Feast of the Bear

Feast of the Bear – From antiquity to the Middle Ages, bears are to this day a cult symbol of the Germans, Scandinavians & the Celts. On 1 February they celebrate the end of hibernation. This is around the time when the bears leave their dens to see if the weather was mild. For a long time, the Catholic Church sought to eradicate these pagan practices. To do this, it instituted the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple which is celebrated on February 2, which corresponds to the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary. However, the celebrations of the bear & the return of the light continued, with bonfires & other torchlight processions. Pope Gelasius I in the fifth century therefore instituted the feast of candles, or Candlemas. From the twelfth to the eighteenth century, Candlemas was called “chandelours” which means bear in French, in many areas (including the Alps, Pyrenees, Ardennes) where the memory of the cult of the bear was still very present. There is also the Aosta Saint-Ours, & Saint Blaise (which means “bear”). Candlemas is also the beginning of the carnival period; the bear is the carnival animal par excellence.

Fate of the Cave Bear | History | Smithsonian Magazine

The existence of an ancient bear cult among Neanderthals in Western Eurasia in the Middle Paleolithic has been a topic of discussion spurred by archaeological findings. The Neanderthals worshiped the cave bear& ancient bear bones have been discovered arranged in a ritualistic way as part of a ceremony, found in Switzerland & in Slovenia.

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Bears were the most worshipped animals of Ancient Slavs. During pagan times, it was associated with the god Volos, the patron of domestic animals. Slavic folklore describes the bear as a totem personifying strength. Legends about turnskin bears appeared, it was believed that humans could be turned into bears for misbehavior.

In Finnish pagan culture, the bear was considered a taboo animal and the word for “bear” (oksi) was a taboo word. Euphemisms such as mesikämmen “honey-hand” were used instead. The modern Finnish word karhu (from karhea, rough, referring to its rough fur) is also such a euphemism. Calling a bear by its true name was believed to summon the bear. Ceremonies intended to show that the bear would be a “honored guest” were held in order to not to anger the bear’s spirit. The skull of the bear was hung into a tree, which was venerated as a totem.

Bear worship in ancient Finland and Siberia | PHOSPHORUS

There are annual bear festivals that take place in various towns & communes in the Pyrenees region. In Prats-de-Mollo, the Fête de l’Ours – A French”festival of the bear” was held on Candlemas (February 2) in a ritual in which men dressed up as bears brandishing sticks & dancing in an elaborate staging. The Arles-sur-Tech version (Fête de l’ours d’Arles-sur-Tech involves a female character named Rosetta (Roseta) who gets abducted by the “bear”. The “bear” would bring the Rosetta to a hut raised on the center square of town (where the victim would be fed sausages, cake, & white wine). The event finished with the “bear” being shaved & tamed.

According to legend, Ungnyeo (literally “bear woman”) was a bear who turned into a woman, & gave birth to Dangun, the founder of the first Korean kingdom, Gojoseon. Bears were revered as motherly figure & a symbol of patience.

The bear festival is a religious festival celebrated by the indigenous Nivkh in Russia’s fareast. A Nivkh Shaman (ch’am) would preside over the Bear Festival, celebrated on the 1st of February. Bears were captured & raised in a corral for several years by local women, treating the bear like a child. The bear is considered a sacred earthly manifestation of Nivkh ancestors & the gods in bear form. During the Festival the bear is dressed in a ceremonial costume & offered a banquet to take back to the realm of gods to show benevolence upon the clans. The festival was arranged by relatives to honor the death of a kinsman. The bear’s spirit returns to the gods of the mountain ‘happy’ & rewards the Nivkh with bountiful forests. Generally, the Bear Festival was an inter-clan ceremony where a clan of wife-takers restored ties with a clan of wife-givers upon the broken link of the kinsman’s death. The Bear Festival was suppressed in the Soviet period; since then the festival has had a modest revival, albeit as a cultural rather than a religious ceremony.

The Ainu people, who live on select islands in the Japanese archipelago, call the bear “kamuy” in their language, which translates to mean “god”. While many other animals are considered to be gods in the Ainu culture, the bear is the head of the gods. For the Ainu, when the gods visit the world of man, they put on fur & claws & take on the physical appearance of an animal. To return a god back to his country, the people would sacrifice & eat the animal sending the god’s spirit away with civility. Omante occurred when the people sacrificed an adult bear, but when they caught a bear cub they performed a different ritual which is called Iomante, in the Ainu language, or Kumamatsuri in Japanese. Kumamatsuri translates to “bear festival” & Iomante means “sending off”. The event of Kumamatsuri began with the capture of a young bear cub. As if he was a child given by the gods, the cub was fed human food from a carved wooden platter & was treated better than Ainu children for they thought of him as a god. If the cub was too young & lacked the teeth to properly chew food, a nursing mother will let him suckle from her own breast. When the cub reaches 2–3 years of age, the cub is taken to the altar & sacrificed. Usually, Kumamatsuri occurs in midwinter when the bear meat is the best from the added fat. The villagers will shoot it with ceremonial arrows, make offerings, dance, & pour wine on top of the cub corpse. The words of sending off for the bear god are then recited. This festivity lasts for three days & three nights to properly return the bear god to his home.

