Have you ever felt an unexplainable, deep connection or kinship when looking at a bear? Or perhaps you have wondered why the bear is the source of so much ancient folklore and mythology? This is because bears are our spiritual brothers. Let's dive in 🐻:

Bears, like humans, have large brains compared to their body size. In fact, bears have the largest and most complex brain of all land mammals. They have excellent long-term memory and navigation skills, and are able to learn and retain information very quickly.

Even more fascinating, however, is their ability to use tools. Tool use is uncommon among mammals, but bears are an exception. They throw rocks and use sticks and trees to scratch themselves. Polar bears have even been seen hurling blocks of ice at walruses to knock them out.

Bears' motor skills are more complex than you might think. These skills also suggest a strange ability to learn from humans. If you've ever been to bear country, you'd know that bears can open all types of doors with their paws (more on paws later):

Beyond that though, bears seem to understand physics, even of man-made objects. This bear breaks through the door of a cabin, but reaches his paw out to catch the door before it swings back:

Bears are even known to sit in human pools or read the newspaper

Like humans, bears are masters of their environment. They are agile climbers and excellent swimmers.

Also much like humans, bears are omnivorous with a one-chambered stomach. They seek out different foods based on their location. Among those foods: salmon, deer, birds, eggs, and squirrels, as well as nuts, seeds, and fruits (apples, berries, plums, etc.)

Bear anatomy is also strangely similar to humans. Take a look at their paws and note the similarities to human hands. Fig. 1 is the bones of a human hand vs. a bear paw Fig. 2 is a series of skinned bear paws (or are they human hands?)

The mother bear's relationship to her cubs is well known. Bears spend anywhere between 1.5 to 3.5 years teaching their cubs everything they know and monitoring them closely. They are extraordinarily protective of their young, and have strong family units.

Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, bears are often observed sitting still for long periods of time looking out at vistas or sunsets. While incredibly common, it has no scientific "explanation" -- beyond the idea that they may simply appreciate beauty, much like we do.

Moving on from behavior and anatomy, let's take a look at just how important the bear has been to humans throughout history:

The bear is strikingly present in the mythology and folklore of human societies -- this goes VERY far back. Bear worship is found in North Eurasian ethnic religions, such as the Sami, Nivkh, Ainu, Basques, Germanics, Slavs, and Finns. Many cultures have bear deities and totems.

The Sami would give offerings to a Sieidi (stone structure) before a bear hunt to awaken the bear's wandering spirit. Only one hunter (selected through divination) was allowed to attack the bear. The bear was welcomed into the community, and great care was taken to bury the bones

Sami legends also have accounts of noaidi (shamans) transforming into bears. They would often have relations with a human woman, and the spirit would be reborn in the son (who was given the strength of a bear)...

@_miasierra has provided us passages from Norwegian folklore which have similar stories, such as princes being turned into white bears.

Interestingly, this also mentions bears capturing pregnant women, which is notable -- Today, although it's controversial, women are advised to take precaution in bear country while menstruating. Bears have been known to react strongly to the smell of human menstrual blood

Going even further back, cave bear bones were often found arranged in such a way that suggests they may have been ritualistically stacked by Neanderthals in some kind of ceremony. My friend @AppalachianRune provides many sources on this debate:

As a last example, Norse literature has the berserkr figure, which is an "outlaw" warrior noted to have immense strength, like a bear. It is possible the berserkr wore bear skin into battle, a practice shared by many other unrelated cultures.

So how does any of this make the bear our "spiritual brother"? To put it simply, the focus on the bear in various human societies often goes a bit deeper than just veneration:

While today they are often just seen as wild or dangerous animals, many traditions see bears as either a "brother" or a "cousin" figure, related to kings or gods. Their wisdom is revered, and their spirit is cherished and invoked carefully.

In fact, bear flesh was often not eaten, because it was seen as cannibalism. This is found in both European (Finns) and North American (Salish) traditions. If it was eaten, great care was taken to symbolically render it into that of a different animal, like a deer.

In Finland, a hunted bear's head was usually mounted on the top of a young tree to help the bear's spirit reach the stars, where it was believed their souls come from.

Various accounts even go so far as to say that bears have their own astrology, with Steppe and Siberian cultures speaking of astrology as being handed down from a type of "cousin". This is often noted by my friend @LemurianTime

With all this in mind, it's hard not to see why the human-bear connection is so powerful. They seem to have a much deeper wisdom, intelligence, and spirit than a cursory review of scientific literature might imply.

I didn't go too deeply into specific ancient bear cults in this thread, as this has already been covered extensively by a few good friends. If you are interested in diving further, please check out the sources listed here: Thread by @AncientDays1

My hope with this thread is to revitalize the spirit of the bear in OUR culture. If you enjoyed this thread, please take a moment to thank all of the contributors: @_miasierra @AppalachianRune @LemurianTime @AncientDays1 @Paracelsus1092

I have been made aware of this excellent thread, which explores to more depth many of the traditions, cermonies, and practices introduced above. I would like to link this here for further reading:

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