Deer Woman, sometimes known as the Deer Lady, is a spirit in Native American mythology whose associations and qualities vary, depending on situation and relationships. To women, children, and men who are respectful of women and children, she is associated with fertility and love. However, to those who have harmed women and children, she is vengeful and murderous, and known to lure these men to their deaths. She appears as either a beautiful young woman with deer feet, or a deer.
In Native American traditions
Deer Woman stories are found in multiple Indigenous American cultures, often told to young children or by young adults and preteens in the communities of the Oceti Sakowin, Ojibwe, Ponca, Omaha, Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Choctaw, Otoe, Osage, Pawnee, and the Iroquois - and those are only the ones that have documented Deer Woman sightings.
Other stories and traditions describe the sighting of Deer Woman as a sign of personal transformation or as a warning. Deer Woman is said to be fond of dancing and will sometimes join a communal dance unnoticed, leaving only when the drum beating ceases.
The Deer Women show characteristics and traits of both sirens and succubi. The siren, according to the Theoi Project, are monstrous sea nymphs that lure men to their deaths with their song. Succubi, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, are "demons who take female form who have sexual intercourse with men in their sleep"; constant contact with a succubus can result in failing health or death for the man.
Fiura, of the Chiloé region of Chile, causes deformation in anyone who looks upon her and will cast spells to confuse young woodsmen into sleeping with her. La Patasola, literally "one footed", is a shape-shifter from the Antioquia region of Colombia who takes the form of a beautiful woman to lure men with her cries of fear; when the men (who are often causing harm in one way or another to the rain forest) come to her, she drops her beautiful mask and slaughters them in an effort to protect the forest.
La Tunda, another nature spirit from Colombia, lures people of all walks of life to them with their song and then drains them of blood; La Tunda can also shape-shift, but she will always have a single leg of a molinillo that she is very careful to hide.
The Brazilian Iara are beautiful warrior mermaids who, when found by a man, will charm him with her voice and beauty and either drown him, or turn him into something like her and make him her lover. La Llorona ("the crier"), who is found in Mexico and the Southwest United States, is a female ghost who will kidnap the souls of children, effectively killing them, and whose cries bring irrevocable sorrow. Sighting La Llorona spells death for someone within the week.
While all these spirits will lure away and/or hurt others, they also have various physical oddities. The Deer Woman has hooves. Sirens are bird from the chest down. Succubi were originally portrayed as hideous and demonic. La Patasola has no right leg from the pelvis down and her right breast is fused to her arm.
In popular culture
- The Deer Woman was featured as a character in an eponymous episode of the Showtime horror series Masters of Horror. It originally aired in North America on December 9, 2005 and was directed by John Landis.
- In 2015, Anishinaabe writer Elizabeth LaPensée wrote Deer Woman: A Vignette.
- In 2020, Blackfeet author Stephen Graham Jones published The Only Good Indians, which features a vengeful Deer Woman.
- In August of 2021, the Deer Lady, portrayed by Kaniehtiio Horn, was featured as a character in Season 1, Episode 5, “Come and Get Your Love”, of Reservation Dogs on Hulu. She is portrayed as "a badass vigilante who only goes after 'bad men'."
- "Deer Woman". Native Languages. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
- Russow, Kurt (2013). ""Gazing at Her Cloven Feats:" Mythic Tradition and "The Saccred Way of Women" in Paula Gunn Allen's "Deer Woman"". Femspec. 13 (2): 25–39, 97.
- Dunn, Carolyn. "Deer Woman and the Living Myth of Dreamtime". Endicott Journal of Mythic Arts. Archived from the original on 7 February 2016. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
- LaDuke, Winona Last Standing Woman Page 243 Published by Voyageur Press, 1997 ISBN 0-89658-452-6 Accessed via google Book October 12, 2008
- Where the White Stag Runs: Archived 2016-02-06 at the Wayback Machine Boundary and Transformation in Deer Myths, Legends, and Songs by Ari Berk Realms of Fantasy magazine, 2003
- "Sirens". Theoi Project-Greek Mythology. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
- "Succubus". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
- Popovic, Mislav. "Trauco and Fiura". Traditions and Customs. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
- Hede, Marcela. "The Legend of La Patasola". Hispanic Culture Online. Archived from the original on 18 November 2016. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
- Bane, Theresa. Encyclopedia of Beasts and Monsters in Myth, Legend and Folklore. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 324.
- "Iara: Brazil's Lady of the Lake". Rejected Princesses. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
- Moran, Mark; Sceurman, Mark. "La Llorona - The Phantom Banshee". Weird US. Weird NJ Inc. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
- Elizabeth, LaPensée (2015-10-21). Deer Woman : a vignette. Vazquez, Allie,, Thunder, Jonathan R.,, Native Realities Press,, Arming Sisters (Organization). Albuquerque, NM. ISBN 9780990694731. OCLC 936208630.
- "The Only Good Indians – Stephen Graham Jones". Retrieved 2021-08-18.
- Simmons, Kali (Aug 30, 2021). "Reservation Dogs Recap: Be Good, Fight Evil". Vulture. Retrieved Sep 1, 2021.
- ‘Deer Woman: An Anthology’ Sheds Light on Violence Against Native Women in North America
- Deer Woman And the Living Myth of the Dreamtime, article by Carolyn Dunn from the Endicott Journal of Mythic Arts 2003