“…Ask now the Beasts
And they shall teach thee;
And the Fowls of the air,
And they shall teach thee;
Or speak to the Earth,
And it shall teach thee”
-Job 12: 7-8
I recently got the beautiful Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck from an amazing friend (which makes it even more special in my books). One of the wonderful things about the deck is that you can add a lot of your own personal meaning based on your experience with the animals you draw and also by learning more about them.
Kim Krans, the illustrator, explains that, out of all the many many animals, she focused on wild animals and has split the deck into earth, air, fire, water and spirit.
To get to know the cards better, I am hoping to work my way through them all, adding my own knowledge, my understanding of the animal and what I feel like they are telling me. I will not be regurgitating the accompanying book, buy that yourself, it’s great! Some of the animals I’m familiar with, some less so and in another animal spirit deck (also from a great friend) there are animals I’ve never even heard of! It’s the Animal Dreaming Oracle Card deck by Scott Alexander King and I’m planning on doing a similar thing with that deck as well.
These are the earth cards, how beautiful are they?! I love them!
I like bears, quite possibly stemming from my love of teddy bears which I do realise are very different to the wild kind!
As I approach these cards, I think about what springs to mind when I think of the animal. When it comes to the bear, hibernation is a big part of that mental construct I have. I also bring to mind the dichotomies of the bear; on the one hand you have creature which eats mostly vegetation and nurtures her* cubs for a couple of years; on the other hand you have an animal which is fierce and aggressive (mostly when she or her cubs are being threatened it must be said).
In terms of the card, one of the most powerful messages I got was that you can have two seemingly opposing energies or forces or feelings within you and still be one. I know that sounds obvious to a lot of people but it has taken, and is still taking, a lot for me to be able to reconcile feeling moments of joy against a backdrop of pain. I am only just reaching a point where I can hold this polarity of feelings without one invalidating the other. We are all made up of a range of emotions and the way we express that is also diverse but often the root of our actions comes from the same place – our values. In the case of the mother bear, she nurtures and loves her cubs and is compassionate and gentle and it is that love which drives her to aggression when her beloved children are threatened. She is gentle and she is strong.
Bears have a strong presence – they are tall, they are well built and I imagine if you see them in the wild you’re probably going to be rather intimidated! For me, the bear spirit animal is about stepping into your power, standing tall and standing your ground.
Other than mothers with their cubs, bears live alone. Is this card a reminder that you need to retreat (into your cave for hibernation) and spend some time on your own? Literally going within, taking space for introspection within your own cave or den which brings us back to…
Given that this is the first card in the earth “suit”, I think it’s important to think about the cycle of hibernation. The bear spends spring to autumn in her active phase eating a lot of food, wandering the woods, mating and generally doing what bears do. She’s out there living her life.
Next comes hyperphagia – lots and lots of eating and drinking and preparing the den. This is followed by a transition period in which their bodies start to prepare for hibernation; metabolisms fall, heart rates fall and the bear becomes much more lethargic.
Then comes hibernation when the bear is in a dormant state, using her stores of fat as energy. Changes from the transition period become more extreme with heart rates as low as 8 beats a minute (as opposed to 80-100 during the active phase). The waste created through the “feeding” process, such as urea, is reused rather than being expelled. It is during the hibernation period that eggs are fertilised (they are kept away from sperm until the bear knows she will have enough fat stores to ensure a successful pregnancy) and cubs are born in late January/early February. It is probably this period of sleep and retreat that has resulted in bears being associated with the subconscious. They do after all spend up to 100 days wandering the land of dreams.
There is a final phase, the bear does not just wake up one day and move into her active period. This phase has been referred to as a waking hibernation and is when the transition activity is reversed. Mother bears tend to be the last of the bears to venture back out.
It is this phase in the cycle, almost a rebirth, that I feel is particularly relevant to this card. As the first card in the suit, the bear is emerging, starting her journey, and a natural place to start is the coming out of hibernation. Perhaps at different times and different situations, I will relate this card more with another phase, listen and feel what is right for you, now.
Terri Windling has written about the bear, following her seasons of inward and outward, activity and rest, introversion and extroversion. This idea of dualities has helped me think differently about my own periods of activity and rest. All things have their time, to flow with this is much easier than to struggle against it:
“There is a perfect time for everything. If the tulip surfaces in heart of winter, the bitter winds won’t give her a chance.” – Rebecca Campbell
Note: apparently, according to the wisdom of the internet, bears do not truly hibernate as there are specific conditions which are required for this however there is agreement that they do have a long winter sleep!
*For me, this card feels like it has a feminine energy and the messages I am taking are all related to the mummy bear. Perhaps looking at the different sexes would give interesting depth to readings.