I had a bear visit my birdfeeders this week, and my interest in Bear as a symbol was piqued. Like most, I follow a tendency to assign meaning to animals, but animals are not symbolic, according to author Hal Bennett. Bound by symbolic reasoning, we think of Owl as a symbol of wisdom, or Coyote as a symbol of buffoonery and trickery.
If not symbols, or at least archetypes, what are the animals?
The most direct answer to what animals are for humans is that they are who they are-living, breathing creatures who have their own personalities and their own patterns of behavior. It is from our observation of these behaviors that we learn to connect with, and learn from, the natural world.
In other words, wolfness is manifest in the animal we call wolf. But it is also manifest in human actions, in the shapes of certain rocks, and in numerous other ways.
In traditional stories, in totemism, and in animal fetishism, the teachings of one animal or another only come to us by carefully observing the animals in their natural environment. To do this, we must empty our minds and think of them as expressions of spirit, that is, as manifestations of form out of formlessness.
The person living in the natural environment is asking questions such as: “What is spirit expressing through this animal?” “What is this animal all about?” If we pay attention, maybe we will find answers to come to a deeper understanding of our own spiritual nature, and our relationship to the planet.
Looking at the bear visit in this way, I realized that what I saw in the bear energy when I shined my flashlight at it from a safe porch, was incredibly sweet and feminine.