Symbolic Reindeer Meaning
At the time of this writing, Christmas is swiftly approaching. With Christmas, comes Santa, and with Santa, reindeer inevitably follow. Errr...well...they lead, actually - but you get my drift. I get lots of questions this time of year about the symbolic meaning of reindeer. This article on reindeer meaning is an attempt to fill that vast void of curiosity about the reindeer, its totemic implications, and its mysterious connection to Old Saint Nick.
First, a word about the word...'reindeer', that is. Pull the thread of its name, and you'll likely find the term 'reindeer' to mean 'horned animal' in Old Norse language. Other variations mean 'running animal' (Old English) and 'wild animal' (Old German).
All these attempts to pin a name on this animal are correct. Reindeers are indeed horned - both male and female - which is an oddity. In fact, of the deer family (to which it belongs), the reindeer is the only ilk in which both genders grow antlers. Reindeer are also runners. Fast ones, too. Up to 60 miles per hour. That's fast for an average 200-300 pound beast. Reindeer are also wild. At least, they were, until humans began domesticating them. There are still wild reindeer in places today though, specifically North America.
One more word about the moniker 'reindeer'. It's synonymous with 'caribou'. The two terms are interchangeable. So, if you see a caribou in the wild or at the zoo - your essentially eyeing up a reindeer.
Now that those preliminaries are out of the way, let's romp our way through some wicked-keen reindeer symbolism. First, a quick-list of meanings...
We can look at physique and behavior to glean valuable symbolic lessons from this grand creature. For example, a reindeer's design is unique to the harsh environments in which they live. From snoot to foot, these creatures are crafted in a thoughtful way that lets them eek out a relatively decent living in the cold terrain they roam. The following are some examples of reindeer divine design, and how these highlights apply to living a symbolic life.
Get a Grip:
As a totem, the reindeer stands for being sure-footed. We can call upon reindeer energy when we need traction to maneuver in a slick situation. Why? It has to do with reindeer feet. They adapt to the seasons. In cold winter months, their footpads constrict. They become tight, rough and leathery. This gives them friction to navigate on slick ice and snow. Rough pads also allows reindeer to dig through ice and snow for tender green morsels to eat. In warmer, summer months their footpads become soft and spongy. This allows easy movement through muddy, sloggy terrain. You know that joke: "Have a nice trip? See ya next fall!" - Reindeer won't get that joke. Due to their specialized foot-design, it's highly unlikely you're ever going to see a reindeer trip and fall. This is a great lesson for us humans. Reindeer teaches us to utilize our internal advantages to get sure footing in any situation. We are all equipped with unique gifts we can use to easily walk through challenges.
Take a Hike:
Encountering reindeer (or caribou) in your meditations, dreams or general consciousness is often a clear sign for travel. Why? Because these creatures are the grand poobah's of migration. They are the furthest travelers of the deer clan. Some reindeer migrate as far as 3000 miles in a season! Thinking about going on a trip? Moving to a new location? Consider connecting with the reindeer for some energetic advice.
Get a Whiff of This:
True survivalists, reindeer give further testimony of their adaptation to cold conditions via their schnoz. Their noses are uniquely splayed out - which means more surface area in the nostrils. This allows them to warm the cold air they inhale. Their nose/body heat converts icy inhalations into warm moisture. That warmth is internalized through the nose, to keep reindeer warm. What's that mean on a symbolic level? Well, innumerable cultures deem breath/breathing as the action of spirit moving through the body. Consider the Greek word for 'breath', which is 'pneuma' - which literally translates to mean 'spirit'. What if the very air you inhaled was a benevolent spirit entering your body for the sole purpose to warm you from the inside out? What if every exhalation was your dynamic, glorious spirit giving itself to the world? What if each of our breaths were an exchange of gifts of spirit? Something to think about.
Knock, Knock. Who's There?:
Reindeer! To explain, reindeer knees knock. Yep. Odd, but true. Reindeer knees make a distinct clicking sound. The sound can be heard from incredible distances. The purpose of this clicking allows members of the herd to identify each other. The louder the knee-click, the bigger the reindeer. This is equates to smaller, less intimidating reindeer recognizing a BMOC (big man on campus) in their midst. How can we translate that into a symbolic lesson? Quite simply, reindeer asks us to announce our presence before entering the scene. In my mind, this deals with pre-paving a scenario for our biggest and best outcome. Got a big meeting coming up in which you need to make a good impression? Got a social engagement and want the group to be in awe of your arrival? Pre-pave the event. See yourself making a big splash before you're actually there. Visualize yourself making a joyful noise, tooting your own horn, being announced for the wonderful being you are. The mind has a funny way of manifesting that which it holds in its attention. So get your metaphysical knees knocking, and knock 'em dead at your next interview, meeting or party!
