Discover the Link Between Bears and Mythology

Bear watching holidays are offered by some very reputable and expert wildlife travel companies. You can go bear watching in Europe, North America or Canada, depending on which species you want to see. Before you embark on a wildlife tour, however, you may be keen to learn more about this majestic animal’s place in their own world and ours.

Often feared, bears are also revered by many cultures and have been very much respected throughout history. Here is a brief insight into to their links to mythology.

Worship and Mythology Around the World

According to anthropologists, bears have been worshipped since prehistoric times – including Joseph Campbell, who studied their depiction in the culture of many of the fishing and hunting tribes of the past.

The ancient Finns (and other Siberian tribes) believed that the animal was the spirit of their forefathers, so nurtured huge respect for it – referring to it by several culturally significant names and endowing it as the national animal of Finland.

The Russians have a traditional fairy tale “Morozko”, in which the bad guy tries to kill a female and her cubs. He is punished and, as a consequence, has his head turned into a bear’s, which renders him ostracised by society.

The Scots have a fairy tale called “The Brown Bear of Norway”, which tells the tale of a girl who marries a handsome prince who then turns into a bear. Watching her lover take on this animal guise doesn’t change her feelings for him, and through her love he is able to regain his human form.

The animal also has a history of being worshipped in Eastern cultures, including the Chinese and Ainu people. In Korea, they are considered a symbolic animal, and legend tells of a god who set a female bear a very difficult test, which, if she passed, would allow her to reincarnate as a woman free to marry the god.

The people of the Alpine regions of Europe also hold a reverence for the animals. According to legend, St Corbinian tamed a dangerous bear and made it carry his bags over the mountains; while St Romedius is also said to have tamed one of the animals in order to get it to carry him from his secluded abode in the mountains all the way to Trento.

Even in our own, more modern, Western culture, the stories of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Berenstain Bears, and Winnie the Pooh are testament to the way we respect and honour these wonderful creatures.

It is fascinating to reflect on just how prominently the bear has featured in culture and mythology throughout the ages and across the world. For those about to travel to an exotic destination on a bear watching tour, it reinforces just how strong our relationship with this wonderful animal is.