This research database compiles sources of information that significantly inform investigations on bear ceremonialism in ancestral cultures of the northern hemisphere. Multiple types of data are represented in this database, including paleontological, archaeological, literary, historical, ethnographic and biological data. These and other sources are currently being applied to address long-standing questions in scientific discourse on the widespread distribution of bear ceremonialism on three continents.
Part I: A Paleolithic Origin Story?
An extensive investigation into the origins of the ancestral bear motif. Part one focuses on the earliest paleontological evidence of bear ceremonialism in human heritage.
In this tale from the legendary Saga of King Hrolf, a Sami sorceress named Hvit causes a man named Bjorn to transform into a bear. Later, Bjorn's lover, Bera, gives birth to three unusual children.
The Sons of Torum is a powerful and insightful ethnographic documentary centering on footage of a Khanty (Siberian Native) bear ceremony.
Introduction to contemporary bear dance ceremonies of Ute (North American Native) people. Informants relate the renewing power of these ceremonies for Ute society to the renewing power of the bear's hybernation cycle. Produced by Voices of America
Byock, J. L. translator (1998). The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki. Penguin.
Deans, James. (1889). The Story of the Bear and His Indian Wife. A Legend of the Haidas of Queen Charlotte's Island, B. C. The Journal of American Folklore Vol. 2, No. 7 (Oct. - Dec., 1889), pp. 255-260. Retrieved from https://img1.wsimg.com/blobby/go/136a4356-5da2-4921-b871-ac72598a7ee4/downloads/The%20Story%20of%20Bear%20and%20his%20Indian%20Wife.pdf?ver=1648023709672
Celoria, F. (1993). The Metamorphoses of Antoninus Liberalis. Classical Review, 423-424. ISSN 0009-840X, 43(2), 423–424. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315812755
Crawford, Jackson, translator. (2021). Two Sagas of Mythical Heroes: Hervor and Heidrek & Hrólf Kraki and his champions. Hackett Publishing Company.
Euripedes (1930). Alcestis. Translated by R. Aldington. F.P. Chatto & Windus. (original work 438 BCE). Retrieved 2022, from http://classics.mit.edu/Euripides/alcestis.html
Euripedes (1884). The Alcestis of Euripides: Translated From The Greek Into English, Now For The First Time In Its Original Metres, With Preface, Explanatory Notes, And Stage Directions Suggesting How It Might Have Been Performed. Translated by & Lennard Henry Barrett Lennard. London: R. Bentley and Sons. (original work 438 BCE). Retrieved 2022, from https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=A9cIAAAAQAAJ&pg=GBS.PA52&hl=en
Ewers, J. C. (1955). The Bear Cult among the Assinboin and Their Neighbors of the Northern Plains. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 11(1), 1–14. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3628993
Griffin, J. (1986). Greek Myth and Hesiod. In Greece and the Hellenistic World. In J. Boardman, J. Griffin, & O, Murray. (Eds.). Oxford University Press.
Hallowell, A. I. (1926). Bear Ceremonialism in the Northern Hemisphere. American Anthropologist, 28(1), 1–175. https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1926.28.1.02a00020
Janhunen, Juha. (2003). Tracing the Bear Myth in Northeast Asia. Acta Slavica Iaponica, 20, 1-24 https://eprints.lib.hokudai.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/2115/39417/1/ASI20_001.pdf
Linnaéus, Carl Von. (1811). Lachesis Lapponica; or, a Tour in Lapland. White and Cochrane. (original work 1732). Retrieved March 16, 2022, from https://archive.org/details/lachesislapponic01linn
McClellan, C. (1970). The girl who married the bear. The National Museum of Canada.
