Friday 7 March 2014

Sacred bears

When bears used to live in Britain, were they sacred animals? I believe they probably were. Most indigenous peoples who share their environments with bears revere them. They have the great magic of going to ground, and apparently dying, for the winter, then being 'reborn' in spring. Female bears reappear having miraculously produced cubs, so for many cultures they are powerful symbols of fertility and regeneration.

If there is one thing that we desperately need in our culture, it is regeneration, so I am delighted to have discovered that there are moves afoot to rekindle a spiritual connection to bears. Louisa Potter, a priestess of Avalon, is leading a process to create a Temple of Ursa, a place where people can delve into ancient bear mysteries and think what bears might be able to teach us today.

There's a discussion starting right now, in Glastonbury (see here for more details), about how we might reconnect with bears. They'll be watching the film, Brave, and talking about how the She Bear is represented within it. I wish I was there taking part!

Personally I'm torn about Brave. On the one hand, I'm delighted to see a modern-day take on the old folklore theme of a person being transformed into a bear. I used that idea as the background for my novel Bear Witness (that's why the main character is called Callis, after Callisto, the maiden in the Greek myth who was turned into a bear).

On the other hand, I am frustrated by the way the film perpetuated a load of myths about bears. For example, it set the scene firmly in a Scottish landscape, then had the bear catching salmon - Grizzly bears might do that in Alaska, but there's no evidence that European brown bears eat much fish at all. Then there was the way that the mother character was taken over by various stereotypical bad bear behaviours, like aggression and ravenous eating, as if bears are always like this.

Overall, though, I find it uplifting that as a society we remain fascinated by bears, whether it's Paddington, or the mother in Brave, or the latest cub videos that go viral on twitter. There is something deep in our culture that says we need bears. They are our sibling creatures. We need them. And not only in cartoons.

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