Bear worship

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This website is an archive. It ran from 2006-2010. Virtually everything on here is outdated or inaccurate.

Many people studying ancient history or anthropology have heard rumors of ancient bear worship. They may have come by an anecdote of bear skulls being arranged in a strange order in an excavated cave, or (according to the horrid Wikipedia article on this subject) a bear goddess in the Big Dipper. All these rumors stem from basically a single anthropological article, Bear Ceremonialism in the Northern Hemisphere. This article, which I eventually discovered when looking around for the sources of these rumors, is the Ph.D. dissertion of Alfred Irving Hallowell, written in 1926. According to some other guy's article it is apparently an early work of "Boasian" anthropology. However, post-Hallowell very little has been written about bear worship. You might say that the burden of improving upon his work is a hard one to bear.

So, what does Hallowell have to say about bear worship?

A lot!!!!

Bears can be used for their flesh and skin, and their actual bodies turned into ritual idols, or the bear can be used as a symbol for certain aspects of the supernatural. Hallowell claims pre-modern societies viewed animals as endowed with human capabilities and their own languages and cultures. Animals are closer to the divine and can transform themselves into human forms, or become spirits. But it is also believed that human souls can manifest themselves in animal form. No animal is regarded as mere foodstuff; it is considered a voluntary participant in the food chain which must be honored for its sacrifice.

Bear worship appears in basically every temperate or polar climate where bears are found; Ainu, Khanty, Evenks, Finns, as well as North Americans. There is an interesting overlap in ritual that hints towards a unified bear worship across the Bering Strait, such as the practice of placing the skull of a bear on a stump or tree out of the reach of foragers.

See also

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