Bear worship was commen in North America and North Eurasian


The “Bärentag” (Feast of the Bear), founded 21 years ago in Basel, is open to everyone, especially inclusive of immigrants, women & children, & focuses on solidarity & social integration. In 1998, the Bear Society was re-founded with the aim of promoting a sense of harmony amongst the inhabitants of Lesser Basel. As the Bear costume is always worn by women, just as the Bear dance is traditionally performed alongside female drummers. A key element of the Feast of the Bear is a dance-filled procession through the city.

“Diryff-dyff-dyff” resounds from a distance. We are standing with the children on the bank of the Rhine River in Basel. We hear the loud booms of the cannonballs and soon see the rapidly approaching wooden raft being propelled by the force of the river. A man wearing a Wild Man (Wilde Maa) mask and costume stands on the raft, spinning a fir tree slung over his shoulder and performing a dance while facing Lesser Basel and shaking his behind at Greater Basel. He is accompanied by drummers on the boat, smoke from the canons rises around them. The year is 2019 and we are in the heart of Europe, at the northern border of Switzerland. However, this is a special moment—a moment in which “the past and the present converge.”

The first part of the Day of the Bear is dedicated to children (they practice singing and dancing the jazz song Dr Bär isch zrugg in school in preparation for the festival) Some of the children accompany the Bear in the parade wearing furry vests and colourful balloons over their heads. The procession takes them through spots where the children can even stop and play on the playground. The Vogel Gryff costumes also spark the interest of children, though there is something sinister about them. “The Wild Man drives the children away by waving around his fir tree,” says current drummer for the Bear Festival, Lars Handschin. “The Bear costume,” on the other hand, “is a welcoming presence. The Bear gives the children a hug at the end of the parade and plays with them, even though she also commands respect.” The afternoon portion of the program culminates in a communal banquet attended by approximately two thousand residents and boasts a wide offering of cultural dishes. The atmosphere is one of acceptance, solidarity, and harmonious coexistence. “At a time when real walls are being built around the world, the Bear Society tries to tear down the figurative walls between people.” The procession then continues on into the night and is also accompanied by the sound of the piccolo and drums together with illuminated lanterns bearing the Bear Society emblem. (quoted from the link)

Bear Worship - Drawception
Riley Peterson

Here is a folk tale: “The Bear Feast Story

May we celebrate The Bear: from god to Teddy – an interesting totem to embrace



Star chart with arrow from Big Dipper to North Star Polaris

1 February 2021 – “Speaking with the Stars”

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Rudolf Steiner’s Lectures on this day


The Magical Legacy of Johannes Trithemius – Zero Equals Two!

1462 – Birthday of Johannes Trithemius, German lexicographer, historian, and cryptographer

1861 – American Civil War: Texas secedes from the United States.

13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States | National Museum of  African American History and Culture

1865 – President Abraham Lincoln signs the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

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1884 – The first volume (A to Ant) of the Oxford English Dictionary is published.

Edison's Black Maria - Wikipedia

1893 – Thomas A. Edison finishes construction of the first motion picture studio, the Black Maria in West Orange, New Jersey

Groenkloof Nature Reserve

1895 – Fountains Valley, Pretoria, the oldest nature reserve in Africa, is proclaimed by President Paul Kruger.

February 1, 1896: Poor People of Paris – Wretched Richard's Almanac

1896 – La bohème premieres in Turin at the Teatro Regio (Turin), conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini.

Franklin McCain led Greensboro Woolworth lunch counter sit-in | Charlotte  Observer

1960 – Four black students stage the first of the Greensboro sit-ins at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Valborg Werbeck-Svärdström - Wikidata

1972 – Deathday of Valborg Werbeck-Svärdström, a Swedish singer, voice teacher, & anthroposophist. When she was ten, her family moved to Stockholm, where the music educator Alice Tegnér discovered her talent. She was already performing at the age of eleven. After completing school & her studies at the Conservatory, she gave her debut & was received into the Ensemble of the Royal Swedish Opera. She was hailed as the new Jenny Lind” – the Swedish nightingale. As a concert & opera singer she experienced enormous success in many of the European countries. In 1906 she married Louis Michael Julius Werbeck, the German writer & musician from Hamburg & moved with him to Germany.

