Several years ago, I traveled to Boston in August by train to attend a week-long intensive that resulted in certification in Shamanic Counseling. It was a fascinating and sometimes grueling 5 days of shamanic journeying and self-evaluation.
For those who aren’t familiar with what a shaman is or does, let me explain briefly. Shamanism is the most ancient spiritual practice known to humankind, dating back at least 40,000 years. The word “shaman” comes from the Tungus tribe in Siberia and it means spiritual healer or one who sees in the dark. It is now used as a general term for a spiritual healer that works with the spirit world in a particular way. A shaman is a man or woman who uses his or her ability to “see” what is normally hidden in order to gain guidance from the spirit realms (an ability that the Celts call the “Second Sight”). Shamanism has been practiced in Siberia, Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, Greenland, and native North and South America, and is enjoying a resurgence in the Western world today.
The shaman interacts directly with the spirits to address the spiritual aspect of illness for others. The shaman also divines information for the community. Historically, shamans have filled the role of healers, doctors, priests and priestesses, psychotherapists, mystics, and storytellers. One of the ceremonies many shamans perform is called a shamanic journey. The shaman goes into an altered state of consciousness and travels outside of time into the hidden realms that many term “non-ordinary reality,” which is really like a parallel universe, where there are compassionate helping spirits who offer their guidance and their healing help to benefit life on earth. It is the shaman’s role in the community to keep harmony and balance between humans and the forces of nature.
On the final day of the aforementioned training, I met a new spirit on my culminating journey to the Otherworld, a spirit-woman named Morning Glory, who was accompanied by three animal spirits: a doe, a yearling doe, and a doe fawn. I had never encountered deer in my journeys into the spirit world before, and though I appreciated them as beautiful creatures, I had no bond with them. The spirit-woman encouraged me to touch noses with all three deer, establishing a bond, and then Morning Glory told me she was to be my teacher for a time. She admonished me to return to her as soon as possible, for she had many things to teach me.
Life being what it is, I did not get a chance to return to that Otherworldly glade in the deep woods where I had met the woman and her deer. Oh, I did journey, but it was for other people and animals. I once received a message on a journey for a client (several months later), a message through my Spirit Horse, who told me that Morning Glory wanted me to come to visit her. I said that I would, and fully intended to, but other things kept getting in the way and I did not find the time. My excuse is that I was busy building my transformational life coaching business. And since I was so busy in the Otherworld helping to heal the spirits of people and horses, I had no time for journeys to Spirit for myself (or so I thought).
Bear with me; I promise, this is all relevant to the story.
The next spring, I traveled to an equestrian trade show on Memorial Day weekend with my good friend, Carole, to promote my business in person and give a presentation. The day after my return home, I received a phone call from a young man. He told me he had a fawn that he wanted to bring to me. I am a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, so I asked pertinent questions and found out that he and his buddy saw a dead doe on the side of the road near the farm who had obviously been hit by a car. On closer inspection, they discovered a small fawn standing by the body, and so they picked the fawn up and took it home. They were well-meaning, but they were told by neighbors that without a license they could be arrested for even having the fawn, and so they wanted to bring the fawn to me. I agreed that they could bring the fawn to me, and I went out to the barn to prepare an empty stall between two of my horses.
I was not prepared for this fawn, as much as I tried to be. Oh, I had everything I could possibly need for its immediate comfort: goat milk replacer, hay bedding, a heat lamp for warmth, baby wipes, three different sizes of bottles and nipples. Still, I was not prepared. When the boys brought the little deer to me, I determined immediately that she was a doe fawn, but she could not have weighed over 5 pounds, and I estimated that she was not two days old yet, because she still had her umbilical stump. I had never seen such a tiny fawn before. I removed the fawn from the car and I carried her, kicking and bleating, into the barn and then into the stall I had fixed up for her. I placed her carefully on the loose hay bedding and sat down to be at eye-level with her. We were left alone, she and I, and we looked into each others’ eyes, each assessing the other. I was not prepared for the sorrow I saw there in those big, brown, long-lashed eyes. It came to me then that her name was Deirdre, for her sadness was palpable (besides being a fun play on words, Deirdre is the tragic heroine from an Irish story). The loss of her mother, and the witnessing thereof, had affected her deeply.
