Bear Symbolism, Meaning & The Bear Spirit Animal

Bear Symbolism, Meaning, and Spirit Animal
Bear meaning and symbolism have entranced people all over the world throughout human history. There are eight species of bears in the world, and they are native to every continent on Earth except Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. (While a species of brown bear called the Atlas bear was once in Africa and is now extinct, they were likely brought to Africa by the Spanish or Romans.)

Because bears have existed in so many parts of the world, bear meanings and symbolism appear in the art, legends, and folklore of a variety of cultures around the globe. Here are some common traits that bears symbolize:

  • Protectiveness

  • Strength

  • Courage

  • Ferocity

  • Calm

  • Nobility

  • Patience

  • Playfulness

  • Curiosity

  • Cuddliness

In many cultures, bears are spiritual beings. The bear spirit animal is a powerful force in the lives of those who are chosen by this special being. Bears outmatch us in size and strength and they can easily kill us. Yet, many of us adore bears and are drawn to them. Children love their Teddy bears and Pooh bears, and indeed “Pooh bear” is an often used term of endearment. In addition, people name their dogs after bears, as in Kody, Oso, or simply, Bear. And bears have starred in many stories and legends throughout the ages, symbolizing a wide range of meanings to us.

The town of Bern, Switzerland, the state of California, and Russia have proudly chosen the bear as the symbol for their geographical homes. However, bears are far greater than the symbols they represent. Bears exist of their own accord and they have much to teach us.

If you feel an especially strong connection to bears, it could well mean they are one of your power animals, thus this special connection is worth exploring.

Bear Power Animal in the Moonlight

Bear Spirit Animal

What does it mean to have a spirit animal? On Earth, we are here to learn. As Oprah Winfrey calls it – this is “life class.” We are here to learn and evolve, and relationships can be among our greatest teachers. Just as other human beings do not exist for us but the can teach us, so can our relationships with animals.

Too often, as human beings, we get hung up on ourselves and each other, forgetting (or at worst – abusing) the relationships we have with other species. Animals are earthly manifestations of something greater in the Universe, just as we are. They can teach us and guide us. They can help us on our life path, along our soul’s journey. We just have to pay closer attention.

Your spirit animals choose you.

According to Native American traditions, you don’t choose your spirit animals. Rather, they choose you. If a bear makes himself or herself known to you, whether in real life or through art, the media, or elsewhere – pay attention. There are no coincidences.

We are here to learn.

The bear spirit animal can teach you about your existence, your perceptions and your behavior, as well as your purpose in this lifetime. Bears have the right to be here as do we. It behooves us to show them respect and to see what we can learn from them.

Many of us have not had the opportunity to see a bear in the wild, or perhaps we have seen them in wildlife sanctuaries or even the zoo (which can be good or horrible, depending on the zoo.) Even so, we can still get to know bears through the work of wildlife biologists, filmmakers, artists, and bear protection organizations who can help us to understand them better.

Bear Spirit Animal

How do you know if the bear is your spirit animal?

If you’re not sure if the bear spirit animal is one of your power animals, consider the following questions. As you read this post, you’ll learn more about bears, and hopefully it will become more clear to you. Or, it may become clear to you that someone close to you has the bear as their spirit animal guide.

If you already know that the bear is your spirit animal, you may learn some new things about bears in this post that will further guide you on your life path. There is always more we can learn about these wise beings.

Consider these questions:

  • Were you especially interested in bears as child?
  • Has a bear somehow made himself or herself known to you, whether by crossing your path in real life or even in art or the media, in a way that powerfully riveted your attention?
  • Do you feel a strong connection to bears, and do you experience an unadulterated feeling of wonder when you see them or hear about them?
  • Has a bear or bears entered your dreams?
  • Have certain stories, books, or movies that involved a bear or bears had a strong impact on you and stayed with you?
  • Are you a long, deep sleeper and if you don’t get your required amount of sleep, are you grouchier than most people?
  • Are you extremely protective of those close to you, notably your children or other young and vulnerable people or animals?
  • Do you need extended periods of retreat to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, whether it’s out in nature or even in your man cave or she shed, so that you can recharge?
  • Do you love to try a variety of cuisines and do you consider yourself a foodie?
  • Are you a normally quiet and easy going person, but will stand your ground and aggressively defend your position if provoked?

If you answered yes to many of these questions, pay attention because you have a deep connection to the bear spirit animal!

Bear Traits

Bears put energy into the physical world just as we do. If you have a special connection to the bear power animal, it’s worth understanding them better, as they will help you understand your own existence more deeply.

