Bear Spirit Guide by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photoBear has been important to human mythology and story for thousands of years. Some feel that Bear is the oldest European deity, as bones and skulls of bears have been found lovingly arranged on niches found in caves across Europe. The first written sentence from the Old Europe Script, invented around 6,000 years ago reads, “The Bear Goddess and the Bird Goddess are the Bear Goddess indeed.

Symbolic Meanings – Power, Inner Strength, Courage, Confidence, Earth Element, Personal Truth, Warrior Spirit, Introspection, Intuition, and Instinct

Bear Dreams the World

In Northern Europe, Bear was always associated with transformation and shape-shifting. The female bear conceives in the fall, going into hibernation pregnant. She journeys in the darkness and emerges with her young in the spring, symbolizing rebirth – a return to the light with new wisdom and insights to share with the world.

To both the Northern European and the Native American, Bear symbolizes introspection, intuition and instinct. Venerated as a wise one, Bear was associated with Siberian and Native American shamanic traditions. Bear in its hibernation time represent the energy of the unconscious and our ability to to use introspection, intuition and instinct to bring the power of the unconscious into our consciousness. Bear guides us through the dream time where we seek a restoration of balance and harmony in our world.


Bear Lives in the World

Bears are huge and strong. They are the embodiment of both spiritual power and physical strength – a strong force grounding us to the realities of Earth. With their bow legs, bears are able to walk and climb with balance and ease. Bear reminds you to remain grounded in Earth, respecting the cycles of nature.

Many cultures view Bear as the Great Healer. The Zuni tribe of the American Southwest wear bear fetishes in order to keep the strength and healing power of Bear with them at all time. Some Native American tribes practice a Bear Dance, believed to empower hunters and give a safe and prosperous hunt.

Vikings wore bear skins to frighten their enemy, calling on Bear’s strength to achieve victory.

In Feng Shui practice bear figurines are placed at entrances as guardians, offering protection to all within.

The Celts worshipped Artio, Bear Goddess of Wild Life, Transformation and Abundance. With the Artio,Celtic Goddessability to shape-shift into a bear, she is often shown with baskets of plenty and surrounded by animals. Her name comes from the old Celtic word for bear, arth(e), which the Roman’s Latinized to Artos. Like the mother bear who fiercely protects her cubs, Artio protects wild animals and the natural world.

With Bear by your side you can find the courage to face life’s challenges. Bear calls you to stand up for your truth and to take the reins of your life in hand, allowing action without fear. The time to come into leadership of your own life and perhaps in the larger world is at hand.

Bear Turns the World

Joseph Campbell connects the long line of bear cults to the constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, of which the asterisms of the Great Bear and the Little Bear (more commonly known as the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper) are part. The Greek word for Bear, “arkto,” is reflected in the name Arctic which means bearish and refers to the northern Arctic area where the “greater she-bear,” Ursa Major, dominates the heavens. The brightest star in Ursa Major is called Arcturus – Greek for bear watcher or guardian of the bears.

The Greek myth of the god Zeus and the mortal woman, Callisto explains how these asterisms were created.  Jupiter’s wife, Hera, was convinced that Callisto had given birth to Jupiter’s son. In jealousy she turned Callisto into a bear. Her son, Arcas, was fostered and grew into a hunter. One day Callisto saw Arcas while he was hunting. She forgot she was a bear and rushed to embrace him. He, not realizing who she was, shot an arrow at her. Zeus saw and stopped the arrow. Then to prevent them from coming to more harm he turned Arcas into a bear also, grabbed them both by the tail and threw them up into the heavens, where they reside to this day as part of the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

Campbell writes of these constellations – they are “revolving forever as constellations around the Pole Star, axis mundi of the heavenly vault.” In this same way Bear is seen as constant and enduring, offering insight into the constantly changing nature of our infinite reality while remaining as the center and connection between heaven and Earth.

Bear Births the World

The Tlingit people of the American Northwest Coast believed that Kasha, their Mother Goddess gave birth to all animals. She was also referred to as Bear Mother, Animal Mother and Strong One Mother. She nurtured, protected and taught them all how to survive.

In a Korean creation myth the Korean people and society were created by the Heavenly Prince, Hwangun. After society was set up a bear and a tiger, who both wanted to be human, were tasked by Hwagun to avoid sunlight and eat only what he provided. Bear succeeded and was turned into a beautiful woman, Ungyo (bear woman). She became Hwagun’s wife and birthed their son, Tangun.

Bear walks between the worlds of Heaven and Earth. Heeding Bear’s call you too can walk this path, descending into the dark cave of dreams and intuition and then ascending into the light of day with renewed strength and vigor. These new insights allow you to face life’s challenges with truth and honor; to remain centered and courageous; to understand the deep connection between spirit and body – ultimately achieving leadership over your own life.

Sources: Shaman’s Way, Spirit Animal, Tangun, A Korean Creation Myth, AAVSO,

Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck from Judith’s website-click here Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!


Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.


Categories: animals, General, Goddess Spirituality, Myth, Nature, Paganism

Tags: , , , ,

18 replies

  1. Love the painting of the bear, and there is something in its eyes that make it seem to be staring right into our eyes, so delightful.


