The white stag, like many other mythical creatures, wanders through the tangled forests and wild moorlands of our distant past. Elusive and rare, our forefathers may have caught a glimpse in some hidden glade in the woods, or seen it moving ghost-like across the wild moors, or maybe stood high on a rocky outcrop crowned against the sky. The white stag was always something to be desired yet always out of reach. Always leading the hunt onwards, ever onwards, to a destiny ordained by the gods. From the dark, distant memories of the Wild Hunt have grown the very stuff of legends.
Encounters with the White Stag
For those humans who encountered a white stag, there were often profound consequences, sometimes stimulating great spiritual changes within a person. Sometimes these encounters have been the trigger of great events leading to the creation of nations and kingdoms. Even to this day the consequences of legendary encounters of the remote past are still visible and can be seen in action.
The White Stag in Mythology and Folklore
Traditionally the white stag has often been interchangeable with the unicorn and appears in the folklore and mythology of many different cultures around the world. In ancient times deer were hunted for food but they also supplied leather, bone and gut which had many uses and were an important resource in hunter gatherer and early agricultural societies. So when a rare white stag was chanced upon, maybe it is no surprise that legends and myths grew up around the sightings of this unusual and mysterious beast.
Many of the legends can be traced back through European and Asian culture. From Mesopotamia, Babylon, and Assyria and from Mongolia, and China and even in Japanese mythology, the white stag can be found depicted in art, in records and in legends.
In Celtic mythology, the White Stag symbolises the existence of the Otherworld and that forces from the Otherworld are present and in action. The Celtic god Cernunnos was depicted zoomorphically as a man with horns growing from his head.
In earlier times the Celts believed that the white stag was an agent from the ‘Other world’ and a bringer of great changes to those it encountered. The white stag often appeared when something sacred, or a law or code, was being broken.
The Legend of the Wondrous Stag in Hungarian Mytholgy
One of the oldest and most revered legends of the Hungarian people is the Legend of the Wondrous Stag (sometimes Hind, or Doe) and Fred Hámori provides one of the best renditions of the legend.
The story goes that Hunor and Magor the sons of Nimrod, the great hunter king, gave chase to a white stag that led them to a new country and the establishing of the Huns and Magar peoples in Scythia. In some versions, the sex of the creature is ambiguous. Sometimes it is it is a horned doe, or hind that is chased.
The cosmos was considered the mother of the sun and was represented by a horned female doe, or hind. Being a symbol of the cosmos she also carried the stars and the moon as well as the sun between her horns. Just as the cosmos was her mother she was the mother of the stag who symbolised the sun.
White Stag Leadership Development
In a speech at the end of the Fourth World Wide Jamboree of the Scouting movement, founder Sir Robert Bade-Powell said, ‘You may look on that White Stag as the pure spirit of Scouting, springing forward and upward, ever leading you onward and upward to leap over difficulties.’ Later in 1958 the White Stag leadership and development program was born from this speech which today is known worldwide.
In Scottish folklore around 1128, the King of Scotland was David I who was the son of Malcolm Canmore and St Margaret. The legend goes that on the day of the Feast of the Holy Rood he went out hunting despite advice given to him by his priest who had warned him against it.
Ignoring this advice, King David I had ridden out and came across a white stag. He immediately gave chase but became unsaddled from his horse who threw him. The White Stag turned to attack.
Helpless, David fell on his knees and cried out to God to protect him. The Stag charged full on at David with its antlers down. Just as the antlers were about to strike he managed to grab them. As he did so the antlers turned into a cross and the stag stopped dead in its tracks, lifted its head high and simply disappeared into thin air.
To give thanks to God for saving him, David built and dedicated a shrine to the Holy Rood which later became Holyrood Abbey leading to the development of Holyrood Palace. Holy Rood means Holy Cross.
In many of the legends of King Arthur, the white stag is elusive and hard to catch. It is the pursuit of the beast that represents humanity’s spiritual quest, always searching for something just out of reach. Its entrance or discovery is often the stimulus for his knights to begin a high and noble quest.
The White Hart in Heraldry
Richard II of England chose the White Hart for his own heraldic symbol. In Heraldry in England as well as many parts of Europe it became an important symbol.
The magnificent work of art, the Wilton Diptych, depicts Richard wearing a gold and enamel jewel and an image of a white hart. The Virgin Mary is present and the angels also are wearing white hart images. The work of art is actually an alter piece and on the outside is also an emblem of a white hart.
As a Christian symbol
In Christian symbolism the white stag can sometimes be seen as a symbol of Jesus. The Roman soldier St. Eustace converts to Christianity at the beckoning of a white stag with a cross between its horns that he encounters.
The stag talks to him revealing that he was Jesus and that he had been hunting him. Eustace was told that though he did not yet know it, he had great faith in Christ that he and his family’s faith would be greatly tested and so it proved to be.
