Meeting the Deer Mother: A Letter to Laurie Markoff

Dear Laurie Markoff:

Your letter, (below,) raises the questions that have to be raised: What difference do consciousness and heart make? What is their pragmatic value to a world that is increasingly mired in brutality?
In Liberia, the elephants have been coming to the people in just the ways you describe, asking them to restore the contract or asking that the old ceremonies, sacrifices or offerings be restored. These were interrupted by the horrific civil war, though they were already yielding to more practical concerns and large scale land clearance on behalf of farming, manufacturing, mining and other human activities. It is hard to make offerings to the elephants with one hand, or to read them the Koran, while holding an AK 47 in the other. Each demands its own logic. The AK 47, designed to kill humans, certainly does not value elephants. Standing before the question of expanding territory, hunting meat, procuring ivory, the AK 47 mind wins. The AK47 exists in a field of ideas that include dominance, control, self-interest, entitlement, superiority, power.
Reading the Koran to the elephants, assumes the animal’s intelligence, understanding and sacred nature. The elephant whisperer that I met, who read the Koran and attributes his survival to this activity, also credited the elephant with protecting him and his family during the war, advising him when to flee and where, when to return, and where to farm. What the elephant couldn’t do, however, was protect the whisperer from peoples’ envy and their accusations of witchcraft.
Another distinction arises. The elephant whisperer and his family were not as hungry as the poachers were. Alliance with the animal world protected the whisperer, but would such alliances protect an entire village? Some think it would but only if there were enough land to grow food for each person AND enough land for the elephants. The elephants need a vast territory so the trees they tear down and eat this year will be fully grown by the time they return. A 200 year migration cycle is best but this does not suit the needs of corporate farms and plantations, landless people, expanding towns and cities. The people and the elephants are displaced from their land, separated from their rituals, deprived of their elders, and are without food and water.
Their common suffering pits them against each other. We have not learned how to relieve each other’s suffering through alliances. What would an elephant/human alliance around such issues look like?
We do not have the means to act on the basis of our heart alliances with non-human beings. The elephant asked you to fulfill your contract and you don’t know how to protect them from poachers or guarantee their territory.

But …

There was a time when people talked with the animals because they saw them as kin, peers or holy creatures. Understanding these relationships, they lived accordingly, honoring the animals and respecting the animals’ needs for territory and independence.
I don’t know the answer to your anguished question, but I do believe that engaging the non-humans in heartfelt interchange and speaking of this freely, creates another intellectual and spiritual environment that will influence our responses. When we think differently, when we carry different assumptions, we act differently.
When Linda Hogan, Brenda Peterson and I published the anthology, Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals, in 1999, almost no one recognized the extent of animals’ intelligence or their spiritual nature. At that time, Jane Goodall’s essay, “I Acknowledge Mine,” astounded us by documenting instances of chimpanzee compassion AND their great suffering. One essay after another asserted the reality of complex heartful intra and inter species relationships and the pain we subject them to. In ten years, so many more of us are aware that we torture the natural world and that the natural world is sentient. Just as we have become aware of our cruelty and obliviousness, our hearts and minds perceive the animals differently and our formerly thoughtless behavior becomes untenable. In 2010, we are living in an ever deepening, ever expanding field of respect and love for the animals. Because of the field, we respond differently. Your experiences and your willingness to speak of them, make an important contribution to this field.

So now we have the Deer Mother. Wasn’t she also an ambassador to you? Will people reading our correspondence invite her and her fawn into their consciousness so that, without remembering why, they might act to preserve the deer, or refuse rat poison, or leave the deer the woods it needs, discourage hunting, allow the deer to nibble their roses? Might it not become commonplace to speak about the Deer Mother and her family in the ways we speak of our own friends and family? Can we doubt that this will make an enormous difference to the Deer Mother’s life?
There is nothing I can or would do to ease your grief. Understanding our role in these tragic times is essential. And also, I will do everything to defend the reality and profundity of interchange between you and the Deer Mother. Also, this year, I am not the only one who thinks this way. There are many of us now, a mere ten years since this understanding burst into print.
Your heartbreak is an essential medicine for the violence of this time. It is not the only medicine we need, but it is a medicine. We are creating a field of co-existence, of ‘all my relations.” Thinking this way will have repercussions though we don’t know where we are being taken and how the world will reconfigure itself in the light of such alliances.
Thank you for writing, Laurie. Please tell the Deer Mother that I hold her and her little ones in my heart and prayers.
Mitake Oyasin,

