A Story for the Winter Solstice
— Dahna Barnett, The Book of Annwn
To tell a story, one must first hear it. The story may come from another story, an older one, or it may waft
in through the ethers as if springing into shape for the first time. Or, it can do both. The story of The Stag is an
example of the latter: it's both a retelling of the mythos surrounding the Longest Night —the Winter Solstice— and it
also came through the vapors brand-spanking new.
As I sat at my typewriter in Albuquerque, New Mexico many years ago, the voice of a stag popped into my head.
This is the story that I heard, written verbatim. In honor of the stag's message, the story is unedited. I hope that it
brings you joy.
I am the stag.
Leap I through the air as if on wings of air. My hooves they pound and beat the snowy ground —leaving
in my wake a set of prints as would make the hunter's eyes to water so deep and clear and strong are they.
My coat is fine. It is a coat so fair and warm with hair so thick, the sheen from it does glow like silver in the
moonlight, which does leave its shimmering puddles on the forest floor.
In the spring, I nibble on the fresh new grasses at the forest's edge. Carry then I the scent of new life all about me.
And I do leap for joy at mighty winter's heavy passing.
In the summer light I travel far afield to seek out the scent of females who lend unto me such great strength
that ever do I paw the soft, warm ground as blinding heat does enter into every limb. And I, with strength tenfold,
will meet and match the noble prowess then of any other stag who carries thus this newborn fire within his eyes.
And lo, will we parry stroke-for-stroke, and lunge and writhe, and hit each other blow for blow and force for force
until the one who cools the quickest learns to graze alone; while I, the great victorious one, will court and pine and
mate with her, the sweetest scented, until the fire has passed and she is filled with life abundant.
In the autumn, I do rejoice at summer's passing for lo, the passion flees, and I must jump at smells which have
been lost in summer's weight, and quicken at the clean, fresh scents which beckon me back into the woodlands
where I will await the time my fairest mate must wait. And together, we will pass on through the rain of falling
leaves, and over too the crackling carpet at our feet, to a bower deep and hidden in the forest —where so will she
rest and sing to me the song of fresh, new life approaching.
And now it is the time of winter. Heavy winter. Such a coat of white is worn that any other eyes but these
are blinded by the luminescence reflected so from this most dazzling, crystal jacket. Instead, I do rejoice in winter's
first, white blanket, which does cover one and all. And I would sleep in the deepening stillness excepting that my
heart does ever stir inside of me, and constantly do I wander far to guard my realm so that my mate may sleep and
rest and dream, and live in happy slumber, while my son does grow inside of her where it is safe and soft and warm.
So while the others sleep the winter days in burrows snug deep within the skin of Earth, I choose my steps
most cautiously, and walk the wintry silence like the very lord I am.
Tonight, as I wander in the moonlight stillness, I can sense a difference in the cold and frosty night, as if I could
now catch a fleeting glance of something stirring far away, but time and time again, as I turn and look to glimpse the
darkness taking form, the form has once more vanished like a mist at dawn and the trees they cling...to nothing.
"What then does this mean?" think I. And so I wander through my mind at times long past and seasons which
have come and gone before me. My antlers they grow longer every year, and I am as fine and virile a stag as has
walked these paths in all my years. None dare stand before me and there is nothing which I fear that walks on fours
or sails the skies on wings of finest feather down.
"The night is long," I think, "Perhaps that is the change which I sense growing in the east." It is as if I hear a
whisper on the wind, yet there is no breeze stirring in the forest. And high above, the greater currents rise and fall,
but ever am I deaf to them for these great currents touch the forest not.
Not, except tonight.
Tonight, there is a hint of greatness which does descend like moonbeams, thistledown or dust, which has been
raised along the forest way and finds itself aloft some time, but ever does resettle into such sure patterns on the Earth.
Tonight, I see a vision growing which I have not before this ever sensed; and lo, it makes me to be filled with wonder,
and also awe, for nothing has descended thus or sparkled thus where there is no light. For the light I see is not with
these eyes, but some other light, which when I focus my keen gaze upon it, does melt away. Illusive as the night itself.
I stop to ponder this nearby a blast oak, and ever as my eyes do gaze upon its darkened center, see I stubs where
new life ever springs from its roots, the place wherein the life force dwells.
Suddenly, I hear a sound. Faint again, but not yet like the other sounds I've heard on this the longest night in
all the year. No, this sound is real and comes from creatures hot and filled and driven by a lust unlike the sense of
wonder which is driven by the silent winds.
No, this is no stuff of dreams. It is the stuff of man. Yea, even as I speak, my senses reel, for I do see the hunter's
cap and face as taut as the very string of bow he pulls. And looks me he right in the eyes, for long has he sat waiting in
this very dell to meet me on the breast of snow, which keeps the secrets of the spring.
