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Mila the Black Bear

Thinking their guru, Milarepa, had died his devotees held a meeting and decided that after the snow had melted they would go to his hermitage to find the corpse and retrieve  other  holy relics.

 On their way to his cave they found some traces of beasts. They wept for the reason that their guru might have been killed by those wild beasts.  When they came close to the cave, they saw a black bear and suddenly it disappeared and a nice voice in song was heard.  They all were very glad for they knew their Guru was still alive. When they arrived at the cave, Milarepa said, "I have prepared your food here." They began to be aware that the black bear was a transformed body of their guru and all that food which they had offered to him many months earlier he never took and now they took it themselves. 

~ Milarepa:  His Personal Teaching of Renunciation. (Yogi Chen, bk. 95)

The Woodsman and the Bear

Long ago, in the city of Benares, there lived a poor man who supported himself by selling wood.  One day,  he got up early as usual and, taking his axe and carrying-frame, he went off to the forest.  All of a sudden, a violent wind came up and it began to rain.  The man went from tree to tree looking for shelter, but at each place he got drenched, so he left the forest and took refuge in a cave.

Now in this cave there lived a brown bear and when the man saw it, he was frightened and would have run away, but the bear spoke to him saying, "Uncle, why are you afraid?" But the man was cautious and held back in fear.  After a while, the bear hugged him [for warmth] and gave him some roots and fruit to sustain him.

The storm lasted seven days with no let-up by the rain god, but when seven days had passed and the eighth day dawned, the rain cloud passed away. Then the bear, having scanned the horizon, took some roots and berries, gave them to the man  and said, "Son, the storm is over, go in peace." 

The man prostrated himself to the bear, saying, "Father, how can I ever show my gratitude?" 

"Son," said the bear, "Do not tell anyone where I live, and that will be payment enough."

"I will do as you request," said the man, and he circumambulated the animal as a  sign of respect, prostrated again, and then went on his way.

At Benares, he met a hunter on his way to hunt deer, who said, "Friend, where have you been these last few days? When that sudden storm set in, your wife and family thought you had been killed by a wild beast.  They were very worried, and have been in dire despair.  Tell me, how many fowl and deer did you kill during the
seven days' storm?" 

And the man told him what had happened. 

Then the hunter asked for directions to the bear's den, and the man agreed to tell him if he would promise never to go to that part of the forest.  And the hunter gave his word.  

But after a while, the hunter made a bargain with the woodsman, promising  him two-thirds of the bear meat in exchange for leading him to the animal's den.  Equipped with a utility knife, [Lam-mts'on --  road knife] off they went to woodland den of the noble bear. After a while, the ungrateful man said to the cruel one, "Here's the bear's den." And the hunter, set a fire at the mouth of the cave.

Then choked by smoke, and sorrowful at heart, his eyes tearing, the noble bear declaimed:

I lived in a simple hollow in the wild,
Feeding on roots, berries and water,
With kindly feelings towards all beings.
I have not done harm to any one.
But when the hour of death is at hand,
Nothing can avail us.
Desire inevitably leads to undesirable consequences;
One invariably follows other. 

and so saying, he died.

When the men had skinned him and finished dressing the carcass, the hunter said to the one responsible for the crime, "Take your two-thirds," but the woodsman threw up his hands, fell flat on the ground, [and died.]  When the others saw that, they cried, "Alas! Alas!" and throwing away their share of the meat, they ran away.

Hearing about the astounding event, a crowd went out to where it had happened, and King Brahmadatta also went along. 

Now, nearby on the mountain side there was a monastery and the King, greatly impressed, took the bearskin there intending to show it to the monks.  He sat down and spread out the skin before them and told them the whole story.

When he had finished, their accomplished master recited:

Great King, that is no bear;
It has a Bodhisattva's splendor.
Mahârâj, the three worlds
And you, too, ought to pay it homage.

Then the King thought to himself, "He shall be honored," while the monks said, "Sire, show him homage, for he is the future Buddha of this age."

