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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The Deer Wife

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Here’s a tale, the story of the Deer Wife, and well it might be the oldest tale in the world.

One day a man takes his rifle and goes off into the woods, where he sees a pretty little doe. He takes aim, shoots, and hits her in the shoulder, but he doesn’t kill her outright. So he follows the blood-trail into the forest until he comes to a clearing.

But there’s no doe in that clearing. Instead there’s a woman standing there, naked and bleeding. Her hair is like red fire and her skin like apple blossom, and she’s got a bullet lodged in her shoulder.

So he takes her home, digs out the bullet, and binds up the wound. Of course she becomes his wife, and they live together as happily as may be expected until their son is weaned. Then one day the man comes home to find the boy alone and squalling in his cradle, and the Deer Wife gone back to her own.


But since that day there’s kinship between us and the people of the woods, and it’s one of ours who wears the antlers in the clearing at the holy tides. Once in every nine years we give one of our own to the woods, as payment in kind, you see. Since then the priest-kind among us eat no flesh food but only once a year, and that at the time of the Midwinter fires. And since then we go naked to our worship.

So there’s the story of the Deer Wife, and well it might be the oldest tale in the world. And there’s an end to it, and there’s a beginning, and let us all say: So mote it be.


Last modified on
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.


  • Carol Leary
    Carol Leary Thursday, 11 September 2014

    So cool. For me, it was the story my grandmother told me when I was six, of the Selkie. She is the seal who took human form & then returned to the ocean. Prophetic, too.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Saturday, 13 September 2014

    Prophetic in what sense, Carol?

    It wasn't until my nephew was born that I found out that in my mother's family it's not uncommon to be born with toe-webbing. (I've got a little vestigial myself, but of course I never noticed it; it's just the way my feet are.) One wonders if there wasn't a seal-wife in the mix there somewhere. Reckon we must be Seal Clan on mom's side and Deer Clan on dad's.

  • T-Roy
    T-Roy Thursday, 11 September 2014

    So mote it be!

  • Carol Leary
    Carol Leary Saturday, 13 September 2014

    Oh, just prophetic in the sense that I have never liked getting out of the water, all the way from the time my mother would call me to present day. My children are the same; when they were young, I took them to a camp where they could stay in the water literally all day, coming out only when they were hungry, smelling food cooking on fires. One payoff: they dropped into their bunks without one single complaint: too tired for words.

    Also, if you have ever seen 'The Secret of Roan Inish,' the seal people are generally very dark like me; my siblings are blond & blue eyed, I am black haired & green eyed exactly like my father. :-)

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 15 September 2014

    Seal Clan for sure. Have you seen David Thomson's People of the Sea? The single most lyrical book I know about seals and selkies.

  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien Wednesday, 22 October 2014

    In the Fenian Cycle, she is Sadhbh (Saba), mate of Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) and mother of Oisín (Osheen), meaning "faun."

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