Saint Hubertus: Holy Men, Deer and Dogs

“The Garveys at Their Best” opens with a bit of déjà vu, as Kevin is yet again face-to-face with one of the show’s most intriguing characters: a stag. We are unsure if Kevin keeps happening on the same deer resurrecting itself – or if it’s a different deer each time. Either way, there’s much we can speculate about the significance of the deer. There’s been a good deal of discussion about the role of animals in The Leftovers. What is significant and what isn’t has been debated over and again since the pilot episode. As the season has progressed, I’ve noticed a link between the deer and the dogs seen on the show. That link is Saint Hubertus.

Saint Hubertus, sometimes referred to as Saint Hubert, lived from 656 to 727 AD. He is the patron saint of hunters, mathematicians, opticians and metal workers.  Despite all that, however, he’s best remembered for his connection to deer. After losing his wife during childbirth, Hubertus retreated to the forest giving himself completely over to hunting. On Good Friday morning, he was pursuing a large stag. When he caught up with the deer, he noticed a bright crucifix standing between the animal’s horns. Kevin’s most recent encounter with the deer in “The Garveys at Their Best” also featured a striking element between the deer’s horns – a light so bright that it became impossible to see what was causing it.

When Saint Hubertus was face-to-face with the deer, he heard a voice that said, “Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell.” As a result of this vision, Hubert dedicated his life to serving God. He’s usually pictured in artist’s portraits beside deer. He became known for his high regard of animals as God’s creatures and taught that stags should only be shot after their prime breeding years. Saint Hubert is conjured on the show in Kevin’s reluctance to kill the wild deer that keeps becoming trapped in enclosed spaces, preferring instead a tranquilizer. Of course in the end Kevin does have to kill the deer after it’s been hit by a car. In The Leftovers, we’ve seen a seemingly stuffed deer that was reanimated and even rough artistic images of deer (in the cabin as Patti Levin lay dying).  But perhaps the most striking image of deer on the show thus far has been when a pack of feral dogs attacks a deer right in front of Kevin’s eyes.

That scene is straight out of the Greek myth surrounding Actaeon, a hunter who was turned into a stag after offending the god, Artemis. The hunter became the hunted when Actaeon, the stag, was consumed by a pack of Artemis’s wild dogs. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that the deer has symbolized Christ for thousands of years. It’s possible that the deer represents the light side of Kevin’s dualistic nature. This would be reinforced by the symbolism in Kevin’s conversation with Laurie when he admits to feeling like that trapped deer in his own domestic situation. Perhaps this is why the deer keeps being violently killed. Is the little light left in Kevin being extinguished every time a deer is killed? We have yet to see if the symbols of the good and holy will hold up this season. Matt Jamison is one example. Perhaps the deer is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” It’s worth considering the other symbols that deer (and, specifically, their antlers) have embodied. There is a long list of “horned gods” in Egyptian mythology and paganism that also don the antlers of the deer and symbolize the male part of a duotheistic theological system. Could the dog’s destruction of the deer actually be the work of the faithful (which dogs typically represent) in destroying evil?

If the traditional Christ symbolism in the scene does hold true, it’s not a long leap to imagine what the dogs may be symbolizing. Dogs have a long history throughout mythology and literature of symbolizing the underworld and serving as an omen for death. Certainly this was the case in “The Garveys at Their Best.” We watch as Laurie ponders bringing a puppy into their family alongside bringing a new life into the world. Kevin’s admission about not wanting a puppy doesn’t bode well for the impending life inside Laurie. We also become aware that Gladys was involved occupationally with canines, potentially omens of death. Whenever dogs appear in this episode (both with Gladys and when begging for food at Nora’s table) they can be heard crying…perhaps weeping for what is to come? In many mythologies, dogs also have represented duality as well. The dog represents the “wild animal” as well as the “domesticated animal.” Mythologists have compared it to the dual nature and conflict of man. This dual nature of dogs has been believed to allow them to pass between worlds. Ancient Egyptians would often depict dogs as accompanying souls from this life to the next. The Egyptian god Anubis, who was believed to have the head of a dog, was responsible for those who traveled from one world to the next. These early legends led to a later common belief that dogs could serve as spirit guides, housing souls of the departed – a theory that has been suggested as a possibility by several Leftovers fans. 

Like the deer, however, some believed the correct interpretation of the symbolism of the dog is something much darker. Rabies was a common problem in in most of the cultures that held mythologies about dogs. While many had been domesticated, there remained a healthy fear surrounding rabid dogs and the sickness they were capable of transmitting. In a recent episode, Kevin appears to have been bitten by the dog tied up outside his home. Though Kevin doesn’t appear to be overly concerned about rabies, we remain unsure of the affect the dog bite could be having on him, or if a dog was even the source of the bite. Dog bites, however, are where Saint Hubertus comes back into play.

Until the early 20th century, a device called St. Hubert’s Key was used throughout Europe as a cure for rabies. Named after Saint Hubertus, the key usually took the form of a metal nail or a cross. The key was heated in flames and then pressed into the area where the potentially afflicted had been bitten. The church became so enamored with the practice that they began using the key as a preventative measure on non-inflicted humans and dogs alike.

Saint Hubertus was known as a protector of the deer and a warrior against the evil capabilities of dogs. With one episode remaining and Memorial Day just around the corner, will Hubertus turn out to be the patron Saint of The Leftovers…or just a disciple of deception?

Bucher is active on Twitter and runs his own website.