Published on July 31, 2014 by Amy
Native American Bear Meaning: Sybolic Wisdom from the Bear
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When we walk the Path with the bear, this animal will inevitably tell us about its long history with the First People of North America.
As a Native American symbol, the bear is as free in spirit as the great wind; and grander than its mass. To match that magnitude is the quality of unpredictability in the bear. A massive animal who forages seemingly peacefully in the woods on berries and bush. when provoked in certain ways, the First Peoples witnessed a ferocity expressed from the bear that (understandably) could elicited terror.
Because of this potentially furious storm brewing just under the surface of bears spirit, our native forebears were extremely cautious and respectful of this animal. Even tribes inclined to peace honored the spirit of a warrior, and witnessing the bear seemed to embody that kind of blind, powerful surge of courage and strength that every warrior is want to tap into.
Bear meanings were enhanced by observations made tribal sages. These vital tribal figures were inclined to pensive and deeper understanding of how nature communicated intent in all her forms. These sages found connections between human and beast and from these associations would interpret profound meanings that propelled the community into direction, action, and wisdom.
One such connection to bear meaning comes from a Shoshone sage who, set about bridging worlds in a manner of trance walking. During his trance walk, he was gifted with the site of a clan of bears who were performing what seemed to be a ritual dance.
These were not spirit bears, but real bears, on their hind legs, dancing in the golden rays of the sun. The Shoshone sage understood this to be a dance of gratitude as well as a prayer for the healing and protection of their young. From that point further the Shoshone have instigated their own Sun Dance where the bear is a central figure of the ritual symbolizing protection, strength and continuation of the progeny of the tribe.
We see a lot of connections with bear and man in the Native mind. We can intuit these bear meanings to come from the human-like appearance of the bear when it’s posed on hind legs. Further, the natives observed the bear looks remarkably human when skinned of its fur.
Bear meanings of motherhood and child protection continue in the Aleut and Haida minds where legend indicates the bear would take a tribal woman as its wife. From this union, man and bear strengthened their greatest aspects, combining the best (and sometimes worst) traits.
As a Sioux symbol, the bear also has healing symbolism. Sioux legend indicates mother bear was weary from carrying her heavy babies in her belly. She was having trouble walking and feared she could not make the journey to the great foraging fields to feed during her final days of pregnancy. She rested against redwood sorrel plant and the plant spoke to her, telling her that if she ate of its leaves her body would be able to sustain her load. Mother bear did as the sorrel advised to discover the treatment worked. She knew her Sioux sisters would have the same troubles when they were heavy with their own babies, so she shared the medicinal advice with the Sioux medicine woman.
The bear is a strong Native American symbol to the Cree who are powerfully connected with the bear. Recognizing its girth, and amazingly effective teeth and claws, the Cree adopted the bear as a symbol for successful hunt. Intricate preparations were made prior to a hunt. These preparations featured the bear as the guest of honor. Every aspect of pre-hunting ritual was designed to honor the bear. Even after the ritual bear skulls would hang in the lodge overnight to induce dreams of bears that provided good luck in the hunt. That is, if the bear was pleased, the dreams would come, and the hunt would be a success.
Above all, bear meaning holds incredible influence and magnitude to the North American tribes. And although the bear is a profound Native American symbol of majesty, freedom and power it is far more. The spiritual connections made with the bear makes it a brother to the First People.