Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Stag of Light

Daddy, why do people put lighted deer in their front yards?

We're headed towards the tail-end of November, and the front yards in my neighborhood are suddenly sprouting deer.

These are not the wild animals, although here within sight of downtown Minneapolis we've got a sizable urban herd. (They mostly live in the wooded Mississippi Valley that runs through the heart of town.) No, these are Yule Deer.

(Up here in Snow Country, if you want to decorate outdoors, you've got to do it early.)

As a pagan, and myself a worshiper of the Deer Man, I find it deeply amusing that one of the foremost symbols of American Christmas: the Secular Holiday should be the Deer.

The connection is pretty tenuous. Presumably these are the reindeer that pull Santa's sleigh. Of course, the Deer of Light that you see in people's yards are clearly not reindeer. You can tell because reindeer have a very distinctive antler configuration. No, the Yule Deer are based—insofar as there's a natural prototype at all—on the American Whitetail, as (after all) they should be.

No, there's a deeper logic here. Now is, of course, Deer Time. Here in the North, the Rut begins around Samhain and runs (roughly) through Yule: Samhain breeding for Bealtaine fawning. For us predators, that also means it's the time of the Hunt.

How many good gifts deer give us: food, clothing, shelter. No wonder we're the People of the Deer.

Around now, my friend Sirius will be unpacking the Yule Stag. It's one of those made-in-China-for-the-Western-Market Santa maquettes: red fur robe, faux holly crown, shouldered sack of goodies, et al.

Oh, but see his shiny black hooves, and gaze into the big buck eyes of his royal deer head, branching antlers and all.

They're all for the Yule Stag, son.

On His antlers, He brings back the light.






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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Thursday, 15 November 2018

    In "Christianity the origins of a Pagan Religion" Philippe Walter connotes white deer with Halloween. His examples are of Saint Hubertus patron saint of hunters and the Irish hero Finn. Rereading that section of the book brought to mind a book called The White Stag in which two brothers chase a white stag. One brother becomes the founder of the Magyars, the other brother becomes the founder of the Huns. I remember reading a book of Korean Folk Tales about a farmhand who is led by a deer to spy upon three fairy maidens bathing in a pool. My favorite story however is from the Cherokee about the Little Deer. If a hunter doesn't say thank you too a deer when he kills it, Little Deer will strike him down with arthritis.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Friday, 16 November 2018

    I remember Kate Seredy's The White Stag well. "Little Father" Attila leads his people--the- Huns--to the Promised Land--Hungary--by following the White Stag.

    Perspective, perspective, perspective.

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