Initiations, Bears and Rituals Part 3

Interesting things are afoot, but there is little to say about that at the moment. There is a lot going on, but I am not sure I am ready to talk about it all just yet. So, I move on to the third part of this series.

In his discussion of Finno-Karelian sources, and the Bear Cult; Haggerty has this to say;

“The Bear Cult is scholarly shorthand for a belief system which, at it’s height in the stone age, and into the bronze age, was prevalent not only in Scandinavia and northern Europe but likely extended around the northern zones of the entire northern hemisphere. It is possible that it is the oldest know religion across the Eurasian continent.” (Haggerty, pg 40)

Several sources are presented for evidence of the Bear Cult, of which I will discuss two here. The first is The Kalevala, which was compiled by Lönnrot in the nineteenth century as a national epic, which he created from collected oral poetry as he journeyed across Finland. Here is a stripped down version of one story of Väinämöinen, the old man that is a hero in the Kalevala. I need to dive into the Kalevala a little deeper, but this is one of my favorite stories so far.

” Louhi is a witch and she conjurers a bear to attack Väinämöinen’s village. The old man knows this is going to happen and has the craftsman Ilmarinen make a spear with which he could kill the bear. Väinämöinen enters the forest outside the village looking for the bear. He then recites the charms of a bear hunter before killing the bear, while declaiming responsibility for his actions.

The dead bear is then brought back to the village in such a fashion where the spirit of the bear is still considered to be alive. The bear is accepted ceremoniously into the village as a benign spirit and guest of the villagers. Continuing to praise the bear, Väinämöinen brings its body into a house in the village and treats it with the utmost respect. The bear is then skinned and its meat cooked and a fine meal is prepared which is to form part of a wedding ceremony for the bear’s spirit.

While the preparations are being made, Väinämöinen informs those present of the origin of the bear among the heavens, how it came to the human world and especially of the bear’s relationship to the personified female spirit of the forest. He tells of how the bear got it’s attributes such as teeth and claws.

Once this is done Väinämöinen ritually takes these attributes from the skull of the bear and takes the numinous power associated with these attributes to enhance his own. After the attributes of the bear are transferred to Väinämöinen, he leads the bear spirit away from the village and tells of how he ceremoniously attached the skull of the bear to a pine tree, in a particular position, which was pleasing to the bear’s spirit.” (Haggerty Pgs 42 – 43)

In some way, this story helps to outline a lot of my own practices. I have prayers, rites, and charms for before I go out to hunt. Also, once the kill is taken, I do my best to treat the spirit of the animal with honor and reverence. Respect for the remains as well as the spirit are important, just like the bear in the story. Also, and this is something I will likely develop more later, I am finding that some of these attributes can be adopted for spiritual work.

I think the last part is the most interesting, the skull being attached to the tree. It makes me think about some of the archaeological sites I have read about, especially one in Denmark where a reindeer (I think?) was found attached to a post, near a bog that contained more than a few reindeer remains. Certainly plenty to chew on…

Happy Holidays!




About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

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