The Fascinating Story Of Bear Worship

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The Fascinating Story Of Bear Worship

Ella O'Neill


Quote:For ethnic religions in groups such as the Nivkh, the Finns, Ainu peoples of Japan, all across ancient Europe and in Native American culture, the bear was, and still is, a sacred and respected animal, with ceremonial worship traced as far back as the paleolithic period.

Quote:The Paleolithic Cult Debate

Archaeological findings of buried bear remains uncovered the bones in unusual arrangements and placed in a way not naturally possible. Archaeologists and paleoanthropologists alike attribute the carefully placed arrangements to Homo neanderthalensis, as an integral part of what looks like a ritual ceremony. Yet, as often in paleoanthropology, the specimens are few and far between, and confident conclusions cannot easily be drawn. Some argue that if Neanderthals did worship bears, then evidence of such rituals would have been found in their camps and settlements, not just caves. They theorize that bears would have taken shelter in the caves from harsh conditions and may very well have died there.



Quote:...The Finns not only believed that the bears came from the sky, but that they had the ability to reincarnate and were to be treated with the utmost respect. Such respect commanded a celebration whenever a bear was killed and eaten, known as Karhunpeijaiset – the purpose of which was to reincarnate the bear’s soul back into the forest....



Quote:For the Nivkh peoples of Eastern Russia, their belief in Shamanism is central to their ceremonies surrounding the worshiping of bears. In the religious festivals, the Shamans lead and overshadow all festivities. The Nivkh believe that the bear is a sacred earthly manifestation of their ancestors and the gods, in material animal form. Bears are often captured by local women and raised in a corral, treating the bear as though it were a child. The bear festival then involves the bear dressed in a ceremonial costume of sorts and offered a feast so that the bear can it take back to the world of the gods. This is to show a level of benevolence among the clans. After the banquet, in an extensive ritual, the bear is killed and eaten, sending his spirit to the gods of the mountains...
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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Bear Worship and Bear Cults

Eric Edwards


Quote:Bear worship can also be interpreted in terms of cult practice and totemic belief. The bear in mythology can be a god, a goddess, an ancestor, a guardian entity of a clan or tribe, or a sacred and totemic animal. In folktale the bear has been described in the role of husband, wife, child, or lover. In folklore there is the belief that the bear is a soul animal, a supernatural spirit, an astral companion,  and provider of medicines and cures. It must be born in mind that with regard to bear cults a number of studies “…neither endorsed evidence of any belief system nor cave bear worship.” (Wunn, 2001).



Quote:...Early hunters persuaded themselves they are not really killing animals but only their bodies and they come to life again “…if their bones are looked after and treated with the correct magic.” (Lommel, 1966). In one respect the killing of the bear as a sacrifice “…is considered an offering by which humans communicate with the non-human, spiritual domain.”..



Quote:Circumpolar peoples who worship the bear have special rituals to perform when a bear is slaughtered. For example the Grizzly Bear dance of Amerindians is where the she-bear of the spring represents maternity and renewal of life. Amongst the native Americans there are many ceremonies, myths, folktales and beliefs attached to the bear. These include Bear Woman and Deer Woman, Bear Woman and the Fawns, Bear Woman also known as the Bear Wife. The Bear Madonnas carry out special rites where these bear marked women hold clubs and wear male bears, as bear Spirits of Vegetation, are sacrificed. Quite often some peoples after the bear sacrifice has been carried out the bones are burned, and the skull reverentially placed in a fir tree so that the soul of the bear can return to the sky, where the bear “…is a voluntary sacrifice, offering itself to and for the humans, at the same time humans offer it up for the return to the realm of the deities and the benevolent ancestors.” (Black, 1998).
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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The Significance of the Bear Ritual Among the Sami and Other Northern Cultures

Brandon "Kál'lá" Bledsoe


Quote:There is an ancient belief that the bear is in communication with the lord of the mountains and with the sky, and certainly he has from time immemorial been surrounded by an aura which enjoins caution and respect.
-Ivar Lissner, Man, God and Magic, (p.163)


Of all the animals that inhabit the worldís northern climates none has been subject to greater reverence than the bear. Indigenous societies of North America and Northern Eurasia share a seemingly uniform belief that this elusive creature is endowed with supernatural qualities. Ceremonies venerating slain bears were, until more recent times, an important aspect of the Sami belief system. Close examination of eyewitness accounts shows that this ritual is in many ways typical of other bear ceremonies in the northern hemisphere. In this essay I will explore possible explanations for the common occurrence of bear ceremonialism, and what this indicates about the Samiís relationship with other indigenous cultures. This subject has received a fair amount of scholarly attention, and a few anthropologists have actually theorized about the origin of the ritual. Based on their information I believe that we can logically infer three possible explanations for this cultural parallel.

  1. Convergence - In each culture the bear is recognized, on some level, as the archetypal messenger to the supernatural world. The uniformity of this belief is the result of an inherent human tendency to venerate certain animals. The special role of the bear in the aboriginal metaphysical system is not due to contact between these societies, nor is it the result of a common ancestral belief system. The contention is that the rituals are a consequence of semi-isolated groups of people reacting to similar environments in a similar manner. These northern people can be said to constitute ìa single circumpolar cultural district in which a single environment forms the basis of common developmentî (Lissner, 160)
  2. Ancient Ancestral Belief-System - The bear's position of prominence within the totemic dominance hierarchy, in each of these groups, is the result of a common ancestral belief-system of Asiatic origin dating back to the time of the Magdalenian period of 20,000 years ago. The Sami, the ancient Finns, the Tungus, the Gilyaks and various other tribes of Siberia, the Ainu of Japan, and Native North American groups, such as the Algonkins and Tlingit, all derived this belief (more or less intact) from the bear cult of prehistoric times.
  3. Historical Interaction - Reverence is a common reaction for humans living in close contact with bears. However, many of the similarities in rites, rituals, and folklore are the result of cultural interactions. Other similarities are purely superficial and do not indicate a shared ancestral system.

One of the inherent difficulties of a broad -based cultural analysis- especially one requiring an outsider to explain alien practices- is the temptation to interpret data in a manner favorable to the ethnographer's assumption...
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell



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