Celestial Stag

Variations: Celestial Roe

Celestial Stag

Celestial Stags or Celestial Roes are neither roe stags nor are they celestial. They are Chinese spirits that haunt deep areas, corpse-demons native to the ore mines of Yunnan province. As with numerous other creatures, their name is probably phonetically derived.

Celestial stags are born from the souls of miners unfortunate enough to be trapped deep underground by cave-ins. There the trapped miners are kept alive by the breath of the earth and of the rare metals around them. Their material substance dies and rots away, but their essences cling to life and become celestial stags.

Perhaps because of this traumatic genesis, the primary goal of a celestial stag is to reach the surface. The stag will do anything it can to reach this goal. When a celestial stag meets a miner it is overjoyed and asks for tobacco. Then it begs the miner to take it to the surface. Stags will try to bribe miners by promising them the choicest veins of gold and silver. If this fails they become violent and torture miners to death.

But worse yet is the outcome if their wishes are granted. A celestial stag that reaches the open air dissolves – flesh, bones, clothes, and all – into a pestilential liquid that spreads disease and death.

The only way to escape these creatures is to kill them before they can do harm. If celestial stags are discovered, miners will wall them up in abandoned galleries. Another way out is to promise to haul the stags to the surface in a bamboo lift. Halfway up the rope is cut and the stags plummet to their death – a merciful end to their grim lives.

Borges attributes his account of the celestial stag to G. Willoughby Meade’s Chinese Ghouls and Goblins.


Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.

De Groot, J. J. M. (1907) The Religious System of China, Volume V, Book II – On the Soul and Ancestral Worship. E. J. Brill, Leiden.


  1. Soooo….
    Miner is trapped, miner eats grubs for several weeks, miner technically dies, miners body still holds will to survive and (after many weeks, months, or years) escapes the cavern, miner begs others to guide it to the surface, and finally if feels fresh air on its face and hears the birds sing for about a second before it dissolves into a puddle of hideous green death.
    Life isn’t fair.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there. Regular reader of your blog here! Like you, I take deep pleasure in actually researching the stories, folk beliefs, and mystic traditions of other cultures, which often takes me deep into obscure anthropological libraries. I recall reading somewhere that Borges merely invented the Celestial Stag, but here you say he found out about this creature in a scholarly book!

    Borges is well-known for his almost humorous knack of inventing books within his fiction, and making references to literature that don’t even exist (sort of like Lovecraft with the Necronomicon, but on an academic level). But when I googled up this “Chinese Ghouls and Goblins”, I see Amazon selling rare physical copies of it! There’s even a very brief page about it on Wikipedia! Is this really a real book?! Or was Borges pulling legs again, and all these pages are in on the same jest?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I feel the translators really borked it with this one! “乾” meant both “heaven” and “dry” in pre-Xinhai Revolution China. When Mainland China simplified its characters, all instances of “dry” became “干.” The creature’s name is written 干麂子 in simplified Chinese, or “Dried Roe Deer”. Obviously, it refers to how these living corpses have been mummified by the minerals in the mines.

    The true origin of the creature is from a Qing Dynasty supernatural story collection. Its name is Sequel to What the Master Would Not Discuss, by Yuan Mei, a famous poet who previously wrote another supernatural anthology called What the Master Would Not Discuss. If you want, I can find and translate the original short story for you, so your sources are more complete.

    Liked by 1 person

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