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Since ancient times, bears have held a spiritual significance for cultures throughout the world.

Humanlike in their ability to walk upright, bears are often considered a link between people and animals. Myths from Asia, Europe and the New World refer to "bear people." Bears are strongly linked to healing, perhaps because they forage for plants, implying a knowledge of herbal medicine. Numerous common for herbs and plants reflect this: bearberry, bear's paw, bear tongue, bear clover. Finally, because they hibernate, these special animals experience the ultimate magical transformation they "die" and are "reborn" each year.


Many Native Americans hold a reverence for bears. The oldest dance of the Utes of western Colorado is the Bear Dance. Traditionally. the Bear Dance was celebrated in spring before the winter camp broke up and families went out to gather food and hunt game through the summer. Dancing the bear dance secures the animal's blessing and signals a time of rebirth and renewal.


The bear fetish, a stone charm carved in tile shape of a bear, holds special power for the Zuni Indians of the Southwest. Because the fetish is thought to contain a living power, which can help its owner, it is treated carefully and with reverence. The fetish is fed ceremonially, usually with cornmeal, and kept in a special jar. Offerings of beads and feathers may be tied to it. Though much of the meaning of this talisman is secret to Zuni medicine societies, the bear fetish has healing power - the power of the bear.


Source: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service.

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