Study of Irish, Hindu, and Buddhist Deer Symbolism. The Cloven Nature of Karma and Reality in Love, Loss, and Living.


No. 526.



In this story, a sage lives alone in the Himālayas, there is semen in the urine he passes, and a deer who happens to eat the grass in that place gets pregnant from it. A human boy is later born to the deer and he is brought up in complete seclusion from mankind, and most importantly, from womankind.

The boy’s ascetic power becomes so great that Sakka (the Buddhist Indra) in his heaven is worried by it and causes a drought to occur in the country and blames it on the boy. He then convinces the King to send his daughter to seduce him and to break his power. The King and his daughter accept Sakka’s reasoning and in good faith – and for the benefit of the country – agree to the plot.

The girl dresses up as an ascetic and while the Father (the Bodhisatta) is away gathering roots and fruits in the forest, she manages to seduce the boy, who has never seen a woman before. Through their revelling the boy does indeed loose his powers, the girl then makes off, and when his Father returns the boy who has become infatuated with his new friend, tells him all about it, only to be instructed and rebuked by his Father, and repent his actions.

This is not the only story of Isisiṅga that appears in the Jātakas, there is another, and somewhat similar, story just a few pages before, and which is referred to in our story. That is Jātaka 523, the Alambusājātaka, but there Sakka chooses a heavenly nymph to seduce the ascetic. The outcome is the same, the sage is seduced, repents and Sakka is thwarted, but some reason he does not seem upset, in fact he grants a boon to the seductress.


Interesting outcome. And by interesting, I mean uncannily resonant. 

Then I wrote this: 

Jenna Penielle Lyons

Dr. Torma

Pre-Norman Irish Literature

April 29, 2013

Analysis of Oisin


Traveller Through Time and Leaper of Cultural Fences 

 “This youth received the name of Oisin, and in time he became the sweet singer of the Fianna of Erinn” (“The Youth of Oisin”). Oisin is the narrator of many of the stories in the Finn Cycle—the “sweet singer of the Fianna of Erinn.” Two important aspects of Oisin include his association with the otherworld and his connection with deer. We analyze his identities in both Oisín in Tir na nÓg and “The Birth of Oisin,” gleaning information about his identity as both a traveller between and among worlds—the worlds of time and space, and the worlds of symbolism and culture.  His manifestation as the voice of the Fenian Cycle is cloven in a herd of diverse fashions.

In the most famous of the Oisin echtras, Oisín in Tir na nÓg, Oisin visits the “Land of Youth” (Tir na nÓg).  In this tale, he is visited by Níamh Chinn Óir (Niamh of the Golden Hair). Says she loves him, and through their union, they give birth to Oscar and Plor na mBan (flower of women).  After what seems like three days to Oisin, he returns to Ireland, only to find out that it has actually been 300 years. Niamh gives him a white horse named Embarr, and tells him that if he gets off it, time will catch up to him and he will become an old man. Later, while helping some men build a road, he accidentally falls off and becomes old, just as Niamh had warned.  The horse goes back to Tir na nÓg.

There are several different explanations for the time travelling aspect of Oisín in Tir na nÓg. One of the most likely readings is one written by Dáithí Ó hÓgáin.  

In “Magic Attributes of the Hero in Fenian Lore”, Dáithí Ó hÓgáin writes of

Oisin as a member of the Fennia who had the gift of ‘the grace of God,’ which refers to the idea that he had survived into Christian times and had been baptised. Indeed, “[o]ral tradition developed its own explanation as to how he had managed to bridge the time-gap” and according to this, in the process of returning from the Tir na nÓg back to Earth, he sojourned for three hundred years in the otherworld—much as other characters in the same era of Irish tradition were had done; “[i]t was especially easy for this motif to become attached to Oisin, for he was always allowed in Fenian lore to have a special connection with the otherworld” (234-235). So, in effect, Oisin is another example of a character in Irish mythology that evolves in meaning in order to preserve Irish myth and to incorporate Christian symbolism.

Another tale we look to from the Finn Cycle in order to understand the powers and meaning of Oisin as a figure is “The Birth of Oisin.” In this tale, a druid condemns Oisin’s mother, Sadbh, to a life as both woman and a doe. Finn chases the deer, and one night, she manifests in the form of a fair maiden. The union of Sadbh and Finn, unbeknownst to Finn, results in the birth of Oisin. Saba disappears, and Finn later goes hunting, only to stumble upon his son in the forest. Oisin doesn’t recognize his father because he has been living in meadows with his mother and the Dark Druid for his entire life. It’s true that “[p]hilologists accept that his name ‘Oisin’ meant ‘little fawn’”(Ó hÓgáin 238). Oisin and his mother live double existences as deer and human beings and they are subject to the magic of the Dark Druid.  

A noteworthy symbolic through line to examine is that which connects the Irish symbolism of the deer to Hindu symbolism of the deer. In Celtic mythology, a giantess (bean sidhe) who milked deer could shift into the form of a red deer (McKay 149). Oisin’s mother’s name (Sadbh) is “obviously derived from Sar, a contraction of the Sanskrit word Sāranga (Deer),” and other cross-cultural connections exist: “Finn, of the Kelts, is the father of Ossian (Roscrana) who seems to be the Keltic counterpart of Rishyasringa, son of Bibhandaka. The mother of Ossian was a mythical Doe, and Rishyasringa was “born of a Hind” (Chaplin 217-219). In Hindu belief, the red deer is an obvious pointer to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. Oisin’s stature as a bard or the greatest Irish poet connects with Saraswati’s role in Hindu mythology as the provider of the knowledge with which Brahma crafted the entire universe.


Works Cited 

Chaplin, Dorothea. “The Symbolic Deer.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research

 Institute 24.3/4 (1943): 215-23. Print.

 HÓgáin, Dáithí Ó. “Magic Attributes of the Hero in Fenian Lore.” Béaloideas: An

Cumann Le Béaloideas Éireann/The Folklore of Ireland Society (1986): 207-

 42. Print.       

 J. G. McKay, “The Deer-Cult and the Deer-Goddess Cult of the Ancient

 Caledonians”Folklore 43.2 (June 1932), pp. 144-17


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