Then King Brahmadatta, his queens, sons, ministers, peasants, and townspeople, all took sweet-smelling wood and went to the place where the corpse of the bear was lying.  They gathered all the flesh and bones into a heap, and the King told them to cremate the body.  So they piled on the scented wood, and having shown great  honor to the remains, lighted the pyre.  

After that, they erected a monument (chürten) on the spot, and fastened parasols, flags, and banners to it.  They made great offerings there at regular intervals.  And all of those those who took part in this great endeavor attained heaven [when they died.]

So what do you think about that, monks?  I was that brown bear, and the ungrateful man is now [my cousin, the adversary,] Devadatta.

Tibetan Jatakas (stories of the Buddha's former lives) are known as Dulwa. In 1897, they were translated from the Kanjur (the Tibetan Buddhist canon)  by Hon. Wm. Rockhill,  Assistant Secretary of State of the USA.  This version is edited from vol. IV, 286-288.

Bear Vehicle

Damchen (The Blacksmith) of the retinue of Nyingma protector, Dorje Legpa, has a bear as one of his animal allies or "messengers."

When Palden Lhamo appears in the retinue of 6-armed Mahakala, she is accompanied by Kshetrapala (Warrior-defender) riding a black bear.

The Mind aspect (Tukki Gyalpo) of dharma protector, Pehar, holds a red spear, a double-edged sword and a lasso.  He wears a bearskin as a shawl. 

Yeti is a Bear?

Reinhold Messner, the legendary mountaineer who has climbed 14 of the world's highest peaks including Mt. Everest in 1978, without bottled oxygen, claims to have met a Yeti in the Tibetan wilderness in 1986.

The animal, which had dark fur and walked upright on two legs, left footprints.   Messner found them similar to those photographed by Eric Shipton during a 1951 Everest expedition.  He reported a second sighting in the Karakoram range, and managed to take a number of photographs which he will release in his next book.

In an Oct. 1998 Reuters' interview, Messner says the beast is not a primate, but ". . .  a Tibetan bear, similar to a grizzly but with longer hair."  The animal walks upright, as well as on all fours, and when it does, it is eleven feet tall. 

Messner estimates that there are about 1,000 of them living in the Himalayas at altitudes between 12,000 and 18,000 feet.  It is primarily a nocturnal animal, so that humans do not often encounter it.  It can kill a yak with one blow and is known to attack when disturbed. 

 He claims that the Yeti idea was promulgated by the Nazis, who wanted to find the "missing link" in the chain of human evolution.  

Opponents claim that the mountaineer is patently incorrect, that the Yeti legend is 3,000 years old and Tibetans would certainly know a bear when they see one.  Some go so far as to maintain that Messner's view may be the result of significant brain damage due to oxygen deprivation! 

Tibetan Bears

The Tibetan black, or "moon" bear is classed Selenarctos thibetanus, and the brown bear, Ursus arctos

Sadly, Himalayan bears are hunted for body parts, especially the gall bladder, which is in great demand as a folk medicine. The bile can fetch up to $1,000 a kilogram (2.2 pounds) on the Chinese medicinal products market.

An autumn 2004 survey conducted by the forestry administration in Tibet shows the region has just 7,031 black bears, down from 14,062 in 1994, according to Xinhua news. And in some counties not a single bear was detected.  Ten years ago, this bear roamed one- third of Tibet, but now it is now one of the most threatened of the world's six endangered bear species. Despite the animals' being under government protection, they are targets, not only for gall but also for pelts.

The black bear is also kept in captivity by the thousands in China because their bile can be extracted through catheters surgically implanted in their gall bladders.  The total number of bears of all species held in China for bile has soared in recent years to a 2002 record high of  9,000, according to animal rights groups.

  • The Giant Panda, in its ancient past, was once carnivorous but now it feeds solely upon various species of bamboo.  Is it a bear or not?

