Reindeer symbolism and meanings include speed, travel, insight, renewal, majesty, and other special qualities. Reindeer are native to Scandinavia, Europe, and Asia. So, they appear in the mythology and folklore of these regions. However, people all over the world know about reindeer and are intrigued with what they symbolize. In this post, we’ll explore all aspects of reindeer meaning and symbolism, including reindeer spiritual meanings and the reindeer spirit animal, plus reindeer mythology and folklore.
If you are curious about the reindeer’s cousin in North America – the caribou – please check out my post on caribou symbolism and mythology.
Table of Contents
- But first, are reindeer the same as caribou?
- What does a reindeer symbolize?
- Reindeer Symbolism: Speed
- Reindeer Meaning: Insight
- Reindeer Symbolism: Renewal
- Reindeer Meaning: Majesty
- Spiritual Ascension
- Reindeer Mythology and Folklore
- Sámi Reindeer Mythology
- White Reindeer Symbolism
- Reindeer and Magic Mushrooms
- The Flying Reindeer of Mongolia
- Reindeer in the Bible and Christianity
- Reindeer in Other World Religions
- 4 Reindeer Spiritual Meanings
- Reindeer Spirit Animal
- Reindeer Power Animal
- Reindeer Totem
- Reindeer Dream Meaning
- Reindeer Tattoo Meaning
- How You Can Help Reindeer
But first, are reindeer the same as caribou?
Before we get started on reindeer symbolism and meanings, you might be wondering – Are reindeer the same as caribou? (I certainly had this question when I began researching this post.)
The answer is – Yes, reindeer are caribou, and caribou are reindeer. They are the same species. Though there are a few subspecies of each. The name reindeer is used more often in Scandinavia and Europe. While caribou is in North America.
Reindeer and the caribou have different legends and some slightly different symbolic meanings depending on where you are in the world.
Historians theorize that the term “reindeer” comes from the word hreindyri from the Old Norse language. The term hreinn meant a horned animal, while the word dyr simply meant an animal.1
What does a reindeer symbolize?
Reindeer are hardy animals who are blessed with some fascinating traits. As referenced earlier, here are some high level meanings associated with reindeer. We’ll go into more detail on these throughout this post:
- Spiritual Ascension
Reindeer Symbolism: Speed
Reindeer are born to run. In fact, calves can run within 90 minutes of their birth. And reindeer run fast. They can reach speeds of up to 70 miles (113 km) per hour.2 Compares this to the average wolf, who can run about 38 miles (61 km) per hour,3 and it’s a wonder that wolves can ever catch reindeer at all.
As a symbol of speed, the reindeer is a powerful archetype who reminds us that time is precious. After all, we’re only here for a finite amount of time. So, wasting time on things like negative thinking, engaging with low-quality media, or spending time on unrewarding activities is like wasting little bits of your life.
It’s also a reality that the world is a competitive place. And those who can accomplish things fast keep the wolves at bay!
Reindeer are known to migrate over 3,000 miles per year4 as they forage for their favorite foods, which are mosses, herbs, mushrooms, ferns, grasses, shoots, and leaves.5
As a result, reindeer symbolism also includes travel. The reindeer spirit embodies the idea that the inconveniences that can come with travel can be well worth it. After all, new experiences can enrich our lives.
In addition to being fast, reindeer are very tough animals. They have to be tough to survive in sub-Arctic temperatures. Plus, they have a range of formidable predators, including gray wolves, brown bears, Arctic foxes, eagles, mountain lions, coyotes, lynxes, and dholes.6
As a result, reindeer meaning also includes fortitude. The reindeer is a powerful symbol who reminds us that sometimes you just have to toughen up. In fact, over-thinking an issue you dread dealing with is sometimes worse than simply taking action and addressing it. The reindeer spirit animal is all about plunging forward regardless of the challenging elements.
