our animal allies and sometimes they track us. I believe we have a family of animal guardians that make their presence known to us in many different ways. For myself, it is often in dreams but today as I prepared to write this letter as dedication to the medicine of Deer, I was amazed to realise just how much help and assistance Deer has been giving me all these years. I believe there is no right or wrong perception of an animal's medicine or message - it is very personal for each of us and so I can only share how the Deer shows up in my life and perhaps this will resonate for you too. I also want to share the medicine workings of a beautiful weaver who is working constantly with the spirit of Deer: Lindsy Richards. I feel that together we can find a common thread.
The first words that come to me when I think of Deer medicine are strength, grounding, intuition and sensitivity. Deer has taught me more than another animal that I need to be grounded to do intuitive work. It assisted me in creating my work and supporting myself financially through my art but only after I learnt the toughest lesson of just how dangerous it is for me to be in work environments that are damaging to my spirit. For me to talk honestly about this medicine and I understand now that Deer requires me to be truthful is to acknowledge the shadow. Recently someone commented that they hoped I was alright after reading one of my newsletters. I kind of had a little chuckle to myself - I am ok but if I just projected one side of my life where everything was light and easy that wouldn't be the truth and it wouldn't be natural. If I inspire or encourage anyone to embrace a creative life, I need to do it honestly and talk about the pitfalls as well as the heights. I think our society and media especially are interested in only presenting the light. But is it light if it is false? The cycle of nature that we get to observe so closely in the forest is always a balance between life and death. The Deer is one of the only animals where the females also grow antlers but these antlers are grown and then shed every year.
The biggest lessons I have learnt from Deer is the balance between freedom and discipline (limitation) and independence and responsibility - when in balance beauty is created. So this medicine more than any other for me is about maturity and being healthy as I stand with one foot in the mundane world and one in the spirit world. When I do this it's as if my spirit grows antlers and I can then use them like antennae to receive messages and dreaming.
When I spoke to Lindsy there were many threads connecting us in our work but I was surprised to learn that the deepest thread was that the Deer and antlered women had come to us after a period of illness and breakdown - a kind of psychic and emotional rupture that made it impossible for us to keep trying to live in a way that wasn't truthful and authentic.
In my mid thirties I was burnt out. I had spent most of my life in fight or flight mode and working in environments that were way too harsh for me and making me very unhappy. But I thought this is just what you did - you had to survive and support yourself right? Well my body soon told me who was really in charge. I got very sick and everything I was trying to hold onto and keep together fell apart - much like the Tower card in the Tarot. But something interesting happens when you hit rock bottom - you lose your ego and realise there's nothing left to lose so why not do what you love? I had to find my joy again and when I thought of where it lay it was always with reading the Tarot.
I began to dream up Sacred Familiar - a name in dedication to my beloved animal companions and so it is not really surprising that it was Artemis who began to show herself to me - the guardian of animals, women and children. I began to surround myself with imagery of Artemis and the Deer and for the first time in m life began to create my own work doing what I loved. At the same time as working purely in an intuitive field, I was managing a business, doing my own accounts and administration for courses. I have no doubt that it was the medicine of Deer that was helping me to navigate and create balance between these feminine and masculine traits. And I began to thrive.
My first ever physical encounter with a deer was when I leading a morning meditation walk at my first retreat in Warburton, Victoria back in 2009. I had chosen this area seemingly at random - little did I know I would be returning every month in the future to draw water from the natural spring. This was the first retreat I had ever held and a week before it was to begin, my father had a life threatening stroke and almost died. I had to fly to Tasmania to now be his voice as he had lost his power of speech and mobility. Suddenly I was the adult and was filling out and signing forms I could barely understand. I flew back to Melbourne and the next day I began the retreat. I was in a daze but felt strangely calm.
On the second day we woke early and went for a walk in the mist along the Yarra River. We heard an unfamiliar sound and looked up to see a stag and doe running through the front yards of houses along the street. It was a surreal moment to say the least especially as we had been talking about the Empress and the Emperor in the Tarot and now here they were presenting themselves. Just as quickly they disappeared from sight. To see these mythical creatures, not native to Australia, in the daylight, jumping the fences of suburban homes had a strange effect - it was at once magical and at the same time very, very familiar. That whole retreat was a graceful and easy experience and one I will never forget.
