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Bear Symbolism (Dreams, Spiritual Meanings, Totems)

Eight species of bear exist in the world, native to every continent except Antarctica, Australia, and Africa. This means that bear symbolism differs around the world and different cultures have strong connections to different species. A bear, by nature, is powerful, playful, protective, and wise.

They are majestic creatures that symbolize different things in superstition and spirituality. As a spirit animal, bears represent a time to be courageous and stand your ground. They are protectors that help you get through adversity and heal in the aftermath. However, they can also appear as warning signs, especially in dreams. In this article, we will explore the different symbolism of bears, including what they mean in dreams, as totem animals, in folklore, and more.

What does a bear symbolize?

Bear symbolism appears in relation to dreams, spirituality, mythology, superstitions, and as the representation of different cultures and locations. Even encountering a bear can bring different meanings depending on the type of bear. Read on to learn about these symbols and more.

Dreams about bears

Seeing a bear in your dreams symbolizes positive or negative messages depending on what happens in your dreams. In general, since bears are fearless, they can represent the strength and blessing to subconsciously overcome any fears you are holding. A bear in your dream can indicate you need to listen to your intuition and be aware of your surroundings.

However, if the bear in your dream does any of the following, the message could be a warning about something:

  • Bear attacking you: represents pent-up anger you have that is internally attacking you. The bear is pointing out your aggression that needs to be released.
  • Bear chasing you: symbolizes you are trying to run away from issues in your life and need to stand your ground.
  • A bear standing on hind legs: represents that it is time to defend yourself and stand up for yourself against something happening in your life.
  • Bear wandering: and unconcerned about you is a warning that competition or a rivalry may be entering your life in work or love.
  • Hibernating bear: indicates you need to rest, get away, and take time in solitude.

Seeing a mother bear in your dream means that she probably has cubs nearby. Bears are fierce protectors against their cubs and the dream can be an indicator to show you how to protect your children. It may also represent that you need more patience when interacting with your children.

Visits from or encounters with different types of bears

It’s true that when you see a bear too close in the wild it can be a sign of potential danger and you must be cautious. However, symbolically, seeing a bear also represents courage, strength, confidence, and leadership in your life.

A safe encounter with a bear can be quite powerful. Additionally, seeing different types of bears symbolize different things based on the bear species’ unique needs and survival adaptations. Here are different meanings depending on what type of bear you encounter.

Brown bear symbolism

A mother brown bear and cubs

Brown bears indicate you need to stand your ground even when issues appear out of nowhere. They are also a reminder to find balance, nurture the environment, and establish harmony in everything you do.

Black bear symbolism

Black bears remind us to be resourceful similar to how they live off the land resourcefully. These bears can also smell honey caches from miles away, indicating you can benefit from healing with aromatherapy.

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Grizzly bear symbolism

A grizzly bear represents facing your deepest fears with confidence. They are also a symbol of abundance since they are known for their great fishing abilities. These fierce predators can be a good omen for fishermen.

Panda bear symbolism

giant panda

The panda bear represents patience and the balance of yin-yang energies. They remind you to rely on reflection and inner wisdom to solve your problems instead of choosing to fight.

Polar bear symbolism

Polar bears are associated with ice, water, and the ability to hide in plain sight in their environments. Their symbolism represents the inner ability to survive and thrive in harsh conditions. You must also be more flexible when adapting to your surroundings or situation.

Female bear symbolism

Female bears represent fearless protection, whether in protecting others or feeling protected. If you see a female bear with cubs, and you are a parent, this indicates your children may need protection or your help in something.

Superstitions and folklore about bears

The Sami, a Nordic culture, believed that bears could move between the spiritual and material worlds. They had a superstition that they must complete complex rituals after killing a bear to appease its spirit. This allowed them to hunt bears, eat them, and wear their furs without negative consequences from the spirits.

In Celtic tradition, the bear is a symbol in various folklore. For example, the goddess of wildlife, Artio, is known to take the form of a bear. Hunters will call upon her spirit to guide them to success and safety.

Celtic warriors also saw the bear as a friend helping them endure battles and act in the right moments. A bear spirit guide generally symbolized power and strength, including the power of God.

Anglo Saxon stories also considered bears as the kings of the animal kingdom. They believed that kings descended from bears. Folklore experts believe that King Arthur’s name was inspired by the god Mercurius Artaius, who was most likely a bear god. Beowulf, an Anglo-Saxon hero, might also be named after a bear. His name translates to “bee wolf,” or a bear attacking bees for their honey.

Bears also hold significance in Asian cultures, especially the giant panda bear, which is considered China’s national treasure. The Chinese also believe that bears are an important part of feng shui.

They believe that placing a bear figure in the home, especially the main entrance, helps protect the house and people living in it. Placing a bear in children’s rooms helps parents give birth to healthy and strong baby boys.

Spiritual meaning of bears

Spiritually, bears have been linked to gods, the devil, and symbols of protectors. For example, the indigenous Ainu people from the coast of Japan, called bears “kamuy” translating to “god.” While the Ainu see various animals as gods, they believe the bears to be the king of all gods. Their belief includes that gods take on the appearance of bears when they visit the world.

In the Bible, bears have both positive and negative symbolism. In 1 Samuel 17:34, bears are seen as symbols of the devil or evil. They threaten the flock, which represents the parishioners.

In contrast, Jesus and God symbolize the shepherds protecting the flock. However, bears are sometimes portrayed as fierce protectors in the Bible. For example, Hushai says in 2 Samuel 17:8, “You know your father and his men, that they are mighty men and they are fierce, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field.”