Murray, G. (1910). The Iphigenan Tarus of Euripedes. Oxford University Press. https://resources.warburg.sas.ac.uk/pdf/ekh238b2759709.pdf
Narayan, R. K., & Kampar. (2006). The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic (suggested by the Tamil version of Kamban). Penguin Books. Retrieved 2022, from http://dt.pepperdine.edu/courses/greatbooks_v/gbv-15/66697602-The-Ramayana-R-K-Narayan.pdf
North South East West. (n.d.). American Indians and the Natural World. Retrieved 2022, from http://nsew.carnegiemnh.org/
Pentikäinen, J. (2015). The Bear Rituals among the Sámi. In E Comba, & D. Ormezzano, (Eds.). Uomini e orsi: Morfologia del selvaggio. Torino: Accademia University Press. doi:10.4000/books.aaccademia.1379 Retrieved 2022, from https://books.openedition.org/aaccademia/1379?lang=en
Sale, W. (1962). The Story of Callisto in Hesiod. Rheinisches Museum 102 (1962). 1 33-1 41.http://www.rhm.uni-koeln.de/105/Sale.pdf
Scheffer, J. (1673). The History of Lapland. The Project Gutenberg eBook. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/59695/59695-h/59695-h.htm
Tolley, C. (2007). Hrolf's Saga Kraka and Sami Bear Rites. Saga Book. Viking Society for Northern Research. University College London. , (31), 5–21.
Trzaskoma, S. M., Smith, R. S., Brunet, S., & Palaima, T. G. (2016). Anthology of Classical Myth: Primary Sources in Translation. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Retrieved 2022, from https://users.pfw.edu/flemingd/Hesiod%20Theogony.pdf
Wiget, Andrew; Balalaeva, Olga (2011). Khanty, People of the Taiga: Surviving the 20th Century. University of Alaska Press. ISBN 978-16022-3125-2. https://moodle.swarthmore.edu/pluginfile.php/246427/mod_resource/content/1/Khanty.pdf
Bower, B. (2020). This Cave Hosted the Oldest Known Human Remains in Europe. Science News for Students. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/earliest-known-human-remains-europe-bacho-kiru-bulgaria
Bradshaw Foundation. (n.d.). Gallery of Cave art Paintings. Retrieved March 16, 2022, from https://www.bradshawfoundation.com/chauvet/chauvet_cave_art/index.php
Chang, Will; Chundra, Cathcart (January 2015). "Ancestry-Constrained Phylogenetic Analysis Supports the Indo-European Steppe Hypothesis." Language. 91 (1): 194–244. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.linguisticsociety.org/sites/default/files/news/ChangEtAlPreprint.pdf
Germonpré M. and Hämäläinen R. (2007). Fossil Bear Bones in the Belgian Upper Paleolithic:The Possibility of a Proto Bear-Ceremonialism, Arctic Anthropology, 44, 1–30 https://www.academia.edu/488075/Fossil_bear_bones_in_the_Belgian_Upper_Palaeolithic_the_possibility_of_a_proto_bear_ceremonialism
Günther, T., Malmström, H., Svensson, E. M., Omrak, A., Sánchez-Quinto, F., Kılınç, G. M., Krzewińska, M., Eriksson, G., Fraser, M., Edlund, H., Munters, A. R., Coutinho, A., Simões, L. G., Vicente, M., Sjölander, A., Sellevold, B. J., Jørgensen, R., Claes, P., Shriver, M. D., … Jakobsson, M. (2018). Population genomics of mesolithic Scandinavia: Investigating early postglacial migration routes and high-latitude adaptation. PLOS Biology. Retrieved March 16, 2022, from https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.2003703
Hublin, J.J., Sirakov, N., Aldeias, V. et al. Initial Upper Palaeolithic Homo sapiens from Bacho Kiro Cave, Bulgaria. Nature 581, 299–302 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2259-z
Lamnidis, T.C., Majander, K., Jeong, C. et al. (2018). Ancient Fennoscandian Genomes Reveal Origin and Spread of Siberian Ancestry in Europe. Nat Commun 9, 5018. Retrieved 2022, from https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-07483-5
Tamm, E., Kivisild,T., Reidla, M., Metspalu, M., Smith, D.G., et al. (2007) Beringian Standstill and Spread of Native American Founders. PLOS ONE 2(9): e829. Retrieved 2022, from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0000829
Todorov, S. (2020). Cave in Bulgaria sheds light on early humans. Balkan Insight. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://balkaninsight.com/2020/05/12/a-cave-in-bulgaria-sheds-a-light-on-the-earliest-homo-sapiens/
U.S. Department of the Interior. (n.d.). Other Migration Theories. National Parks Service. Retrieved March 16, 2022, from https://www.nps.gov/bela/learn/historyculture/other-migration-theories.htm
Wunn, I. (2000). Beginning of Religion. Numen, 47(4), 417–452. https://doi.org/10.1163/156852700511612
Blundell, S., & Williamson, M. (1998). The Sacred and the Feminine in Ancient Greece. Routledge.
