Bear, As A Sacred Animal

The Origin of the Bear

Wheare was ”broad-forehead” orn, was ”honey-paws” produced? Tehre was broad-forehead” born, was ”honey-paws” produced,

close to the moon, beside the sun, on the shoulders of Charle´s Wian. Form there was he let dow to the earth, to the honeye wood´s interior, to a verdant thicket´s edge, into a liver-coloured cleft. Sinisirkku the forest maid, rocked him, swayed him to and for in a cradle of gold, in silver straps, under a fir, with branchin crown, under a bushy pine. ”Broadforehead” the was christened, the scanty-haired one was baptized near ”fiery” rapids, at the eddy of a fearful, holy stream. Who undertook to christen him?

he king of Himmerkki himself, he undertook to christen him, to baptize the scanty-haired, the Virgin Mary, mother dear, both acted as his godmother and to the christening carried him. What was the name they gave? ”Hulking fellow”, ”little haystack”, ”lovely shaggy coat of hair”, ”honeypaws”, ”the corpulent”.

The Magic Songs of the Finns, Elias Lönnrot, 1880

First Birth Myth

The bear cult in Finland dates back 4000–2000 bc. In the animistic belief, the system bear was one of the most sacred totem animals and was considered as the mythical ancestor. Bear worship was common among several other Finnic and Samojedi tribes in Siberia and we can assume that these people were connected to each other. Ostjak tribe in Siberia has a bear myth that is also known in Finland.

According to the myth, the bear lived in the skies in the constellation of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor/ Big Bear and the Small Bear, with his father, sky god Num Torum. His son, the bear wanted to move to the earth and live among people. His father agreed and the bear was landed from the starry skies to the earth in a golden cradle. Bear lived a sinful life on earth which angered his father, who let people kill his son.

A myth where a bear´s origin is in the starry sky and he was landed to the earth is common in all Eurasian areas. In the Finnish folktales, the bear is a male but among the Siberian Vogul tribe, the bear of the myth is female.

Second Birth Myth

The second myth tells that bear was born in Tapiola (an old Finnish word for forest). Bears parents were sky god Ilmarinen and tree goddess Hongatar. Forest goddess Mielikki took care of the bear once he was born. She also gave bear its name and its purpose. A creature that is both loved, feared and respected by men. Mielikki named him karhu (Finnish word for bear). Karhu comes from the word karhea meaning rough fur. Bear was a god figure and it was believed that as a god in flesh bear could read people´s minds. Bear was a god, shaman and witch. so when people entered the forest, they weren’t allowed to say the word ”bear” or speak god’s name aloud. That would jinx bear to appear.

In the Finnish language, there are over 1000 nicknames forbear. Omena, Omenainen, Metsän omena, hunajatassu, Tapion poika, Tapiolan poika, Metsän kuningas. (Apple, forest Apple, honey paw, son of Tapio, son of Tapiola, king of the forest etc.) According to some myths about forests, god Tapio and his wife Mielikki both had the ability to shape-shift themselves into bears. Tapio who was the goddess of big gain was prayed by the hunters to give them bears to hunt. Bear was connected to the väki of the forest. Forest was ruled by the metsänhaltija the spirit of the forest and hunters they tried to stay on good terms with all the spirits.

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Niina's Fairychamber

Niina's Fairychamber

Illustrator, writer and a folklorist. Likes cats, tea and period dramas. Currently writing a book about Finnish mythology. A host of the Little Women Podcast.