Fleetingly, we gaze in wonder. Our eyes, one eye. Our hearts, one heart; for in a moment all walls are rent, and
we do live together in this space of silence greater than the silence of the water on the lake...greater than the silence
of my son's new birth in spring. In this silence, captive are we both.
In a spasm which is greater than the one which grips my limbs in mating, torn am I from the very ground on which
I have stood for these long, silent moments. And as my hooves do crash through frozen brambles, feel I then their icy
fingers not, for blood is pounding and I see with eyes so great and wide that I can see the very outline of the hairpin fractures on
the rocks which spark with great, blue fire as my hooves do strike them again, and then again, and then again.
Where then in a moment, I do leap as if this bound would take me from the very Earth itself, and in this quiet moment
when my great, grand weight does lift off from the snow, and in the silence thus produced, I am freed then from the
ever-present chase. I sense the footsteps now, which are not mine, and hear the singing of a string and then the wings
of something which makes a sound of feathers whistling closely 'round me.
In this great, suspended moment, I am loose and wild and free, and think I how magnificent my heart would feel if
ever I could sail this way forever, never having need to lift these great, swift legs again or flee in wild pursuit of life.
Then, like a dagger in my heart, I feel the piercing arrow strike-impaling me upon its narrow sharpness as if I were a
rabbit roasting at the pit or pheasant then or grouse, which daily is the meat of me. And know I now as I crash to the
ground that I too am but an ever-ample meal for mouths that ooh and ahh, and taste the flesh of me, which has been
victorious over stags and wolves and females of my kind, but which now is laying slain and vanquished by a tiny stick.
The longest night it is. And long I lay, and sense I the life force draining from me as I watch with my uplifted eyes the
hunter who does gaze at me a simple distance from me. And blows he upon his hands-the fingers which did loose the death
stick and fling it surely at my heat-to keep his breath of warmth close in him, while mine does ever lose its heat and soon will
cease to come at all.
"No!" I cry, and something deep inside of me does see the red of blood. And passion deep and a scent like that of my
fair mate does signal the blurring of the pain within me. And I cry out a challenge in my anger which does not allow the stick
to stop me but lo, now, I do throw my weight onto my limbs and force myself to lunge out at the darkness.
"Again," I think, "my feet will I feel again beneath me and this Earth, which is my home, will see me not for I will flee like
doves into the wind and make of me another home so far away that no fell stick will bring me down against the snowy ground,
and I will rise up like a star and know the winds forever."
Magic then is what this longest night does sing into me, and I do laugh and snort inside my stilling heart: there is no hunter
born of woman who has yet to build a string which has tension yet enough to pierce the spirit in this Self. And then I toss my
horns which gleam and glisten in the wintry moon. "The first full moon in all my life," think I.
And dance I then around the hunching hunter who knows the greatening, jealous fear of me, the Stag of Magic, who
does paw and prance and sing a song so long and dear that has not yet been heard by ears of either man or beast.
Oh joyous song! Oh, song of life! Delivered am I from this strife! And hunters they do know me not for free am I,
more free than they. For what see they of this fine form, which shimmers like the fairies dancing in the dew? Finer now
than any coat of any stag that has yet put hoof to Earth.
"Fly then, fly!" cry I. And lo, I see approaching near the moon the phantom outlines then of many deer who jump and
leap and paw the very stars before them. And carry they great wonder, like moonbeams stuffed in bags of spider's webbing.
And know I now that I must leap with all my might if I am to catch them in their flight.
And now the chase. It is the chase to which my hooves did ever bend when I was but a young one walking thus upon
the forest floor. The chase, the stars, the longest night forever. Will I now traverse the stars and bring with me a promise
which the great ones do implore their kindred souls on Earth to see. The promise then means this to me: I am not dead, though
frozen is the meat of me upon the ground. I am not dead; though men will chew me with their teeth and scrape the very flesh
of me from my stiffening hide. I am not dead, for deep inside my true mate's self another of me grows, and grows to be thus
born again in fields of summer where the wild gorse bushes grow. And I will live again and live again, and carry I the cradle to
the moon where will be born again the sun, as from this moment on my spirit will be borne thus ever upward, until from high upon
my throne, I will transmute, and be born also I along with the very son of mine, a different sun, the promise then of light, on
this the longest, longest, darkest night.
If you'd like to hear The Stag read by world-famous voice talent, Gregg Oliver, please tune
in to a special Winter Solstice podcast of Mythic Imagination. It will air on December 20th and feature an exclusive interview
with John Matthews sharing the mythic traditions of the Winter Solstice and the Hunt for the Spirit Deer.
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