Ancestress of the Magical Reindeers


four deer

The Ancient Saami – In the Folktales of the Meandash, the Mythic Saami Reindeer people, a Meandash young woman and the mother of Meandash, speak of an old wise and experienced woman (which in ancient Finno-Ugric tradition is a shaman woman). The Meandash-nijt lives in a human form and only becomes a reindeer upon the crossing the river of blood. She settles in Meandash land with her children whom she has said: “You are meandash – the reindeer” as well as her nameless younger children (reindeer calves). No father is mentioned in this ancient folktale, and the children did not feed on grass and lichen, as a reindeer would, but instead went hunting, (i.e. followed the traditional life of the ancient Sami.)

The old (shaman) woman took the shape of a reindeer and fooled around with the horned animals and got pregnant and gave birth to a reindeer child, the child was strong and healthy and soon started to help his mother with the firewood.

The woman is capable of establishing contact between different spheres of dimensions of earth. Nothing is known about her origins, thus she must have existed since before time; the same also applies to tundra and the reindeer. The woman could transform herself into a reindeer as well as a human being, which is called the animism tradition. A animist reality which involve the human souls which carries both human, avian and animals and crosses the line between human and specific ancient soul animals.

The old woman in the oral traditional teaching story (later a folktale) was impregnated by a horned animal, and gave birth to a reindeer son. Her reindeer son was ambivalent as well: he worked as a regular human at helping his mother to gather firewood, he could talk; and, yet, he was a reindeer at certain times, at night in his dreams and sometimes could be both in two different places.

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In another story the Raven marries the old couples oldest daughter, the Seal married the middle one, and the Reindeer married the youngest daughter. The old couple went to visit their daughters and saw that the only daughter living happily was the one married to the reindeer. I. Sergeieva speculates that the three animal suitors, symbolizes the three worldly spheres: the raven – the sky, the seal –  the great ocean’s water, and the reindeer – the earth; and therefore it suggests the personification of nature and the belief in the blood-relation between humans and animals.

Generally, the events described in myths and the oral tradition of stories,centered around a journey, the same applies where the old couple take turns to visit their daughters. The old man who came from the reindeer tribe was not happy in the raven’s family, with its bare living-place and the dried pine-trees, and its disorderliness. Such a lifestyle was not something a reindeer was accustomed. For some reason the raven was hostile towards the reindeer’s oldest daughter and had crippled her; still, they lived together and had children, who were all ravens.
Svensk Hemslöjd - Ny bok om yllebroderi
Then the old man visited his middle daughter, who had married a seal, and found that the seal was not a good husband for his daughter either. Again, he disapproves of the vast emptiness, the becoming-dirty from the seal blubber, the unaccustomed food and the son-in-law’s hostility towards his daughter.

 The next day the old man visited his younger daughter. In this story, the land is covered with the basic foods of the reindeer, lichen. One’s own people are revered – they are offered the best seat covered with soft fur. It is good to live among one’s own people, therefore the old couple settled among the reindeer family. Another significant fact is that the reindeer son-in-law was the only one to be transformed into a human being, whereas the others remained animals. This fact strengthens the sense of one’s own even more.

The story tells of the game of the reindeer, which according to V. Charnoluski was a remnant of the collective hunting culture, and resembles ikänipkä, the ritual feast of the Evenki. The tent symbolises the first member of the pair of opposites – culture and nature -, separated by the walls. Outside the tent, the reindeer represented hypostasis of animal, inside the tent where he was married to a human he assumed an anthropomorphic shape. The tent where the old man came to was located in the other worlds of earth: had he been a stranger he would not have been able to enter the tent. He had to be let in by a relative – in our story, the wife of the reindeer.

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M. Antonova, differs from this account only in three details:

  • The three suitors came to propose at the same time;
  • The old couple gave them a task to carve out three piggins, and the suitors succeeded at it;
  • The raven fed on tripe and heads.

Another version differs from the others only in smaller details. This variant emphasizes the significance of predictions appearing in dreams. The old man’s wife dreamed only of the most characteristic body parts of the animals (totems). The dream was not an ordinary one, but had a special meaning, being seen before the marriage of her daughters. Differently to the previous variant, the proposal scene is almost skipped, which might be accounted for by the narrator’s forgetfulness.