The key to the reindeer’s survival is that they have adapted to exist and thrive in their challenging conditions. In fact, reindeer are even strong swimmers.
There’s another little known fact about how the reindeer has managed to survive in their snowy habitat.
The Story Behind Rudolph’s Red Nose
One of the reindeer’s unique adaptations has been glorified in the story Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
While Rudolph’s nose lights up, the fact is – all reindeer have the ability to make their noses red!
Reindeer are covered with thick fur, which keeps them warm in their freezing habitat. However, their noses have less fur so the reindeer can smell for food sources. Thanks to evolution, they have developed additional capillaries in their noses in order to let more blood flow to keep their noses warm. Just as we humans get a ruddy complexion when we’re out in cold weather, the reindeer’s nose gets red too.
In fact, researchers at the University of Lund in Sweden filmed reindeer using an infrared camera. The camera showed how heat was distributed in a reindeer’s head and body. Sure enough, there was a bright red warm spot on the reindeer’s nose.
Reindeer Meaning: Insight
In addition to their red noses, reindeer have another special quality. They have keen eyesight that lets them distinguish what they can see in a bright white winter landscape with 24 hours of daylight. Likewise, their unique eyes let them see during the winter months of nonstop darkness.
The reindeer’s eyes have adapted to these extreme changes in lighting conditions. In the winter, their eyes become deep blue, making it easier for them to see in the darkness. And in summer, their eyes become golden brown, which make it easier for them to see in nonstop daylight.7
In addition to having eyes that change color, reindeer can see ultraviolet light; something we humans cannot. Until recently, biologists thought this was a skill reserved only for rodents and bats, but now they know that reindeer have it too.
Things like lichen, which reindeer eat, and urine, which wolves and other reindeer use to show territory, absorb ultraviolet light. Therefore, in a snowy landscape, what might seem like a barren white wasteland to us (or worse, cause snow blindness), reindeer can see food and warning signs left by predators or competitors.
Because of this special eyesight, reindeer symbolism also includes insight. When the reindeer is your spirit guide, you have the ability to see things that others do not.
After all, there is far more going on in the Universe than what most people see in their immediate purview. So, if a reindeer appears in your life and captivates your attention, whether in real life, artwork, the media, or some other context, it can be a sign that you are a person who has a special capacity for insight and foresight.
You are probably a person who can read other people very well and even tell when they are lying. And you can anticipate what the future might hold in more detail than most people.
If the reindeer is special to you, you are being called up on to hone your intuition. You have special gifts, so use them!
Reindeer are highly social animals who travel in large herds. This might include as few as 10 reindeer or as many as tens of thousands. The reindeer embodies the idea that there’s strength in numbers.
So, a reindeer appearing in your life can be a sign to cherish your close relationships. After all, the most valuable currency in the Universe is love. So, remember to invest in your emotional currency.
Reindeer Symbolism: Renewal
Reindeer are different from other deer species in that both the males and females grow antlers. Males’ antlers can reach up to five feet in height, while females’ reach up to three feet. In fact, reindeer have the largest antlers of any deer species in proportion to their body size.
In spring, little knobs that are covered with velvet-like fur, appear on the reindeer’s head. These knobs grow quickly into antlers over the next seven months. Then, by December, the males (or bull) reindeer begin dropping their antlers. The females lose theirs later in the year around springtime when they give birth.
(As a side note, because male reindeer lose their antlers in early winter, and Santa’s reindeer all have antlers, experts theorize that Santa’s sled is pulled by female reindeer, underscoring the importance of girl power!)
Because of this cyclical process of growing, then shedding, then regrowing their antlers, the reindeer is also a symbol of renewal.
Thus, the reindeer teaches us to have faith that all that’s old can become new again. Even after loss, we have the potential to re-build, sometimes even something better. Even with what seems like the ultimate state of loss, which is death, the reindeer symbolizes the eternal nature of the soul and that consciousness continues.
