In Arthurian tales, and by extension, the Arthurian Tarot the White Hart is a symbol of magic, love, and lovers. The white hart is also sometimes called the white stag, since the word hart is an archaic term for stag. In this post I will use stag and hart interchangeably. White animals are often in themselves symbols of the Celtic Otherworld, and of faerie realms. I discussed the importance of white animals in my post about symbology of the color white!
The White Stag is utilized in Arthurian legend as an animal pursued by the Knights of the Round Table. The appearance of the White Hart in an early tale in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur signals the beginning of Arthur’s reign. Mystical and magical white harts appear as symbols of purity and otherworldliness. The quest for the white hart can be seen as a battle between the knights against the gods and faeries. The appearance of the white hart is a common one in the forests around Camelot. When the white hart appeared it often signaled the coming change, and an event of the magical nature on the horizon.
The White Stag, being a true faerie-beast is one that cannot be caught. Giving chase to an animal that cannot be caught is a common theme in not only Arthurian legend, but in earlier Celtic traditions as well. For instance Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, cannot catch Rhiannon on her mystical white horse, no matter how he gives chase, in the first branch of The Mabinogion. The power of faerie-beasts should not be underestimated, for their appearance usually heralds changes, both positive and negative.
The white hart, or white stag would go on to influence English culture across the centuries. In the Arthurian Tarot the White Hart card is used as the position of the Lovers card! The white hart was also used by Richard II as his personal badge, likely derived from his mother Joan “The Fair Maid of Kent.” White Hart has become a popular name for English Pubs. Finally, C.S. Lewis would utilize the white hart as a device in his novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
I hope that this post has given you an overview of the significance of the Arthurian White Hart! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is The White Hart card from The Arthurian Tarot deck. I found the image on pinterest.com uploaded by Alexandra Lebon.
- The Mabinogion translated by Sioned Davies
- Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory
- The Complete Arthurian Tarot by Caitlin and John Matthews