Axis Mundi
The beginning of a circle is also its end. Not I, but the world says it: all is one. And yet everything comes in season.
- Heraklietos of Ephesos


by Amethyst

Last month, when I wrote "When Spirit Speaks", I mentioned being given information for a future ritual. I'd already written about Eagle, so I was pondering which animal to write about next; and my answer came to me in a round about fashion.

We were at a Full Moon Circle & the person who had been placed in the west had an unusual experience in the meditation They said that the meditation was going quite smoothly (a water experience) and suddenly a bear came rushing towards them, it went past and disappeared. As Bear is one of the animals for the ritual I'm writing & it came from the west, I knew that this is the next animal to write about.

After Earthmaker created this island on which we live, he created all living things, man being the very last of these. The first and foremost animal that was created was a bear of pure white colour. This is White Bear; Spiritually, they were not only bears, but the four cardinal winds as well. The bear has a furious spirit, and from the force of its temper, is hard to overcome. They are supposed to have the power to control the winds and/or the weather. Bear is one of the shaman's oldest teachers and have been associated with shamans in the Northern Hemisphere from Greenland to Alaska, from Japan to Scandinavia. In dreams and visions, bears show shamans which plants can be eaten or used as medicines. To absorb the magic power of the bear, many of the Inuit people wore amulets, most often a bear tooth as a pendant. The Inuit shaman needed more; he wanted the bear's spirit to be his tornaq, his magic helper. It was a quest fraught with enormous danger. The bear spirit, the "flying bear" could take the shaman to the moon, or deep into the sea, to seek help for his people, including the mother of seals and whales and walruses. And the bear spirit could protect his master from the power of evil.

The bear features prominently in early native religious practice. The hunting tradition of early native tribes venerated the animal for its ferocity and considered the killing of a bear to be a great step in an individual's spiritual evolution. This tradition blends hunting with religious enlightenment. The Cree tribe of upper New York and Canada believed that once the bear is killed, the spirit escapes and subsequently transforms into another bear. If the ritual has been performed correctly, in that the noble spirit of the animal has been respected, it will allow the tribe to hunt it again. The hunter who has killed the bear keeps the skull in his lodging in order that the spirit may bless him with good fortune. The Sioux tribe believed that the bear possesses curative powers, and the invocation of its spirit can help mend body and soul.

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 that forages seemingly peacefully in the woods on berries and bush, and when provoked in certain ways, the bear expressed a ferocity that (understandably) could elicit terror.

Because of the potentially furious storm brewing just under the surface of bear's spirit, the native forebears were extremely cautious and respectful of this animal. Even tribes inclined to peace, honoured the spirit of a warrior, and recognising that the bear seemed to embody that kind of blind, powerful surge of courage and strength that every warrior wanted to tap into. 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.

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.

As a brother, the bear imparts this advice to both our ancestors and us today:
Because the bear is cautious, it encourages discernment to humankind.
Because of a fierce spirit, the bear signals bravery to those who require it.
Because of its mass and physical power, the bear stands for confidence and victory.
Because it prefers peace and tranquillity (in spite of its size), Bear calls for harmony and balance.

According to one of many Native American stories, the spirit bear was made white by the creator of the universe to remind its people of the past period of time known as the ice age. It was said that the creator did this to remind the native people of the previous hardship living in all the snow and ice. In addition, in some tribes, the white spirit bear stands for harmony and peace.


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