There are 8 species of bear around the world that live in everything from tropical to arctic habitats. Bear behavior varies from aggressive, as with the grizzly and polar bear, to passive, i.e. the panda bear. The meaning of bear spirit animal is closely tied with the archetype of the cave. Every species of bear uses a cave or den during their lives be it for hibernation, bearing young, or retreating from stormy weather.
Introspection in the Cave
A naturally formed cave or den dug in the ground symbolizes the womb of the mother. Bear meaning speaks to us of retreating into the womb of the Great Mother, the earth, for rest and protection. Creativity is born during this time of retreat as we see when the mother bear emerges with her bear cubs. We think that maturity happens when we leave the womb, but bear symbolism teaches different. Going back into the great womb, the void, where all of creation is born actually brings maturity. If we are constantly out in the world doing, doing, doing we never turn our experience into wisdom. The meaning of bear is to turn inward for moments of silent retreat, meditation, and contemplation to synthesize ideas and reflect.
This coming into the core of who we are to find the infinite knowing of the cosmos is the essence of bear spirit animal. People with the archetype of the hermit will understand how fruitful and critical this “cave time” can be.
There are actually only three species of bear that hibernate, the black bear, grizzly/brown bear and Asiatic black bear. If you are exploring the symbolism of these species, now is the time to consider what pace you are going at. These bears can go up to 7 ½ months without eating, drinking, urinating, or defecating. All of their energy goes to turning inward and slipping away into a trance. Bear spirit animal may be asking you to drop all worldly concerns at this time. They will adjust the length of their hibernation based on climactic factors and in the winters of warmer zones or years they may emerge multiple times during the winter to feed.
Now may be a good time to consider either slowing down if life has been fast-paced or waking up and emerging from the den if your retreat is near an end. It is important to remember that the bears do not instantly fall into deep sleep nor do they jump right out of the den and go straight about living.
There is an intensive period before hibernation called “hyperphagia” which is a period of excessive eating and drinking way past the point of hunger to fatten up for hibernation. The bears may eat five times as many calories as needed to survive. Bear spirit animal doesn’t suggest you run to the kitchen and start stuffing your face, rather that you gather as much knowledge and experience as possible before turning inward.
When hibernating bears emerge from the den, they go through a “walking hibernation” for 2-3 weeks. Those of us that have taken an intensive spiritual workshop know this as “re-entry”. This is a time when the bears eat less and move slowly. When we return home from retreat, we have to gradually come back into the mundane concerns of the world.
Whether going into contemplation or coming out, the meaning of bear is to do so gradually and with thoughtfulness.
Bear symbolism is linked to the “mother bear” archetype around the world. Even the less aggressive species are still known for their tender and highly attentive treatment of their young. In the Greek story of the princess Atalanta, Atalanta is left in the woods by her father, the king, because she is not a boy. The Goddess Artemis is said to have sent a mother bear to take in Atalanta as her own. When Atalanta was grown, a party of hunters discovered her and the mother bear came to her defense. Similarly, the Wabanaki Pueblo people have a story of an abandoned boy who was adopted by a mother bear that later came to his defense.
Grizzly bears are famous for attacking and sometimes killing humans that get between them and their young. If you are a mother, you likely have had the experience of protecting your young. For others, the mother bear meaning is symbolic and you can work with the mother archetype. What creative projects or innocent beings are you in staunch defense of? Bear spirit animal teaches about using aggression as a healthy defense of the weak or abandoned parts of ourselves.
The 8 Species of Bears
Known as an adaptable generalist, the black bear is the most abundant and conspicuous of all bears. Once corrupted by the taste of human food, black bears can become obsessed. Think of your own associations to the temptations of the “civilized” world (digital gadets, TV, coffee, sugar, etc.) and ways you can remain one-in-yourself. The cave time will be an especially important retreat for those with this spirit animal.
People with the grizzly bear spirit animal as a guide should study the mother bear archetype within themselves and be sure they are utilizing their aggression judiciously. This bear is found in wild places and does not coexist well with humans. What aspect of you is still wild and untouched? How can you protect that aspect?