Brunning, S. (2016). A ‘Divination Staff’ from viking-age Norway: At the British Museum. Acta Archaeologica, 87(1), 193–200. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0390.2016.12171.x
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Beaker Folk. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 16, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Beaker-folk
Helmbrecht, M. (2013). Figures, Foils and Faces - Fragments of a pictorial world. Anthropomorphic Images from the Vendel period and Viking Age found at Uppåkra. Birgitta Hårdh, Lars Larsson (Eds.): Folk, Fä Och Fynd. Uppåkrastudier 12. Acta Arch. Lundensia Ser. in 8, No. 64. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.academia.edu/5577634/Figures_Foils_and_Faces_Fragments_of_a_pictorial_world_Anthropomorphic_images_from_the_Vendel_period_and_Viking_Age_found_at_Upp%C3%A5kra
Hultkranz, Å. (1991). The Drum in Shamanism. Some Reflections. In T. Ahlbäck, J. Bergman. (Eds.). The Saami Shaman Drum: Based on Papers Read at the Symposium on the Saami Shaman Drum Held at Abo, Finland, on the 19th-20th of August 1988. essay, The Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.doria.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/134162/The%20Saami%20Shaman%20Drum%201991%20OCR.pdf?sequence=2
Liesowska, Anna. (2013). Siberian Times. Beautiful Ancient Ring Found by Archeologists on the Arctic Circle Was not for a Woman...But a Bear. Siberian Times. https://siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/features/beautiful-ancient-bronze-ring-found-by-archeologists-on-the-arctic-circle-was-not-for-a-womanbut-a-bear/
National Museum of Denmark. (n.d.). A Seeress from Fyrkat. Retrieved 2022, from https://en.natmus.dk/.../religion.../a-seeress-from-fyrkat/
Price, Neil. (2004). The Archaeology of Seidr: Circumpolar Traditions in Viking Pre-Christian Religion. Brathair 4 (2). 2004: 109-126. ISSN: 1519-9053
Rydving, H. (1991). The Saami Drums and the Religious Encounter in the 17th and 18th Centuries. In T. Ahlbäck, J. Bergman. (Eds.). The Saami Shaman Drum: Based on Papers Read at the Symposium on the Saami Shaman Drum Held at Abo, Finland, on the 19th-20th of August 1988. The Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.doria.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/134162/The%20Saami%20Shaman%20Drum%201991%20OCR.pdf?sequence=2
Ulriksen, J. (2018). A Volvas Grave Offa 71 72 07. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.academia.edu/36236815/Ulriksen_2018_A_Volvas_grave_Offa_71_72_0
Walbank, M. (1981). Artemis Bear-Leader. The Classical Quarterly, 31(2), 276-281. doi:10.1017/S0009838800009587
Rerference: The Story of Callisto in Hesiod. William Sale. 1962. http://www.rhm.uni-koeln.de/105/Sale.pdf
"Callisto: Hesiod says that she was the daughter of [King] Lycaon and chose to spend her time with wild beasts in the mountains, together with Artemis. She was ravished by Zeus but remained in Artemis' company dissimulating her pregnant condition; eventually she was seen while bathing and her secret discovered. Artemis in anger converted her to a bear, and in this form she gave birth to Arcas, named from Callisto's metamorphosis."