  2. “Some feel that Bear is the oldest European deity, as bones and skulls of bears have been found lovingly arranged on niches found in caves across Europe.” I am fascinated by the Middle Paleolithic and would love to hear more about this from the knowledgeable people on this list. It looks from Wikipedia as if the male archaeologist agrees and the female archaeologist disagrees.
    Thanks, Judith, for a very interesting post.


    • Glad you enjoyed the read Judith. I too am fascinated by all things ancient. Not sure how knowledgable I am as I pursue random research associated with whatever visual image I am drawn to at the moment. I hope to visit some of the Paleolithic caves soon.


      • Enjoy southern France! I explored the caves a few years ago with friends in a Shamanic group. Wherever we went, we asked “where would you suggest we go?” and found places off the beaten track.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Another brilliant, beautiful card for the animal oracle deck! I wonder if the name Arthur is derived from Artio. I have a vague recollection that King Arthur’s legend may include a connection with Bear. I know the names Ursula and Ursus do. Thanks for inspiration and food for thought!


    • Thanks Elizabeth, You are correct about King Arthur. My research found that some believe that the Celtic word for bear, “arth”, became the name “Arthur”. The constellation of the Great Bear is known in Wales as “Arthur’s Wain”. And the myth that King Arthur is sleeping in an underground cave until Britain needs him to return reflects the winter hibernation of Bear and rebirth in the spring.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow–what a great bundle of information about bears! I love it! I know the Greek myths, but I didn’t know the Arctic is named for Bear. What about the Antarctic? The opposite of Bear?

    The primary interactions people here in Southern California have with bears is, of course, the overtaking of the wild areas by developers. Because bears and coyotes and other animals are losing their wild homes, they come into neighborhoods and swim in people’s pools and investigate people’s garbage and generally try to figure out what people are and what they’re doing. There was a piece on Eyewitless News recently about a bear walking into a Highway Patrol station, looking at the snack machines, and walking out again.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Barbara that’s an interesting thought about Antartica. I don’t know if that name has any relation to Bear or not as the constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor revolve around the North Star which of course is not seen at the South Pole. Antartica does mean the opposite of Artic though. Interesting name choice.

    We get bears wandering into neighborhood also here In New Mexico, and raccoons, and coyotes and even the occasional bobcat. I think dry conditions in the mountains dry them down to the river for water and food.


  6. I have been an independent black bear researcher for about twenty years and have written extensively about the bear in mythology because I am so fascinated by the correlation between mythological stories and how bears really act. They are matrifocal and matrilinial – mothers and daughters share territories and males are invited in to mate with females in estrus. Males are wanderers….

    Bears in European mythology seem to represent “dangerous” ie wild un-integrated instincts according to Jung and others which is more about the people of European culture than actual bears. In Native American traditions the bear is seen as a great healer – black bears in particular – are powerful “root healers” and in their daily lives they can heal themselves of gunshot wounds, asbesses etc in ways that science doesn’t understand.

    I am looking forward to this weekend because as of Saturday the yearly slaughter of bears ends for the year and those that survive will finally be able to den in peace.

    Thank you for honoring my friends…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sara, I was just thinking a bit earlier about how interesting it is that my work with animal spirit guides brings me full circle back to goddesses – that myth and story seems to be what keeps us connected to all beings in a deep way. Bear represents so many good things for us – healing, strength, dreaming, rebirth and of course a fierce protectiveness for our children – “like a mama bear”.

      I know that the fall is hunting season for elk and deer in New Mexico but I didn’t realize that bears were being hunted also. I would assume that bears are killed only as trophies – so horrifying!


      • The bears are killed for trophies…and just now all are scarce…All this senseless killing…

        My life with live creatures, mythology and natural history are all threads that feed into strengthening the “truth” of what is – namely that we are all interconnected – mythology REALLY helps here.

        Junith, where in New Mexico do you live? I love your work and would love to meet you.


      • Sara – I’m in ABQ. I started my life in New Mexico in Taos in 1992 where I lived for 3.5 years. I still have some friends in Taos and visit occasionally. It would be great to meet.


  7. Loved this post, Judith! Back in the days when I heated my house with a wood stove, I of course, had a wood pile, with a good roof to keep things dry. It was close to my back porch, and was over shadowed by my neighbour’s cherry tree. One day I went out to find bear sitting on my roof, having a “cherry” picnic! Just thinking of our meeting, I can feel the strength radiating from bear. Your post gave the experience even more meaning. Wish I could find a way to place a photo here.


  8. Beautiful artwork and won post!😊 I’m always intrigued by things such as spirit animals.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved this post too, Judith! I learned so much. Thank you.

    I was especially drawn to your painting of the Bear. Oh, those eyes—those kind, strong, direct, honest eyes. I kept returning to your painting to have yet another look. I was drawn to her eyes again and again and again.

    I was also reminded of a voice workshop I took with Johnny Moses, a storyteller who comes from a tribal group on Puget Sound. I hav never heard any human before who could sound so much like a bear.

    (If anyone’s interested, I have since learned that the word for ‘bear’ in the Snohomish Dialect is ‘shudwich’.)


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