To Bring to Bear

In English, we use bear as a verb meaning to bring children into the world.  That is not just a coincidence, but its actual etymology.  Also, the female bear, or sow, generally gives birth to twins and rarely, triplets, so like the female pig she is an embodiment of fecundity.  

Mother bears are remarkable for their devotion to their cubs, but the animal's ability to hibernate throughout the long winter is even more impressive.  In fact, it may be that bears were thought to die in the autumn and come back to life in the spring.

Bear Spirit

Human beings have a sacred relationship with the bear that goes back to Cro-magnon times (80, 000 years BP.)  Cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) skulls have been  found carefully arranged and marked with ochre, acts indicative of ritual worship. 

Judging by the thousands of bear skeletons found inside caves, not all those who retired to the "tomb" in autumn emerged in the spring.   This observable fact lent another aspect to the mystery of hibernation.  Perhaps this was interpreted to mean that only certain, accomplished, individuals could achieve resurrection.

The aboriginal people of northern Japan are known as Ainu.  They hold that the bear takes its animal form to benefit people but when it dies, it returns to the realm of the spirits.  In the ancient form of the Bear Festival, a live animal was cared for by the community and worshipped for three days after which it was killed, so that the deity could return to the other world.  Modified versions of the i-omante are still performed.

The culture of the Ainu has much in common with that of the aboriginal peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast of America, such as that of the Haida, Tlingit and  Kwakiutl.  Those groups are famous for their totem poles on which we can frequently find the Spirit of the Bear. 

The Lapps or Saami also honour the bear and use a red juice derived from alder bark to stand for blood in their ritual of the sacrificed bear deity.  Their healers visualize themselves as bears when they drum.

In Siberia, a word for a woman-shaman is the word for bear.  In some Altaic (Siberian) languages utagan or utygen means bear and in others, the same word signifies "ancestral spirit." 

Bear Clan

The clan system of aboriginal, or First Nations, peoples helps prevent intermarriage and also distributes social responsibilities and safeguards specialties.  Each lineage is associated with an animal with which clan members have a special, sacred relationship.  The origins of this relationship may be lost in the mists of time and the tribulations and tangles of the recent past, or it may be preserved in a cycle of myths and rituals. 

Among the Western Cree or Ojibway, members of the Bear Clan are guardians, and in patrolling the land, they acquire knowledge of roots, bark, and plants.

Bear Goddess

European scholars find the root for bear in the name of Greek goddess, Artemis.   As Protector of Animals, she had attendants called arktoi, "bear girls."  Accounts of her ritual worship include the drawing of blood by a slight cut made on the men's throats by the temple priestesses.  

The cult of Artemis, the bear goddess, flourished at Brauron.  Pre-pubescent girls were dedicated to the bear society where they could behave, according to Marie-Louise von Franz (The Feminine in Fairy Tales) "like tomboys -- [they] neither washed nor cared for themselves in any way, spoke roughly, and were called bear cubs … .  In this way, the feminine personality could develop unharmed by the problem of sexuality and go into life with a certain amount of maturity, gained in security under the ugly bearskin.  Otherwise, often only half-developed girls would fall into sex life and at thirty would be old and worn out." 

If, later in life, they desired the company of men, they were obliged to return the symbols of their dedication, some locks of hair and their girlish toys, at the altar and were barred from the temple precincts forever after.  In more recent times, a festival was held every 5 years at that temple at which two little girls, aged five and ten, performed the bear dance dressed in blond bearskins.  

Artemis (in her later role as a daughter of the Olympians) transformed the nymph Callisto, one of her attendants, into a bear whereupon she became the constellation, Ursa Major (The Great Bear.)   But Ursa Major is also Artemis as the celestial She-bear, the Sow who points the way to the axis around which (from  our perspective,) the heavens turn. 