"Callisto and Arcas went off to live in the mountains, were captured by goatherds, and turned over to Lycaon. After a while Callisto decided to go into the abaton of Lycaeus, not knowing the law. She was pursued by her son and the Arcadians, and was about to be killed on account of this law when Zeus, moved by kinship, put her and her son amongst the stars. And he called her apxtoc because of the misfortune which befell her."
"Arctophylax: He is said to be Arcas, the son of Callisto and Zeus, and to have dwelt around Mt. Lycaeus. Lycaon, feigning ignorance of the fact that Zeus had raped Callisto, entertained Zeus, as Hesiod says, and cut up the child and put it on the table. (Schol. Aratus Latinus and Vaticanus graecus 1087)."
"Eumelos and certain others say that Lycaon also had a daughter named Callisto, but Hesiod says she is one of the nymphs. (Apollodorus 3. 8. 2)."
"Vaticanus goes on to tell how Zeus overturned the table on which the unholy meal was set, destroyed the household and restored Arcas, who was then brought up by a goatherd, pursued his mother into the abaton, and was about to be killed when Zeus changed him into the constellation Arctophylax. Eratosthenes' other witnesses agree that this is how he told the story."
"But it is not possible that Hesiod told it this way; it is too absurd. Here is the life-history that would be assigned Arcas: he was born of a bear, captured by goatherds, brought to Lycaon, cut up in pieces and served to Zeus, restored and sent again to a goatherd, returned again to Lycaeus, chased his mother into the sanctuary, and was about to be killed again, when Zeus changed hirn into the constellation Arctophylax. "
"...under each constellation might be found material from various sources containing many· contrasting forms of myth with no effort made to reconcile them."
"Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 21 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Thrassa was daughter of Ares and of Tereine daughter of Strymon. Hipponous, son of Triballos [eponym or god of the Triballoi tribe of Thrake (Thrace)], married her and they had a daughter called Polyphonte. She scorned the activities of Aphrodite and went to the mountains as a companion and sharer of sports with Artemis."
"Aphrodite, whose activities Polyphonte failed to honour, made her fall in love with a bear and drove her mad. By daemonic urge she went on heat and coupled with this bear. Artemis seeing her was utterly disgusted with her and turned all beasts against her."
"Polyphonte, fearing the beasts would make an end of her, fled and reached her father's house. She brought forth two children, Agrios (Agrius) and Oreios (Oreus), huge and of immense strength. They honoured neither god nor man but scorned them all. If they met a stranger they would haul him home to eat. Zeus loathed them and sent Hermes to punish them in whatever way he chose."
"Hermes decided to chop off their hands and feet. But Ares, since the family of Polyphonte descended from him, snatched her sons from this fate. With the help of Hermes he changed them into birds."
"Polyphonte became a small owl whose voice is heard at night. She does not eat or drink and keeps her head turned down and the tips of her feet turned up. She is a portent of war and sedition for mankind. Oreios became an eagle owl, a bird that presages little good to anyone when it appears. Argios was changed into a vulture, the bird most detested by gods and men. These gods gave him an utter craving for human flesh and blood."
Saga of King Hrolf
In the saga of King Hrolf, a Sami 'sorceress' named Hvit cursed a young man named Bjorn (bear). She transformed into a bear and made to eat great multitudes of livestock that belonged to his father, King Hring. The king did not know what had become of his son. After a while, his lover, a young woman named Bera (she-bear), recognized the bear’s eyes, and followed it to a cave, where at night, Bjorn returned to human form. Things continued this way for a while. One night, Bjorn predicted that his father would kill him. He prophesied many things to Bera and told her that she was pregnant with their three sons. The next day, at sunrise, he became a bear again. As Bera left the cave, she saw dogs, followed by the king’s men, hunting the bear. The bear killed the dogs. The men encircled the bear (a technique identified as ringing). The bear killed the man closest to the king, then collapsed from exhaustion, and was killed. From underneath the arm of the slain bear, Bera recovered a ring (based on Byock, Trans. 1998).
