A Deer Story

by Ken Funmaker, Sr.

Hocąk Interlinear Text — A Deer Story

Greetings, once my father tried to tell me a story. This story comes from way back and they have passed it down. They talked about these months, he said. And they talked about the deer. There’s a story that’s been handed down, he said. At one time a lot of people knew this story, he said. But now? How is it, he said, there’s not – it’s getting so that fewer people know this story.

Nevertheless, there’s a place they call the town of Black River Falls, he said. Then to the north there, and to the west, in between, he said, a hill stands there. That hill is where the Deer Spirits live, he said. This is what they used to say, he said. Thus, long ago the Hocąk people used to go on that hill for vision quests. They went there to receive blessings from the Spirits. That hill, it’s a sacred hill, so that’s what they used to do. Once, he said, the Hocąk used to hunt deer there, long ago. When thus it was, those deer hunters thought they heard something. As it came nearer to here, it was singing. As it got nearer, then they finally heard what it was uttering:

There, there; Let her come over, Let her come over;
There, there; Let her come over, Let her come over;
There, there; Let her come over, Let her come over, hoi!
Hoi oi oi oi oi!

Deer woman, there, there, Let her come over, Let her come over;
There, there; Let her come over, Let her come over;

He was saying that as she was coming. When she stopped, in a little bit she tried. Then: "Hu-u-u-u-u-u, ’u ‘u ‘u ‘u ‘u-u-u-u-u," she was saying as she was coming. It was a doe. When the one who had been singing appeared, it was a buck singing. It was a spiked buck. The male was singing about females. Thus he said, my father, so they say. So neither the Hocągara nor human beings are the only ones capable of love. Those animals are also therefore able to do it. All, whatever kind they may be, they’re capable of love. So that’s also the way they are.1

Commentary. "these months" — a reference to three months that are identified by various things deer do at these times:

10. Camąįnąǧowira (Deer Pawing Month), October
11. Caikíruxewira (Deer Mating Month), November
12. Cahewakšųwira (Deer Antler Shedding Month), December

"hill" — many Spirits, especially those associated with the earth, are thought to live inside hills, which sometimes can be entered by a disguised secret door. Hills, being of the earth, but projecting towards the sky, present themselves as a natural axis mundi, a Center at which worlds meet.2 They serve as conduits of power transfer, and therefore are thought especially efficacious as places at which to receive blessing from the Otherworld.

"the Deer Spirits live" — the hill in which the Deer Spirits live is presided over by the Great White Doe, who has control over all deer. It is she who governs their release to be reincarnated as earthly deer. During Camąįnąǧowira, the Deer Pawing Moon (October) when does conceive, the Great White Doe remains within her hill, presumably to choose those who will be reborn on earth.

"to hunt deer there" — the theory of sacrifice, set out in Eats the Stinking Deer Ankle, is that the Spirit Deer accept the bounteous human offerings, but as a consequence feel themselves morally bound to make a counter-offer to humans that will satisfy their wants and complete what is in essence a contract. Since the humans crave venison, the Deer Spirits who accept gifts must temporarily leave their Spirit abode and become incarnate deer. So the gifting of sacrifice is largely responsible for keeping the population of deer sufficient for human needs. The idea that the hill in which Deer Spirits reside is a good place to find deer, seems to imply that some deer reincarnate fully grown, and do not pass through the stage of conception and birth. Alternatively, it might have been thought that the holy mount of the cervid race held a mystical power of attraction to living deer, and that because of its cervid nature, earthly deer are simply attracted to this site. The attraction would be natural on the assumption that all deer ultimately derive, spiritually, from this spot on earth. It would therefore function as a spiritual magnet that draws the deer's spirit towards it as its natural home.

Comparative Material. ...

Links: Deer Spirits, Moon.

Stories: featuring deer as characters: Deer Clan Origin Myth, Little Fox and the Ghost, Porcupine and His Brothers, Wolves and Humans, The Green Man, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Trickster's Tail, Fireman's Brother, cf. The Race for the Chief's Daughter; pertaining to the Moon: The Markings on the Moon, Black and White Moons, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Sunset Point, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, Hare Kills Wildcat, Grandfather's Two Families, Berdache Origin Myth (v. 1), Turtle and the Giant; about fasting blessings: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Difficult Blessing, The Boy Who Became a Robin, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Seer, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Black Otter's Warpath, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Aracgéga's Blessings, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Great Walker's Medicine, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, Holy Song, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Blessing of Šokeboka, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Sweetened Drink Song, Ancient Blessing; set at Black River Falls: Silver Mound Cave.

Themes: ...


1 Ken Funmaker, Sr., "Ca Worak, a Deer Story," transcribed by Sheila Shigley, trs. Edward Lonetree Jr., Chloris Lowe Sr., Bill O’Brien, and Lucille Roberts (Hoocak Academy, ca. 1997), YouTube.

2 "Mountains are often looked on as the place where sky and earth meet, a 'central point' therefore, the point through which the Axis Mundi goes, a region impregnated with the sacred, a spot where one can pass from one cosmic zone to another." Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, 99-100. See also, Eliade, Shamanism, 266-269. For the concept of the Centre and its associated symbolism, see Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, 81, 367-387; Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane. The Nature of Religion. The Significance of Religious Myth, Symbolism, and Ritual within Life and Culture (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, Inc., 1959) 40-42, 49, 57-58, 64-65; Mircea Eliade, Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1969) 42-43; William C. Beane and William G. Doty, edd., Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Row, 1975) 2:373; Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales (London: Thames & Hudson, 1961) Ch. VII.