In many cultures through history, bears have been revered. Their unusalhabits made them objects of veneration, rather than fear. Hibernation, during which the bears return to the womb of Mother Earth to sleep away the winter, is symbolic of a time of restoration, of meditation and retrospection. Bear cubs rely on their mothers for several years, during which the mother takes exceptional care of her young. This suggests a strong emphasis on protection and nurturing, giving a strong feminine aspect to bear symbolism.
Across cultures, the bear has been respected. Prehistoric peoples built shrines deep in caves, all dedicated to the worship of the bear. Early Finns saw the bear as the spirit of their ancestors, as did the Koreans, Chinese, and Ainu cultures.
The bear has been used as symbolic of many nations. Russia has used the bear as its national symbol for many years. At least five states in the USA have a bear as their state symbol, while Finland uses a brown bear as their national animal.
Named after former president Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, the teddy bear has been popular throughout the world. These stuffed toys comfort and thrill kids of all ages.
Bears crop up in names, as well. The Swedish city of Bern takes its name from the bear. The name “Ursula” means “little she-bear”, a diminutive form of the Latin word “ursa”, meaning bear.
Bears have made their way into everyday market. To economists, a bear market is one where prices are declining. Therefore, any prediction of such activity is said to be bearish, while a “bear” is anyone who vocalizes these thoughts. To gain the attention of that special lady, a man might “try like a bear”. As he woos her, he may want to wrap her in a “bear hug” to prove his affection.
To pioneers in the old west, the bear’s habit of doubling back on trails made them notoriously difficult to track. “You ain’t just bear trackin’” came to mean, “That’s for sure” in common parlance.
In astronomy, the bear has given its name to two constellations – Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
Regrettably, there are fewer bears, and less room for bears in modern life. Often, they are shot as pests when scarce food supplies force bears into conflict with humans. Careful conservation has made great strides in rescuing bear territory, while problem bears are often “rehabilitated”, taken deep into rural areas and far from humans.
Bear Constellation – Ursa Major, courtesy Wikipedia.