(Letter from Laurie Markoff) “Dear Deena,
It is strange that you have been writing this letter to me, as I have been writing a letter to you in my head as well. I have been re-reading “Ghost River” (maybe this is the sixth time and each time it feels like a new book, but perhaps that is because I am different.) and this time it feels like it explains what is happening to me, how I am becoming undone and feel both strongly called to respond to these times and deeply unsure that I know what to do. It is not that I don’t see the signs, it is that I do not know what the signs are pointing me toward. I go and pray for forgiveness for my people at every body of water I encounter. I dreamt that Mandaza was pouring water over a bunch of miniature rose buds between my naked breasts and saying “This is medicine for your people” and so I found a miniature rosebush and we will make a flower essence in that manner. At the SpiritSong retreat, when I was singing, the elephants came and surrounded us, and when I finished singing they spoke to me and said ” If your people will restore the contract, we will do our part.” But how do I make that happen? What am I to do? When I took my daughter to college, early in the morning, as she slept, I hiked up in the woods that the college owns. I saw one or two young people hiking up there, and was thinking of how the woods and the farm there (where my daughter teaches children how food grows) are teaching and tending these young people, and I stopped and made an offering by a tree with roots like the feet of an elephant, thanking the land for tending these young people. Later, a deer stepped onto the trail 20 feet from me and made eye contact. I spoke to her in my mind, introduced myself and she nodded at me. And then I said “You look like a mother. I am a mother too, and I am here to thank all of you for tending my daughter while I am not here. And she nodded again, and her fawn stepped out of hiding and looked me in the eye as well. We stood like that for while, and then someone shouted in the distance and they bounded off. I could not stop crying. In my dream group, in all of my communities, many of us are all having encounters like this. As if the animals are coming to us to make alliances. I am grateful for the signs, I am listening as hard as I can, but I do not know what they are calling me to do, only that it is urgent. I am hoping somehow, Deena, that we will find the answers here. If nothing else, it makes me feel less alone with my questions. So thank you.

8 responses to “Meeting the Deer Mother: A Letter to Laurie Markoff

  1. Nora October 2, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Thank you Laurie for writing this, each such story confirms the truth of our inter-relationship and emboldens us to speak these stories. I sat meditating last night in Temple, my eyes gazing out the north window into the yellow birches when our resident mother and her two fawns slowly moved through my field of vision. Safe, nibbling, living, while I practiced abiding
    in the one heart.

    And Deena thank you for your response, that as always holds the complexity.

    Love, Nora

  2. Ray Hardy October 2, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Thank you, Laurie.
    When I approached Deena, regarding some sort of response, she suggested I be “succinct but pithy”. That’s a hard one, as the deer are my Heart, Soul and Life. I can’t write this with dry eyes!
    The deer have been coming to me for years, awake and adream. In so many ways, I owe them my life, which I have freely committed to them. I asked, “How do I repay you?”, and step by step, as I grew in my understanding, they showed me, unequivocally and precisely, what, in this body, in this life, in this time, I can do.
    First, and ongoing, I must bear witness to their lives, both their joys and their suffering. They told me succinctly, that they “would open my heart but also break it”. I realized that the “broken heartedness” was the key to action, even though it has, literally, put me to bed for days at a time.
    Then, I was clearly shown to focus on fighting for the mitigation of deer (and hence other wildlife) and vehicle collisions locally, statewide and nationally. The means have been provided.
    It’s been while in prayer, while awake, in dream, in re-entering the dreams and in, literally, walking the dreams, that they show me how to follow their, sometimes faint, tracks on this trail. So I take my “baby steps”. That’s my Work.
    Thank you for encouraging me to write through your sharing.
    My love to you, Deena and Nora,

  3. Ptery lieght October 2, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    To Laurie and Deena,

    Thank you both, for being ambassadors for us all. I too wish to be an ambassador, and work more with plant beings.
    Last year i tended to Native food plants that are being beat out of areas by mining, agriculture, cattle. These were foods for the ancestors of this land and i felt called to go out and participate in this way. The people who tended the land traveled in a hoop the way the elephants have. They followed the mountain sheep who were their holy animals that they did not hunt, but followed.

    It is my understanding that many of the villagers in Africa were also on a hoop, or migration route and modern agriculture, and English taxation, also made them settle, causing more harm to the environment, and caused the beginnings of the eco war you are describing.

    I’m in Oregon, deep in thought with my fairy brothers, those of us who are called to be magical, listen to the land, and create healing space for men, those who have been blamed for the most harm.

    We are watching what grows here, how it grows, where the wind blows, and what it brings through the seasons. There is so much to do.

    Many prayers are in order for all of us,

    I thank you both for your sensitivity and feel called to continue with my music out here as well.

    Blessed Be

  4. Deena Metzger October 2, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    One unexpected theme is emerging. Wild life corridors are an important theme in Africa but don’t seem to be part of the on-going conversation in the States. Sometimes freeway overpasses are constructed for animals, but that is not the same as protecting enough territory so that roads, developments, farms, industry do not interfere with habitat. I live at the end of the road at the edge of a state park. Once a year or so I see evidence of mountain lions – the very few who remain- but they need 100 square miles; they don’t have it. But your responses, Ptery, Ray, Nora set the ground for new ways of being. Imagine if the mountain lions could roam their territory, uninterrupted from here to the Sandias in New Mexico.