My next encounter with deer was soon after we moved to Sherbrooke Forest 3 years ago. The forest called and we answered but living here was another matter entirely. We soon began to hear stories from the locals of the wild deer and stag being sighted in the winter evenings. I felt that strange tug again in my tummy - a memory that I couldn't quite catch... At night I was beginning what would become my medicine doll apprenticeship and one of the very first dolls I made was a doll I called StagWoman. You can see her in the photo below and at the top of this post you will see the incredible drawing of StagWoman by Alice Savage who is now the doll's keeper.
I made the first StagWoman (who actually lives inside Alice's StagWoman - a doll within a doll!) for myself to help me get used to living in the forest after living in cities for more than half my life. At night I would feel the heavy darkness and the movement of the animals and I felt the forest like a wild creature - Stag at my window. I was feeling old fears that I couldn't even believe I had - they felt somewhat medieval. My fear was of leaving the city or town - I worried about how to fend for myself, how to work for myself and how to survive when all of my clients lived in the city. As I was making this doll, a huge mountain ash tree fell a few metres from our home with a ground shaking explosion, sounding exactly like a car crash in the middle of the night. The next day I went and stood near the upturned roots of this fallen giant trying to come to terms with all this uncontrollable wildness - it all felt so dangerous.
As the doll grew I kept seeing antlers like the Stag growing through her hair. I was confused at first, was she male or female? She told me she was female but wore antlers. She was embodying both male and female and I let her be just that. She became an important talisman to help me find my own balance and to trust the wild that was not only all around us but also waking up inside me. Little by little I lost my fear of the forest and realised it wasn't actually even my fear but something like a bad spell or brainwashing put upon us to convince us that we need the city to survive or others to provide for us. I had to develop totally new habits and ways of working and as I did, the requests for medicine dolls grew. I now felt the spirit of the forest as a soft and caring presence who nurtured me but also confronted me when I was not being aware of nature and she would remind me to always live with nature instead of beside it or hidden inside my so called 'safe' home. I learnt that the forest is safety. The medicine dolls soon become my main source of work - work that I love and adore. And StagWoman keeps making herself known to me constantly through various different medicine doll incarnations. You can see some of them here.
Deer medicine is teaching me. And it keeps returning when I need reminding - like it's time to grow a new set of antlers. The lessons are about independence, freedom, living closer to nature and supporting myself to be here. The significance of the StagWoman is to clear and remove old beliefs around gender and what it means to be a woman living in this time now - how to be remain wild and at the same time take proper care of ourselves - to be free and responsible for ourselves at the same time.
Deer Medicine Woman: Lindsy Richards
I met Lindsy when she attended one of my medicine doll circles at Spirit Weavers in the Redwoods this year. I remember her so well because she made the most amazing Marie Antoinette medicine doll complete with gown and white cotton candy wig. When I returned home to Australia Lindsy and I connected through instagram and when I saw the images of what she creates I was blown away. Through her work with Illuminating Archetypes, Lindsy is the creator of the most captivating and fascinating headdresses - many of them antlered. She told me how it was seeing one of my antlered medicine dolls that made her want to make her own medicine doll. We have since had a couple of discussions weaving the threads that connect our work and our own healing, discovering that it was the antlered women and Artemis that helped us to heal and grow forward.
I felt I truly understood Lindsy best when I read her story The Artist Mother - A Tale of a 'Wild Woman Archetype' on her website. It's such a strong Deer medicine and Artemis tale!
Lindsy: "Artemis is the resistance to domestication. Her twin brother Apollo (her opposite) represents the intellect and the culture, while she stands for the power of Nature and the Wild Self. She is the Goddess of the hunt, wild animals, the moon, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls. This Virgin Goddess symbolizes autonomy, the ability to belong to herself. She is an archetype of the self empowered woman. "Artemis comes to sanctify solitude, natural, and primitive living to which we may all return whenever we find it necessary to belong only to ourselves." ~Ginette Paris
All the animals of the forest are under Artemis's protection. She is in such intimate relationship with them, she knows their rhythms, cycles, and habits. Yet as the huntress she must engage the primordial dance of kill and be killed. Artemis imagery is most often depicted with the deer/stag. She is a death/rebirth goddess. One who holds the mysteries of regeneration and cycles.
Artemis and Deer Wisdom: Be still and silent in developing your intuition. Trust your instincts and move swiftly. Approach your challenges with grace and determination."
I urge you to have a deeper look at Lindsy's work at Illuminating Archetypes to be taken to the realm of Deer medicine and I look forward to weaving more with Lindsy in the future!