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Saule, Lithuanian Sun Goddess, gouache on paper by Judith Shaw (Image Source)

Even though Sun energy is typically considered masculine, many celebrate the Winter Solstice — the longest night — as the Mother Night, honouring the earth goddesses who nurtured the seeds deep within their dark wombs for birthing in the coming spring. They remind us of the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth.

The mother connection is even stronger in northern regions with the lore of the Deer Mothers.  During winter, the deer sustained the tribes as food and a source of hides, bones, and sinew. The women who tended them were important members of the tribes, and their role went beyond tending the herd into medicine, healing and more. These were perhaps the earliest women shamans.  

Reindeer in Winter, with Amanita mushrooms, artist unknown (so far)

Winter Solstice is the time of the Antlered Goddesses, the Deer Women, the Deer Grandmothers, the Deer Mothers, the Antler Mother, the Old Antlered One. She is known by many names across many northern regions. 

The Deer Mother, aka the Antlered Mother, guides us through the nights of Solstice, carrying the light in her horns. Unlike the male reindeer, she keeps her antlers throughout the winter. She is the source of life, the keeper of the pathways, holder of the magic of the amanita mushroom. And it is those “magic mushrooms” (the amanita) that the legends of the flying reindeers likely began.

To the peoples of the North, reindeer were the source of life and sustenance in winter: meat, milk, hides for clothing and shelter.

And for some, these antlered goddesses are an aspect of An Cailleach, the Hag of Winter, the Mother of the Herd.

An Cailleach as Mother of the Herd

Winter is the time of An Cailleach, the “hag of Winter”. I love working with Jane Brideson’s beautiful card deck  “Wisdom of The Cailleach: An Oracle & Journey with the Old Woman of Ireland”  (check her Facebook page Art of Jane Brideson for availability).

One card in particular caught my eye and resonated deeply within my heart,  the Deer Mother pictured below. I explored her blog for more about An Cailleach and deer. I came across several posts and images of An Cailleach as “Mother of the Herd” and Hag of the Mill. An Cailleach has so much wisdom for us — and, it appears, so many more aspects than I knew!

The Deer Mother, from Jane Brideson’s The Wisdom of The Cailleach oracle deck