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Women, Bear Medicine and Shamanism
September 6—13, 2000
Blacktail Ranch, Wolf Creek, MT
Led by Carol Proudfoot-Edgar
Assisted by Pirkko Miller

Bears are sleeping now
In Montana’s Winter Cold.
Deep within the Belly of SheBear
An embryo is shaping into a furless Cub
While deep within the Sacred Cave
Spirits of Ancient BearMedicine Women
Are Sharing and Singing Their Stories.
Spring and Summer will not see us There,
Yet come first scents of colorful Autumn
Spirits and Ancestors will be waiting for us,
Bears will be listening for the arrival of our steps
And the sounding of our drums
Eagles will be flying overhead, waiting to take our prayers.
September begins the season of foraging
EveryWhere Beings Will be storing up their Winter food,
Bears will roam at the edges of ChokeCherry Bushes
Cubs will be struggling to stand tall
seeking ripe fruits from the tips of branches.
We will join in this time of foraging
Seeking visions and food for our souls
Creating a Circle of great Beauty
In which everyone and every being
knows their Welcome,
As All Beings Welcome Us,
With our hearts inclining to Them
They incline towards us and
Teach us what we need to know.

As you prepare to read this letter, giving you information about this retreat, I invite you to pause, make yourself a cup of your favorite warm beverage, find a comfortable chair, then linger with me for a while. Because this retreat is focused around special spiritual work I have been doing for many years, I am taking the time to share with you what I consider important to know and have as a context for helping you to decide whether or not to come to Montana for these eight days this September.

So, give yourself that pause now, and then return to reading. If, after reading this material, you decide you want to come and learn BearMedicine Ways, there is information about registering and an enclosed form to send to Pirkko Miller who is coordinating our gathering at Blacktail Ranch.

I have been teaching BearMedicine with Circles of Women for many years. The Call to walk and teach this path, came from a sacred encounter with a MotherBear and her cubs in the Colorado San Juan Mountains. Since that encountering Call, I have assiduously journeyed, researched, and worked with other women to learn the medicine ways of Bear. I track SheBear in all the realms I am permitted and I know that She tracks me. I am continually amazed and graced by the new teachings, visions and dreams this Great Spirit brings to me, to others, and with the healing powers of Her ways. It’s as though She has been longing and waiting to be heard and to be called. And we have been longing, perhaps unknowingly, to walk with and learn from Her.

Through these years, these BearMedicine Circle retreats have gathered in different places. We have sought retreat sites that would be appropriate for the kind of work we do. Until I taught in Montana two years ago, I had not realized how much I yearned to be gathering within wilderness where Bear also lives, plays, loves and roams. At Blacktail Ranch, I finally arrived to the Place where both Circles of Women and our guardian Spirit Bear were at Home together.

At the same time that I found the “homeland” in which to do this work, more women began coming to learn the ways of BearMedicine. There is powerful synchronicity in the fact more women now are seeking to learn the ways of BearMedicine and that I am now teaching in a Place where Bear is present in her many forms—spiritual, ancestral, physical.

I feel as if the Spirits are providing us a large “meeting ground” containing many realms, passages, and opportunity for initiations. They are offering us experiences where revelation can occur directly. Where we are not dependent on our imaginative powers to re-member our sacred relationship with Bear but rather being offered an Appointment in some HolyGround where we shall be transformed, recover ancient wisdom and give birth to new paradigms that will serve us, serve our world, and our descendants yet to come.
Offering this retreat in 2000, I am mindfully paying attention to this “gathering of the Spirits, Bears, and Women” and putting forth the following concerns in my prayers, in my spiritual seeking through my Winter hibernating time.

"What are we being called to do now?”
Teach us how to Answer and May we respond to What’s Revealed

We women carry specific regenerative powers through all the cycles of our lives. This is not a feminist statement but a matter of spiritual biology— the mystical union of our female bodies with Spirit. For thousands of years this was honored, respected, and manifestly shown in the way early cultures valued the female of any species. This is not a matter of women versus men but of honoring our Woman Ways of Being and of Knowing. Through reclamation of our selves, we are then clearer in our relationships with other women, with men, with Earth herself and with how tomanifest our spiritual gifts and medicine.

In a journey several years ago, I asked SheBear “Why are Women’s Circles so important? “ I was shown how men carry the power of fission (taking apart, separating) and women the power of fusion (bringing together, joining). You can consider these also as the two primary powers of differentiation and integration, respectively. Both are necessary powers in creation and in evolution.

I was told it is Time Now to strengthen the Powers of Integration - knowing how all is joined and to do this joining. In Women’s Circles, we can return ourselves to wholeness, and fuse together the “ways” that help ensure a planet whom we, and our descendants, tend as our Earthly Home.