In 1908 she met Rudolf Steiner and received from him indications for her work & encouragement not to give up her successful singing career, but rather to pursue it against her original intentions. Her studies with experienced teachers had certainly guided her to a successful operatic career, but it had shown her that these methods of instruction also endangered her natural voice. She began searching for new methods of developing the voice, & remained in close contact about this with Rudolf Steiner until his death. At the same time she began to build up a method of singing therapy that she later was later to develop further together with Eugen Kolisko, who took singing lessons with her from time to time, & with Ita Wegman. In 1938 her book ‘’Uncovering the Voice: The Cleansing Power of Song’’ appeared in German. The rise of National Socialism in Germany made her work increasingly difficult. Eventually she had to close her school & spent the War years in semi-isolation in Silesia. The years following the War she devoted totally to her therapeutic work & to the instruction of a circle of young musicians that had gathered around her.


Footsteps in the snow Photograph by Sonya Kanelstrand

POD (Poem Of the Day)

~my footsteps imprint possibility
on the unique shapes that gather together as fallen snow
that which is
follows in stride
& that which is not yet
flows in front
with the wind…


Candlemas – St. Mary's Episcopal Church

‘Tree of Life’ Feast & ‘Candlemas’ Festival 2 February 2021 – 5:30-7pm
In the Schreinerei of the Rudolf Steiner Branch 4248 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago

The RSB Festivals Committee invites you to celebrate the Cross-quarter between Winter Solstice & Spring Equinox, called by some: Groundhogs Day, Brigid’s Day
or Imbolc – the lambing season, The Feast of the Purification of Mary, & Tu’B’Shavat*- the “New Year for the Trees”.

All are invited to a Potluck consisting of fruits & nuts & seeds-the gifts of the trees. And then Nancy Melvin will facilitate a beeswax candle making workshop – a Candlemas tradition.

The Seven Species Quilt Blocks Machine Embroidery Designs set for 5x5 hoop  | Embroidery design sets, Machine embroidery quilts, Free machine  embroidery designs

*Tu B’Shvat offers a unique opportunity for insight into life & personal growth. Throughout the centuries, Kabbalists have used the tree as a metaphor to understand the One relationship to the spiritual & physical worlds. The higher spiritual realms are roots that ultimately manifest their influence through branches & leaves in the lower realms. In the 16th century, the Kabbalists compiled a Tu B’Shvat “Seder,” somewhat similar to the Seder for Passover. It involves enjoying the fruits & discussing philosophical & Kabbalistic concepts associated with the ‘Tree of Life’. Among other things, the Seder is a great way to appreciate the bounty that we so often take for granted, & to develop a good & generous eye for the world around us.

Suggestions for this special POTLUCK: lots of fruit! including: The seven species:
Figs, Dates, Pomegranates, Olives, Grapes (or raisins) wheat (Challah bread) &
Barley. Various nuts with the shells (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, coconut),
and fruits with peels (oranges, pomegranates, avocado)
Other fruits with edible seeds (e.g. blueberries)
Other fruits with inedible pits (e.g. peaches, plums)

Donations Welcome http://donate.rschicago.org/

For more info. contact Events & Festivals Coordinator Hazel Archer-Ginsberg hag@rschicago.org

The Bee — Celtic Spirit Books

Invitation: Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021, 6-8pm eastern (online using zoom)

“Candlemas Time with the Bee”

We will be celebrating a quiet and beautiful festival with the Bee. This ceremony will include artistic and meditative activity as we journey with the Bee into her connection to the Earth, the Cosmos, and the Human Soul. 

Please have ready: some real honey and a spoon, a beeswax candle and matches, some seeds you plan to plant this year, paper and colored pencils.

Please email “ineshoneybee@yahoo.com” before to registerand we will send you a zoom link. You may register any time before 5pm eastern on February 3rd.

May Humanity and Earth be Each Other’s Medicine 

Celebrating Life during the nodal points of the seasons has given Humanity the opportunity to realign with the rhythms of Earth and the Cosmos for thousands of years… the “Festival Year” emerged, spanning all time and all cultures, traditions, and religions of the world. Today, possibly due to the increase in technology and fast pace, consumer-driven lifestyles, many people have found it difficult to connect with the seasons and rhythms of Life or have given up the culture of festival and ceremony altogether.  

Yet we have entered a time during which our realignment with the Earth is more crucial than ever before… not only for our own health and wellbeing, but also for the renewal of the Earth herself. An opportunity for healing is created when we can hold in our conscious attention the nodal points of the year and the interconnected rhythms of Life… the animal, plant, and mineral beings.

These beings we share this planet with are ready for our consciousness and care. And when we create a space of openness and communication, we may just discover that they more than happily participate… for all of us do share the same “Festival Year” of Earth.

May the Peace of the Heavens in our Earth-home we find… for all Stones, Plants, and Animals, and all of Humankind.

Warmly, Ines Katharina Kinchen ineshoneybee@yahoo.com

2 thoughts on “Feast of the Bear

  1. Thank you Hazel to write about the Feast of the Bear. I grew up in Basel and always enjoyed the celebration of Vogel Gryff. I was not aware of the story of the Bear and that she is now part of this celebration again.

    1. Yes, that troupe sounds like they are doing some amazing public rituals for the unification of all people.
      So wonderful that you have experienced these powerful gatherings!

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