Raven Grimassi
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In Italy there still remains a very old tradition related to the stag figure.  On the last Sunday of carnival, at Castelnuovo, an annual festival takes place known as the Red Deer Man ritual or festival.  It features four primary figures: the Deer man, the Deer Woman, the Fairy Wizard (the Martino), and the Hunter.  The Deer Man and Woman dress in hides, with the man wearing a set of antlers and both figures wearing a necklace of  cowbells.  The Martino is dressed in white with a cape and wears a conical hat.  He carries a wand and represents the fairy of the mountains.


The festival begins with the sound of cowbells coming out the forest and down the hill.  Soon the Janare (witches) appear, after which they run about the village dashing in and out between the houses.

This is followed by the appearance of the Deer man and Deer Woman.  The Deer Man runs through the crowd like a wild beast chasing the village people.  Next the Martino appears and tries to calm the Deer man using his wand.  Eventually the Deer Man grows calm and then the Martino places a rope around the Deer man and Deer Woman.  Joined together in this way the Deer Woman becomes affectionate with the Deer Man. 


However the wild nature of the Deer Man soon returns and he tries to break his bindings.

Suddenly the Hunter appears and slays the Deer man and Deer Woman.  The people then grieve for the slain Deer Woman.  Slowly the Hunter approaches two bodies then blows into their ears, which brings them back to life. 


The Deer Man and Deer Woman arise and go back up the hillside into the forest.

The witches return to the village plaza and assemble around fire where they dance accompanied by musicians playing the flute and the bagpipes.


There are several noteworthy features of this festival or ritual event.  The first is the appearance of the witches who come from the mountain woods.  There appearance in the village announces the consort pair of the Deer man and Deer Woman.  This associates them with the horned figure and his consort, a theme long associated with the witches' sect.

The second thing of interest is the fairy being known as the Martino, a theme also intimately connected with old witchlore.  The Sicilian fairy cult is perhaps the most well-known of such themes.

The third area of interest is the Hunter who returns life to the slain deer.  This is a classic tale of "the hunter and the hunted" and one that appears in the writings of folklorist Joseph Campbell.  Essential to this mythos is the idea that the slain animal must be restored to life in exchange for providing food and fur/hide.  Traditionally a piece of the deer's antler was taken and worn by the hunter, who later danced around a fire in honor or the slain beast.  His dance animated the deer and restored it to life somewhere back out in the forest. 

Of final interest is the absence of Christian elements in the Deer man ritual.  This reveals its great antiquity and the survival of a pagan celebration into modern times.




 Click HERE to go to an Italian Site featuring the Deer Man ritual



The following legend may be related to the Deer Man, and is provided here for those who love the old tales:

"Long ago the bear and the red deer lived together in mutual respect of their great strength and power.  The deer wore a pebble on its crown between its antlers.  This pebble was called the Stone of Belzoar (bezoar), and originated from within the deer itself.  

 A time came when serpents overwhelmed the region in which the deer and bear lived.  The stone of Belzoar made the deer immune to the venom of the serpents, but the bear wa left in danger.  Therefore the bear left his home and went away in exile.  The red deer gave thanks to the stone of Belzoar and he remained as the only master of the forest and the mountain.

The Bear, living far away in its forced exile, grew envious and resentful of the red deer. One day he returned and killed the deer.  A man witnessed the event and later removed the antlers of the deer, tossing the carcass into the deep waters of a lake.  The man took the stone of Belzoar away to his home.

One day as the bear was running through the forest he became impaled on the deer’s antlers.  Unable to free himself he eventually died of starvation.

According to legend the spirit of the red deer emerges from the lake on certain nights and seeks his antlers and the stone of Belzoar.  His complaining sounds can be heard in the night"


Click HERE for a tale related to the stone