Myth & Moor update
Tunes for a Monday Morning

Following the bear

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Lucy Campbell

Many thanks to Dee Dee Chainey (author of A Treasury of British Folklore) for reminding me of this post from the archives. As winter approaches, it's good to be thinking of bears, and all they can teach us....

While thinking about the value of taking periodic retreats from the online world, I was reminded of something Terry Tempest Williams once said about the symbology of bears...so I searched through her interviews (published in A Voice in the Wilderness) until I found the right passage. For Williams, the bear embodies "opposing views, that we can be both fierce and compassionate at once. The bear is above ground in spring and summer and below ground, hibernating, in fall and winter -- and she emerges with young by her side. I think that's a wonderful model for us, particularly as women. And it's one I've tried to adopt." 

She goes on to explain that she divides her years into halves. From April Fool's Day to The Day of the Dead (November 1st), she lives a public life as a writer and activist, doing any traveling or public speaking or teaching during these months. From The Day of the Dead until April Fool's Day, however, she stays at home -- to spend time with her family; to write; to live within the rhythms of her creativity. The bear, she suggests, "offers us a model of how one lives with that paradox, of public and private life, of a creative life as well as a life of obligation."

Ice Bear by Jackie Morris

Williams also addresses this theme in her essay "Undressing the Bear," pointing out that the she-bear has two sides her nature: both fierce and maternal, wild and nurturing. In mythic terms, this oppositional duality held in instinctive balance is the point.

"If we choose to follow the bear," she writes, "we will be saved from a distracted and domesticated life. The bear becomes our mentor. We must journey out, so that we might journey in. The bear mother enters the earth before snowfall and dreams herself through winter, emerging with young by her side. She not only survives the barren months, she gives birth. She is the caretaker of the unseen world. As a writer and a woman with obligations to both family and community, I have tried to adopt this ritual of balancing public and private life. We are at home in the deserts and mountains, as well as in our dens. Above ground in the abundance of spring and summer, I am available. Below ground in the deepening of autumn and winter, I am not. I need hibernation in order to create."

Hibernation by Susan Seddon BouletIn Women Who Run With the Wolves, psychologist and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estés notes the age-old connection of women and bears in the mythic traditions of many different lands. "To the ancients," she writes, "bears symbolized resurrection. The creature goes to sleep for a long time, its heartbeat decreases to almost nothing. The male often impregnates the female right before hibernation, but miraculously, egg and sperm do not unite right away. They float separately in her uterine broth until much later. Near the end of hibernation, the egg and sperm unite and cell division begins, so that the cubs will be born in the spring when the mother is awakening, just in time to care for and teach her new offspring. Not only by reason of awakening from hibernation as though from death, but much more so because the she-bear awakens with new young, this creature is a profound metaphor for our lives, for return and increase coming from something that seemed deadened.

Bear Woman by Susan Seddon Boulet"The bear is associated with many huntress Goddesses: Artemis and Diana in Greece and Rome, and Muerte and Hecoteptl, mud women deities in the Latina cultures. These Goddesses bestowed upon women the power of tracking, knowing, 'digging out' the psychic aspects of all things. To the Japanese the bear is the symbol of loyalty, wisdom, and strength. In northern Japan where the Ainu tribe lives, the bear is one who can talk to God directly and bring messages back for humans. The cresent moon bear is considered a sacred being, one who was given the white mark on his throat by the Buddhist Goddess Kwan-Yin, whose emblem is the crescent moon. Kwan-Yin is the Goddess of Deep Compassion and the bear is her emissary.

"In the psyche, the bear can be understood as the ability to regulate one's life, especially one's feeling life. Bearish power is the ability to move in cycles, be fully alert, or quiet down into a hibernative sleep that renews one's energy for the next cycle. The bear image teaches that it is possible to maintain a kind of pressure gauge for one's emotional life, and most especially that one can be fierce and generous at the same time. One can be reticent and valuable. One can protect one's territory, make one's boundaries clear, shake the sky if need be, yet be available, accessible, engendering all the same."

Bear scuptures by Gene Tobey

Though Williams and Estés are focused on women and women's issues in the passages above, the oppositional nature of bear symbology is useful to all artists, men and women alike, who struggle to balance their public and private selves, and the often-conflicting demands of family life, community engagement, and creative work. To be available to others, while protecting time to be available only to ourselves and our muse...is this not the dilemma that all creative artists (if we're not complete monsters of self-importance or self-effacement) face again and again?

And even when we are alone in the studio, the symbol of the mythic bear and cyclical hibernation is a useful one. As a culture, we tend to prize action, accomplishment, and public expression over stillness, retreat, and quiet reflection -- but creativity needs all parts of the cycle: the taking in, the pause, the putting back out. Art is born in the movement between them, the mythic rhythm at the heartbeat of our lives.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Frederick Richardson

The winter months have always been a challenge for me. I love sunshine, dry weather and warmth (the hotter the better), and for many years I avoided the cold by wintering in the Arizona desert -- where bears roamed above us on the mountain peaks, but did not venture down to the heat of the valley.

By living full-time on Dartmoor now,  however, I am learning to appreciate winter's stark gifts: it slows me down, turns my thoughts inward, keeps me closer to hearth and home, strengthening the introverted side of my nature, without which I couldn't write or paint. I am learning at last to follow the bear; to trust in the process of hibernation and gestation. I am learning patience. Slowness. Stillness.

