The Winter Solstice awakens in us a sense of awe as we witness the majesty of the crisp, cold night sky spread across the heavens – whispering songs of mystery and meaning – songs meant to awaken the need for the quiet dark and to dispel the fear that arises in the dark.
Songs of the evergreen tree decorated and lit to ensure the renewal of life.
Songs of the Reindeer Goddess as she flies through the night
raining down gifts of warmth and light that sustain us through the cold darkness.
Songs of the giant stone structures marking the moment when the solstice sun lights their inner chambers – a promise that light continues in the darkness.
Songs of the great white bear – Polar Bear, who thrives in the cold, dark of northern winter realms.
Though most of the world didn’t know of the existence of polar bears until they were recognized as a distinct species in the 1700’s, the Inuit people of northern Alaska, Canada, and Greenland have always held them in great regard. Also found in Russia and some northern Norwegian islands, the Inuit have many names for this massive animal – ‘the ever-wandering one’, ‘the one who walks on ice’, ‘the great white one’, and the King of ‘those who make one frightened.’
Polar bears share various traits with humans. When walking on all fours their back paws step in the same spot as their front paws leaving a two-legged footprint and at times they stand and walk on two legs. Often spotted sitting or leaning they can seem like a person deep in contemplation.
Perhaps because of these human-like traits Polar Bear evokes feelings of tenderness and love.
Power, Strength, Strategy, Maternal Love
Polar bears, top predators, are the largest carnivorous land mammals on Earth. Males can
weigh more than 1,700 pounds – females weigh up to 1000 pounds.
Polar bears depend on sea ice for their survival. If none is available they will spend time on land. Most polar bear females birth their cubs on land, in dens near the shoreline. Loss of sea ice due to Global Warning presents the greatest threat to the survival of polar bears, who were listed as a threatened species in 2008.
Current research reveals that polar bears evolved from brown bears around 600,000 years ago when they ventured onto the ice in search of marine mammals during that glaciation period.
Polar bear with its excellent sense of smell snuffs out the den of seal pups from almost a kilometer away. Using its colossal size, it plunges through the den’s roof and snatches the baby seals.
With seals as a year-long food source, polar bears have no need to hibernate like their southern cousins. But pregnant females who birth their cubs in the middle of the freezing Arctic winters are an exception. They must provide a warm den for their tiny newborns who otherwise would freeze to death.
Late spring is mating season. Like other bear species the embryo will not implant itself in the uterus until late fall. And the success of that implantation is dependent on the potential mother’s weight which must reach at least 490 pounds. If that weight is not achieved then the embryo reabsorbs into her body and she continues to hunt through the winter, hoping to achieve a greater body weight for a successful pregnancy the following fall.
The Inuit admire the female’s devotion to her cubs. Unlike the males who
generally live solitary lives except during mating season, females create a family unit and care for their cubs for around two and a half years. Generally she births two cubs in the dead of winter, who are completely dependent on her warm den and rich milk to survive. In the spring they emerge with their mother to explore their icy world and learn how to survive in it.
The Inuit tell tales illustrating their respect and feelings for polar bears. In one a childless woman, longing for a child, adopts an abandoned polar bear cub. The cub grows up to hunt for his mother. The men drive him away, jealous over his hunting success. His mother finds him and they continue their loving relationship, even though he remains in the wild and she remains with her tribe. The men finally accept the relationship.
When Polar Bear calls your name you are being reminded that you too have enormous strength and power to face all of life’s challenges. Polar Bear gifts you with the strategic means for solutions and reminds you that even in the most hostile situations you can prosper. Polar Bear calls you to temper that mighty strength with the truly powerful energy of love.
In Inuit mythology Polar Bear taught humans the art of seal hunting – key to survival in the frigid Arctic.
Polar bear is a shining example of patience and persistence in their quest for seals, who also depend on sea ice for survival. Seals spend most of their time in the water but rely on the ice for breathing and breeding, creating open breathing holes in the ice.
To achieve success in obtaining an adult seal, a polar bear will keep perfectly still by its breathing hole, waiting hours and sometimes even days for it to surface. It then grabs the seal and hauls it onto land to eat. But seals are slippery and often escape the polar bear’s grip. Yet Polar Bear persists until achieving success
Polar Bear shows you how to focus on the path to your objective, modeling the rewards you can achieve with patience and persistence.
Polar bears have no white pigment. The skin under their fur is actually black. In adapting to freezing Arctic conditions a hollow outer layer of fur developed, allowing the polar bear to maintain body heat, reflecting light and giving their fur a white appearance – an effective camouflage. Polar bear can appear to be a snowdrift as it patiently waits for a seal to emerge. Surprised to find themselves facing a camouflaged polar bear after the air cleared from a snow blast – the Inuit viewed Polar Bear as a Mighty Magician.
Polar Bear teaches the value of remaining inconspicuous until the moment arrives for your unveiling. This ability opens a still space where you can more easily hear the divine guidance of your higher self.
Primal State, Subconsciousness, Soul, Transformation
Though Polar Bear is considered a land mammal, its Latin name, Ursus Maritimus -Maritime Bear – identifies it as a marine animal too. Polar bears can maintain a swimming speed of six miles/hour with the help of their slightly webbed paws. They spend plenty of time in the water – swimming between the shore and sea ice and diving to locate a seal’s location and for other things they eat like kelp and submerged carcasses.
Through its strong relationship with the ocean, Polar Bear also symbolize the soul, the subconscious where unknown thoughts and emotions reside, and a primal state – the wild and uncivilized – the formless and unfathomable.
The Inuit recognized the power of Polar Bear to connect us with these spiritual elements. The angakkuit (Inuit shamans) called on Polar Bear when shape-shifting between human and bear form.
The Inuit treated the body of a polar bear they had hunted with absolute respect. A male bear triggered a four day ritual with offerings of knives and other hunting tools. A female bear’s ceremony lasted for five days with offerings of knives, skin scrapers and needle cases.
Call on Polar Bear to guide you between the embodied world of living things and the spirit world of soul and transformation. Polar Bear reconnects you to your pre-civilized, primal state of consciousness, in which the awareness of spirit in all things is recognized. This massive creature, emblematic of power, strength and courage evokes deep feelings of love in humans while reminding us of our own power, and ability to flourish in even the most difficult circumstances. May you walk with Polar Bear in the quiet of your winter dreams – dreams that lead you back to your true self.
Sources: Discover Wildlife, The National Wildlife Federation, WWF, JONAA, The Great Canadian Travel Group, Native Languages of the Americas, First People of America and Canada, What is My Spirit Animal, Thoughts on Some Things,
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, which are found everywhere in the natural world. In recent years Judith began studying 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.