Skip to main content

Season of the Deer

The nearness of Yule has a different feel to it this year, our first year living by the woods again.

Since my back injury, I have spent a lot of time walking in those woods, alone, or with Peter and our dogs. Pain pills help; the heating pad and orthopedic chair help more; however, the only thing that really banishes the pain for any length of time is walking, particularly outdoors. I love the woods and walking in any case, but I've really been putting on the miles this year.

One thing I figured out a couple of weeks ago, when I found a spent shell along the trail, is that I'm not alone in these woods even when I am unaccompanied. It's hunting season, and these woods are wild enough and deep enough that they are in regular use by hunters.

On a practical level, that means that I'm back to wearing special Pagan garb again: in this case, a blaze orange women's hunting vest. (It has marvelous pockets, intended for game birds, which are waterproof and easy to clean: perfect for whatever trash I may find along the trail. Very 21st Century Druid.)

On a spiritual level, that means I am more aware of the season of the god than ever.

Last weekend, I set out early on Saturday morning for a "proper walk"--a long one, on the wilder trails. I had just reached the limit of the old farm's land, when I heard the sharp, barking report of a gun. A few minutes later, I heard two more shots echo off the hillsides.

They made me catch my breath. "Did you kill the god today?" I heard an inner voice asking.

The horned god is the god who rejoices in the strength and potency of the young stag in summer, and who embraces the lust, both for breeding and for life, in the autumn rut.

And he is also the meat in the pot, the life that dies to feed the people--and the new life, silent and half-formed, hidden in the womb.

At Christmas time, Christians celebrate the birth of their god who dies for the love of his people. At Yuletide, I can hear the crack of the guns, as our god, the Lord of the Animals, dies for love, too. Every hunter, Pagan or cowan, who kills the deer and eats his flesh participates in that oldest of mysteries: life that dies so that life can live.

I've known that for a very long time. But I haven't connected it with Yule before. I haven't needed to take personal precautions against a stray bullet myself before. This time of year, the danger in the woods is quite real--more so for the antlered deer than for me, but I can feel it, like a chill wind blowing through the bare branches of the trees.

It's an old mystery, made sharp, fresh, and real, by the echoing sound of the guns.

In a few days, the main deer season will end, though muzzle-loaders will be permitted to hunt until the end of December. And in a less than two weeks, the waning of the year will end, and the sun will begin its long journey back to us. As the sun returns, the new life in the bellies of the pregnant does will also grow, and the wise old stags whose antlers have been shed will bed down with the herd as the Old Man of the Woods, watching over the new life to come.

The god dies and the god is reborn, over and over and over again.
Photo Credit: Jerry Segraves
The tragedy is how easily we forget what is given to us. The tragedy is that we forget that each life, of deer or fellow human, is at one and the same time a vessel of the god, and a poor fellow-mortal, like ourselves, longing to live, longing to feel the returning sun on our faces.
It's the season of sacrifice, of the sacrifice that comes before the return of the light.

The least we can do is be grateful, and be aware. Try not to forget what you owe to the Lord of Life. (That would be... everything, boys and girls. All we have, all we are, is on loan to us. Nothing more.)


Anonymous said…
Such a beautiful post.I never considered deer season and Yule like this either and I thank you for the inspiration!I deer hunted for many years and was always in awe of the magic of deer, they just appear I miss those times, now I am disabled and cannot walk much. I saw 3 large bucks the other morning and my thoughts were immediately about the Horned God of the wild woods.
thankyou for the inspiration
And so it is.

Blessed Be.

Michael Bright Crow
Anonymous said…
So glad to be here and be reading your wonderful posts again. So sorry to hear about your back problems--wishing you good healing.

And walking. Yes, it can do wonders. I haven't been walking as much myself. And I can tell a difference. There's a stiffness in the joints and muscles, and the clothes fit a tad tighter. But I walked this morning! And I'll walk tomorrow.

Enjoy those woods (and watch out for bullets!)
Pitch313 said…
Whenever I'm off in the more open spaces and woods, usually riding my mountain bike, I carry along a certain trepidation about hunters and shooters. I recall several rides when the sound of gunfire gave me a palpable fright.

Even though some patches are not much visited by people, I think that these days just about any place may have people passing through it. In part thanks to off road technologies and in part thanks to various outdoors activities.

Myself, I don't think that hunters kill the god. But hunting does incorporate a taking of something twined with the Divine...
Elizabeth said…
Thank you for this post. It's a wonderful illustration of the reason for our season ;)

Popular posts from this blog

Confronting Racism, Yankee Pagan Style

I am a Yankee.  Right down to my Pagan soul.

My understanding of what it means to be a Pagan is to try to live in right relationship with the gods, the land, and the people, including the ancestors.  My gods are those that are comfortable in New England’s woods and hills.  My land is this rocky landscape of New England.  And my people and my ancestors–on Mom’s side, at least–are New Englanders: sea captains and dairy farmers, teachers and laborers.  Whatever granite is in this place or in my ancestors lives on in me and in my Pagan practice.

And that granite is why I am so driven to speak out against racism.
To help me explain what I mean, I’m going to go ahead and borrow an ancestor: my friend Kirk White‘s father.
A Yankee like a Rock Kirk’s ancestors, like mine, were among the first Englishmen to arrive in North America.  Like mine, this landscape was where they found their home.  And like me, my friend Kirk and his family before him has loved New England–Vermont in his c…

Bears Eat My Lettuce

I love where I live;  since moving to our new home four years ago, I've been able to build a relationship with a piece of land for the first time since I was a child.  It's everything a dirt-worshipping Pagan could ask for.  I have a garden, and I grow much of my own food, and that is as much a spiritual delight as a taste treat.  And I have woods again as neighbors: glacial boulders, white pines and black birches, owls and white-tailed deer.

And bears.

And the bears eat my lettuce.

I'm not kidding about that.  Oh, it's winter now, and the bears are huddled up in their dens.  But this past spring, I grew lettuce.  Award winning, gorgeous lettuce: three different kinds!  They were nourished to extraordinary size and succulence by the cool, wet weather we had, and each night, I would gather just a few outer leaves, knowing that careful tending would mean tasty salads for months.

And then, over the course of three days, the bears ate every single one of my lettuce plants…

Peter on Grief and Communities

Well, that was unexpected.

For the last year, ever since my mom's health took a sharp downturn, I've been my dad's ride to Florence Congregational Church on Sundays. That community has been important for my dad and the weekly outing with me was something he always looked forward to and enjoyed, so I didn't mind taking him there. It meant giving up attending my own Quaker meeting for the duration, but I had already been questioning whether silent waiting worship was working for me. I was ready for a sabbatical.
A month ago, my dad was Section-Twelved into a geriatric psych hospital when his dementia started to make him emotionally volatile. I had been visiting him every day at his assisted living facility which was right on my way home from work, but the hospital was almost an hour away. I didn't see him at all for three weeks, and when I did visit him there, it actually took me a couple of seconds to recognize him. He was slumped forward in a wheel chair, looking v…