Probably because of their size and strength, bears have gain significant place in many cultures, cults and mythologies of numerous societies around the world.
Ever since the Stone Age era, bears have been a subject of worship and the animals have been considered divine and powerful in some supernatural way.
Many belief systems around the planet had either honored a bear-like god or they have invented stories about deities and mythical figures that were able to shape shift into a form of a bear.
All legends and folktales about bears suggest the same; bears were respected, feared of, admired and adored. Bear motifs are popular in art, especially in heraldic works.
Bears are to be seen on numerous country standards, noble families’ banners and coats of arms throughout human history, but the simplified depictions are common in modern emblem designs, as well.
Bears and humans
Alongside bear cults and worship, these amazing and dreadful animals were extensively hunted down. There are many reasons why would humans hunt and kill bears. In the first place, there are different parts of bears’ bodies humans would use for different purposes.
Bear meat is edible, bears’ fur is used to make clothes, blankets, parts of tents, while bears’ teeth and claws represent remarkable accessories, talismans and jewelry.
In addition to these, different parts of bears’ bodies are believed to possess some extraordinary and magical properties.
- Chinese medicine practitioners would use Asian black bear’s gallbladder liquid as a powerful healing substance;
Apart from these, there were other reasons for bear hunt, much less appealing. People would capture bears and train them to fight, in order to earn money. People would organize different sorts of cruel performances, such as actual bear vs. dogs fights and false bear versus man encounters.
Watchers would put a great deal of money to bet. Humans had been exploiting bears in numerous ugly ways.
Captured bears were taught to dance and entertain people, as well. Fortunately, these sad and notorious customs are banned in most parts of the modern society.
- Unfortunately, many bears still reside in extremely poor living conditions, owned by private zoos. Animal welfare societies strive to free these animals, publishing petitions and making efforts to publicize such cases to wide range of people;
Another important reason for which people would kill bears was the fact that these mighty, strong and dangerous animals had been considered a significant threat to humans in many ways.
First of all, bears steal and kill cattle, raid hives and fishponds and destroy people’s properties in general, not to mention they would attack humans if they feel like to.
However, the actual reasons are exaggerated, because bears would rather avoid people than attack them without any reason, such as feeling threatened by them.
- Bears tend to avoid people, but if they have cubs or they are injured and scared, they would most likely attack humans, which usually has a catastrophic outcome for human beings. Such encounters are generally rare, but many people suffer heavy injures and death from bear bite or hit;
These are reasons why there is much less bears in the wild in modern times. Another reason, but not of less importance, is development of urban areas and destroying of bears’ natural habitats. Many bears species became rare and on the edge of extinction.
Some of them are gone forever, as well. For example, only relicts of brown bear (Ursus arctos) exist in USA, Western and Central Europe. Other endangered species worth of mentioning are Asian giant pandas and sun bears.
Bear in mythologies
Bears are some of the most interesting and the most dangerous animals in the world. They have always been considered true embodiments of power and unrestrained strength, raw energy, aggression and extreme endurance.
Even a sight of this large and massive mammal reminds us of these concepts.
Bears massive bodies, covered by thick fur, their large paws, big heads and teeth make us feel frightened and impressed, at the same time.
No strange at all that bears are some of the most spiritually powerful animals people could think about. As we have mentioned above, bears were worshiped by many cultures and they are still worth of admiration and fear.
There are many legendary and mythological tales about bears, of course. Bears are featured in mythologies all around the world. These are just several of these tales.
In Greek mythology, bear is linked to Callisto, a nymph companion to the goddess of hunt. Callisto bore a son to Zeus, named Arcas. However, this action was not received so well and Callisto and her son were transformed into bears. Today, we know of two constellations, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (Big Bear and the Small Bear constellation), which actually represent the two of them.
Bears were also worshiped in Scandinavia, where people believed some ‘chosen’ individuals had the ability to transform their human form and take a shape of a bear. This was a skill usually ascribed to hunters or warriors. Scandinavian people believed warriors or men wearing bearskins gains some extraordinary powers from it. The longer he would wear it, the greater his strength was. Scandinavians believed this was particularly important if they were going to battle, of course.
In different shamanic societies, including Native Americans and shamanic societies in Europe, bears symbolize awakening of spiritual powers and help people get in touch with things unknown to common people. For example, Native Americans associate bears with supernatural forces, transformation, change, wisdom, isolation and solitude.
Ancient Slavs worshiped these mighty animals and bears were associated with one of their most favorite gods, Veles, the god of forests, grasslands and fields.
They believed bear is the king of forests and woodlands, a powerful mythical creature that rules above other animals and protects all of the nature’s gifts.
Bears and humans
There is another side of the coin, of course. Speaking of bears symbolism, there are other interpretations. The magnificent creature has always been adored, worshiped and feared of for its strength and other qualities, as well as many of spiritual, extraordinary properties people would ascribe them.
However, bears are also considered greedy, lusty, bloodthirsty animals. It seems this marvelous creature has been adored and victimized at the same time.
We love bears, but we hunt and kill them. We adore them, but think of them as greedy and dangerous.
It is interesting to think of special bonds between bears and humans. Many cultures have their own stories about humans transformed into bears and some of them actually believed bears were humans wearing the mighty animal’s skin.
Some traditional systems claim bears are able to understand human languages.