Volund is described as, “a keen eyed archer,” who hunted and skied with his two brothers (Crawford, Trans. pp: 125, 123). One day, after returning home from a long journey, Volund began to roast bear meat. While sitting on a bear skin, he counted his seven-hundred rings (one of which had been stolen). The masterful hunter and metal-smith was then cruelly wounded and imprisoned by King Nithuth. Nithuth forced Volund to make jeweled works for him. Meanwhile, Volund plotted vengeance. He tricked Nithuth’s two sons and killed them both. Then Nithuth’s daughter, Bothvild came to Volund. She praised the quality of a ring he made for her, but lamented that it had broken. She asked him to repair it. Volund tricked her also, and told her he would fix it, then forced himself upon her. Restless over the death of his sons, Nithuth pleaded with Volund to know, “…What kind of fate did my sons meet?” Volund said he would tell him, but first demanded that he swear on many things, including a, “shield’s-edge” (a kenning for ring), that he will, “…not harm my lover… even if she bears my child in your own halls” (pp: 130-131). Nithoth agreed. Volund then told Nithoth that he killed his son’s and fashioned their skulls into ornamental drinking cups. He also told him that his daughter was pregnant (Rulf, 2022, based on Bellows, Trans. 1936 and Crawford, Trans.
"Three brothers had a sole sister, who was hated by her brothers, so that she was forced to flee into the wilderness; she became exhausted, and finally she came upon a bear’s den and went into it to rest; to the same den there also came a bear, who after a closer acquaintance took her as his mate, and begat a son with her. After some time, when the bear became old and the son had grown up, the bear is supposed to have said to his wife that he could live no longer because of age, and wanted therefore to go out at the first snow of autumn so that her three brothers could find his tracks, and thus surround and kill him… the bear asked for a piece of brass to be fastened on his brow as a sign to distinguish him from other bears, and so that his own son, who had left, would not kill him."
"So, when deep snow was fallen, the three brothers set out to slay this bear, whom they had previously ringed in. Then the bear asked his wife if all three brothers had been equally hateful towards her. She answered that the two elder brothers had been harsher, but the youngest somewhat milder. When these brothers came to the bear's den, the bear leapt out, and attacked the eldest brother, biting and wounding him very badly, and thereupon the bear returned immediately to his den unscathed. When the second brother came, the bear leapt against him as well, and injured him just like the first, and returned to his den."
"Then he told his wife to grasp him round the waist. She did this, and he walked on two feet, carrying her out of the den; she then ordered the youngest brother to shoot him, which he did. The wife placed herself some distance away, and covered her face, as she hadn’t the heart to watch, and the bear was shot, and next had to be flayed: she shot a glance at it, however. From this must the custom have derived thereafter that no women may see the bear or the bear hunters, other than with hidden face, and through a ring of brass…"
"…When the three brothers had felled the bear, and all the flesh was put in the kettle to cook, the son arrived, and the three brothers recounted in front of him how they had shot an astonishing animal, which had a piece of brass on its brow. He said that this was his father, who had been distinguishable by such a piece of brass…"
"… From the brass found on the bear’s brow must have arisen the custom that the bear hunters and all the equipment used in the hunt must be adorned with brass chains and rings.” (Fjellstrom, cited in Tolley, 2007, pp: 11)."
The motif occurs in a Haida story documented in 1873. Deans (1889) describes the Native informant as, “a very intelligent Haida, by the name of Yak Quahu” (pp: 255). Quahu relates a story of a woman named Kind-a-wuss, who was taken unwillingly and made pregnant by a bear. Her lover, Quiss-an-kweedass, searched for her but could not find her. Finally, after searching for her for many years, he consulted a “medicine man,” who had a vision of the missing woman; he said:
I see a young woman lying on the ground, she seems to be asleep. It is Kind-a-wuss. There is something among the bushes, coming toward her. It is a large bear. He takes hold of her, she tries to get away, but cannot. He takes her away with him. They go a long way off. I see a lake. They reach the lake, and stop at a large cedar tree. She lives in the tree with the bear. She has been there a long time. I see two children, boys. She had them by the bear. If you go to the lake and find the tree, you will discover them all there (pp: 257).