The Helvetian (Swiss) tribes worshipped the She-Bear, and their town Berne, was named for her.  In 1832, an ancient statue of Artio was dug up there that depicts her offering fruit to a bear.  It bears the inscription Deae Artioni Licinia Sabinilla.   Stone figures of bears dating from the pagan Celtic past were found during the restoration of Ireland's Armagh Cathedral in 1840.

The Franks, ancestors of the French, were also "people of the Bear," worshipping the bear goddess as Arduina.

Bearing the Name

As we have seen, Artemis's name and that of Arduina refer to the bear.  Other such names include Arthur also relates to bear, as does the name Ursula

The Romans called the northern European Bear-goddess, Dea Artio.  Artio meaning she-bear was shortened to Art by the Irish, and it finally came to mean God.  The goddess Artio was honoured at Lughnasadh, the pagan festival when  barley and corn is harvested.  She was absorbed into Christianity as Saint Ursula, a Latinized form of the Saxon, Ursel, She-Bear. 

Three Bears

Robert Southey wrote The Three Bears in 1834, based on a traditional tale.  It appeared in a 1837 collection of his work entitled The Doctor, which inspired George Nicol to retell it in verse form later that same year.

The name Goldilocks was first used in the version that appeared in Old Nursery Stories and Rhymes by John Hasall, ca. 1904.

The Story of the Three Bears 

Once upon a time there were Three Bears, who lived together in a house of their own, in a wood.  One of them was a Little, Small, Wee Bear; and one was a Middle-sized Bear; and the other was a Great Huge Bear. They had each a pot for their porridge: a little pot for the Little, Small, Wee Bear; and a middle-sized pot for the Middle Bear; and a great pot for the Great, Huge Bear. And they had each a chair to sit in: a little chair for the Little, Small, Wee Bear; and a middle sized chair for the Middle Bear; and a great chair for the Great, Huge Bear. And they had each a bed to sleep in: a little bed for the Little, Small, Wee Bear; a middle-sized bed for the Middle Bear; and a great bed for the Great, Huge Bear. 

One day, after they had made the porridge for their breakfast, and poured it into their porridge pots, they walked out into the wood while the porridge was cooling, that they might not burn their mouths by beginning too soon to eat it. And while they were walking, a little girl named Goldilocks came into the house. 

First she looked in at the window, and then she peeped in at the keyhole; and seeing nobody in the house, she lifted the latch. The door was not fastened, because the Bears were good Bears, who did nobody any harm, and never suspected that anybody would harm them. So little Goldilocks opened the door, and went in; and well pleased she was when she saw the porridge on the table. 

If she had been a good little girl, she would have waited till the Bears came home, and then, perhaps, they would have asked her to breakfast; for they were good Bears -- a little rough or so, as the manner of Bears is, but for all that, very good-natured and hospitable. 

So first she tasted the porridge of the Great, Huge Bear, and that was too hot for her. And then she tasted the porridge of the Middle Bear and that was too cold for her. And then she went to the porridge of the Little, Small, Wee Bear, and tasted that; and that was neither too hot nor too cold, but just right; and she liked it so well, that she ate it all up. 

Then little Goldilocks sat down in the chair of the Great, Huge Bear and that was too hard for her. And then she sat down in the chair of the Middle Bear, and that was too soft for her. And then she sat down in the chair of the Little, Small, Wee Bear, and that was neither too hard nor too soft, but just right. So she seated herself in it, and there she sat till the bottom of the chair came out, and down came hers, plump upon the ground. 

Then little Goldilocks went upstairs into the bedchamber in which the Three Bears slept.  And first she lay down upon the bed of the Great, Huge Bear; but that was too high at the head for her. And next she lay down upon the bed of the Middle Bear; and that was too high at the foot for her.  And then she lay down upon the bed of the Little, Small, Wee Bear; and that was neither too high at the head nor at the foot, but just right.  So she covered herself up comfortably, and lay there till she fell fast asleep. 

By this time the Three Bears thought their porridge would be cool enough; so they came home to breakfast. And little Goldilocks had left the spoon of the Great, Huge Bear standing in his porridge. 

