The Deer's Secret
by Joanna van der Hoeven, reposted from her website Down the Forest Path
The fallow deer stags have shed their antlers on the heath and in the forest in the last few weeks. As I found one atop a small rise next to ancient Celtic tumuli (burial mounds), dropped on the grassy tuft of a half sunken oak stump, I was gifted with this beautiful reminder that we all need to let go of certain things in our life.
It can be hard to let go. Whether it is past experiences, trauma, emotions or loved ones, eventually we will have to let go at some point. If we don’t, we will hinder ourselves as we travel through life on our own personal journeys. Just as a deer must shed his antlers in order to grow new ones, so must we shed that which no longer serves us in our lives. If the deer doesn’t shed his antlers properly, fully and completely, complications arise when the new ones begin to form. When the time is right, the stag knows when to let go. Sometimes it is with a simple, gentle shake; other times the antlers need to be knocked off purposefully on low trees branches or stumps. Either way, the setting is created for new growth.
The stag’s antlers grow throughout the summer, enabling him to display them proudly come the autumn rut. When growing, the antlers are covered in a beautiful, soft velvet to protect them and allow for room to grow into the shapes destined for that year. When the antlers are full grown the velvet begins to fall off, and the deer helps this process by rubbing it on trees to shed the last of the strips and allow the antlers to fully dry out and harden in the early autumn sunshine. The older the deer, the more points on the antler appear. There are some majestic old King Stags on the heath, whose great strong necks hold up a crown that is almost impossible to imagine. These antlers will help fight off any challengers to the does that have chosen to be with a certain stag, and are both an aggressive and defensive means, one tool of many for the continuation of the herd. When the antlers are no longer needed they are shed, demonstrating the cycle of life, death and rebirth, and the need to let go of that which no longer serves.
Though many in the Pagan community use the festival of Samhain to reflect on what no longer serves them in their lives, for me here living with the local deer community it is the month of May where I find this inspiration. Closely observing the deer, hauling buckets of water out onto the heath for them in the last two years as we have had so little rainfall, leaving offerings of seeds and song, I have established a relationship with them that is so beautiful and inspiring. They know me now, and I have watched as young prickets have matured into stags, and lead does hand over the power to a younger female as their reign over the herd comes to a natural close. I have spent an amazing three years with a white doe, always catching her watching me as I roam the heathland and knowing that she carries messages from the Otherworld in her spiritual capacity. Though she is now gone from us, her spirit lives on in the dappled light of the beech wood and the gentle breeze that blows the heather bells, ringing the faery bells in both this world and the Otherworld.
If we are unable to let go, we cannot move forward with health, vitality and authenticity. We will hinder our progress, sabotage our current situation and be mere shadows of who we could be. The deer remind us that letting go is not a one-time affair, but a process that happens again and again as we work our way through the spirals of life. Every year they must shed their antlers, this cyclic dance of the Antlered God reminding us of the process, and how to move through it.
Some of what holds us back are shadow aspects that no longer serve us in the present moment. While they may have been necessary coping mechanisms in their time, in this present moment they only stop us from being our true, authentic selves. We may have been hurt in the past, but that hurt lies in the past, and carrying it always into the present moment is a burdensome thing to bear. Instead, letting go again and again is the way to move forward, to develop the skills necessary to cope with what life is doing at this very moment in time. We must learn to shed that which no longer serves, and grow into our antlers of sovereignty. And when the time comes, we shed those antlers too.
Excalibur that was given to King Arthur needed to be returned to the Lady of Lake upon Arthur’s death. We return that which no longer serves to the earth, to the waters of the subconscious, to the Otherworld and the Goddess in order for it to be transformed and wrought anew when the time is come. This cyclic myth may have been created through observation of the natural world, and the cycles of the flora and fauna that inspire Pagan mythology. We wield our swords of sovereignty, and then return the power to the land when the time is right, ready to forge anew what it is that we need in the next cycle, like a stag shedding his antlers and then growing anew.
As I look out over my laptop and out into the verdant green of the garden, the beech, ash and birch trees swaying in the light breeze, I am filled with the beauty and mystery of this earthly life and its cycles. We have come out of a long, difficult winter and now the summer is in full swing. The world has turned soft and lush, the bare branches of the trees now heavy and singing in full voice of the songs of summer. The blackbirds join in the song all day long, and the house martins beep beep overhead as they dive and glide to feed their young. That all important Mystery that lies at the heart of Pagan traditions is so abundant all around me, and I am so grateful for this journey. I know what it is that needs letting go, and I do it each and every day, until I find that I am no longer carrying it but have instead stored it away neatly on the shelves of life experience. I walk forward free, able to grow and be in my full, sovereign self.
Thanks to the Deer’s Secret.