So, one of our Calls is to manifest the power of “fusion.” We manifest this in some measure by learning how to be a Circle, how to join ourselves together, and hold our collective power.

What is happening that SheBear is now more Visibly with Us and more of us Present to her?
Is this somehow related to those Ancestral Spirits dwelling in the Cave?

Five years ago while sleeping by the Pacific Ocean, I had a dream in which I was shown the specific initiations and rites of passage that women undergo as they become mature members of the Women’s Bear Clan. This was a very lucid dream and seemed to presage teachings and undertakings that would occur within the BearCircles that have been gathering over the years. I did several journeys and meditated on this dream over the following months. I also journeyed again about this dream while in Montana this previous September. From my journey and the history of the various BearCircles, I now understand that this “Bear Clan” is constituted of our many ancestors who practiced and were BearWomen shamans. As our Ancestors, they are still a spiritual Ancestral Clan available to us as we need them on this path.

I now see that some of these initiations came to be; some of us have, through our experiences on this path, been ‘conducted’ into ancient rites and wisdom we had not known before. Other initiations remain to be undertaken. Unlike the initiating steps of some shamanic Ways, these are not necessarily linear in progression but, according to our own individual histories, may take place at different ages for each woman. And Circles as an organic whole, receive initiations. The ‘collective gathering’ of the Spirits, of Bear, and of Women is because such rites of passage, such initiations, are now being prepared for when we come to Circle, and apprentice to the Spirits.

The BearWomen Ancestors in the Cave within this Land will be waiting for us. This is an Ancient Sacred Cave eight miles long with a special ceremonial chamber. With sensitivity to the sacred nature of the Cave, carefully have archaeologist explored and found individual skeletons of various species ranging in age from 37, 700 to 10,000 years of age. Thus, use of this Cave begins well back into Late Pleistocene glacial times. Within the Cave’s ceremonial chamber was found small totemic carvings and a special alter made from stone. On top of the Altar is a larger stone on which is carved a Great Bear. On the other side a Great Bison. Some have spoken of this Cave as a Bear Shaman’s Cave. Various evidence indicates this chamber was used by many different peoples, over thousands of years. Entering the Cave, abiding in the darkness of this Kiva within the Earth, visions are seen, songs come forth, messages heard, myths remembered, and wisdom received from the Ancestral Spirits who care for us.

Part of what we are called to do is to open our hearts, seek the initiating rites awaiting us, and take our searchings, our openness into this Cave, dwell with the Spirits there, surrender to the experiences awaiting us.
“What is being asked of us now as We gather with other Women - some who have Circled together before; some who will cross into this BearMedicine territory for the first time? "

Our Circle will be a constellation of Circles within Circles, women spiraling in from different lands, different experiences. Some of us may have been together at different times, different places. Some of us will be new sisters to each other and by the end of our time together, One Bear Sister Circle. To have both new and known together is a treasure. This is the very essence of community, of village. For all of us are Beginners. And each of us have our own fullness of life experiences which will make for a bountiful Circle.

From my perspective, what is occurring is that Circles within Circles, Circles joining other Circles is happening all over the world. Just as individuals, strangers to one another a moment ago, are finding that by joining together, there are strengths and resources unavailable in that moment before finding they share common ground or common yearnings. In some places, this is happening rapidly; in some places slowly. It is a continuing affirmation to me that the time of ‘loneliness, of only self-enlightenment, of being a lone Wolf or a lone Bear is over and we are ‘gathering ourselves’ for the changes and transformations needed to be made both in our own lives and in our world....a step at a time, a Circle at a time: steps upon steps creating a path; Circles and more Circles creating the Container within much can be born and held during the growing years of learning

“What are we being called to do: Answering the Call”.
“Who is calling Us ?"

Early in our time together, I will share stories and teachings about Bear mythology, ceremonies, and practices so that we have a common knowledge regarding why this is called “Bear Medicine Circle.” With our intention thus focused, the Spirits will continue to teach us in the ways of Bear Medicine. It is important to know that Bear, as the Teacher of this Medicine, is the ‘speaker’ for all animals and about the nature of the world within which we live. For example, for the Tlingit people (Northwest Coast, USA), Kasha is the Great Mother who gave birth to all of the animals. They called her Animal Mother and also referred to her as Bear Mother or as Strong One Mother. When the World was new, Bear Mother gave each animal the form it has today. She nursed them and when one cried, She rocked it in a large Moosehide hammock stretched between four mountains. As they grew, She protected them. She taught them what food to eat and how to get along. Some Tlingit still will tell you that they know the location of the Den where she gave birth to all the Animals but they will not tell you where (too sacred to share). So, although the title of our retreat is called “Women - Bear Medicine,” it is important to know that we are talking about our relationship to all animals, all beings: above, below, and within. And it is this SheBear, this MotherBear who promised to renew our understanding about how to live in this world if we come and spend some time with her. So we come.