Reindeer Meaning: Majesty
Reindeer are known for their magnificently large antlers. Indeed, the reindeer’s antlers are their crowning glory. Thus, reindeer symbolism also includes majesty.
Like the stag deer, the reindeer is reminder to all of us to stand tall and to be proud of who we are, where we come from, and what stand for. Every experience we’ve had leads to a higher state awareness and an expanded level of consciousness.
As the poet Maya Angelou famously said, “Your crown has been bought and paid for. Put it on your head and wear it.”
The reindeer reminds you that you have within you the power to live a majestic life.
We’ll cover more details on reindeer spiritual meanings later in this post, but one association worth noting here is that reindeer are symbols of spiritual growth and ascension. Their tall antlers grow high, seemingly reaching for the stars. The reindeer reminds us that through spiritual growth, we raise our vibration and our own halos expand.
Reindeer Mythology and Folklore
We’re all familiar with the Santa’s reindeer. However, reindeer mythology and folklore go much further back in time than Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 story The Night Before Christmas. Here are some of those stories:
Sámi Reindeer Mythology
The Sámi People (once called the Lapps), who live in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, have been domesticating reindeer since the 14th century.8 Hence, they have a number of stories about reindeer.
According to one tale, a long time ago the Sun had a celestial herd of reindeer. The Sun also had a giant sled, and during the summer months, a massive bear pulled it across the sky, making the sunshine very bright.
However, when the bear got tired, a bull reindeer took over and pulled the sled. When this happened, the sunshine grew dimmer. Then when the bull reindeer got tired, a doe reindeer took over. She wasn’t as strong as the male. So, when she pulled the sled, the sunshine grew even dimmer and winter came.
The Reindeer and the Sun Maiden
In another story, the Sun had a daughter named Njaveseatni who was also called the Sun Maiden. Njaveseatni rejected all of her suitors in the sky. Instead, she chose to marry a mortal man from Earth. So, the Sun gave her a reindeer herd as part of her dowry. And this is why some reindeer live with the Sámi and some remain wild.9
White Reindeer Symbolism
For the Sámi, white reindeer have extra special meanings. They believe they have magical powers. In fact, the Sámi believe if you catch a white reindeer, you will be blessed with wealth, luck, and happiness.
In other stories, a great white reindeer created the world. The white reindeer’s veins became rivers, their fur became the forest, and their antlers became the mountains.10
Reindeer and Magic Mushrooms
As large herbivores, reindeer eat a lot of plants. Mushrooms are a particularly favorite delicacy. Some of the mushrooms they eat are the “magic” mushroom variety, which have psychoactive effects on the reindeer. In fact, young male reindeer show a particular fondness for these types of mushrooms.
While some of these mushrooms can be poisonous to humans, reindeer have a special ability to digest and break down the poison without getting sick.
Sometime, somewhere in history in the northern climates of Scandinavia (perhaps during a period of 24-hour darkness), a brave soul thought drinking reindeer urine would be a good idea. Luckily for them, the mushroom’s poison had been filtered out by the reindeer but the psychedelic qualities remained, paving the way for a lesser-known tradition of drinking reindeer pee.11
Glowing Gold Antlers
This may or may not have contributed to other Sámi stories about reindeer with glowing golden antlers who flew across the heavens to get away from a mythical hunter and his dogs.
The Sámi believed that if the huntsman caught the reindeer, the Earth would crack open and chaos would unfold throughout the cosmos.
In other Sámi stories, shamans could communicates with the reindeer as well as the many gods and spirits who roamed the Earth, particularly during the dark months.
If two buck reindeer engaged in battle, it might mean that two shamans or spirits were in a power struggle.
