Season of the Deer

Season of the Deer December 9, 2009

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.)

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