The white deer is a potent mythological symbol, deeply rooted in the human consciousness. It is the connection to the other world, the primal dance of hunter/hunted, fertility and death, the numinous and the mundane. It is the unattainable dream, one that leads us through to wild and thorny thickets, supernatural dark forest spaces, where we must confront our deeper selves.
In the ancient Celtic traditions, motifs of the white deer or stag as messengers from the Other World feature prominently. In the medieval lai Guigemar by Marie de France, the catalyst for the hero’s deep love is a white hart which “curses” the cold hero to experience pain of love, awakening him to forces of emotion, lust, and forcing him to take the path of his destiny, beyond his wildest dreams. Once the white hart speaks his dying words, Guigemar’s life –previously that of an untouchable, celebrated hero at court–swerves far beyond his control and he embarks upon a journey to unknown shores, a prisoner of Love.
The central story of our programme, La Complainte de la Blanche Biche, is one with ancient roots. In it, a young girl tells her mother that she transforms into a white deer each night and is hunted by “barons and princes”. Eventually, she ends up being killed by her own brother’s hounds, her deer-flesh cooked in a lavish dinner, the ultimate sacrifice. In this haunting song, which many scholars have taken as a metaphor for incest, innocence and sacrifice are in play here, as are questions of where true power is to be found. Like the Classical story of Iphigenia, there are elements of the sublime as accessed through surrender; like that of Actaeon, taboos and seeing what one should not see are in play.
This programme will lead us through the dark, forested landscape common to 17th century lutesongs, but will attempt to touch at the deeper questions beneath the artful clichés so often found in the texts:
What is it to be human? When love is involved, how powerful is our own will? And when in pursuit of a dream, how much of ourselves are we willing to sacrifice to attain true transformation?
These are questions we hope to explore in our programme, The White Deer.