Stags are probably the best known symbol of fertility and male potency. In the autumn, they are the most magnificent creatures with huge antlers and a regal bearing.
They are prepared to stand their ground and defend their territory against all comers. Yet they are gentle with the does they are wooing and, when they fight adversaries, they are often happy to see them off with a display of might rather than resorting to bloodshed. For this reason, stags also represent honour and purity of purpose.
Does, meanwhile, can represent peace and harmony as well as being symbols of femininity. In the 16th century folk ballad The Three Ravens, for example, the term "fallow doe" is used as a metaphor for a young woman.
For many pagans, stags are associated with the antlered gods Herne and Cernnunos, nature deities who rule over wild animals.
But reading about these lovely creatures - or even honouring them in a pagan rite - isn't a match for seeing them for real.
Earlier this week my husband treated me to a lovely autumn picnic in Knole Park, which is famous for its herds of fallow deer and Japanese Sika deer.
We found a lovely spot to put our picnic blanket, on a bank with oak woods behind us, overlooking a grassy valley in which deer were grazing.
Knole Park, in Sevenoaks, Kent, is one of England's last remaining Tudor deer parks. It is managed by the National Trust, but pedestrians can enter the park free of charge at any time via a public footpath. And it is a wonderful place to see deer, particularly when the stags are at their finest during the rutting season.
My hubby and I watched several does grazing while we ate our picnic, then I went for a walk with my camera in search of rutting stags to photograph. However, I don't think the rutting season had begun in earnest when I was there.
Most of the stags I saw seemed more interested in eating the grass and heather than fighting, so I suspect they were still building up their strength. I did see two stags briefly lock antlers (see picture below), but they quickly broke off and then licked each other's noses as if to make up.
After a while I retraced my steps, hoping my husband wasn't too bored by being left sitting with my camera bag and the remains of our picnic. But, when I got close to him, I realised he wasn't alone. Sitting right behind him - a little further up the bank in the shade of a huge oak tree - was a beautiful stag. You can see the stag in the picture at the top.
I crept quietly up the bank with my camera to get a closer, very aware that this creature could have charge and bowled me down into the valley with a single toss of his antlers if he had wanted to. He watched me approach, with what seemed like a knowing look on his face, but showed no sign of agitation.
I think I could have got close enough to touch him if I had wanted to, but that would have seemed wrong. He was a wild animal, to be treated with respect.
I hope to get to Knole Park again, later in the autumn, when the rut is more fully under way. When I do I will try to take more photos to post to A Bad Witch's Blog.