If a shaman died, the Sámi believe that a spirit lost a reindeer battle.12
The Flying Reindeer of Mongolia
In northern Mongolia, the Tsaatans, of Dukha People, are a nomadic group of Indigenous People who herd reindeer and maintain their ancient traditions. They are one of the last groups of nomadic reindeer herders in the world.13
The Tsaatans are also another potential source for tales about reindeer who can fly. Like the Sámi, the Tsaatans are shamanistic, believing that special people in the tribe who can connect with the spirit world. The Tsaatans are also animists in that they believe that spiritual energy moves through all living things.
In the province of Khövsgöl in Mongolia, there is an ancient site that has some mysterious upright stones. The stones have a Stonehenge-esque allure. Dating back to the Bronze Age (3300 BCE), these stones are engraved with deer-like figures. In particular, on an eastern-facing stone, a giant deer with long horns seems to be flying into the sky.
Anthropologists and archaeologists believe the carvings of the deer represent the passage from life to death to the afterlife. The Tsaatan believe that reindeer carry the dead into the afterlife in the sky. A powerful spirit guide, the reindeer would protect the person who passed on their journey into the afterlife.14
Reindeer in the Bible and Christianity
Reindeer are not mentioned specifically in the Bible, most likely because they were not found in the area of the world where the Bible was written. However, deer are mentioned.
In the Bible, deer serve as a reminder for people to maintain their surefootedness and devotion to God amidst the perils they can face on Earth.
Deer also symbolize the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. For example in Psalm 42:1, David says, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.” And in Psalm 18:33, he says, “He makes my feet like those of a deer and gave me sure footing on high places.”15
It wasn’t until the 19th century with A Visit from St. Nicholas / The Night Before Christmas that reindeer started to become incorporated into popular Christmas celebrations. However, as with so many other Christian holiday traditions, the reindeer’s foothold in the Christmas season has pagan roots just as the rabbit’s does in Easter.
Winter in Old World Scandinavia was one of the most challenging times of the year. So, the Winter Solstice, which marked the first day of sunnier days ahead, was a time worth celebrating. Lights and yule logs (or warm fires), feasting, and reindeer naturally fit into the festivities.
Reindeer in Other World Religions
Reindeer are not mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita or the Quran either. Again, this is likely due to where these texts were written. However, deer have symbolic meanings in most of the world’s religions. You can read more about these in my post dedicated to deer symbolism.
4 Reindeer Spiritual Meanings
In conjunction with what’s above, reindeer have important spiritual meanings in a more general sense, beyond traditional religious traditions. Here are some examples:
- Faith – As they are symbols of fortitude, reindeer also embody the idea of faith. The reindeer does not give up. In this way, they remind us that even when faced with challenges in life, we should always keep the faith that there are positive forces working in our favor. Every lesson we learn puts us further down the path to spiritual enlightenment.
- Spiritual growth – As mentioned earlier, the reindeer’s tall antlers, which seemingly reach for the heavens, represent our own human aspiration to evolve and become more conscious and spiritually enlightened.
- Regeneration and renewal – The reindeer’s antlers, which they shed and regrow each year, symbolize the gift of hope and salvation. On a soul-level, we have the opportunity for spiritual redemption, no matter what mistakes we’ve made in the past, and a deeper integration with God, or our Higher Power.
- Existing at a higher vibration – Different spiritual faiths around the world depict enlightened souls with golden halos, or auras, exuding from their heads and bodies. The reindeer’s crown of antlers is a physical manifestation that reminds us of our own spiritual energy. Through our thoughts, words, and actions, we are exuding a spiritual vibration. Being positive, caring, and loving is the way to exude our own golden energy out into the Universe.
Reindeer Spirit Animal
If a reindeer makes themselves known to you in real life, art, literature, the media, or elsewhere – pay attention. There are no coincidences. Your spirit animal serves as a guide, bringing you messages from the Universe to help guide you on your soul’s journey.
The reindeer spirit animal is a powerful guide to have on your side. When the reindeer is your spirit animal, you are likely a person who values your wide circle of friends and family as well as your community.
