The bear is a strong, wise and powerful spirit animal. He personifies beauty and wilderness. And indeed, he was worshipped by many tribes in pre historic Eurasia. Many Indo-European cultures were deeply animistic and as part of their worldview, the spirit totem was very important to their realm of practice. Many perceived the bear as the most powerful, highest animal there is. Germanic tribes viewed him as extraordinary strong and mighty. Some Germanic tribes believed that brave men, who died in battle, were reborn as a bear. In the German saying there is references to the force of the bear, “wenn etwas bärenstark ist”, something that is strong as a bear.
You’ll find him in many fairy tales, myths and other folklore. To wear parts of the bears body was seen as an act of shamanic initation into manhood. Some celtic tribes worshipped the Goddess Artio, Goddess of the wild and the bear, and others, like the ancient Greeks worshipped Artemis, another bear Goddess. But the cult and the spiritual practice around the bear is old. It is in fact ancient. It seems from the early Stone Age, and Indo-European hunter and gatherer cultures. He was worshipped as totem and the initiated could seek communication with the bear spirit. Everything in those cultures had a soul (Anima, lat. soul, Animism). Plants did and so did all the bears and animals. That is the very foundation of what we call “Paganism”, or so, at least, it should be. It’s the origin of it.
The Neanderthals had a very profund belief in spirits and their beliefs were way more complex than most people tend to believe. Germanic and celtic tribes often referred to the bear as a fertility spirit. Inside the cave Grotte de Bruniquel in France, Archeologists have found 80 places where bears have slept and a large fire pit with burned bones from bears.
In the Bihor-Mountains of western Romania, scientists have found a lot of bearskulls inside a cave, who were perfectly put in place by human hand, obviously as a part of some sort of ritual. In norse Mythology, there is the Fylgja, the spirit animal. And they are often animals. These beliefs are way older than the Viking Age. These beliefs stem from the Neanderthals. The totem of that animal was powerful, mighty and wise. In case of the Cave in France, we’re talking about 47600 years old. Odin’s Ravens and his wolves are Fylgja spirits. The bears are also known as the Beserkers in norse Mythology, with many tales surrounding them. In Siberia, the bear is an ancient Ancestors and is worshipped amongst these old shamanic tribes. The Inuit, Nivkh and other north American animistic cultures view the bear as a totem animal, powerful and spiritually wise and knowledgeable.
Grotte de Bruniquel, France