All things have their season. And spring always comes.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Līga Kļaviņa

Sleeping bear by Marc Simont

This post was first published in the winter of 2014, re-posted with additional art. The imagery above is by Lucy Campbell (Scotland), Jackie Morris (Wales), Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997; UK, Brazil & US),  Gene Tobey (1945-2006, US),  Frederick Richardson (1862-1937, US), Līga Kļaviņa (Latvia), and Marc Simont (1915-2013; France & US). Titles can be found in the picture captions.

The passages quoted above are from A Voice in the Wilderness: Conversations with Terry Tempest Williams by Michael Austin (Utah State University Press, 2006); "Undressing the Bear," published in An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field by Terry Tempest Williams (Vintage, 1994); and Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés (Ballentine, 1992). All rights reserved by the artists and authors.

Comments

Winter is settling in here in the Pacific Northwest. Though the temperatures are moderate today, the wet cold penetrates. My hands tender from gathering the hardy Kale and the sweet tiny stars of Chickweed, that nourishing all-season Wild food.

To sweet is your reference of Bear to Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion who sits at my bedside table, day in, day out, year in year out. Just days ago I did some winter mending and had bits of old mitten in pieces. Now, upon the Goddess's headdress is a dainty mitten cap -- the tip of a mitten's finger -- to keep her warm for winter.

I shall think of it as Bear's Cap to remember this post, Terri. At home, in home for Winter's Season is good nourishment.

Dear Terri

Just an amazingly beautiful set of art and thoughts on the complex nature of the "she bear". I love the idea of this protective yet fierce creature giving us strength as well as shelter, along with the wild incentive to reawaken and enter the world renewed, relinquishing perhaps what we have feared in our past lives and dreams. Thank you for this! I am haunted and enriched by its message and content.

Take care
Wendy


Because Of Bear And Winter

this creature is a profound metaphor for our lives, for return and increase coming from something that seemed deadened.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes

The sun becomes
scattered bits of straw -- while the landscape's heat
hibernates in clouds slumbering
on the horizon.

Bird flight
configures the sky
with a paw print --black
scratching off the morning's last

moments to let
thoughts surface like ghosts
at midday. Haunted
by what's been too easy
to forget or delay; the heartache

that reawakens with exposure
to love or faith, I'm the wounded girl
who slides off the grizzly's spine
(at the mama's insistence)
and shivers in the wind.

Drawn to a fire
between the distant pines;
I know I must warm my hands
reclaiming the instinct to reach
and touch. Pray.

The thaw making my fear
seem below zero.

Hi Mokihanna

"My hands tender from gathering the hardy Kale and the sweet tiny stars of Chickweed, that nourishing all-season Wild food.

To sweet is your reference of Bear to Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion who sits at my bedside table, day in, day out, year in year out. Just days ago I did some winter mending and had bits of old mitten in pieces. Now, upon the Goddess's headdress is a dainty mitten cap -- the tip of a mitten's finger -- to keep her warm for winter. "

I love the way you think and internalize the season and the presence of the bear. The above passage is beautiful, a poem within itself. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

Much enjoyed
Wendy

Oh those last two lines, Wendy. Score again.

Following the Bear

In the seesaw of this season
she has stayed out
till it is near Solstice.
The cubs, knowing no better,
have followed in her tracks.


There have been many feeders
to ransack, birds to rob,
and the wash of new life
inside her upsets
the rhythms of the autumn days.


I see her tracks, her scat
everywhere on the trail
between my daughter's house and mine.
Try to remember my winter
on the Greek mountains,
my first child inside me
who now lives a bear trail away.


I am older than six bears now,
my true winter coming soon,
a hibernation from which
I shall not wake,
but dream myself into eternity,


while the bears between our houses
mark the trail and the cubs
climb the horse chestnut tree,
waiting for Mama to find
the next meal, and the next.


©2018 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Great! Particularly the fourth verse; a variation on 'in this sleep of death, what dreams may come'. But in my (never very humble)opinion, you better the Bard with your 'my true winter coming soon/ a hibernation from which/ I shall not wake/ but dream myself into eternity.' Beautiful.

Well, absolutely not agreeing with you on the Bard bettered. But to be in the same sentence is certainly enough for today. I shall skim through the next hours on that.

Jane

Hi Jane

Gorgeous poem in every sense of the word. Love how you connect your life. personal and maternal to that of the bear. And those last two stanzas
are perfect, wonderfully voiced , connecting the trail of life and generations. Love the entire poem!

I am older than six bears now,
my true winter coming soon,
a hibernation from which
I shall not wake,
but dream myself into eternity,


while the bears between our houses
mark the trail and the cubs
climb the horse chestnut tree,
waiting for Mama to find
the next meal, and the next.
______________________________

P.S. thanks so much for reading mine and commenting. I deeply appreciate it!

Take care,
my best
Wendy

Wendy, Jane, Stuart,
Beautiful poetry and commentary from you all.
Wendy I loved the whole of your poetry and especially "I know I must warm my hands
reclaiming the instinct to reach
and touch. Pray." That is the instinct that keeps me reaching, as breath does separate me from death.
Jane your poem allowed a look at your life through the venue of the bear's trail. I too loved the stanza Stuart raved about. "my true winter coming soon,
a hibernation from which
I shall not wake,
but dream myself into eternity,"
How fun to come for comfort food in winter on a page across the cyberwaters of this blog. Lucky me. Lucky us.

Dear Mokihanna

Indeed, "Lucky Us", what a lovely haven of inspiration, artistic camaraderie, and beauty Terri provides with this gorgeous and enlightening website!! Because of her and all of you, my writing is enriched and my perspective widened. Thank you so much for reading my poem and sharing your wisdom. I deeply appreciate it!

My best to you,
take care
Wendy

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