The White Deer–Kay Goldstein
It is impossible for me not to experience magic, mystery and immense sense of wonder when I look at this photograph. I took it one misty afternoon a couple of years ago from my window in Chapel Hill, one of dozens of photos of this deer taken while it graced our home over the course of two years. The white deer’s visits, while frequent, never seemed commonplace–perhaps because he was not ordinary. His appearance, first with his brown spotted twin and mother doe, then on his own, always caused a ripple of excitement to run through the house, a dash for a camera, and reverent hushed voices. He may as well have been a unicorn. Perhaps he really was.
There are many stories from diverse cultures that mention the appearance of white animals. The Celtic people considered them to be messengers from the otherworld. In the King Arthur legends, the white stag, always pursued, but never captured, represents mankind’s quest for spiritual knowledge, in that case the search for the Holy Grail. Native American lore suggests that white animals are a sign of prophecy, a message from the Great Spirit to be discussed among the tribal elders. The deer, its spreading antlers like a sunrise, represents both the sun and Great Spirit, a sense of renewal.
If I had known nothing of these stories, its appearance in my life would still have been deeply moving. For the white deer evoked in me the world of imagination, spirit, and a reminder of that which is not easily seen in our everyday world.
One winter afternoon, I stood in my kitchen and shook a bottle of vitamins vigorously to loosen them. Its sound reminded me of that of a shaman’s rattle, calling forth spirit. At that moment the white deer appeared in the yard. Shortly afterward, a large red hawk flew by the room where I meditate–a light filled space with many windows surrounded by trees. It landed on a low branch and when I stood to get a closer look, I saw that the deer was also now outside that room. He finally lay down in the dry winter leaves facing me, staring, as if waiting for me. I stood a moment watching , and felt called to meditate. I sat facing the deer and went into a beautiful state full of imagery of the deer and hawk. I felt a deep heart connection with the animals, a sense of peace and love. When I opened my eyes, both had gone.
Remembering the dreamlike quality of that winter scene, I am reminded about the coming Solstice. How many of this season’s spiritual traditions-Christian, Jewish, pagan, are rooted in the introspection and contemplation of the darkness and the hope of the return of light. It seems especially incongruous that a season that so naturally calls ourselves inward instead finds most of us on a literal marathon of activity and extroversion. Pay attention. It is not only counterproductive and out of sync with the natural world and our soul’s calling, but also a potentially missed opportunity to appreciate the real meaning of this season.
For me the white deer’s presence was a profound call to remember that without magic, without opening our heart to wonder, the world is a far darker place. The compelling presence of this creature makes it easy for us to lose ourselves in the world of fantasy and magic. We project our deepest longings and drink the elixir of joy and hope. Part of our brain says not to make too much of this, to put away such childish thoughts and dreams. The immersion of our self into the pure light of its presence gives us a sense of immense well being, joy. And yet perhaps it is our greatest human failing to so live in a world of mind and rationalism that we cannot comprehend or experience this other world. There is danger in thinking we can know all things, that what we know with our minds is the only reality. It is even arrogant. It is a way of being that shrinks our world. When we cannot embrace the inexplicable and unseen, our world, our spirits are diminished. It is the closed mind that fails to recognize the essential worth of an ancient stand of trees or the delicate balance of the eco system that exists, sight unseen , beneath the sea. It is the closed heart that fails to see hope in despair, gratitude in the midst of deprivation, the soul that resides within each of us.
I have not seen the white deer in two years. But in this season of long darkness, the stillness of a winter earth, and the hope for the return of light, I have no doubt that sight unseen, he is still there.