Asiatic Black Bear
Known as the “Moon Bear of Tibet”, this bear has a distinctive crescent moon on its chest. The moon is related to feminine and intuitive qualities. This bear spirit animal can help you curl up around this part of yourself in the cave and find much needed nurturance in the darkness.
The sun or honey bear lives in the warm, tropical climates of Southeast Asia and is a forest dweller. It is the smallest and rarest of all bears. Forests are commonly seen as the realm of our unconscious, our inner “wilderness”. In the tropics, the forest is abundant, moist and rich. The sun bear naps in nests it builds in trees and adores eating honey. The sun bear spirit animal brings tidings of your own inner riches.
The spectacled bear lives in the Andean Mountains of South America and has distinctive white spectacles over its eyes. An inhabitant of the cloud forest and other uninhabited places, this bear teaches about what we can see and what vision we can bring back from a foyer up the hero’s mountain and into the dense forests of our inner landscape.
A lesser known member of the bear clan, the sloth bear lives in humid forests in India and Sri Lanka. These bears are nocturnal, sleeping in trees during the day and seen hanging from trees like sloths. The meaning of bear here involves moving at a slow pace all of the time and maintaining a gentle mindset.
Distinctly different from all other bears, the docile and glamorous panda bear speaks of seeing the world in black and white. Quiet and reclusive, the panda symbolism teaches about a detached, gentle way of contemplating the polarities of the world without judgement or irritation.
You can read all about this bear by going to the article on MASTER POLAR BEAR
Some great information on bear behavior and biology is available here:
Go deeper into your relationship
with the mother archetype…
“The Nurturers: Mother, Companion, Servant”
All three archetypes love to care for others and pour their energy into giving. They reach their full potential once they complete the journey through the self and into their unique form of service. The divine mother aligns with the cycles of life. The loyal companion softens the hardened heart. The humble servant embraces service to all.
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch is a Spiritual Director who teaches about archetypes and symbolism. Her speciality is working with soul pioneers - those of you who are making it up as you go along the spiritual path. She works with beginner and life-long spiritual seekers. Through working with Stacey, lost seekers find their way home and professional spiritual guides receive mentorship. Stacey empowers people with the ability to explore their purpose and calling. Wisdom found in story, mysticism, and nature provide guidance and healing in her work. She is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.
i have been told that black bear is one of my power animals. lately my PTSD has been very easily flared up. and i am trying to crate more space for myself…..i have always loved to hibernate….
thank you for another very interesting article!
You are very welcome Suzy. Happy hibernating!
I have only just tonight taken my first journey but was greated by a large brown bear who was helping me in my journey.
What an awesome show of support Sarah! The nurturing energy of bear can be so helpful in building our confidence as we first venture into the shamanic landscape. Be sure to give thanks and make an offering to bear spirit animal for her beautiful service. Many Blessings, Stacey
I hiked into the woods alone to make some art with (all natural) chalk on some stone. On the way back down the trail I came face to face with a huge black bear! I live in a more desert like chaparral area and never considered there to be bears in these parts!! The energy felt so welcoming I wanted to hug it. It came closer to me, but then turned around and descended up a hill and away from me. I got the sense it needed me to leave because I was encroaching on its territory. So I turned to leave! And ran back down the trail. Next time I will hike with a buddy lol. I have never seen anything more beautiful then this huge bear descending up this hill!! Anyways- I am a shaman, a direct descendent of Pocahontas. Miracles, mystery, and magic follow me wherever I go. I was only awakened a year ago so I am still educating myself on symbolism. I have never worked with bear before. Any advice or inuitions on what this means for me?