- North Korean myth says you could become a bear if you avoid sunlight for one hundred days! Ancient Japanese people, Ainu, have tales about arrival of polar bears to human world;
Another interesting thing is that one of the most popular stuffed toys for kids is a bear! Teddy bear is probably one of the most popular and favorite toys in the world.
This iconic toy originates from early twentieth century and it is actually named after the American President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt.
Bear symbolism and spiritual meaning
Bears are fascinating animals with truly amazing traits. Yes, they are dangerous, but only if they feel scared and threatened. Bears take care of their cubs with much love, they are protective and nurturing. Bears act instinctively and are believed to have some special connection with realms beyond our imagination. They look impressive and they are impressive.
These wonderful creatures are both gods and demons to humans; they wake this special sort of ambivalent feelings and opinions, characteristic only for beings people find inspiring and highly influential in spiritual sense.
Strength and raw energy – Bears have always been admired for their strength and they were identified with many deities, in different belief systems, traditions and legends around the world. For example, in Celtic mythology, the Bear is believed to be a great warrior. There are at least two Celtic goddesses to be seen in a form of a bear. In Celtic and Native American tradition, bears are believed to be embodiment of pristine strength and instinct.
Endurance and solitude – With its massive and strong body, it is easy to think of bears as extremely capable and hardy animals. They do not have many enemies in nature, because other animals would rather stay away from bears.
Bears live in forests, sleep in caves, move slowly and steadily. They are well adapted to a wide range of terrain.
Bears can run pretty fast, they are excellent climbers and impressive swimmers. They inhabit various areas, from cold polar environment, to tropic rainforests. The only environments bears avoid are dry desert areas.
Bears live alone, which is the reason why are they so well equipped. They represent persistence and survival. They are independent and skillful. Bears really know how to take care of themselves, which is another reason why people are so impressed by those amazing animals.
Patience and wisdom – As you all know, some bear species spend winter in a state of hibernation. This is characteristic of northern species, where winters are merciless. Actually, this is not an actual sleep; those bears’ body temperature drops down, their heartbeats and breathing gets slower. They wake up easily, though.
Their bodies get prepared before winter, by storing fats, so they do not need to come out to fetch food before spring. This bears’ natural behavior has been interesting to humans since old times. It is always associated with patience and wisdom.
Different European and American tradition link bears’ hibernation to process of incubation and acquiring knowledge. You have to be patient, in order to become wise. Shamanic cultures believed one has to go beyond the limits of reality, in order to reach deeper knowledge and a true insight.
That is the reason why bears’ winter hibernation is considered so extraordinary and symbolical.
Care and protection – Apart from being dangerous and mysterious, bears are also considered caring parents. Although these animals are solitary, they put much effort in caring for their cubs. A mother bear is an extremely devoted and protective parent. She would do anything to protect her babies. You do not want to have an encounter with mother bear, never ever.
Many traditional belief systems often use a bear motif in order to get spiritual protection. Bear talismans, such as bear claws and teeth, are common amongst different cultures.
Bear as totem and spirit animal
Bear is a popular symbolical and spiritual animal. This animal has many similarities with humans, originating from prehistoric times. It is one of the oldest totem animals, exactly because of so strong symbolical connections with humans.
Remember, bears live in caves, just as our prehistoric relatives; they are also omnivores, just as humans. When being threatened or attacked, a bear would stand on his back feet, just as humans walk.
In animistic and shamanic traditions, bears are always considered soul guides. Bear talismans and motifs have the very same purpose. From all we have talked about, it is easy to assume bears are powerful totems and spirit animals. What they offer their wards and what are Bear people like? Here are some of their most important traits.
- Patient and observant
- Protective and caring
- Tough and unshaken
Bear people are usually introverted. They are quiet and dedicated to their cause. Bear individuals do not seek material success, but they rather spend time acquiring greater knowledge.
They are wise, intelligent and silent. You could learn a lot from them if they are ready to open up and share their knowledge with you. Bear people have amazing instincts and intuitions and they are natural born guides, rather than leaders.
They might be shy or reserved, but if they ‘break the ice’, they could inspire and give hope to a large number of people. Their wise thoughts and words easily captivate others.
Bear people are very dedicated to their friends and family. They love to keep to small group of people and they usually avoid massive social events.
They would do anything for the people they love and they also firmly stand for themselves. If you try to annoy or disturb them in any way, you would most certainly completely fail. They are never manipulated or shaken by circumstances.
Bear people are persistent, determined and tough. They are able to go through the most difficult situations in life without scars on their souls.
Bear people are strong and vital. They know conflicts are essential part of life and they know how to fight for what they want. They generally keep away from conflict, but once they are provoked, there is not much that could stop them.
They are strong both mentally and physically, so they usually come out as winners about of every confrontation. They know what they need in life and are capable of getting it and keeping it. Their desires are usually beyond materialistic success.
- Independent loners
- Reserved and indifferent
Bear people are very independent individuals. They know how to achieve their goals without any help. Their intuition, patience and great knowledge helps them a lot. Bear people go through life in a steady, slow pace, without rush or making hasty decisions.
They know big things always take time to develop. This trait also allows Bear people to enjoy their lives to the fullest.
Another important and valuable thing about them is that they usually know their limits. However, they sometimes could lose the track and get gullible.
Sometimes, their introverted nature could mislead them, so they get lost in depths of their own world. They could get extremely reserved and find it hard to open up and let other people in their life.
They could be so self focused that they completely avoid other people. They could become indifferent, uninterested and insensitive.