'Somebody has been at my porridge!' said the Great, Huge Bear in his great, rough, gruff voice. 

And when the Middle Bear looked at hers, she saw that the spoon was standing in it too. 'Somebody has been at my porridge!' said the Middle Bear in her middle voice. 

Then the Little, Small, Wee Bear looked at his, and there was the spoon in the porridge-pot, but the porridge was all gone.  'Somebody has been at my porridge and has eaten it all up!' said the Little, Small, Wee Bear in his little, small, wee voice. 

Upon this the Three Bears, seeing that someone had entered their house and eaten up the Little, Small, Wee Bear's breakfast, began to look about them.  

Now little Goldilocks had not put the hard cushion straight when she rose from the chair of the Great, Huge Bear. 

'Somebody has been sitting in my chair!' said the Great, Huge Bear in his great, rough, gruff voice. 

And little Goldilocks had squatted down the soft cushion of the Middle Bear. 

'Somebody has been sitting in my chair!' said the Middle Bear in her middle voice. 

And you know what little Goldilocks had done to the third chair. 

'Somebody has been sitting in my chair and has sat the bottom out of it!' said the Little, Small, Wee Bear in his little, small, wee voice. 

Then the Three Bears thought it necessary that they should make further search; so they went upstairs to their bedchamber. 

Now little Goldilocks had pulled the pillow of the Great, Huge Bear out of its place. 

'Somebody has been lying in my bed!' said the Great, Huge Bear in his great, rough, gruff voice. 

And little Goldilocks had pulled the bolster of the Middle Bear out of its place. 

'Somebody has been lying in my bed!' said the Middle Bear in her middle voice. 

And when the Little, Small, Wee Bear came to look at his bed, there was the bolster in its place; and the pillow in its place upon the bolster; and upon the pillow was little Goldilocks's pretty head -- which was not in its place, for she had no business there. 

'Somebody is lying in my bed -- and here she is!' said the Little, Small, Wee Bear in his little, small, wee voice. 

Little Goldilocks had heard, in her sleep, the great, rough, gruff voice of the Great, Huge Bear; but she was so fast asleep that it was no more to her than the roaring of wind or the rumbling of thunder.  And she had heard the middle voice of the Middle Bear, but it was only as if she had heard someone speaking in a dream.

But when she heard the voice of the Little, Small, Wee bear, it was so sharp, so shrill, that it awakened her at once. 

Up she started; and when she saw the Three Bears on one side of the bed, she tumbled out at the other, and ran to the window. 

Now the window was open, because the Bears, like good, tidy bears, as they were, always opened their bedchamber window when they got up in the morning.  Out little Goldilocks jumped; and away she ran into the woods, and the Three Bears never saw anything more of her. 

~ Robert Southey's 1849 version. 

The Three Bears is an account of the superego gaining control over the impulsive, egocentric child. There is irony in the fact that here the human behaves like an animal, while the animals are civilized. 

Bruno Bettelheim (The Uses of Enchantment, 1976) considered that in the story of the Three Bears, the recurring number 3 could stand for the Freudian construct of "id," "ego," and "superego."  It obviously symbolizes the nuclear family consisting of a mommy, daddy, and baby, but Baby Bear only represents the "good" child, who wants and tries to please its powerful parents, while the fourth character, Goldilocks, is another aspect of the same child -- the side that does whatever it likes without regard for others.  

This interpretation explains Goldilocks’ free access to the Bear home.  Also, while Goldilocks does not suffer the consequences of her actions, Baby Bear does.  It is Little, Small, Wee Bear who is most upset about the empty porridge pot and the broken chair. 

Bruno Bettelheim, whose expertise was child psychiatry, proposed that, according to subconscious logic, since the "good" child cannot acknowledge his own naughtiness, it must be the responsibility of another, "bad," child.  A kind of integration occurs when, in the Southey story, it is the voice of Wee Bear -- the emergent inner voice -- that awakens Goldilocks, and she is consequently sent on her way.  

