Sunday, June 6, 2021

THE STRANGE MYTHOLOGY OF BEARS

Arctolatry-bear worship

Bears may have been the first animals worshiped in the Paleolithic era, as evidenced by ocher-painted bear skulls arranged in Neandertal shrines, signifying the oldest human/animal relationship. If you've ever seen a brown bear walking upright, it's uncannily human-like in its stride. Bears were terrifying and shamanic figures in prehistoric times. They appear in numerous guises as gods, in fairy tales as heroes. In American Indigenous folklore, they are the king of the beasts, wise and moral. Inuit hunters learned patience from the polar bear, Tuurngasuk, the Great Spirit who devours the shaman and returns him whole and powerful and ready to aid his people.

In Ainu myth, bears are sacred. A young bear is captured and treated like a king for a year, before being sacrificed. In Korea, Ungnyeo is a bear who wanted to be human and was made so by a god. In Hindu mythology, Jambavana is the king of bears, created to assist the god Brahma.

There are many bear goddesses throughout the world. Dea Arturio is the Celtic bear goddess. The bear is the sacred animal of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. In Greece, young girls would wear bear masks and act predatory in order to honor Artemis. The bear was also Ursa Major, the constellation, to the Greeks, named after the huntress Callisto, who was cursed into bear form by a jealous Zeus. In many ancient cultures, the bear is considered a Mother, a deity of resurrection and birth, of protection.

Ildiko is a Hungarian bear goddess. Mielikki is Finnish, and both are associated with forests. In Finnish folklore, bears seek to reincarnate through women, so women must keep away from a bear's funeral feast. The bear, the king of the forest, was never called by name, but referenced through euphemisms such as The Honey Eater, Golden Light Foot, The Fur Robed Forest Friend. Norse berserkers wore only bearskins into battle because the bear was sacred to Odin.

In fairy tales,, bears are creatures of wisdom and savagery. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon, the bear befriends two sisters and helps them on their quests. Eventually it is revealed he is a cursed human. When one of the sisters falls in love with him, he transforms into a man. Goldilocks and the Three Bears is about a girl who colonizes the house of three bears and has the nerve to complain about everything.

In Fiction, Phillip Pullman's Iorek Byrnison is a standout, a polar bear in The Golden Compass who is a scarred, alcoholic warrior. /Who doesn't love Baloo, the mentor, from The Jungle Book? There is Bluebear from Walter Moers The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear. Katherine Arden's The Bear and The Nightingale has Medved, the evil bear. On a gentler note, we have the intrepid immigrant Paddington Bear. And, of course Winnie-the-Pooh. 

Bears have been revered by many cultures throughout history, and mostly as a mother. They are the true queen of the beasts.

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