The REAL Flying Reindeer was a Goddess: LFAE’s Rozhanitsa by Joan Forest Mage

by | January 02, 2020 | Articles

LisaNomikos-2019-ReindeerGoddess8x12 copy

Reindeer Goddess (c) Lisa Nomikos

Wondrous headed doe, with horns of a thousand branches and knobs
Thousand branches and knobs and of a thousand bright candles
Amongst its horns it carries the light of the blessed sun
On its forehead there is a star, on its chest the moon

“The Legend of the Hind”, Traditional Hungarian folk song

Life Force Arts Ensemble (LFAE) is an amazing community of visual, literary and performing artists who commune with soul and spirit to create transformation through the arts based in the Life Force Arts Method. We create original performances in the sacred space of our visual art exhibits combining dance, vocal and instrumental music, acting, storytelling and poetry, channeling powerful spiritual energy to activate profound transformation for our audiences.

This article is about our process of creating the performance Rozhanitsa Brings The Sun, which premiered on December 11, 2019. Working collaboratively as an artistic community, we evolve our pieces,  through many layers of historical research and spiritual practice to arrive at a place of deep truth and powerful energy.

Through this process, we discovered the little-known history of an ancient Reindeer Mother Goddess, the original prototype of the flying reindeer and gift-giving spirit guide of the Winter Solstice.

As the Artistic Director of LFAE, I was clear from the time we opened The Waning Year exhibit in August 2019 that the company’s Midwinter performance would be based in the intriguing series of drawings entitled Midwinter Tale created by one of LFAE’s Featured Artists, Mary Burton. The theme for this performance was based on the Life Force Arts Method Skill of Crystallizing, which is about examining the structured forms we live within.

In the case of this performance, we wanted to delve deep into ancestral memory to understand why the images associated with certain holidays remain potent for so many centuries, even when we may have long forgotten their original meaning. This awareness empowers us to make our own choices of how to expend our energy, rather than being unconsciously influenced.

Burton Midwinter Tale

Midwinter Tale (c) Mary Burton

Mary said that, during summer 2019, she created these drawings intuitively. The images flowed from some source of inspiration, rather than from an intellectual understanding. Those who looked at the drawings felt that they told a story: a myth or fairy tale, but there was not clarity about what the story might be. (Do you see a story you recognize in the drawings? Let us know!)

As Mary says in her notes about the piece in the Exhibit Catalog:

This is a series of images that came over several days this midsummer July depicting a story or journey that takes place during midwinter.  The images appear to follow a queen or goddess figure at the darkest time of the year while she reaches out for someone in the underworld who could be her ancestor or a daughter.  She is connected with the sun and the time when light starts to come back into the world.  A crown figures prominently in the drawings, representing the wheel of the year which the goddess or an angel directs.  This story does not have a detailed narrative and each viewer is welcome to compose their own narrative.

Mary did some research into myths, and created her own version of the story of the mother-daughter goddesses Sol and Sol. 

Preparing for our performance, LFAE writer and performer Prongs Apollo Chapa researched the image of the fiery crown seen in Midwinter Tale #8.

Burton 8

Midwinter Tale #8 (c) Mary Burton

There is the legend of the Christian martyr St. Lucy, whose feast on December 13 (near Midwinter) is celebrated in the Scandinavian countries by young women wearing crowns of candles.


By Claudia Gründer – Claudia Gründer, CC BY-SA 3.0,

But looking at the images in Midwinter Tale, they seemed to reflect ancient Norse or Celtic traditions, rather than St. Lucy, the Christian martyr. For example, the person with the wreath of fire in Midwinter Tale #8 has a tree growing out of the top of her head (crown chakra?) This reminded me of Yggdrasil, the World Tree of the Norse legends. And this tree has a sun within its branches, connecting it to the Solstice.

