[FOUNTAIN]As symbols, deer have an extra burden“You sorrowful animal with your extended neck, you stand always in majestic silence. You hailed from a proud and respected race, with your sweet-smelling antlers.”
Early 20th century poet No Chun-myeong precisely reflected the Korean sentiment in her poem, “Deer.” Koreans have considered deer a “respected race” for eons. The concept was born during the prehistoric period, when shamanism and animism prevailed among the northern tribes of the Asian continent, commonly known as the Altai. The deer have been widely treasured from the northern frontiers of Siberia to the Korean Peninsula, then through Alaska and to the Indians in the Americas.
Deer have often been associated with heaven and gods. Shamans, the spiritual leaders chosen by the heaven, would wear the antlers on their head and make clothes with deerskin.
Deer were considered the divine animals that connect the god in the heaven and shamans, the representatives of the god on earth. The Tungus and Yakut, distant relatives of the Korean people, had a tradition of worshiping deer as their animal god. Eating venison was taboo among the natives of Colombia because they thought the spirits of the ancestors rested in the bodies of deer. In Aztec myths, the ancient goddess had two deer heads and a drawing of a deer carrying the sun has been discovered in the ruins of Aztec civilization. In Mayan hieroglyphs, a dying deer means drought.
The ancient inhabitants of the Korean Peninsula called white deer the divine ones. In the period of Shamanism, people held what the modern science has defined as rare mutants sacred. According to “Donggukyisanggukjip,” a collection of literature and poems by Yi Gyu-bo, King Dongmyeong had hung a white deer upside down and prayed to the heaven for rain. The god heard the deer’s cry and made it rain. The white deer was a channel between the earth and the heaven.
Recently, a white deer was born in Bonghwa, North Gyeongsang Province, and was kicked to death by other deer only eight days after birth. The white deer should not be an object of fuss, much less an object of worship.
Before we talk about whether the white deer brings fortune, the deer’s fate only reminds us of the expression, “sorrowful animal with your extended neck.”
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.