Three Other Bears

The 600-foot high columnar formation of igneous rock featured in the film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, was named Devil's Tower by Euro-American settlers.  The Sioux claim that this is where the Thunderer stands to beat his mighty drum. 

The myth of its origin concerns three girls who were beset by three bears while out gathering wild flowers.  They scrambled up a rock to get away, but since the bears had such long sharp claws, they easily managed to follow.

The gods, seeing the maidens about to be devoured, caused the rock to stretch up out of the ground.  But the more the rock grew, the higher climbed the bears, and 
the girls could hardly keep out of their grasp. 

Finally, the three bears could climb no more and fell, exhausted, to their deaths on the rocks below.  The girls might have been overjoyed had they not found themselves stranded on a tower above the plain.  

With the stems of the plants and flowers they had gathered, they fashioned a strong rope by means of which they managed to lower themselves to the ground. 

To this day, the furrows left by the bears' claws can be seen on all sides of the Tower. 

Arcadian Picnic 

Arcadia, the woodland paradise of European symbolist painters and poets, derives its name from the realm of the Bear.  So, "If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise."

Teddy Bears

Sixty years after Southey's "fairy tale" a German toy company, Sussenguth Bros., shows a stuffed toy bear in their catalogue.  Three years later, in 1897, toy bears were featured in the  Steiff's catalogue and at their booth at the Leipzig toy fair.  In 1899, Margarete Steiff registered 23 patents for soft toy designs that included a dancing bear, and a trainer with his brown bear.

American president (1901-1909,) Theodore Roosevelt, not having bagged anything during a hunt, was offered a brown bear which his companions had tied to a tree. He refused to kill the animal under such unsporting circumstances.  In November 1902, The Washington Post published a cartoon of the incident, and from talk of Teddy's bear, the expression "teddy bear" emerged.

That same month, Morris Michtom sold a "Teddy's Bear" in his Brooklyn shop, and Steiff is also credited with having made the first doll-type bear that year.  The following spring, Steiff sold 3, 000 of its 55PB bears to American stores.  

In Nov. 1906, American manufacturer E.J. Horsman used the expression Teddy Bear in an ad in the American trade magazine Playthings.  The following year, Seymour Eaton published The Roosevelt Bears comic strip in book form.

The most expensive teddy bear is a black mohair Steiff made around 1905, and estimated to sell at auction for over 20 000 British pounds. 


"I'll be there like Jack-the-Bear" is an expression that means to be definite and quick.

In the the outskirts of London in 1837 (early Victorian times,) a mysterious demonic figure was reported.  Known variously as Springheel-Jack and Jack-the-Bear, he mauled the unwary with great speed and ferocity.  He reportedly had talons and blazing eyes, and "inhuman leaps he made, clearing hedges and gates, even mail coaches, in a single bound."


Artemis:  In Sparta, her name was spelled Artamis, which is said to mean "Cutter."  Others find that the prefix consists of the Indo-european root Ar- standing for air or space. 

sow:  Following the terminology used for swine (pigs,) the female bear is called a sow.  Similarly, the male bear is termed a boar.  The young are called cubs, though.

Bruno is a personal name derived from bruin meaning bear, and bruin gives us the English word for the colour, brown.  It may be that it was the colour of the earth that gave rise to the word bruin for bear, though.  Consider that the name of Brno, the capital of Moravia in the Czech Republic, is generally agreed to derive from the Old Slavonic brn meaning mud.  Many English words and expressions, such as to bear children are references to the animal and its mysterious fertility.  (The bear appears to experience a kind of death at the approach of winter but then it mysteriously reappears in the springtime, accompanied by its young.)

Bettelheim:  A concentration camp survivor, he died by his own hand at age 86.  Since then, his life and work have been the subject of criticism, especially in Richard Pollack's 1997 biography.  

bolster;   a long, firm, cylindrical cushion used to support pillows at the head of the bed.

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