Bear Medicine

Power specifically associated with the Spirit of the Bear. Bear Shamans have been blessed particularly with the ability to heal. Anthropologists have remarked on this occurence as it is known in virtually all cultures within the bear’s range. In 1926, anthropologist A. Irving Hallowell studied bear ceremonialism throughout Europe, Asia and North America and noted that very different cultures shared language taboos when referring to bears. Often they called them Brother – and begged Brother not to hurt them. Sometimes the word for Bear in certain languages cannot be used when hunting them. They are often hunted with spears or axes even when guns were available. Many elaborate, and at times days long, rituals were held to honor Bear Body. It would be decorated beautifully, perhaps placed on a platform as a place of honor. Tribal members would make speeches.  It is also common in various tribes to observe similar restrictions on the eating of bear meat. Different tribes had different rituals or preparation ceremonies for the Bear Bones. 

Hallowell concluded that these ceremonial hunting practices shared a single, paleolithic origin that was then widely distributed around the boreal zone in Eurasia andNorth America. Even with much new data available about Siberian, Lapland Saami, and Japanese Ainu bear ceremonialism, scholars continue to agree with Hallowell’s thesis. Bears are referred to as the Constant Dreamer. In many traditions Bear is one of the Primal, or First Beings. So, to a simple person such as myself, it makes sense that Bear spoke to everyone who dreamed. Bear, apparently, was very specific regarding their treatment. I find that fascinating.

Certainly the bear’s liminal ability to navigate above and below ground gives it shamanic status in many cultures.  I use the word liminal to imply that Bear has the ability to see between worlds, as in between life and death. (hibernation).  

In western Siberia, the bear is thought to mediate between the living and the dead. In Jewish tradition, the bear is sometimes associated with one of the six directions—that of the earth.

 The bear is also known in many cultures as a great healer, since it seeks out plants for its own healing. North American brown bears and Kodiak bears are known to dig up Ligusticum porteri (also known, not surprisingly, as “bear root”) and chew on it and then rub it on their fur; the plant is known to have antibiotic properties, be good for stomachaches, and repel insects. I have been given a piece of bear root to stick in my mouth while singing. It worked quite well. Alaskan brown bears are known to chew on sedge to rid themselves of tapeworm and parasites before hibernating. And the common names of many other plants reflect bears’ usage: bearberry, bear’s paw, bear tongue, bear clover.

 As an animal that disappears in winter to reappear only in spring, the bear is also the symbol of renewal, rebirth, and the regaining of health. The ancient Greeks associated Artemis, goddess of plants and regeneration, with Bear; indeed, before marriage young Greek girls were secluded and called arktoi, or “she-bears” (interestingly, a menstruating Ojibwa woman was called Mako-wii, “bear woman”).

 Bear is also a species known for its strong maternal ties. The she-bear was worshipped by the Celts as the bear goddess Artio. And of course, Zeus changed Callisto into Ursa Major, the “Great She-Bear” of the sky.

 Bear medicine is powerful medicine, bringing healing, renewal, and rebirth. This is the gift that Grandmother Bear brings those who live in bear country.

Carl Jung referred to Bear energy as feminine. Many myths refer to Bear as Female. In my shamanic journeys I have often met Bear when she is digging or just inside her den. All around her are roots of many plants hanging down. She has been a good teacher of medicine for me. One of my journeys I was buried in the Earth and Bear dug me out tearing the nose off my face. She got my attention. I did take her advice and dug around deep into my self,  ‘rooting’ out what was hidden. Caverns, Caves, Grottos are often referred to as symbols for our deepest levels of subconscious.

Spend some time with Bear. I have found Mudjekeewis to be a splendid teacher. Not always a gentle teacher, but deeply loved and appreciated by myself.