As to the reindeer, it is said that his tent was made from bones and skins, so, the reindeer tent must have been similar to the ones described in previous versions. The motif of pre-marital building of the tent seems to have been forgotten, and it functions only as an insignificant detail which makes the reindeer more agreeable than the other suitors. The animal suitors are rather active: they come from a distant place (or, in fact, the mythical worlds of earth) and ask the old couples permission to marry their daughter. Let us recall here that it was the young reindeer’s mother who went to seek a wife for her son. The narrator’s attitude towards all of the suitors is rather favorable, although somewhat uneven: the raven is considered a handsome man, the seal a plump one and the reindeer an exceptionally handsome man.

sami drums

Life in Meandash world as well as in human world is thought to be regular. In the morning they got up, the husband went hunting, then they ate dinner and went to sleep. The passage of time is constantly emphasized. Grandmother has a kind and warm attitude towards her grandchildren, not hostile like most countries did to demonize the wise elder shaman women – it is shown by her making red reindeer collars for them for them. These are semantically comparable to the red baize ribbons mentioned in the first story (see above), which were tied around the ears of reindeer calves. The worship of totems was still current at the time when Charnoluski made his expedition to the Kola Peninsula, although for obvious reasons the local people were not over-eager to discuss it with strangers. Later, however, they overcame this timidity.

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In the Sami language, the wife of Meandash was usually called Meandashsh-kaab or koab, where the last part of the compound stands for a newlywed or a young married wife, and is related to the Estonian dialectal words kabe and kabu (maiden, woman). T Danilova has also called her the maadder-ahke, or the ancestress (Kolta word maaddar-ahkka and the Inarimadderakko.) The first part of the compound is related to the Finnish word manner : manteren [continent] and the Estonian cognate the Estonian word manner : mandri. Relying on the Kalevala, we might assume that originally the Sami word denoted also ‘Earth Mother’, it is even supported by the linguistic record that in Finnish mythology, the wife of Ukko, the thunder being was known asakka. The Finnish historian, Uno Holmberg, has mentioned that Madderakka, who helped women in child labour, and is therefore considered as the Ancestress, lived in the ground under the tent where people took offerings for her. V. Charnoluski has reported that this version had never been told in the form of a narrative, it has always been sung as an ancient ritual song and a modern folk song. The story was called the lyvt.

sami man

The Deer’s Cry
Ancient Celtic prayer/poem

I arise Today
through the Strength of Heaven:
Light of sun – Radiance of moon
Splendor of fire
Speed of lightning
Swiftness of wind
Depth of sea
Stability of earth
Firmness of stone.


Mongolian Deer Tribes

Some of the photos here, are of the ancient Mongolian tribe’s deer stones, which are also called Reindeer Stones. Deer stones were carved with symbols which can be found all over the world, but are concentrated largely in Siberia and Mongolia, the name comes from their carved depictions of celestial deer are heavenly deer who fly, just like the winged horses of heaven who fly.

cool


The Dukha or Duhalar are a small Tuvan Turkic community of reindeer herders living in northern Khövsgöl Aimag of Mongolia. Dukhan language, is an endangered Turkic variety spoken by approximately five hundred people in the Tsagaan-Nuur county of the Khövsgöl region of northern Mongolia. Dukhan belongs to the Taiga subgroup of Sayan Turkic (Tuvan, Tofa).  This remote and inaccessible region of northern Mongolia is inhabited by nomadic reindeer herds people. The Tsaatan herd reindeer not only for their horns, which they sell to local traders, but also for riding and milk. It is no wonder they are called ‘Reindeer People’.