  5. Ray Hardy October 3, 2010 at 3:15 am

    Yes, Deena, exactly the “Wildlife Corridor” issue, regarding habitat connectivity and infrastructure “permeability”, is the precise work that I was unequivocally led to pursue by Deer Spirit through powerful dreams which were fleshed through dream re-entry, through walking the physical analogy of the dreamscapes (“walking the dream”) and innumerable synchronicities. “Wildlife Corridors” was the very term that was used in these events.
    The path has opened for me and the means are being provided for support in this work. I have been led to several organizations doing this work, such as:, (and it’s sub-group,, as well as the Highways and Habitat Program of the Defenders for Wildlife.
    As Deer Spirit would have it, I was gifted with the opportunity to attend, recently, the three day Northeastern Transportation and Wildlife Conference which showcased exactly how the relevant Federal and regional state agencies are progressing in their awareness and responsiveness to these very concerns. I am pleasantly surprised, and that’s quite a reach for me! I am planning on attending the national conference next year.
    Again, Deer Spirit is gifting me with more than enough tools, political and otherwise, information and contacts to proceed without any delay.
    Much Love,

  6. Ray Hardy October 3, 2010 at 6:25 am

    Just back from my morning prayers in the woods and another group of powerful deer encounters, in another series of such. Deer energy is manifesting in a particularily strong way here for me now, bodily, in dreams and “on the ground”.
    Twice, as well, during these past few days, I have been brought to a place and time to “run interference” for deer crossing the road, further underscoring the urgency of the work I’ve been called by them to do.
    I can’t begin to presume to understand this mystery. The working model that I follow, for now, is along the lines of a rephrasing of an old quote, the form of which it takes is, “When I am in your midst, two or more of you will gather in my Name”, with “I” being, for now, in my experience, “Deer Spirit”. “Deer Spirit” in the sense of their(our?) “Overlord” or the Meeting Ground of the Breath and Heart we hold in common. I don’t know. In these meetings, we, the deer and I, the corporeal participants, seem often to be unconscious of the “why”, as evidenced by our apparent mutual astonishment on meeting, whereas, in some encounters, perhaps not so unconscious, considering a certain purposefulness. We both, the deer and I, seem to be players in some way in this mutual mystery. Again, I don’t know and that’s just fine.

  7. Riva October 3, 2010 at 6:52 am

    Dear Laurie and Deena and you who are reading this,
    My encounters are with the Standing Ones — all of them, really, but especially the old ones who are being slaughtered here in the Bronx by humans who don’t want to repave sidewalks broken …every few years by the root systems. Always the comfort of the humans. Everyday, I used to pray with an ancient Standing One outside my fifth floor window. Then the men with chain saws came and took her down. As it was happening, I ran outside, weeping. I asked, “Why?!” “Because it’s on our list.”

    Her sister had been taken the year before. I wasn’t there to witness.

    Every day, I walk by the two stumps — each a good three feet across. I kneel down and touch them, bless and thank them, feel the energy coming up from the Earth.

    From my fifth floor window, I pray with the starlings who have relocated to the Trees across the street. I have a bag filled with wood chips left behind from the slaughter with which I consecrate sacred fires. It’s the least I can do.
    Love and Blessings,

  8. Ray Hardy October 8, 2010 at 6:46 am

    ??? Now what?
    I have been called, unequivocally, by the deer, to work towards the realization of wildlife corridors, habitat connectivity and infrastucture permeability, with the goal of mitigation of wildlife/vehicle collisions. I have also been called by the deer to “tell their story”. The primary impetus for this work is not to shy away from bearing witness
    Bearing witness has entailed unloading the the bodies of deer, while praying for them, from the trucks of hunters during the opening days of hunting season at the check stations. Bearing witness has entailed removing deer from the road, which friends and neighbors often notify me of, and praying for them, as well as other animals, that have been killed on the roads.
    Does this matter? Well, I unloaded and prayed for 140 deer last fall at the hunters’ check stations. That experience put me to bed for four days. Then for several months following, the “140” returned, individually and nightly, in my dreams, full of life. For the few that appeared to be still suffering, I re-entered the dream to further pray for their healing.
    Just last night, I dreamed of a buck fawn that had been killed on a nearby road that I had attended in waking consciousness recently. He was quite well, in this dream, and was being well taken care of in that dream place. He came over to me promptly, in the dream, to nuzzle with me, with whom I assumed to be his mother.
    Does it make a difference? It sure seems that way to me from the poignancy and specificity of these experiences.
    My question is a way of probing the terrain for co-harts (sic).
    My love to you,

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