Prongs Apollo Chapa discovered the old pagan tale of Lussi, a goddess sometimes called the leader of  the Wild Hunt:

Across Central, Western and Northern Europe, the Wild Hunt is a well-known folk myth of a ghostly leader and his group of hunters and hounds flying through the cold night sky, accompanied by the sounds of the howling wind. The supernatural hunters are recounted as either the dead, elves, or in some instances, fairies. In the Northern tradition, the Wild Hunt was synonymous with great winter storms or changes of season…the souls of the dead [would be] carried off on the stormy winds of the hunt…Anyone found outdoors at the time would be swept up into the hunting party involuntarily and dropped miles from their original location…[Jacob Grimm felt that] The myth originally began as a hunt led by a god and goddess visiting the land during a holy holiday, bringing blessings, and accepting offerings from people. They could be heard by the people in the howling winds, but later became known as a pack of ghouls with malicious intent. (

People would hold all night vigils staying indoors to keep away from Lussi and the Wild Hunt.

As I kept looking at the drawings, I felt there was another meaning/story to be discovered. I asked LFAE Featured Artist Colleen Koziara about the images in Midwinter Tale. Colleen immediately said it reminded her of the ancient Reindeer Mother Goddess Rozhanitsa. I had never heard of this goddess, and was astonished to learn how prevalent her image and associated spiritual practice was in all the northern countries (Scandinavia, England, Scotland, France, Germany, Siberia, Mongolia). Rozhanitsa is most likely the original prototype of Santa Claus and his flying reindeer.

Colleen sent me the excellent article Doe, a Deer, a Female Reindeer: The Spirit of Mother Christmas from I learned that it is the female reindeer who keep their antlers in the winter, and who lead the herd.

Ever since the early Neolithic, when the earth was much colder and reindeer more widespread, the female reindeer was venerated by northern people. She was the “life-giving mother”, the leader of the herds upon which they depended for survival, and they followed the reindeer migrations for milk, food, clothing and shelter…The reindeer was often shown leaping or flying through the air with neck outstretched and legs flung out fore and aft. Her antlers were frequently depicted as the tree of life, carrying birds, the sun, moon and stars. And across the northern world, it was the Deer Mother who took flight from the dark of the old year to bring light and life to the new.

Rozhanitsa’s flying reindeer image was found in rock art, clothing, standing stones and tattoos, such as this one found on the shoulder of a mummified young woman who lived in Siberia approximately 2500 years ago. Here we see the antlers as a flowering tree, and also a sun, an image still repeated in 21st century Christmas cards.

Rozhanitsa image 1

Siberian Deer Tattoo from mummified woman, 2nd century BCE

Ancient people carved images of flying deer into standing stones, dating back to the Bronze Age (3300 – 600 BCE). So we know that the flying reindeer image, especially with an ornate disk of the sun within their antlers, is at least 5000 years old.


Deer Stones in Mongolia

The same article explains that it was often the female shamans who honored the Deer Mother.

The ceremonial clothing worn by medicine women healers of Siberia and Lapland, was green and white with a red peaked hat, curled toed boots, reindeer mittens, fur lining and trim. Sound familiar? [like the clothing of Santa Claus]

Suddenly, I saw a connection with one of the other artworks in The Waning Year exhibit, the painting we chose as the cover art for the exhibit: Steven Blaine AdamsCandle Flame Mandala

Adams Candle Flame Mandala 081219

Candle Flame Mandala (c) Steven Blaine Adams

I remember discussing with Steve as he was painting this piece that the objects surrounding the central candle might be either the brambles of a tree or bush, or antlers. And we decided either image would be associated with Midwinter. As with Rozhanitsa carrying the sun in her antlers, or the girls on St. Lucy’s Day wearing a wreath crown of candles, in this painting we see fire surrounded by branches or antlers.

Through our research, we also discovered a traditional Hungarian Christmas song “The Legend of the Hind”.

Wondrous headed doe, with horns of a thousand branches and knobs
Thousand branches and knobs and of a thousand bright candles
Amongst its horns it carries the light of the blessed sun
On its forehead there is a star, on its chest the moon
And it starts along the banks of the shining heavenly Danube
That it may be the messenger of heaven and bringer of news
About our creator and caring god

If I had any questions before, this song coalesced the connection of these Winter Solstice images: flying reindeer, sun, stars, antlers, the Tree of Life and the wreath-candle crown. We had found our theme and our spirit guide for the performance!