Deer has been in all ancient text, images, paintings and the shamans breath of sharing, the wonderful celebration of the seasons and of the magic of gentleness and stillness listening to Autumn and Winter’s story. Flying reindeer have have been found in the art of the Cimmerian sites, Cimmerians were ancient equestrian nomads of Indo-European origins in central Asia. In Greek mythology a deer, the Cerynian Hind, a large beautiful (female deer), particularly associated with Artemis in her role as huntress. Artemis, the goddess of the moon, animals and free women, was one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities. The description of the Cerynian Hind, suggests this animal was a reindeer rather than another species of deer, a fabulous animal, with golden antlers like a stag and hooves of bronze or brass, was said to be able to outrun an arrow in flight. As a hind bearing antlers was unknown in Greece, the story suggests a reindeer; unlike other deer reindeer females bear antlers.
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There are another 20 deer stones in Kazakstan and the Middle East and 10 in Ukraine and parts of the Russia including the provinces of Orenburg and Kavkasia, and near the Elba River. There are over 900 deer stones in Central Asia and South Siberia, of which 700 are in Mongolia alone. These monumental features is believed to be erected by Bronze Age nomads, approximately 3000 years ago. Deer stones are usually constructed from granite or green-stone, depending on which is the most abundant in the surrounding area. Reindeer feature prominently in nearly all of the deer stones. Early stones have very simple images of reindeer, and as time progresses, the designs increase in detail.rd stone

A gap of 500 years results in the appearance of the complicated flying reindeer depictions. Reindeer are depicted as flying through the air, rather than merely running on land. Sometimes the reindeer hold a sun disc or other sun-related image in their antlers. These are shamanic animist realities of advanced shamans who shape shift into their animal souls as equally to their human soul. The flying deer stones also have been incorporated into present day Buddhist rituals by the Tsaatan a small group of reindeer herders in Northern Mongolia. Like most buddhist sects, they separated from shamanism a long time ago, around the time of the second Buddha Guru Rimpoche.

Reindeer and the Sun are very common association in Siberian shamanism. Tattoos on buried shaman women also contain deer tattoos, featuring antlers embellished with small birds’ heads, and since the goddess cultures of female shaman is most associated with deer, serpent and birds, it is right that these deer stones were the sacred ritual grounds of women. This reindeer-sun-bird imagery can symbolize the female shaman’s soul transformation from human to deer, from earth of the middle world to higher gates of the middle world and even the lower world.

deer-stones flickr.com:photos:hardcoder

The Happycamel writes “there are different viewpoints about the origins of deer stone art. According to H.L. Hlyenova, the artistic deer image originated from the Sak tribe and its branches (Chlyenova 1962). Volkov believes that some of the methods of crafting deer stone art are closely related to Scythians, whereas D. Tseveendorj regards deer stone art as having originated in Mongolia during the Bronze Age and spread thereafter to Tuva and the Baikal area. It is clear from the distribution and geographic locations of deer stone sites, that this art has been created by nomadic peoples.
deer-stones-flickr.com:photos:hardcoderIt is significant to understand the spirit of its creation and researchers have many different ideas about why deer and other objects were illustrated on deer stones. To take a specific example, it is noted on page 120 of the first of the five-volume History of Mongolia (2003) that “Deer are largely concentrated and found throughout the Central Asian regions and their fur, meat. and horns are traditionally used. Deer do not harm humans, they symbolically play a sacrifice role.”

With the chevrons included with these deer stones, this relates closely with Goddess and Shamanic cultures of the Goddess The image of the deer on the stone is related to ancient belief that human beings of their clans, originated as deer people, just as some clans in china are descendants of the Dragon or the Phoenicians who were descendants of the Phoenix.

sami 4

Sources – Wikipedia, the happycamel.com, flickr.com/photos/hardcoder thomaslkellyphotos.com, folklore.ee, Svensk Hemslöjd: Ny bok om yllebroderi, Deer Illustrations are from the “Wildwood Tarot” Illustrator Will Worthington, and Mark Ryan, John Matthews (Authors).

4 thoughts on “Ancestress of the Magical Reindeers

    1. Hi Kathleen, thought i had that listed, good catch and thank you (its updated), the bottom right is the – The Greenwood Tarot by Mark Ryan (Author) and Chesca Potter (Illustrator) and the others are the “Wildwood Tarot” Illustrator Will Worthington, and Mark Ryan, John Matthews (Authors).

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