understanding the medicine

When we see an animal die before us, what are we supposed to interpret and understand from that medicine?

On the way to our last circle, one of my students hit a deer. She was devastated. The deer most certainly will die, or already had died. She asked me, “What does this mean?” As a circle keeper and an earth medicine walker, I found myself stumbling over my words. Why does this happen to us who walk an earth medicine path? Others chimed in with their thoughts—the deer knew you could hold space for its transition; it was destined to die; better you than someone else.

A few years ago, after a circle, I was driving home. I live in the boonies, as we say, out in the sticks, where I worry about hitting deer. Pennsylvania ranks as the second most deer collisions in the country. So, I drive slowly, cautiously through the fields, and frequently stop for all kinds of wildlife. But I was still in the city, headed home, and bam, a deer ran into my car. It hit my front quarter panel. I pulled over and the deer laid on the side of the road, panting, clearly injured. I called the police and sent Reiki. I envisioned the Reiki energy repairing the deer’s legs and head, and strengthening it. I did this Reiki for almost 15 minutes, and the deer stood up, steady and whole, then ran right out into the street to get demolished and killed by a massive truck.

The truck tore the deer apart. I shook and cried as well.

What does this mean? Is it still medicine for us if we see our medicine dead on the side of the road? And how do we interpret it?

As I meditated on the death of the deer, I could see this interplay between the deer’s medicine and the encroachment of humanity. The medicine of deer resides in its deep vulnerability. When deer interact with humanness and urban environments, we begin to see just how vulnerable these magnificent creatures are.  Humans have disrupted the balance of the predator and the prey. Our ancestors decimated the predators—wolves, mountain lion population, the bears—who would have hunted the sick and weak, keeping populations down. Massive deforestation also affects deer populations. Whitetail deer flourish in edge environments, right where the forest meets the suburbs. Streets and cars encroach on the delicate ecosystems. And hunting is down around the country with the ease of shopping for meat in the supermarket.

So, deer medicine is not only a medicine about the individual deer’s vulnerability to predators but the species. Deer, particularly those with antlers, have a strong connection to Spirit. Their antlers are said to reach high to our guides and angels as antennae for messages. Deer connects with the subtle energy system and has heightened senses from hearing to vision to smell. They are always sensing the disruption in the force.

I could not help thinking as my student told me about the deer and her accident that this was part of the critical message for her. Knowing that she is going through a beautiful spiritual opening, deer medicine can come in this way to remind us of our vulnerability during our spiritual opening. When we experience all this light and love that begins to channel through us from Spirit, we live in a bubble of good vibes. When I started opening, I just was always blissed out and only able to tolerate other lightworkers. When we take all this gentle light and vulnerability into the real world, our first encounters with the sickness of our society, the toxicity and negativity of people, the harshness of the news and the suffering of others, we experience this world just like the deer, hit out of nowhere by real life. This modern world is cruel to the vulnerable. Deer medicine embodies vulnerability, quiet, and gentleness. Nothing is more profoundly indicative of the imbalance then when nature interacts with urban life. Where we see how pollution hurts wildlife, or cars kill deer. 

This grounded, counter energy to very high vibrational work is part of the medicine lightworkers need to carry as much as the light message of our power animals.  When you open in profound ways, you are, of course, more susceptible to those deep wells of grief and compassion. But it goes deeper. There is nothing natural about carrying vulnerability or being an empath in a narcissistic world. We also have to experience and learn about the shadow medicine of our animals. Shamanic work is not always easy or light or fun. It is mostly about challenging ourselves to go beyond the surface, to experience the more profound message, to become stewards of the Earth, spokespeople for the Mother. When all of this starts, we want to live in that amazing Other World of Spirit. When we practice earth medicine, we become intrinsically tied to Mother Earth and Grandmother Moon, and their incredible cycles. Life and death, happiness and grief, masculine and feminine—this delicate balance becomes second sight to us We can see it without trying. Impermanence and suffering of life and of the human condition is part of our medicine and the spiritual experience. We must hold space for both light and darkness, birth and death. As we begin our opening, this can be a harsh reality.

If this happens to you, or you are driving and notice an animal sacred to you, dead on the side of the road, my suggestion is to begin asking what is the medicine for you—both in the animal’s living experience (how does it live, love, eat, hunt, raise its young, etc), then as your medicine interacts with the brutality of this world. 

  The prayer stick I created for the Vulture I harvested in 2016.

The prayer stick I created for the Vulture I harvested in 2016.

We can also show reverence for the medicine of that animal by creating a prayer stick. This is a way of honoring your deer and helping its Spirit make its way upward. You take a stick. I suggest about a foot to a foot and a half long. I would walk in an area where the animal was killed, or an area sacred to you. Do not take a stick off of a living tree. Forage on the earth for it. Remember to sing and leave an offering for found objects. Tobacco is traditional, but lavender, a piece of hair or other offering is proper. Hold the stick, and commune with it. Talk to it.  Take all the bark off of it. Bark represents the ego, and we take the bark off to humble ourselves before Great Spirit. Sanding the stick, and working with it in some way is important to connect your energy to the tree energy. You can decorate it with red leather or red fabric, crystals, feathers or other offerings. You can paint it with colors, or symbols. Attach leather or yarn to float in the wind. Feathers are traditional because they carry the prayers to heaven, also the soul of the deer or animal hurt.  Take some red flannel and make a little offering or prayer tie to Spirit (tobacco or sage is traditional) and tie it to the Stick. Some traditions use a Y shaped stick. Then place it in the earth. This grounds your prayer and gives it a solid foundation. Also it connects Mother Earth and Father Sky. If you want, you can place it where the deer was hit, or you can place it in a sacred place in your yard. Sing a song to offer its soul to heaven/Great Spirit. I did this for the Vulture I harvested last year, and it felt important and honoring of the medicine and nature.

If you are able and feel up to it, take the hair or an item from the animal that was killed (always remembering that if it stinks, it will always stink. If it has bugs, your house will have bugs, so only newly killed animals can be harvested, but that is another post) and use it in ceremony. As medicine keepers, we need to honor the medicine and the allies and giving them a good death is part of this process. You can use that medicine you harvested on your altar or in a medicine bundle.

One thing I know is that none of us aim for the deer or squirrel or bird, so release guilt. Guilt is the illusion of control (if I did something different, it would have changed the outcome). Just be with the profound grief. That is enough suffering. Create a ritual of honoring the medicine of the deer. Sit in the discomfort of your humanness and the ways in which we can mitigate the harshness of our living on the earth. Allow the tears their flow. Fall into ritual and ceremony. 

Remember anything, all of our human experience, can become our medicine. To ignore the death, suffering, and violence inherent in our animal medicine is to ignore the full power of its medicine. May you walk gently on the Earth, friends.