Deer Woman by sphinxmuse
Prints Available!This image began its existence as an idle sketch, and might have remained so. However, as I delved into it further, it revealed a compelling, mythic story that I wanted to express visually.
In The Great Encyclopedia of Faeries, Pierre Dubois writes of faery does and relates a tale of a woman who is human in daylight and a white deer by nightfall:
'Why are you sighing, my daughter Marguerite?''I have great anger in me and I hardly dare tell you. I am a girl by day and a white doe by night. The hunters are after me, the barons and princes, and my brother Renaud, he is even worse. Go, my mother, go and tell him at once that he must restrain his hunting dogs until tomorrow morning.'
'Where are your dogs, Renaud, and the exciting hunt?''They are in the woods hunting the white doe.'
'Stop them, Renaud, stop them, I beg of you.'
Three times he sounded his brass horn; on the third time the white doe was caught.
'Let us call the skinner, so that he may skin the doe.' The man skinning her said: 'I do not know what to say, she has blond hair and the breasts of a young girl.' He drew his knife and quartered her. Then the hunters, princes and barons were seated at the table in the great hall of the castle, eager to start eating the venison. But Renaud was waiting for his sister to arrive before starting the feast. He wondered about the empty seat: 'Here we all are, except for my sister Marguerite..'
And a voice arrived from the roasted meat: "Why don't you eat, I was the first seated...My head is on the dish and my heart is by my ankles. My blood is spilled everywhere in the kitchen, and my bones are being grilled on the black coals.' So ends the sad, sinister lament with twenty-four variants and seven melodies, gleaned on the road from Niort to Saint-Lô
Although I do not feel that this is the exact story my illustration relates (for one, this Deer Woman is not a White Deer Woman, and secondly, the sun is illuminating the forest), it shares some very common elements with this tale. As in that tale, a female is caught between two forms: that of a graceful doe and that of a girl. She is a shapeshifter, a creature who lingers at the edges of the Veil. She does not completely belong to either to the realm of Faery or of mortals. She wears both the finery of human aristocracy as well as a Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) in her hair. A tapestry, woven with human hands, bars her from the forest, the haunt of her faery kin, yet it still permits her a painful last glance at a path to the Otherworld. That same tapestry may also hold a clue - hunters with their dogs and spears are searching the forest for game.
The style of this piece was largely inspired by Renaissance portaiture, and the tapestry is in many ways a homage to the Unicorn Tapestries.