Versions of the legend appear in many different parts of the globe including Mayan Indian and Japanese versions. In Japanese mythology a stag is hunted by twin brothers but the beast eludes them. The twins argue about which way to take and finally split up in different direction. One goes east and one goes west. The twin that takes to the east eventually discovers Japan.
Purity, Divinity, and Awakening
In many traditions white is the colour of divinity and purity and white can also be the color of peace or of truce. In Celtic tradition white is associated with the Other-world and After-life. The role of the white stag is often to lead the hunters to new beginnings, new places, and new insights and to new knowledge. It was something that could never be captured. Always keeping just a little bit ahead of the hunters and drawing them ever onwards to new places as it did with the sons of Nimrod leading them to a new land, or as with David, King of Scots, to new spiritual awakening.
A Natural Phenomenon
There is plenty of evidence with sightings, videos and photographs that prove that the white stag is not just a supernatural beast but natural phenomenon. White stags and deer are often wrongly thought of as being albino. In fact they inherited a rare genetic condition called leucism.
In the USA when a small herd of White-tailed deer became isolated from the outside world in what was once the Seneca Army Depot, Seneca County, New York, the resulting inbreeding produced a high number of white deer making it the largest known herd of white deer in the world. Also in the US, the Argonne National Laboratory also has white deer in its grounds.
Recent Sightings of White Stags
A report by the BBC and updated on 11 February 2008 has a sighting of a white stag captured on video. This shows a white stag moving among a group of does over open moorland somewhere on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. The exact location is being kept secret to protect the stag from hunters and trophy seekers.
The Daily Mail also reported in an update on the 7th December 2009 of the discovery of a white stag in the Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire, England by photographer Ken Grindle who managed to photograph it.
Protection from Trophy Hunters
Most sightings are now kept secret or their locations are not revealed. The head of a full grown white stag with a full set of antlers would fetch many thousands of pounds. One recent sighting in the Scottish Lowlands attracted such bids from hunters soon after its location was revealed but the landowner is refusing all offers. Hopefully these wonderful animals will be far better protected than the one that was killed by trophy hunters around the county boundaries of Cornwall and Devon in October 2007.
The Stuff of Legends
These photographs and videos reveal a beast of mystery and majesty. For those who are close to nature as our ancestors were and those of us today who have a deep affinity with the natural world to encounter one in hidden forest glades or moving ghost-like through the mists of the moors, must be an unusual and unforgettable experience. Indeed, the very stuff legends are made from.
© 02/11/2010 zteve t evans
References and Attributions
This is a version of an article first Published: November 2, 2010 on Helium.com as Origins of the mythical creature white stag by zteve t evans – © 02/11/2010 zteve t evans
- Image –File:White Hart Badge of Richard II.svg From Wikimedia Commons – White Hart Badge of Richard II – Author: Sodacan – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence
- File:The White Hart Signboard.jpg From Wikimedia Commons – The White Hart – Author: Bernardfobe – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence
- Thge Legend of the Wonderous Hind – Fred Hamori
- Leucism, From Wikipedia
- MailOnline – Pictured: Mythical white stag found in the forests of Gloucestershire
- Ghost-like’ white stag spotted
- Seneca white deer From Wikipedia
- The National Gallery – The Wilton Diptych
Hi to every one, the contents existing at this site are actually remarkable for people
experience, well, keep up the nice work fellows.
1997 I visited my husband s brother in law in Germany..north GermanyHe was married to my husband’s sister and she had died 5 or so yes b4
The brother in law had remarried to the woman he’d had an affair with while married to my husband’s sister
As we went in for dinner..it was dark and only this brother in law and I were left on the balcony
Suddenly at the end of his long back yard..which abutted bush..a white deer appeared at the fence..maybe 60 metres away!!Im sure it was his the spirit of his ex wife..my husbands sister ..because
His sister had large brown eyes and everyone always said she had “Reh” Augean!!
Translated it means ..DOE eyes ..or deer eyes
Very moving..she came to b with the family gathering
Most interesting, thanks for commenting!
Had a spiritual encounter with white stag recently, felt it’s power within my body. Heart and spirit empowered to run like the wind down the mountain with my crippled leg healed instantly ( cancer survivor ). Remembered my past life as king David suddenly. Never ran that fast for one mile, but previous army time was 5 min. 39 seconds. This was the most powerful I’ve ever felt in my life and the closest I’ve ever felt to the presence of God. Knew nothing about these legends til now. Quite an amazing experience. Thanx for the info and God bless you.
you are blessed broher
Yes they are pretty inspirational creatures! Thanks for commenting, appreciated!
Been inspiring me since I discovered medieval stag carvings in my church back in the early eighties, 500 years old. They were stolen. But kept inspiring me. Just completed my first screenplay, entitled The Fugitive Stag, an epic tale of a novice shaman and his meeting with The Goddess.