The account also records the words of a Haida bear song, elucidating cultural significance in the story line; “I have taken a fair maid from her Haida friends as my wife. I hope her relatives won't come and take her away from me…” (pp: 259). In the end, despite the bear’s wishes, Kind-a-wuss is returned to her people, along with one of her children; the other son remains close to his father in the wilderness (Rulf, 2022).
In Tlingit story-telling traditions, ethnographic records purport an account of a woman who is abducted by a bear and made pregnant. Numerous versions of this story are recorded and published, all with variations. To be concise, the bear, "…appeared to her as a fine looking young man. ‘Come with me,’ he said. She followed him a long way up into the mountains. They came to a place with people—at least that’s how it seemed to her. When she awoke at dawn, she pushed aside the blanket and saw brown bears instead of humans asleep around her. She married the bear, who looked like a man to her, and they had two children. In the meantime, her five brothers searched for their sister. They found her footprints alongside the bear tracks, and then they knew that she had gone with the bear…"
In the final stages of this version of the story, the bear is hunted and killed by the woman’s five brothers. Before the bear is killed, he instructs the woman to honor him by draping his hide so that it faces toward the setting sun.” The author notes, “…This story is a composite of the versions told by Tom Peters (collected by Nora and Richard Dauenhauer) and by Sheldon and Mary James, Sr., and Minnie Johnson (collected by Frederica de Laguna). This short version emphasizes the story line, omitting the rich detail and cultural complexity present when told by Tlingit storytellers” (American Indians and the Natural World, 2022).
Tolley (2007) cites a different version of the story, which concludes in the death of the bear and the woman, along with three of her four brothers: "A young woman is abducted by a bear in the guise of her husband. They live together, and she has two sons, half bear, half human in nature. Her four brothers come hunting; the bear tells his bride that he will be killed, and instructs her to ensure that when this happens she gets hold of his head and cast it into the fire. The bear sees off the elder brothers, but the youngest he allows to slay him. The young woman returns to the village, and the brothers decide to have fun by asking her and her boys to dress in bear pelts. The brothers said they would shoot at them with spruce- bark arrows, but the skins fitted so well that all three became bears for real, and the youngest brother, changing the bark arrow head for a bone one, a strong one, too, shot his sister dead, as she was a true bear now. The elder brothers were killed by the bear cubs, who fled into the wilderness never to return" (pp: 10).
The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian curates an“Iroquois story about three hunters who follow a bear into the sky and become the stars forming the handle of the Big Dipper.” In this tale, a great bear frightened and eluded the people. Three brothers committed to hunting the bear down but could not catch up to it. The bear led the hunters, along with their dog, to the edge of the world, and they “followed the bear into the sky.” Eventually, the bear tired, and wove an invisible net, which he crawled into and fell asleep. At last, the brothers, thinking they had caught the bear cheered, but roused the bear from its slumber. The bear cast the net over the three brothers and their dog and "dragged them far away." According to the story, the hunters still follow the bear, unaware that they are trapped in the bears net.
Here is the life-history that would be assigned Arcas: he was born of a bear, captured by goatherds, brought to Lycaon, cut up in pieces and served to Zeus, restored and sent again to a goatherd, returned again to Lycaeus, chased his mother into the sanctuary, and was about to be killed again, when Zeus changed him into the constellation Arctophylax."
See also "Ancestral-Bear Motif"
Sale, W. (1962). The Story of Callisto in Hesiod. Rheinisches Museum 102 (1962). 1 33-1 41.http://www.rhm.uni-koeln.de/105/Sale.pdf