There are two drawings that can feed our imaginal world with some perceptions as to: “Who is Calling? and What are we being called to do now?” and an indication of what it means to Answer the Call.

The first picture, showing a MotherBear with a Bear Cub and a Human Infant feeding at her breasts was drawn by my artist friend, Mary Warshaw. This drawing was Mary’s response to my sharing with her MotherBear’s shamanic work with me. Years ago, I was doing a soul retrieval for a woman who had come from Georgia to our home here in Santa Cruz. While journeying to retrieve her “fetus soul,” which was fragmented and split off while in the womb, I was taken to a Cave in which this MotherBear was suckling the fetal soul and at the same time suckling her own Bear Cub. Subsequently, for me, I have discovered that MotherBear often has the “lost souls” of children and she tends them until they are returned to an individual during soul retrieval. At other times, I have learned She accompanies the “Spirit” of a person after death.

The second drawing is from an archaeological excavation at a prehistoric site in Northern California. Initially, many, many years ago when this excavation occurred, archaeologists and anthropologists did not appreciate the significance of the Bear for the peoples of California (or elsewhere). During subsequent years, such burial sites have been found throughout California and indicate the mystery, awe, and spiritual respect which these peoples had for Bear. In this picture from that burial site, a bear cub and a child are buried together. The bear was buried directly behind and parallel to the child and with the arms of the cub surrounding the child. A large acorn pestle was found in the hand of the child (which may indicate the child was a female since evidence indicates that women did the grinding of the acorns to produce food). A number of shell and stone beads were found in the area of the child’s neck and chest. The beads are of a style which allowed them to give this site an approximate date of 1500 A.D.

Such burial sites, found throughout California, and similar sites of human and bear skeleton remains together, found throughout the world, remind us not only of human’s special relationship with Bear. They also remind us there was a time when Bears were abundant; we lived within their midst as they lived amongst us also. As one historical (and rather dismaying) account reports, General Fremont stated that as he and his men traveled between San Luis Obispo and Monterry counties in California (30 miles!), they shot 50 Bears.

People who honor and learn from Bear her medicine ways, know our Call is not only to work in the “shamanic realms” but do our parts to assist the health and prospering of Bears in their Earthly Home as well. To respect and nurture all habitats where she is found: physically, spirtually, and ecologically.

For people, from ancient times to now, who track SheBear’s Ways, Bear is the “Walker between and among the Worlds.” The Great Mother, The One Who Carries the Spirit to Beyond; and the One within this Earthly world who teaches us about the cycles and passages of our own lives through learning from Her how to live within the natural, seasonal cycles that govern all that lives and moves between and within Heaven and Earth.

“What will we be doing in our Bear Circle?'

In our gathering, we will:

**ensoul our activities so they are synergistic with nature’s own rhythms.
We will be greeting morning Sun, acknowledging Sun’s departure, welcoming the darkness and fruits of the Moon. These patterns of light and darkness provide different opportunities for engaging with Spirits.

**explore various ways of entering and sharing the Dreamtime.
In Dreamtime other creatures and beings of the world “walk around,” help shape our experience—and let us know they may be in need of us now.

**use a variety of ways to journey through other worlds where spirit wisdom, healing, and teachings may be found.
**attend to each other with Circle mindfulness.

Throughout our time together, we will manifest ways for taking care of, and nourishing, both our individual selves and all sisters in our Circle. We will extend this same attention to other beings within the land of Blacktail Ranch.

**continue seeking for
“What are we being called to do?”
“What is being asked of us now?”
Answering the Call.

**allow our hands to become “sacred paws” which bring healing and refreshing touch to others.
We will explore ways of allowing Spirit to move through our hands so we become more sensitive to, and able to work with, the powers of healing touch.

**craft our souls through our hands, creating art and objects that are infused with spirit power.
Various craft materials will be available along with materials provided from the landscape itself. Shamanic art work can be a profound way of bringing Spirit through, both for making power objects and for reflecting the incredible beauty of other worlds.

Meanwhile my sisters

I wish for you to know
and for us to remember
Spirits and Ancestors
are waiting for us in Montana
SheBear waits for us to answer Her Call
walk through this wilderness
descend into the dark, moist Cave
experience what the Spirits wish to share
Ascend into the Light,
transform the alchemical
mysteries of darkness within light
and light within darkness
into some deeper knowing
of Coming Home, Going Home,
and Being Home for All

Carol Proudfoot-Edgar