Thursday, 17 September 2015

Woman Walking Wild: Bear Mother

(Image: 'Bear Mother: You Are In Her Belly', Aoife Valley - used with permission)

I am not good or brave or strong. This week, I have felt lost, confused, ungrounded, seeking the strong Bear Mother curled in my belly and not finding her. Tonight, I followed a thread and I remembered fairytales. Now I see that I am on a quest; silence, love, transformation, swan feathers, and nettle stings. I can do this. I was born to do this. My heart is wild and I am in awe of her ability to push through the wildest tangles and brambles and thorns of feeling, but beside her I feel small and vulnerable. But I can do this. I am not good or brave or strong but the Bear Mother is all these things and has been my companion for many years. I rarely call her consciously but, sometimes, and often when life challenges the ability of my heart to keep on beating, I just find her there with her musty scent and sure paws. Sometimes she takes me to dive in the holy river of the sacred. Sometimes she helps me to hunt herbs for my healing or teaches me to dream in the shadow places of tears and deep magic. Sometimes she comes when I am feeling strong, walking boldly upright in my Woman self, looking the world in the eye, and I feel her weight leaning against me in support and solidarity. Sometimes she comes when I have a need to connect deeply with my earth. It's then that I find her curled sleeping in the dark cave of my belly and I sink into myself and into her with a grateful outbreath. And sometimes she comes when when I am raw, stripped to the bone by my determination to live a wild life surrounded by the not-wild, when I can find no place for what moves within and am wandering lost without a map to follow. Often I stumble and, knowing that my belly is hollow and empty and not the place for her, she splits herself open so that I can crawl inside her still warm body, become bear, rest. Often there is blood. 
(From the film, 'Send Word, Bear Mother',

The Bear Mother is the oldest of the old. She was one of the first beings to be worshipped by our far off ancestors, possibly as far back as the middle Palaeolithic period, which lasted from 300,000 to 30,000 years ago. She is revered in the North American, Northern Eurasian, and circumpolar regions, particularly amongst the Sami people, the Ainu of Japan, and the tribes of Celtic Gaul and Britain. The Ainu call the bear 'kamui', which means God. In each area the bear is recognised as a supernatural messenger and walker between the worlds, traveller amongst the stars above, below, and within. Cave Bear skulls have been found in a cave at Saône-et-Loire, France arranged in a circle and marked with red ochre. They are believed to be between 45,000 and 75,000 years old and to date from the time of the Neanderthals. It is believed that even the more 'modern' beliefs of our own Northern ancestors date to a common ancestral belief-system of Asiatic origin dating back to the time ofthe Magdalenian period of 20,000 years ago”. Bear tracks appear in the rock carvings of the Altai people of Northern Norway from as long as 6,200 years ago. When we walk with Bear we too become the oldest of the old. We become once again the people who carry the red ochre. We become real and our ancestors are beside us.

But the one who is truly always beside us is the Bear Mother. She has touched my life many times. In 2007 my mother, who had been very ill, was not expected to live through the night. Her spirit chose to remain and she stayed for another few months before she left. I was relieved that she was still alive and, once the turbulence of that time had settled, I expected to carry on with my life as before but I found that I was agitated and couldn't settle back into my everyday life. I realised that I had been so convinced that my mother would die, and only a few months after my father’s death, that I had stepped partly into the Otherworld to hold her hand as she passed and had never quite returned. A few weeks later, I found myself in a little crystal shop in Glastonbury, Somerset, and there I found a bone pendant carved with the image of a bear mother holding her cub in her arms. I couldn't afford her but I felt her call and so I let the wild part of me in and she was mine. I wore her for several months and came back to myself but she wouldn't stay. Instead she has travelled to several friends, and friends of friends, who have had need of her. Some have received deep healing and become well again. Some have received deep healing and have died. Always she has come back to me and I trust that this time she will. I don't even have a photograph; for a creature so powerful and so big she knows how to slip unseen between the cracks of healing.

I have written before of the painful journey that I had with my partner, Will, and of the healing that Heron brought me, but there was also a whiff of Bear. When I was at my most ragged and raw I went to a drumming circle to celebrate Winter Solstice. It was all that I could do to get myself there at all and I was sure that I would feel cut off in my broken state. There were five drum journeys that night and in each one the Bear Mother came and curled up with me, wrapping around me a sanctuary of stillness and safety. In her warmth something in me was healed. It was enough.

She is not always, what we would think of as, kind and she can be a fierce mother. She is an ancestress, a mother life-giver, and even now we talk of 'bearing' children. In Eastern Lithuania, a woman immediately after childbirth is called 'Bear' (Meška). The saying ''licked into shape' comes from the belief that, during hibernation, bear mothers would literally create their young by licking formless flesh and fur into bear cubs before emerging with them in the spring. Sometimes, she has done this to me too; pushing me to be more, try harder, walk wilder, shaping me, when I would rather just lie down and give up. I am a wilful and defiant woman and sometimes she has to 'cuff' me. She is not to be trifled with, this Bear Mother.         
'Bear Mother and Cubs', Anna Hyatt-Huntington (Wiki Commons)

And now, when I have undertaken a brave quest to find a new and wild life and I am all love, silence, and transformation, the Bear Mother has returned curling into the cave of my belly and has drawn me down into the deep dreaming of her holy story, and of my own. I lost her, remembered fairytales, and she came back through words and tears. I am not good or brave or strong but the Bear Mother is with me and I am blessed.
(Wiki Commons)

And here, as a special treat for us all and for anyone who knows their bears to be, 'made of ice and river-wood and the bones of otters, full of pebbles and pine resin and the lost songs of bees', is a story of beauty and power from the wonderful Tom Hirons, first published in 'Earthlines' journal and shared here with his permission. Thank you, Tom.


'The Significance of the Bear Among the Sami and Other Northern Cultures', Brandon "Kál'lá" Bledsoe.

'The Language of the Goddess', Marija Gimbutas, Thames & Hudson, 1989.

'The Great Bear Mother', Jude Lally