And, quick as a flash, as my heart went out to the little creature, the realization dawned that this fawn was sent to me by Morning Glory, and was perhaps even the physical manifestation of the spirit fawn with which I had touched noses in the Spirit World. I did not know if the plan was to send her to me even as I met her in the Spirit World. I only knew that with the arrival of this fawn, Spirit was at work in my life once again. Our connection was instant and powerful. From the moment we locked eyes, I became Deirdre’s mother.
She trusted me implicitly, because, well, it seems she already knew me. For my part, I groomed her and fed her the bottle every 4 hours like clockwork, getting up at least twice a night for the first month and a half. You have to understand that I have never had children. It amazed even me that I could do that, that I could get myself out of bed and go out in the cold night to feed a tiny baby that was not really mine. I was surprised that it still happened without some chemically-induced instinct — that what drove me wasn’t a result of oxcytocin letdown or other maternal hormone. No, it was the knowledge that I was the only mommy she had now, mixed with the love I felt for this small, helpless baby from the start. That was my incentive to sleep in fitful bursts of 2.5 to 3 hours at a time, to mix formula and heat bottles to just the right temperature in the microwave, and to spend most of my waking time sitting on a mounting block or on the floor in a stall in the barn, snuggling and playing kissy-face with a doe fawn that wore a little pink dog jacket sized for a Chihuahua as insulation against the chilly spring evenings.
After a rough and scary two weeks of scours (diarrhea), I finally got her on a very expensive fawn replacer formula (instead of the goat formula) that I ordered online, and adjusted it so that she could tolerate it. She never did tolerate even the fawn formula full-strength. But fawn formula wasn’t the only thing she ate. From the first week, she experimented with just about everything green or brown from the earth. Her “playpen” was my fenced garden yard, where lovely raised-bed garden boxes beckoned with such fawn-ish delights as peas and beans and red chard, where trees shaded the well area in the heat of the day, providing a cool hiding place. Her favorite things to eat were fallen leaves from all kinds of trees: willow, aspen, oak, alder, ash. Grape and rose leaves were a favorite as well, and for some reason, she loved geranium petals.
She learned the meaning of the word “no” fairly quickly, as most toddlers do when they get into trouble. She got on well with all the other animals, taking a liking to the dog and to Alf, the old horse, especially. One of her favorite things was breakfast with Mommy on the terrace, and she shared bits of cantaloupe from a fork with delicate grace. She soon had the run of the house, and discovered that bottles could be had on the terrace, in the kitchen, or in the barn – wherever the Mommy was. She started to understand going outside to do her business.
Her sadness began to evaporate. Her legs grew strong and agile. She played and jumped about like a goat, and bleated in loud complaint like one as well. She became a sort of mascot of the farm, everyone’s darling.
Deirdre never developed the savvy to be turned out in the wild; after all, she has never really been wild. Every summer I evaluated her ability to be released, but I have finally come to realize that she will never be successful in the wild. So she will stay protected here for the rest of her natural life and help me teach people what beautiful, intelligent, gentle and loving creatures white-tail deer really are – and how dangerous they can be as well, with their sharp little hooves that can injure or even kill. When people see her, they are curious, of course, so her presence here helps me ease into several conversations that might not otherwise happen; conversations about leaving fawns where they are when you stumble across them in a field (they are not abandoned; their mother is probably watching you from a safe distance). About hunting. About deer wasting disease. About conservation efforts and the goals of wildlife rehabilitation.
Deirdre turns 5 years old at the end of May. I’m not sure if she fancies herself a horse or a human. She certainly doesn’t think she’s a deer. She still thinks of me as her mom, and as the leader of her herd.
Continue with: The Girls – Part 2: The Story of Lily