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February 11, 2011

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Leon  Garcia G.

Interesting reflection on the Totemic semantics of the deer, but I would pause before dismissing the positive identification of the actual deer as the protagonist of the story, in spite of the generic semantics of the German term. I have been working for a while on an essay about the role of the deer in Mexican religions. Deer-centered cosmogony is very common across Mexico, and the identification is indeed positive. There are, of course several species of cervidos in Mexico, but the most abundant is the White-Tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). In general, Chichimeca groups shared a fascinating cult of the deer, as can be seen in the Anales de Cuautitian. Creator deities such as Camaxtli-Mixcoatl, and their human descendants, had recurrent deer-teophanies. In my own research among the Nahuas of the Huasteca, I have noted with interest the role of the deer sacrifice as a precursor of the rituals of sowing-- something that today survives only in their sacred stories, and in propitiatory prayers, since the deer have become practically extinct in the region. Among the Wicharika (Huichols) of Western Mexico, the role of the deer ancestor (addressed as the elder brother) is still central in the rituals of sowing corn, and of gathering peyote, a visionary cactus that is conceived as the hoof-steps of the deer. Interestingly enough, there is now in process a re-elaboration of the traditional mythological cycle of the celestial Blue Deer, so that this important deity is now conceived in millenarian terms, with redemptorial characteristics. Years ago, I had the chance to travel to the Western Sierra Madre to negotiate the maintenance of a deer-nursery built next to the holy temple of Pochotita. The Wicharika themselves had solicited to several organizations in Mexico City a breeding program, since the species of deer used for sacrificial offerings was also practically extinct in the region.
Deer-centered religion in Mesoamerica is clearly linked with a hunting economy, pre-agricultural. I would venture that this should be the case also in many regions of the Old World. I recall that the oldest texts about Rudra-Shiva have the deity appear in a deer- teophany. The deer is still part of the Iconography of Shiva. It is quite possible that the Bull vehicle was a later accretion to the Shaivite canon, reflecting a transition to a pastoral economy-- one that Mesoamerica would only experience until the Spanish Conquest.

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