Creating a special Rozhanitsa image for LFAE

There was one hitch with having Rozhanitsa, the Reindeer Mother Goddess, as the subject and spirit guide for LFAE’s Midwinter performance: Mary Burton’s Midwinter Tale drawings did not have an image of a flying Reindeer Goddess. To publicize a performance, we look for an intriguing graphic image that “screams the theme” we want to convey.

I contacted Lisa Nomikos, one of the LFAE Featured Artists, to ask if she could create an artwork that could be used as the graphic for LFAE’s Rozhanitsa performance. I shared with Lisa the information Colleen had given us and “The Legend of the Hind” song.

Lisa said she could not believe the synchronicity of being asked to do this project at this time. Lisa said that just the day before, her husband, George, had emailed her a photo of a deer (see below). Lisa asked him where he got the photo, assuming it was from the internet. But George said no, this was a photo he had taken himself of a deer that walked up to his window at work that day! (George works in the suburbs of Chicago.) The deer looked right at George through the window.

Deer Lisa's husband

Photo of deer taken by Lisa Nomikos‘ husband George

Lisa and I laughed in delight, and agreed that this was definitely a sign that she should create the graphic.  After all, Rozhanitsa had come and posed for it! Lisa set to work, and within a few days had created her artwork Reindeer Goddess. She sent me the following series of work-in-progress photos.

Reindeer Goddess drawing 1

Reindeer Goddess: work in progress by Lisa Nomikos


Reindeer Goddess: work in progress by Lisa Nomikos



Reindeer Goddess: work in progress by Lisa Nomikos

Reindeer Goddess drawing 2

Reindeer Goddess (c) Lisa Nomikos

LisaNomikos-2019-ReindeerGoddess8x12 copy

Reindeer Goddess (c) Lisa Nomikos, final version, with enhanced color

I was thrilled with the image! It was so beautiful, and so perfect for the season, that we printed holiday cards with it, being sure to include the “Wondrous headed doe” song on the back of the card.


Healing Arts Intensive “Rozhanitsa”

One of the programs LFAE offers is called the Healing Arts Intensive. This is a group expressive arts therapeutic process: five sessions of powerful transformation through the arts based in the Life Force Arts Method, built around the LFAE performances. Each participant focuses on a personal Transformational Goal (Intention) that is related to the theme of the performance that they want to see fulfilled by the end of the Intensive. We incorporate the writing and stories of the Healing Arts Intensive participants into the performance.

As a result of the Rozhanitsa Intensive, one of the participants was able to make a breakthrough with her artwork. Another made the decision to accept a marriage proposal!  One of the other participants shared the following powerful vision:

Rozhanitsa came to me in a dream last week. At the beginning of the dream, no matter where I walked, it was cold and dark. Everyone around me was content to be in the dark. I was fed up with them ignoring problems. I saw big beautiful tree, and many animals. The animals were running towards the sun. The sun started to rise. I turned around and was face to face with a massive reindeer with piercing blue eyes, and beautiful fur. Suspended between her antlers was the sun, and the sky was a beautiful shade of pink. I could feel her breath on me. I was startled but not fearful. I took a breath and was holding it; something inside me was trying to get out. It was like a renewal of hope.

Featured Artwork for Rozhanitsa Brings The Sun

LFAE’s Rozhanitsa Brings The Sun is set in The Waning Year art exhibit. The viewer is surrounded by images of nature from Summer into Fall and Midwinter, covering the Wheel of the Year Festivals Harvest (Lughnassadh), Fall Equinox, Samhain and Midwinter. For each performance LFAE presents, we choose five to six artworks to focus on from the current exhibit that align with the subject of the performance.