How interesting and good luck with the screen play!
This is beautiful. These are legends I knew nothing about so I will come back for more. Thanks for sharing.
Reblogged this on Ritaroberts's Blog and commented:
For those of you interested in Mythical Legends this is a beautiful post. Enjoy !
I know of an area in Cornwall where a white stag’s been sighted and local people are avoiding any online mention of him for fear of hunters coming in to shoot him. Which is why I’m not narrowing the area down beyond saying that it’s somewhere in the county.
Very wise! There is always some moron who wants to destroy a thing of beauty. Yes they are rare but they are out there. Thanks for commenting.
I’ve always enjoyed the white stag, I think it is in part because there was a great outdoor company in Portland, OR in the States that I liked…and then of course it was just a majestic beast. Well written ~ well done!
Thank you, appreciated!
Loved this piece. As a young girl I read “The White Stag” the Newberry story about the Huns and the Magyar. It was very moving and magical and one of those pieces you never forget reading as a child. Oddly, I hadn’t thought of the book in years, but then last summer while training across the US from Denver to Chicago the train was passing an old burned out section of old farm buildings. A place that had been abandoned, judging by the look of it, for years. It was early morning and raining. I was looking across at the buildings as the train slowed to take a bend. One building was overgrown on the top where moss and trees had actually started to grow out of the old roof. There to my complete shock was an enormous staff with huge antlers taking shelter beneath this old rotted out building. He was just standing there. A completely magical moment for me. Not long after the book came to mind and I’ve found myself often thinking about the book and my early morning friend. Loved this information on your blog, truly.
Very much appreciated and that is a fascinating story you tell, thanks!
I didn’t realize how many cultures embraced the image of the white stag. Great article. Hope all is well 🙂
I’m currently working on two paintings depicting white stags – having been drawn to create them, almost out of the blue for an up-coming exhibition – the description of their representing man’s quest for the spiritual, a constant, never ending chase just fits my current emotions – my fb page for this sort of work (they won’t be on my commercial website): MuseumOfPreciousThings – if you want to have a look in a day or two when they will be finished – Loving the synchronicity – Sara
Very interesting, Sara. Would love to see your paintings when they are ready! Thanks for commenting!
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This was really informative and interesting. I’ve added a link to this page on a post I’ve made today about the white stag’s appearance in the last chapter of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, as you explain its significance much better than I could!
Thanks, very much appreciated!
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I photographed a white stag in Freeland, Washington, on Whidbey Island, a few years ago. There’s a White Deer Lane in Freeland, as well. When I saw the stag, I saw several does as well. I was deeply moved.
What a fantastic experience! Thanks for sharing!
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Wonderful collection of stories, folklore, and explanation! Very clear & well organized! Many thank to you!!
Reblogged this on Lilaia Moreli – Words Are Sacred.
You’re welcome! I enjoyed your blog and found it very useful for the fantasy novel I’m currently writing.
Thanks and good luck with the novel!
Wow what incredibly thorough coverage of this famous legend. I grew up way out in the countryside of Iowa. One time I encountered an albino doe. It was so beautiful, I could see why legends have sprung up everywhere about a white stag!
Yes, they really are majestic creatures! Thanks for commenting appreciated!
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I had a very peculiar dream a little while ago where I had a experience with two stags, one brown and one white. The brown stag was in a cage and I observed him and could feel his longing for wanting to be free, then a flash as a creature ran past me quickly, leaping the wall of the cage and bolting out of sight. I followed where I sensed the creature would be and found the white the stag. We locked eyes and studied each other, almost had a telepathic conversation but I don’t remember what it was about. Then I realized the white stage had a human female face and long hair like a girl with the antlers protruding, instead of hooves this white stag/human hybrid had four hands and. Still trying to figure out the meaning or significance of all the symbolism in this dream/ if anyone has had similar dreams or a theory I’d love to hear it.
Wow, what a fantastic dream! The white stag is often seen as a messenger from the Otherworld and will appear when a spiritual awakening is imminent, Thanks for sharing this, appreciated. Anyone else have any theories or experiences?
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three white red deer living on and around my farm an eleven point stag a two year old hind and a yearling stag
Fascinating, thanks for sharing!
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Reblogged this on pmayhew53.
When someone writes an article he/she retains the plan of a user in his/her mind
that how a user can be aware of it. So that’s why this piece of writing
is amazing. Thanks!
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Police in Liverpool slaughtered a white stag, the symbolism of this I can’t even put into words
Yes it was a terrible, shameful and unnecessary act by the police and words are difficult to find.
There is a fascinating parallel to white elephants across southeast Asia. The elephant leads people to places to form kingdoms and temples.
That’s interesting, white animals often appear in myths as messengers or guides in many different human cultures around the world. Thanks for reading and commenting, appreciated!.
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