Animal Totems: Mine Seems to be Black Bear

My friends and family know I love black bears, I think they’re majestic and beautiful. When I was decorating The Little House after it was built, I knew I wanted black bears to be the theme. In decorating, they also represent the embodiment of nature, the mountains and woods in which we live.

Our woods are alive with black bear. Although I’ve never actually seen one, we have seen the tracks. A friend of my aunt’s also saw a cub doing his business as she was driving down our road one night (answering that age old question about a bear doing it in the woods!)

Gone Fishin' Bear

Gone Fishin' Bear

Native Americans and those who embrace Native American spirituality believe there is more to being drawn to certain animals. Because they believe that God is everything that lives, they believe we are drawn to these animals because they represent our “totem,” the animal in nature that connects us to the Higher Power and acts as our spirit guide.

I’ve heard more than once, “Bear, now that’s a good symbol.” Although my name reflects Native American heritage, I wasn’t raised in the culture and have only read books on it, so I decided to take a look and see what the bear means to Native Americans. Of course, in this day and age, the research begins on the Internet.

Toilet Paper Holder 3This website on Native American art defines a bear as a totem animal as, “The protector and symbolizes physical strength and leadership as well as the wild, untamable side of humanity.”

This website goes into a little more detail about black bears and what they can teach us:

  • To turn inwards for guidance
  • That a period of reflection and time to digest is necessary to grow and be reborn in the spring.
  • How to accomplish our goals through introspection
  • How to bring our dreams into concrete reality
  • That we all have the answers within us (inner knowing)
  • That there is a time for playfulness and a time to be assertive

What struck me when doing the research is the section on “How to Apply a Bear’s Teaching to Your Life.” I won’t write out the whole page here, but let’s just say some of the things I have been doing to put me out of sync with my totem relays directly back to my recent test of faith.

I haven’t been allowing myself the “time of hibernation,” or of nothingness, which I read as meditation. Most important, I need to own my dreams and goals, define my boundaries and take time to connect with nature. I have felt especially out of sync since giving up our at least once daily walks to sub-zero temperatures these past few weeks.

An interesting introspection based on my décor.

Do you think you have an animal totem? If so, what is it?

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15 Responses

  1. MarkSpizer says:

    great post as usual!

  2. I love this post. I’m drawn to the bear, also, that must be why I refer to myself as the “she bear.” I, like the she bear, have the motto, “don’t mess with my cubs!” I’m learning hibernation is a good thing and that I really need it to grow as a person. It’s funny that I do a lot more of it in the winter, just like the bear. Spring, summmer, fall, I’m growing my garden, dehydrating, doing projects, being busy. But, come winter I’m doing quieter things, wanting to be home more, reading, reflecting, planning.
    Thank-you for this post, I’m now reflecting on it.

  3. Mo says:

    We too are blessed with Bears on the Yonderosa. Grand creatures and usually shy. We are strict about food and trash practices as a number of our full time neighbors have had problems, two of which resulted in Bears being killed inside their residences.

    Around here the First Nations people revered the Bear for his strength and learned humility. They are prominently featured on totem poles, sculptures, jewelry, masks and in stories passed from generation to generation as part of their oral tradition.

    Bears are considered masters of the forest and their connection to humans is highly respected. When a Bear was killed he was taken to the house of the Chief and treated as a guest of honor. Eagle down was sprinkled on them in a welcoming gesture, dances and prayers were offered to honor and thank the Bear’s spirit.

    My exposure to this culture both as a boy and now within my family has influenced my appreciation for the Bear. To see one in the woods is good medicine.

    • Thanks for this post, Mo. It’s also a good point about leaving and trash and food out. Even the best intentioned people who try to “care” for wildlife by feeding them are doing them a disservice. It’s safer for them to naturally forage than become accustomed to humans, which will usually always result in their demise.
      I really need some good medicine by seeing a bear in the woods! 🙂

  4. Alexandra says:

    Kerri, this man was taught in Peru. He made a point of how learning was harder because he was older than most of the other students. He was very respectful of Native American ways and the gift he was allowed to develop. Of course, it must be much easier if you inherit the gift.

    • I’m sure the shaman you heard was very respectful. I just wanted to clarify that I was speaking of Native Americans of America. I know nothing about native tribes of South America & Peru, only the debate here in the U.S. between Native Americans of whether a person can learn their spiritual culture. Some consider their spirituality part of their heritage and culture, rather than what we view as religion. In other words, you must be born into it and have it in your blood. The ones I’ve spoken to who believe this are generally older – old enough to remember being shipped to Catholic boarding schools to be “civilized” (which happened through the 1960s)- and those who remember it being illegal to practice their rituals (until maybe 1969?). They view non-Natives has having taken enough of their heritage and they’re unwilling to share what they have left. There are some, though, that don’t embrace that perspective.

  5. Frugal Kiwi says:

    I’d have to go with wombat. They may not get the same press as the glamour marsupials like kangaroos and koalas, but they are the smartest of the lot and fascinating in their own quirky way. Probably not too much about wombats in the Native American tradition though.

    Would my Choctaw and Chickasaw ancestors be horrified? Hard to say.

  6. Kathleen Winn says:

    I think Native Americans were on to something. When you describe the characteristics that you admire in the black bear, it’s clear that you’re drawn to an animal that represents either traits similar to your own, or that you aspire to.

    I do like the idea of a totem, because whether it’s spiritually based or not, it’s interesting to think about why I’m drawn to a particular animal and what it is about them that is attractive. Mine would have to be the horse. They represent strength, beauty and spirit to me, and riding always leaves me feeling exhilarated!

  7. MarthaandMe says:

    If I had one it would probably be a dog! I think it’s an interesting way of finding a physical symbol of spirituality and identity.

  8. kerri says:

    This brings up an interesting point, Alexandra, of whether Native American spirituality can be “taught” or if a person who is non-Native can “convert” so to speak. Of course, many Native Americans are not open to this line of thinking, while a minority are.

  9. Alexandra says:

    I do not have an animal totem, that I know about, but I thought this post was interesting. Recently we went to hear a Shaman speak. He used to be a Scottish engineer, that is until he was “nudged” by a snowy owl and decided to change professions.