"Walker Between the Worlds"
From the time our original ancestors wandered the forests and grasslands north of the equator, Bear was considered a special relative, teacher, and Spirit. In shamanic cosmology, Bear was known as One who lived in the Upper World, Middle World, Lower World and who assisted Souls in their passages between the worlds.
Ursa Major (Big Bear) and Ursa Minor (Little Bear) were cherished as navigational helpers to travelers and their celestial movements followed throughout the year. Much later these constellations became popularized as the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. Many ancient stories recount how Bear came from the celestial world to provide humans with necessary information on how to survive harmoniously on Earth.
Earth Bear (Middle World) was considered both the ancestor and special teacher to humans. From different cultures, with slight variations, stories describe how a woman and bear mated, produced progeny, and thus we are part bear, part human. In ancient cave paintings, bear paw prints and human hands are found together. By following Bear's behavior, humans could find sources of food; watching Bear, they learned how to make poultices mixing mud and certain leaves. Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, there were Bear doctors, Bear dreamers, and special Bear Ceremonies to honor this Great Spirit.
Bear was considered the consummate guardian of the Lower World, entering the Cave, disappearing for the Winter months, and reemerging in the Spring, often with cubs. For many shamans, the Spirits of the Lower World were the source of their power; like Bear, they went into the lower, hidden world seeking power and renewal.
Dating back 50,000 years in Europe, and found in later archaeological sites in California, are human and bear bones in shared graves, sometimes with special necklaces wrapping the two together. Speculating from these findings, and ancient literature, Bear may have been perceived by some shamanic cultures as the Spirit who helped accompany the soul in its cycle of birth, death, and passage beyond this earthly world.
Thus, like the Tree of Life and the River of Life, Bear was, and remains for many, a symbol of Eternity.
I have been researching, teaching, journeying, and following Bears in the wilderness for the past several years. My shamanic call has been to learn more about the way of Bear Medicine Power and to do what I can to help preserve the remaining Bears in our wilderness areas.
© Carol Proudfoot-Edgar 1997
This page was revised January 25, 1997