There is early evidence of reindeer (caribou) having a place of honor in prehistory. Rock paintings feature reindeer flying across walls of cave interiors. There's not just one or two instances of this reindeer rock art...but many are evident throughout Europe and Asia. It's hard to know exactly what was going on in the prehistoric mind when the paintings were created. However, anthropologists surmise the reindeer was a kind of psychopomp - which means a 'spirit guide' or 'guide of the soul'. Most of these prehistoric paintings showcase the reindeer soaring through the air. Perhaps early man deemed the reindeer as a messenger - able to fly man's messages to the heavens. To be sure, the reindeer is fleet-of-foot. Maybe prehistoric humans witnessed their speed and elegant movements and believed the reindeer best equipped to be their liaison between earth and sky. Something to ponder. Certainly a potential for us modern-day humans. Reindeer energy is highly capable of carrying our desires and intent out into the universe. Indeed, the stag (a big male of the deer clan with an impressive rack of antlers) is a powerful spirit guide. Strong, swift, proud...the stag is a fully functional guide into the realm of pure potential. It has no fear of taking you on the other side of the veil of reality.
Speaking of the veil...ancient wisdom of the Tungusic tribe (Eastern Siberia) revered the reindeer as a creature of the night as well as a funerary symbol. In essence, the reindeer was called upon as a light-guide through darkness and death. When a tribal member passed into non-physical, the reindeer carried the soul safely into the realm of spirit.
In many cultures, including northern regions of Europe and Asia, the reindeer is a lunar symbol. As a consort of the moon, symbolic reindeer meaning deals with:
Check out more critters associated with Lady Luna here: Animals Connected with Moon Symbolism
The reindeer shows up in the renowned Scandinavian legend of Disa. Disa was the daughter of a chieftain under the rule of king Freyr. She was purported to have untold beauty and unmatched wits. Her story goes as such:
One day the king and his council were entertaining the idea of sacrificing all the old and feeble to the god Odin. Horrified by the idea, Disa spoke up in defense of the elderly and sickly. The king's council retorted with a highly mature (not) response - basically saying, "Oh yeah, little missy!? You think you know what you're talking about? Hush up and fetch some mead." This put Disa in a righteous fury, and she demanded the chieftains challenge her wit and wisdom. If she passed the challenge they beset her, then her wish to save the weaker members of the kingdom from sacrifice would be granted. Should she fail, she must forfeit her own life.
So the king and his men set (what they thought) an impossible task upon her. The king commanded Disa to travel to the magical island of Thule. Easy, right? Nope. The king devised a riddle of a test for her. She could not travel to Thule by foot, wagon, horse or ship. She must arrive neither dressed nor undressed. If that wasn't enough, she could not arrive when the moon was waning or waxing. She was also prohibited from arriving at the island during the day or night.
This didn't fluster Disa at all. She traveled to the island in a sleigh pulled by (you guessed it) a reindeer. She wore a fishing net, arrived at the full moon at dusk. Effectively fulfilling all the hurdles of the challenge. Smart chick! ;)
She won the bet, saved the people, and gave special honors to the reindeer for getting her to her destination safely. Some legends say it was from that point on the Scandinavians recognized reindeer as superior in frigid weather conditions and started domesticating them for travel.
We might be able to connect Disa on her sleigh to that jolly old elf and his eight tiny reindeer.
Or, we could attribute the Norse god Thor. Myth has it he roamed the skies in a chariot pulled by goats. The myth morphed over time (as myths do), and at some point Thor's chariot was pulled by reindeer.
In truth, Santa's reindeer became galvanized in popular myth thanks to Clement Clarke Moore who wrote the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, a.k.a. The Night Before Christmas. The poem cites eight tiny reindeer lofting St. Nick high in the sky.
Later, in the 1930s, Robert May wrote a poem called Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It was an instant smash hit. In fact, it kinda 'went viral'. The poem was printed in booklet form, and was put to music (sung by Gene Autry - it made the top of the music charts in the 1940s.)
Perhaps you're curious about reindeer and its appearance in modern Christmas lore. Or, perhaps the reindeer keeps hoofing its way into your consciousness with a message. Whatever the case, this regal creature offers enchantment, insight and remarkable wisdom to humankind.
I hope this article on symbolic reindeer meaning and caribou have offered a richer understanding of this noble beast. As always, I encourage you to keep hunting down profound meaning about the reindeer. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There's more to learn from reindeer/caribou. Don't stop here! Launch your own research and meditations and explore the fascinating realm of reindeer meaning. And be sure to check out the links at the end of this page for more related articles - like my Christmas Symbols page here.
As always, thanks for reading!
Bright Reindeer Blessings,
An Important Note About Signs, Symbols and Their Meanings
Signs and symbols cultivate their meanings according to culture, context, passage of time in society as well as mass societal opinion. What's cool and highly important is that signs and symbols earn their most powerful meanings from our own personal perspectives.
This website strives to provide you with the best, time-honored information when defining signs and symbols. However, in the final analysis, "Beauty (and symbolism) is in the eye of the beholder."
Having said that, it's in our best interest to invest the time to do personal research on symbolic events happening to us. This website is just one perspective in an ocean of variety and diversity in the realm of symbolism. So dive in! There is a whole universe of deeper meanings to explore! You can start your research by clicking on the links at the end or to the side of this page. Odds are good I've got a follow-up article about this symbolic topic. ;)
As always, thanks for your willingness to learn more about the language of symbolism. It's a language that is universal and everywhere. It's super-groovy to travel with you on your symbolic path, and maybe offer a little translation along the way. Thanks for reading and exploring!