Hello Promise, What a blessing to have such a personal and intimate encounter with the black bear! When seeking meaning, I recommend looking at the territory of your inner world and how you protect and honor that. Another approach may be to look at where you are retreating and/or running from going deeper inward. Of course, in the actual encounter with the bear it was a good move to retreat and leave the bear alone, but in your spiritual life, should you retreat or move inward? It sounds like you are being invited by bear spirit animal to move inward because you had a feeling of friendliness from the actual black bear. Either way, my best guess is that this is just the beginning of your relationship with black bear. I recommend inviting black bear spirit animal to join you on shamanic journeys and enter your dreams. You may want to consider bringing photos and/or statues of black bears into your home. This seems like an energy that will serve you well at this time. Many Blessings, Stacey
Thank you Stacey on your reply regarding the black bear! I think you are right about it prompting me to go deeper with my shadow work. I just started shadow work this year and it led me on my path to awakening in who I am as a spiritual teacher and healer. i do still have so much pain and fear I am trying to integrate and release. As within so without! In meditation the bear has taught me about boundaries and how because of social and family programming it was my impulse to answer “Yes!” To any request that was asked of me. Bear is teaching me how to go within and ask myself how I really feel so that I can give from a place of authenticity and not be so self-sacrificing! I am going to follow your advice and get some photos, statues, and jewelry of the bear. thank you again,
With gratitude for your wisdom,
In the last 3 weeks I have been having lots of bear encounters. Some where the bear is so close I could touch the bear.A few weeks ago I was out at night and a black bear was running he got about 4 feet from me before he noticed I was there. I think of myself as a normal alright guy, but what is with all these bear encounters?
Hello Stephen, It sure is hard to miss a big black bear in your path even in the dark. I am sure you are still a normal alright guy. Encounters with wild animals, even rare or startling or strange ones aren’t necessarily a reflection on how normal, crazy or special we are. Ultimately, they are an invitation to open up to something larger. There is a lot going on in the invisible realms and anyone has the capacity to sense this movement and these messages, we just each receive messages in our own unique ways. You get bears this month/year and I’m getting fox in the last couple days. It doesn’t mean either of us are any less or more gifted or called, it just means that we are both special and a common thread of the same cloth. Many Blessings, Stacey
I have had multiple dreams with bears in them, and it most of them I was also a brown bear.
In one dream I was working with another brown bear, white bear, and black bear. We were trying to save the wild from the humans.
In another dream I was a brown bear in my territory with two other brown bears. (I thought brown bears were solitary and lived by themselves…) one of the bears was from my other dream and the other one was a smaller brown bear.
I have an idea of how to save the wild, as well as useing my love for outer space.
I will try to put my plan into action, sometime in the future…
Hello Racquel, What an experience to not only dream of many different bears, but also to be a bear and work side by side with them! I think it is important to note that humans need saving as much as the wild does. By realizing that it’s not protection from humans the wild needs, but adoration, compassion and caring from humans at a deep soul level. Whatever you can do to help others love and appreciate nature more, even if it is simply admiring a hawk in the sky, you are helping nature right now. Whatever you can do to be more loving with your fellow humans and help yourself and others become more whole, you are also doing for the wild ones. We are one and the same and we all need saving. Many Blessings, Stacey
My first bear spirit animal was a Grizzly, then more bears come through mainly black bears, sometimes they vocalize at night while cuddling next to me like real teddy bears. mostly mine would vocalize after a nightmare or under spiritual attacks. Sometimes the bigger ones would be playful and shake my bed like if an earthquake struck or a cub would poke my foot, even tapping on my chest with the front paws, Even rocking my body to wake me up. i really love my animal spirits.
I had a dream last night that was pretty vivid so here I am searching for a possible meaning. I was at an unknown house. A huge Golden “I’m guessing it’s in the Brown Bear Species” bear comes out charging at us. We run into the garage. Bear breaks into side door. We run into connected house and block that door with a refrigerator and table. It’s unable to get in. A black bear breaks in from front door. Looks around and leaves. Golden bear is still hammering to get inside home for some time and finally leaves.
At this time, I am aware that this is my daughter’s future house. Someone staying with them found a sick bear cub and it’s upstairs. I become angry because of the situation. I get the cub which is really small and seems emaciated. Give it some water and take it outside. I locate the golden bear across a highway out back a good distance away. I yell out to get her attention and show that I am setting the bear down on this side of the highway and return to house. Just before I reach the house, I am knocked down by the bear and am flipped over onto my back. The golden bear just leans down and puts her muzzle on my right shoulder for a moment and leaves. I awoke right at this point.