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In II Kings 2: 23-24, a group of youth are mocking God’s word by mocking one of His prophets. God sends 2 female bears to maul them and teach them a lesson, making the bears an extension of God’s will.

Spirit animals, power animals, and totems

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

A bear standing as your spirit animal indicates it’s time for you to be courageous. They provide power and assurance that you can stay grounded and keep firm regardless of the adversity you face.

After the hardships have passed, the bear will also remain to help heal you physically, mentally, and spiritually. Bears are fearless protectors and as a spirit animal, they can help bravery take root inside you. Another symbolism of a bear as a spirit animal is you may need some alone time in your “cave” for self-examination and to listen to your heart.

Bears as power animals provide protection and help you stay grounded. Their bowleg help them balance and grasp onto tree limbs, so their energy allows you to “get a grip” and find balance through any situation confidently.

Bears also support physical and emotional insight to help you be more in tune with your instincts. They will allow you to discover and empower abilities you may have underestimated in yourself.

People with the bear as a totem animal appreciate the sweetness of life and embrace the humorous and playful qualities similar to a bear. You have a natural ability and confidence when stepping into leadership or protective roles to help others when they need you.

Bears also have a restorative aspect well-suited for careers in medicine. However, be aware that people with bear totems have hot tempers. Try not to attack unnecessarily or without cause.

Native American bear symbolism

The Native Americans saw bears as a symbolism of strong medicine and special powers in healing, strength, and wisdom. Bears have a strong association with the Shaman or medicine man of some tribes.

Several tribes, such as the Zuni, wear or carry bear charms for good luck and to keep the bear spirit’s power with them. Tribes like Algonquian, Huron, Hopi, Chippewa, and Creek have bear clans. There are also tribes that do a bear dance to empower warriors and provide protection before a hunt.

For the Cherokee, black bears are important spiritual guides and animals that help them survive. For example, they would use bear claws in sacred ceremonies or as warrior talismans. They also used the bear’s

  • Hide and pelt to make clothing and bedding
  • Grease for oil
  • Bones for jewelry and tools
  • Flesh for food

Greek mythology

The constellations Ursa Minor and Ursa Major are also known as Little Bear and Big Bear. In Greek mythology, these constellations became an inspiration for the story about Callisto.

Callisto was a nymph, daughter of King Lycaon, and companion to the hunter goddess Artemis. However, Callisto was kicked out of the nymph group by Artemis when Zeus tricked her and made her pregnant. Callisto gave birth to a son Arcas.

Zeus’ wife, Hera became angry about her husband’s infidelity, blamed Callisto, and turned her into a bear. Years after the transformation, Arcas came across a bear in the forest, not knowing it was his mother, and was about to kill her. In deciding to right his wrongs, Zeus intervened and turned Arcas and Callisto into the Little Bear and Big Bear constellations.

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Bear Tattoos

bear tattoo | image by Ricardo Almeida via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

A bear tattoo can resemble power or nurture. It can be an armor you wear against the aggressiveness in your surroundings. Typically, the bear tattoo brings out the animal’s strength on a man. However, for women, the bear can symbolize maternal protection and unconditional love in the way a bear will go the distance for her cubs.

Bear tattoos or tattoos of teddy bears can also be very cute. This suggests a lovable and calm person. But, it’s also like the calm before the storm because bears can transform into aggressors when threatened. Panda bear tattoos are also used to symbolize good luck, harmony, and balance.

The bear represents many locations

There are countries, states, and towns that have chosen the bear as their geographical symbol. This includes Russia, the state of California, and the town of Bern, Switzerland. The meaning of the bear as representing each location differs.

In California, the grizzly bear became the state animal in 1953 and is represented clearly on the state flag. Grizzly bears used to roam freely in California – they were powerful and stood their ground when defending themselves against settlers.

Since they didn’t give up their territory without a fight, a group of settlers who wanted to break away from Mexico in 1846 used the grizzly as a symbol on their flag. This rebel flag eventually became the basis for the California state flag.

Are bears good luck?

If you aren’t careful when encountering a bear in the wild, you can definitely end up with bad luck from the experience. Bears can be impulsive and protective of their young, making them dangerous aggressors.

However, among certain Native American tribes, bears are a symbol of excellent luck. For instance, the Zunis, created bear totems to provide protection and good luck. They also believed that killing a mother bear meant that bad luck would fall on the hunter.

Bears are also considered to have supernatural powers, fierce protective abilities, and represent abundance. For example, a tribe that successfully finds and hunts a bear would be able to feed the entire village and provide for clothing and materials.

In more general terms, dreaming of a bear can represent good luck. In particular, dreaming of seeing a happy, dancing bear means that good luck is about to come into your life. Bears can also represent teachers that are giving you a message of how to successfully handle a situation.


Conclusion

Bears are powerful animals that represent a protective yet nurturing energy since they are capable of defending their territories and young. Bears have different meanings in dreams, folklore, superstitions, and cultures.

The symbolism of bears in dreams can be positive and a sign of good luck or indicate a warning that you need to stand your ground or retreat to solitude. There is also duality in the bear’s spiritual representation in the Bible, where it is associated with both evil and protectors.

Since it all depends on how a bear enters your life, physically or spiritually, knowing the different symbolisms of bears helps you understand what messages they are bringing.

About Patricia Greene

Patricia is a wildlife enthusiast that loves traveling and learning about wildlife all over North America and the world. Aside from being writer for Wildlife Informer, she's an avid bird watcher as well as the owner of several pet reptiles. She enjoys visiting national parks and seeing new sights in her free time.