In addition to Mary Burton’s Midwinter Tale, Candle Flame Mandala by Steven Blaine Adams and Lisa Nomikos’ Reindeer Goddess, the other Featured Artworks were:

  • Dreamtime © Judy Demchuk
  • The Naked Tree © Gabriel Gebka
  • Lone Wolf © Lisa Nomikos
Demchuk Dreamtime

Dreamtime (c) Judy Demchuk

Gebka The Naked Tree

The Naked Tree (c) Gabriel Gebka

Nomikos Lone Wolf watermark

Lone Wolf (c) Lisa Nomikos

LFAE performances are sound healing theater. We use a combination of text, dance, and vocal and instrumental music as energy work.  The energy comes through the words, movement, sound and also the visual artwork. Audience members are encouraged to ask for any guidance or healing that they need in their lives through this process.

The core part of the sound healing occurs when LFAE members channel the energy of each of the Featured Artworks through vocals and movement. In this video of a rehearsal on December 4, 2019 of Rozhanitsa Brings The Sun, the performers of Life Force Ensemble, Joan Forest Mage, Natalia Aicardi and Kristen Wray, discuss our performance and rehearsal process and how it relates to the artwork in the show The Waning Year.

Songs for Rozhanitsa: revelations about The Holly & The Ivy

Part of LFAE’s performance is improvisational, but we also play structured music: songs we perform with our own vocals and instrumentals. We include original music we have composed as well as “covers” of songs ranging from popular tunes and folk songs to classical music and devotional chants.

For Rozhanitsa, we were reviewing Christmas carols that would be related to our theme that we might perform. If there is a place one finds hidden references from ages past, it is in old songs, especially the songs of the winter holidays.

I suddenly had a revelation about a Christmas carol I have always loved, but that seemed obscure – until now. In The Holly and the Ivy, the verse of the song directly relates to the theme of LFAE’s Fall Equinox performance The Goddess Dissents, which is about the Oak King of the Waxing Year fighting the Holly King of the Waning Year, and how each of them is favored at different times of the year by the goddess Blodeuwedd (the Ivy being the traditional symbol of Woman.) The words literally talk about the Holly being King (“the holly bears the crown”.)

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown

And the chorus can be interpreted as a paean to Rozhanitsa

The rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.

Compare this with the Hungarian Christmas song “The Legend of the Hind”

Wondrous headed doe, with horns of a thousand branches and knobs
Thousand branches and knobs and of a thousand bright candles
Amongst its horns it carries the light of the blessed sun

And so we end with images, songs, dances and poetry honoring the ancient Mother of antler and tree and sun. Here is the beautiful Main Text for Rozhanitsa Brings The Sun written by Prongs Apollo Chapa, that they recited during the performance while Natalja Aicardi, Kristen Wray and I created channeled music and dance.

Rozhanitsa Brings The Sun Main Text

by Prongs Apollo Chapa

Where, where, where are you?

At dusk you wait for dawn

And weep for the fading light

Blue winter draws you down

You fear its dark embrace

In the ocean of blue sky

A fiery lily blooms


Behold! Can you not see me

Even in that deep, dark cave

Our faces mirror each other

Doe and fawn

Goddess and mortal

From my lips drips the honeyed sunlight

From my lips flows the blood of life

Taste what it is to be living

I am the ever-flowing cup of inspiration


You dream of being a sun

You imagine yourself a moon

Where is your joy at being who you are?

If I told you I made you

From the same stuff as stars

That is to say, from the fur on my breast

Would you believe me?

Sun and moon

Are free from love

But your beating heart

Shines brightest among my antlers




Beaulieu, David. The Holly and the Ivy: History Behind The Song

Burton, Mary. Midwinter Tale. Pantheon

“Doe, A Deer, A Female Reindeer: The Spirit of Mother Christmas“.

“Remembering the Deer Mother of Winter Solstice” video.




Joan Forest Mage is proud to serve as a shamanic artist, teacher and healer in her hometown of Chicago. She is the founder and Director of Life Force Arts Ensemble.

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  1. onemcpeck

    This post is so very rich. I feel I will be nourished by this offering all winter long. Thank you all.

    • Editor

      Thank you so much!



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