Artist/maker unknown, Japanese
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Deer are considered to be the sacred messengers of Shinto deities. They are often depicted in mandalas such as this one from the Kasuga Shrine, built by the powerful Fujiwara clan in the early eighth century to protect the family and the new capital city, Nara. Here a white stag rides on a cloud, symbolizing his role as a messenger between earth and the gods. On his saddle is a branch of the sacred sakaki tree and a mirror, which, along with the sword and the jewel, is one of the three sacred symbols of Shinto.