The Origin of the bear
Wheare was ”broad-forehead” orn, was ”honey-paws” produced? Tehre was broad-forehead” born, was ”honey-paws” produced, close to the moon, beside the sun, on the shoulders of Charle´s Wian. Form there was he let dow to the earth, to the honeye wood´s interior, to a verdant thicket´s edge, into a liver-coloured cleft. Sinisirkku the forest maid, rocked him, swayed him to and for in a cradle of gold, in silver straps, under a fir, with branchin crown, under a bushy pine. ”Broad-forehead” the was christened, the scanty-haired one was baptized near ”fiery” rapids, at the eddy of a fearful, holy stream. Who undertook to christen him? The king of Himmerkki himself, he undertook to christen him, to baptize the scanty-haired, the Virgin Mary, mother dear, both acted as his godmother and to the christening carried him. What was the name they gave? ”Hulking fellow”, ”little haystack”, ”lovely shaggy coat of hair”, ”honeypaws”, ”the corpulent”.
The Magic Songs of the Finns, Elias Lönnrot, 1880
In ancient Finland there was one animal that was worshiped more than any other and that animal was the bear. In Finland there are lots of archaeological finds made which tell us about the existence of the ancient bear cult. In the area around Ural mountains in Siberia there are lots of myths told about the great bear god. Birth myth of the bear from Siberiean Ostjak tribe was also well-known in ancient Finland. Bear lived in the star sky in the constellation of the Ursa Major with his father god Num Torum. Bear looked down to the earth and soon longed to live among people. His father agreed and sent him down to the earth in a golden cradle. Bear´s life in the earth was filled with sin. This made Num Torum ashamed and he allowed humans to kill his son. Myth which tells that bear has cosmic origins is common all around Eurasian areas. Among Vogul tribe in Siberia, there is a similar myth but bear is a female not a male. In northern Eurasia among several different clans there was belief that people were descendants from an union between a human goddess and the cosmic bear god. In the earliest layer of Saami mythology moon goddess Háhtežan was married to the cosmic bear and her sister Njávežan the sun goddess, was married to the cosmic moose. These were two the most respected and feared animals in northern hunter-collector cultures.
Mielikki The Bear Goddess
Finnish word karhu the bear is derived from the word karhea which means rough fur. Because bear was such respected god the name of the bear was a tabu. It was forbidden to say the name aloud. It was believed that that would jinx the bear an it would harm the person for not being respectful towards it. This is why in Finnish language there are over 1000 nicknames for bear alone. It was believed that bear was also a shaman and a witch and it could hear people´s thoughts. That bear was worshiped as a god in Finland has in fact been beneficial for bears in modern Finland. Compared the several other European countries in Finland bears have not been hunted that great numbers and there are about. 1500-2000 bears living in Finland´s forests still today.
In Finnish mythology Mielikki the forest god is often connected to bears. After the bear was landed from the skies in the golden cradle Mielikki adopted the bear and nurtured him with honey and apples. She gave bear it´s mission to be the most beloved, respected and feared animal of the forest. Mielikki and her husband forest god Tapio could also shape sift themselves as bears. In many ways Mielikki as a goddess is similar to bears. She represents two aspects of womanhood; the independent hunter goddess who protects her home the forest (very much like a mother bear who protects her cubs) and on the other hand she is the nurturing mother goddess who represents the healing aspects of the forest and nature. Mielikki is also an interesting goddess in that sense that each winter she went to winter sleep/hibernation...just like a bear. Summer and autumn were sacred time for Mielikki. Spring and winter were times when Tapio ruled the forest.
Bear figure found from archaeological site of Kierikki, Finland Estimated time period: 5100 bc
Bears and Humans
In Finnish mythology the creator/emuu of the bear was Hongatar goddess/spirit of the pine trees. Some sources mention that Ilmarinen the blacksmith god was the bear´s father. Several Finno-Ugric tribes worshiped bear as their sacred ancestor. In Finland bear hunting was a sacred ritual that took place in the spring time right before bear would wake up from it´s winter sleep. Winter sleep by itself was believed to be a proof of bear´s magical powers. People did not understand why bears went to winter sleep. Winter was seen as the time of dying nature so when bears woke up each spring for ancient people this was a sign that bear was a powerful god who would always reborn again. In eastern Finland bear was considered to be the ancestor of the clan and it was forbidden to eat bear meat. Then in some other parts of Finland bear meat was a great treat and source of nutrition. Being the ancestor of humans bear´s life was performed in a ritualistic play during the bear hunt festival. Poems were told how the bear was landed from it´s cosmic home to the earth and how it would marry the cosmic mother (often a newly wed couple would play the part) and a funeral was hold where bear was buried like a human. Skull was hanged into the top of the spirit tree so the bear would be closer to it´s original home. There are many reasons why people believed that they were descendants of bears. When bear stands on it´s back feet it´s about the same size as an average person. Bear´s palms are similar to humans hands. It even has five fingers. Bears are strong and fast. These were qualities that hunters greatly admired.
Here is my video about the bears in Finnish mythology.
Check out my online course Heart of Mielikki It is all about Finnish mythology )O(
Pronounced as Nee-na.
Artist, illustrator, writer, watercolorist and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
Love fandoms AOGG and Little Women (prefers books over the films). Louisa May Alcott researcher.
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