Bear 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 ability 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.
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck from Judith’s Etsy Shop. 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.