Reindeer people are also strong and resilient, yet extremely sensitive. You have insights and pick up on energy that other people miss. Some might mistake you for being emotionally strong because you are so stoic. But inside, you are a sensitive soul. And you know how to exit situations quickly if you pick up bad vibes.
The reindeer spirit animal is also an ancient protector, as reindeer have lived closely with humans for centuries. Reindeer people are unusual. But your gentle nature draws people in.
If you’re curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take UniGuide’s spirit animal test in my overview post about spirit animals.
Reindeer Power Animal
As the name implies, a power animal can empower you with their most dynamic traits. For example, you can summon the reindeer power animal when you:
- Want good luck and safety when traveling.
- Need extra energy to persevere during a challenging time.
- Feel you need to reinvent or re-imagine an area of your life after a loss or defeat.
- Would like more support from your personal social network or community.
- Need expanded vision or insight into a situation.
An animal totem is a helpful talisman that embodies the positive attributes of the animal that it represents. It can also serve as a protective symbol.
So, the reindeer totem can be a helpful symbol when you need to summon more confidence in a situation. The reindeer’s antlers represent their majesty and pride. So, envision a crown upon your own head and stand tall. You can do it!
The reindeer totem is also a helpful symbol when you feel you need more emotional and spiritual protection. In addition, the reindeer totem is a helpful symbol for situations where you know you need to get out quickly, such as a toxic relationship or an unhealthy work environment.
A reindeer totem can also a good luck charm for when you’re traveling.
Reindeer Dream Meaning
If you dream of a reindeer or herd of caribou, and you are curious about what it could mean, consider how you felt in the dream. For example, did you feel anxious, fearful, or excited? The emotions you felt in your dream can provide clues into what the dream is meant to teach you.
Reindeer are incredibly fast animals who travel hundreds of miles every year. If your dream is of reindeer running, it may mean you need to get unstuck, change your situation, or seek greener pastures.
Likewise, if you dream of reindeer quietly grazing, it can mean you should slow down and take the time to nourish your body, mind, and spirit.
In addition, if you are particularly fond of reindeer (and I’m guessing you must be if you got this far in this post!) dreaming of a reindeer can mean you have connected with a spirit guide or angel as you slept.
Dreams are personal to every dreamer, so there is never one cut and dry answer to what dreaming of a particular animal means. But hopefully understanding more about reindeer symbolism and meanings will bring new insights into what your dream is telling you.
Reindeer Tattoo Meaning
A reindeer tattoo is a powerful symbol that shows the world you are a person who is a unique individual who has learned to survive and thrive despite challenging conditions. In short, you are a survivor.
It can also mean that you are a person loves and values your family, your wider circle of friends, and a community that is dear to you.
Your reindeer tattoo can also mean that you are a person who is intent on spiritual growth and raising your vibration for your own and the higher good.
Tattoos are very personal to each individual, but hopefully understanding more about reindeer symbols and mythology will bring even deeper meaning to your tattoo.
How You Can Help Reindeer
Like so many other wild animals on our planet, reindeer and their North American cousins, caribou, are threatened. In fact, since the mid-1990s, their herd sizes have declined by 56 percent.16
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists reindeer and caribou as “vulnerable” because their populations are decreasing. Wildlife experts estimate there has been a 40 percent decline in Arctic reindeer and caribou populations, from about 4,800,000 to 2,890,410, in the past two decades.17
Warmer temperatures from climate change and increased moisture from melting ice have caused changes in vegetation, which have impacted caribou and reindeer who live on the tundra. In addition, melting ice that makes the ground soft makes it more difficult for them to travel. Furthermore, oil and gas exploration in the Arctic has caused a number of habitat disturbances.18
Furthermore, woodland reindeer and caribou have been affected by deforestation and habitat fragmentation, which have impacted their food supply and made them more vulnerable to predators.19
If you care about reindeer, please do what you can to help protect them. Here are some organizations that are working on reindeer and caribou protection and conservation: