Following the bear

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

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 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 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 today with additional art: 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.

Recommended reading, with bears

Once upon a time, with bears

The White Bear by Jackie Morris

Recent items of interest...

* If you're not already reading Maria Popova's excellent Brain Pickings blog, these two pieces resonate with our discussion of perfectionism and creative confidence here last week: "How We Become Who We Are" and "The Pleasures of Practicing."

* Longreads (another excellent site) has asked several authors and editors for their favorite online essays of 2014. I recommend Rebecca Solnit's "The Art of Arrival" in particular, which relates to themes we talk about here on Myth & Moor, but all the other pieces listed are thought-provoking and beautifully crafted as well. Taken together, they provide a masterclass in the art of the literary essay.

Drawing by Kay Nielsen* In "Why we need fairy tales now more than ever," Rowan Williams (theological scholar and former Archbishop of Canterbury) discusses three new books on the subject by Marina Warner, Jack Zipes, and Malcolm C. Lyons (The New Statesman).

* The Goblin Fruit poetry journal has posted its delicious winter issue, with a fine "Handless Maiden" poem by Mari Ness and other magical offerings.

* The new issue of Interfiction Online was published back in November, and I've been remiss in not mentioning it until now.  I particularly recommend "Open Spine, Turn Page" (nonfiction) by Carrie Sessarego. "This is the true story of how I journeyed through an interstitial world," she writes, "and how that journey transformed me. It’s also the story of how fiction saved me. Some of these memories are confused and some may be entirely false, but they are the memories I carry, and so I call them true."

* A few good books for winter reading (or re-reading): Arctic Dreams, nonfiction by Barry Lopez; This Cold Heaven, The Future of Ice, and In the Empire of Ice, nonfiction by Gretel Ehrlich; The Reindeer People and Wolf's Brother, novels by Megan Lindholm (a.k.a. Robin Hobb); and The Ice Bear, a picture book by Jackie Morris, whose "White Bear" painting is above.

Bear Mates

Dreaming of Artic Dreams by Barry LopezArt above: "The White Bear" by Jackie Morris and an illustration from ''East of the Sun, West of the Moon" by Kay Nielsen (1886-1957). Photographs: Polar Bear Mother & Cubs and Polar Bear Mates (from wildlife information sites, photographers uncredited, fairy tale words in the former added by me), and Tilly contemplating polar bears with the help of Arctic Dreams. Previous posts on winter and bears: "Following the Bear" and "Embracing the Bear."

Winter Poetry Challenge: Day 1

Bear Dance by Susan Seddon Boulet

It's the Winter Poetry Challenge, which will run each day from now through Saturday. Here's how it works:

I challenge all you poets out there to share a poem (or poems) on a mythic theme posted each day. There are no rules beyond adhering to each day's theme: brand new poems are encouraged, but your older poems are welcome too. You  don't have to be a published poet to contribute; you don't have to be a regular reader of this blog; and you don't even have to be an adult (but if you're a child, please let us know your age). I'll start the ball rolling each morning by posting a poem on the theme from the Journal of Mythic Arts archives, along with related imagery.

There are two ways to participate in the Poetry Challenge, both equally important: One is by posting your poem(s) in the Comments thread under each post. The other is by leaving feedback for the poets, which I highly encourage everyone to do. Please help us out by joining in the conversation.

(And if you're still not sure about how this works, have a look at the Autumn Poetry Challenge. Just follow this link and scroll down.)

Since we've been discussing bears and hibernation on this blog recently, today's theme is: Bears in Myth, Fairy Tales, and Fantasy. Some examples: the white bear in East of the Sun, West of the Moon; the bear husbands in Bearskin, Snow White and Rose Red, and various Native American tales; and the numerous bear gods, goddesses, shamans, and sacred spirits of Finland, Japan, Mongolia, Canada and other places the world over. For inspiration, have a look at the comments under last week's bear posts, full of links to bear poetry and tales.   

To kick off the week, here are three bear poems from the JoMA archives, approaching the theme from three different directions. The first poem is rooted in fairy tale motifs, the second in the myths of the Arctic north, and the third in Robert Southey's classic nursery tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Bear Child by Susan Seddon Boulet

The Bear's Daughter
by Theodora Goss

She dreams of the south. Wandering through the silent castle,
Where snow has covered the parapets, and the windows
White Bear by Kay NielsenAre covered with frost, like panes of isinglass,
She dreams of pomegranates and olive trees.

But to be the bear's daughter is to be a daughter, as well,
Of the north. To have forgotten a time before
The tips of her fingers were blue, before her veins
Were blue like rivers flowing through fields of ice.

To have forgotten a time before her boots
Were elk-leather lined with ermine.
Somewhere in the silent castle, her mother is sleeping
In the bear's embrace, and breathing pomegranates
Into his fur. She is a daughter of the south,
With hair like honey and skin like orange-flowers.

She is a nightingale's song in the olive groves.

And her daughter, wandering through the empty garden,
Where the branches of yew trees rubbing against each other
Sound like broken violins,

Dreams of the south while a cold wind sways the privet,
Takes off her gloves, which are lined with ermine, and places
Her hands on the rim of the fountain, in which the sun
Has scattered its colors, like roses trapped in ice.

Playing with the North Wind by Susan Seddon BouletArktos
by Ari Berk

Rouse with hunger or indifference
to a morning darker than the night
Shake the season from your fur and rise
to stand inseperable from the snow

Below the ice swim seals thick with blood
So shaking somnolence from your brow
you crawl like a man across the drift
smelling for prey, intentions sharp as stone

Wind of knives and fury born of stars
May not deter a giant built of ice and claws
Unless the sleep of solstices be on him
He, Son of Sedna and the Northern Waste

by Neil Gaiman

We owe it to each other to tell stories,
A detail from Arthur Rackham's Goldilocks illustrationsas people simply, not as father and daughter.
I tell it to you for the hundredth time:

"There was a little girl, called Goldilocks,
for her hair was long and golden,
and she was walking in the Wood and she saw — "

"— cows." You say it with certainty,
remembering the strayed heifers we saw in the woods

behind the house, last month.

"Well, yes, perhaps she saw cows,
but also she saw a house."

"— a great big house," you tell me.

"No, a little house, all painted, neat and tidy."

"A great big house."

You have the conviction of all two-year-olds.
I wish I had such certitude.

"Ah. Yes. A great big house.
A detail from Arthur Rackham's Goldilocks illustrationsAnd she went in . . ."

I remember, as I tell it, that the locks
Of Southey's heroine had silvered with age.
The Old Woman and the Three Bears . . .
Perhaps they had been golden once, when she was a child.

And now, we are already up to the porridge,
"And it was too— "
"— hot!"
"And it was too— "
— cold!"
And then it was, we chorus, "just right."

The porridge is eaten, the baby's chair is shattered,
Goldilocks goes upstairs, examines beds, and sleeps,

But then the bears return.
Remembering Southey still, I do the voices:
Father Bear's gruff boom scares you, and you delight in it.

When I was a small child and heard the tale,
A detail from Arthur Rackham's Goldilocks illustrationsif I was anyone I was Baby Bear,
my porridge eaten, and my chair destroyed,
my bed inhabited by some strange girl.

You giggle when I do the baby's wail,
"Someone's been eating my prridge, and they've eaten it —"
"All up," you say. A response it is,
Or an amen.

The bears go upstairs hesitantly,
their house now feels desecrated. They realize
what locks are for. They reach the bedroom.

"Someone's been sleeping in my bed."
And here I hesitate, echoes of old jokes,
soft-core cartoons, crude headlines, in my head.

One day your mouth will curl at that line.
A loss of interest, later, innocence.
Innocence; as if it were a commodity.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Katherine Pyle"And if I could," my father wrote to me,
huge as a bear himself, when I was younger,
"I would dower you with experience, without experience."
and I, in my turn, would pass that on to you.
But we make our own mistakes. We sleep
It is our right. It is our madness and our glory.
The repetition echoes down the years.
When your children grow; when your dark locks begin to silver,
when you are an old woman, alone with your three bears,
what will you see? What stories will you tell?

"And then Goldilicks jumped out of the window and she ran —
Goldilocks and Baby Bear by Margaret TarrantTogether, now: "All the way home."

And then you say, "Again. Again. Again."

We owe it to each other to tell stories.
These days my sympathy's with Father Bear.
Before I leave my house I lock the door,
and check each bed and chair on my return.





The Snow Princess by Ruth Sanderson

The art above is: "Bear Dance" and "Bear Child" by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997), "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" by Kay Nielsen (1886-1957), "Playing With the North Wind" by Susan Seddon Boutlet, three illustrations for Robert Southey's "Goldilock and the Three Bears" by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), "Goldilocks" illustrations by Katherine Pyle (1863-1938) and Margaret Tarrant (1888-1958), and "The Snow Princess" by Ruth Sanderson.

Publication information: "The Bear's Daughter"  first appeared in the Journal of Mythic Arts and is copyright c 2004 by Theodora Goss, who reserves all rights. "Arktos" first appeared in the Journal of Mythic Arts and is copyright c 2004 by Ari Berk, who reserves all rights. "Locks" first appeared in Silver Birch, Blood Moon (Datlow & Windling, eds.), and was reprinted in the Journal of Mythic Arts; it is copyright c 1999 by Neil Gaiman, who reserves all rights. All poems posted in the Comments thread are the property of their authors, who likewise reserve all rights to them.

Please note:  There are so many responses to this post that Typepad has broken them into two pages. Be sure to click on the "Show More Comments" link at the end of the first page (which is easy to miss) in order to see the lastest poetry additions.

Embracing the bear

Photograph by Katerina Plotnikova

I've long used the term "embracing the bear" for those moments when I'm moving forward into something I fear, but don't want fear to stop me; thus I was intrigued to encounter the same phrase in Terry Tempest William's An Unspoken Hunger, where it has a slightly different, but related, meaning. In a gorgeous little essay on women and bears, Williams includes a description of Marian Engle 's Bear, a highly unsual, memorable novel which portrays a woman and a bear "in an erotics of place":

"It doesn't matter whether the bear is seen as male or female," says Williams. "The relationship between the two is sensual,Victorian illustration, artist unknown wild.

"The woman says, 'Bear, take me to the bottom of the ocean with you, Bear, swim with me, Bear, put your arms around me, enclose me, swim, down, down, down, with me.'

" 'Bear,' she says suddenly, 'come dance with me.'

"They make love. Afterwards, 'She felt pain, but it was a dear sweet pain that belonged not to mental suffering, but to the earth.'

William writes that she, too, "has felt the pain that arises from a recognition of beauty, pain we hold when we remember what we are connected to and the delicacy of our relations. It is this tenderness born out of connection to place that Black bear, artist unknown copyfuels my writing. Writing becomes an act of compassion toward life, the life we often refuse to see because if we look too closely or feel too deeply, there may be no end to our suffering. But words empower us, move us beyond our suffering, and set us free. This is the sorcery of literature. We are healed by our stories.

"By undressing, exposing, and embracing the bear, we undress, expose, and embrace our authentic selves. Stripped free from society's oughts and shoulds, we emerge as emancipated beings. The bear is free to roam."

Photograph by Katerina Plotnikova

"We are creatures of paradox, women and bears, two animals that are enormously unpredictable, hence our mystery," Williams continues. "Perhaps the fear of bears and the fear of women lies in our refusal to be tamed, the impulses we arouse and the forces we represent....As women connected to the earth, we are nurturing and we are fierce, we are wicked and we are sublime. The full range is ours. We hold the moon in our bellies and fire in our hearts. We bleed. We give milk. We are the mothers of first words. These words grow. They are our children. They are our stories and our poems."

Photograph by Katerina Plotnikova

The sublime images above are by the Russian surrealist photographer Katerina Plotnikova, based in Moscow. The pen-and-ink drawings are Victorian illustrations, artists unknown.

Other recommended bear fiction, in addition to Bear by Marion Engle: The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman (the woman-bear relationship in this book completely slays me), Her Frozen Wild by Kim Antieau, "Bear's Bride" by Johanna Sinisalo (in The Beastly Bride), "The Brown Bear of Norway" by Isobel Cole (in Black Thorn White Rose), Tender Morsals by Margo Lanagan, East by Edith Pattou,  Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede, and Ice by Sarah Beth Durst. There's also a magical story tucked into the stanzas of Theodora Goss's poem, "The Bear's Daughter," and a very beautiful children's book by Jackie Morris, The Ice Bear. Others?

Ice Bear Update

The Ice Bear

Back in July I posted on the Ice Bear project...and now the magnificent Bear, created here in Devon, is striding out into the world. Here's the latest news from Mark, Todd, Nick, and the rest of the Ice Bear team:

The Bear is going up in Copenhagen today, timed to coincide with the big UN Conference on Climate Change; the Bear's next appearance will be in London's Trafalgar Square on Friday, December 11th.

And after that? No plans are confirmed just yet, but it's hoped that the Bear will tour around the world. This depends on finding more funding, of course -- both organizational sponsorships and private donations, large or small. If you or your organization can help, go here to learn more about the project, and here to become a Friend of the Bear.

As we speak, four of my Chagford friends -- Roger & Claire Ash-Wheeler, Yuli Somme, and Yuli's daughter Kesella (who has been working with Todd as part of the Ice Bear support team) -- are traveling by bicycle all the way from Chagford to London in order to raise money for the Bear, and to join The Wave (the big climate change march). You can read Kesella's blog about the journey here, and sponsor them (it's not too late!) by dropping a line to: [email protected].

Updated to add: You can watch a live stream of the Copenhagen Ice Bear here.