Here are some traits that are associated with bears. Which ones resonate with you?

Big, Strong, and Powerful

Grizzly bear overlooking a valley
Grizzly bear overlooking a valley. Photo: Erwin and Peggy Bauer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Bears exemplify what it means to be strong and powerful. In addition to being strong, bears can be quite fast, despite their large size. Some species, including black and brown bears, can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. While this is not as fast as wolves, who can run up to 40 miles per hour, it’s still quite fast considering the bear’s size.

However, bears were not necessarily built for speed, says biologist Blaire Van Valkenburgh. Rather, they are built for strength and mobility. Bears can move quickly and their limbs can emit incredible force, far more than the longer limbs of lions and wolves.

Bears use the combination of their strength and dexterity to forage for food, climb trees, dig their dens, and hunt and fish. In addition, they can use their powerful limbs to defend themselves. Bears rely on their brute force and intelligence to survive in the wild.

You are stronger than you realize.

The bear spirit animal teaches you to find your inner reserves of strength and power. You may not always realize you have it, but you do!

The bear spirit also teaches you that there are times when diplomacy and compromise may no longer work. Sometimes you need to exert the almighty power of your will to charge though all the B.S. and get things done. In addition, the bear may be here to remind you to claim your power, to not acquiesce, to establish your mighty I-am-here presence.

Use your powerful gifts as a force for good in the world.

The bear also reminds you that strength can be used in a variety of ways. Are you using all of your strengths and gifts to be a force for good in the world, or are you using your energy in anger to aggressively get your way?

The bear power animal teaches you to “act as if.” Even if you are fearful or nervous inside, act as if you are mighty and you will be mighty. If you are terrified, act as if you are brave and you will be brave. If you feel small and insignificant, remind yourself that you are here to do good work and fulfill your soul’s purpose here on Earth – and this purpose is far larger than you imagine it to be.

Stand tall and stand up for others.

While bears generally get around on all fours, they can easily stand on two legs just as people can, and suddenly they huge. The bear spirit animal tells you to stand tall, even when you feel small. You have the capacity to stand tall, to be authoritative and all-powerful, even if the world is used to seeing you crawl. No matter how down and defeated you may feel, the bear power animal tells you to rise up.

Fiercely Protective

Polar bear and cubs
Polar bear and cubs. Photo: Alastair Rae.

We’ve all heard of the mama bear or papa bear archetype. These terms come from bears being extremely protective. A mother bear will go to any length to protect her cubs. A male bear will fight to the death to protect that which is his.

Protect those and all that you hold dear.

The bear spirit animal reminds you to exert extreme protectiveness of those you love and that which you hold dear. Those you love may be your family members, close friends, or even a group of people who are suffering under abuse of power. The bear also reminds you to protect your convictions, your ideals, and your vision for the future. The bear spirit animal is the quintessential protector and guardian.

Protect your personal space.

Contrary to popular belief, bears are not actually territorial in the way that wolves or primates are, according to the educational resource Bear Smart. While families of wolves and primates will have a geographical territory that they consider their own, bears are known to share home ranges with other bears, even those who are not in their family and with whom they compete for food. At the same time, bears are extremely protective of their close personal space. They don’t like being crowded.

Different species of bears have a different sense of critical space. Black bears, for example, are more tolerant of people and being in proximity with other black bears. Grizzly bears, on the other hand, prefer to stay further away from people. They are more likely to defend themselves when threatened, while a black bear is more likely to retreat.

This video from Yosemite National Park shows how closely black bears are willing to be in proximity to people:

The bear spirit animal reminds you that it’s ok to share and be friendly – up to a point. However, if someone gets too close to you in a way that is uncomfortable or threatening, you can issue a warning. If that warning is not heeded, then you have every right to let out your inner grizzly and protect yourself, those you love, and that which you hold dear – without mercy.

Not Big Fans of Surprises

Bears do not like surprises. They are known to be extremely focused when they are pursuing things, such as finding food, to the point that they can be oblivious to their surroundings. Therefore, it’s fairly easy to sneak up on a bear without intending to, which can make them very grumpy.

Remember that spontaneity is fun.

The bear spirit animal may be asking you if you’re being too surly. Is someone in your life trying to be fun and spontaneous, but you’re being grumpy about it and dampening their spirit? There are times the bear spirit may be there to remind you to lighten up a little and “don’t be such a bear.”

It’s not by happenstance that the bear is used to describe an attitude that the stock market or a particular stock is going to go down. If you’re bearish, you’re bracing yourself for a downturn vs. being bullish, which means you’re charging in, ready to buy.

Patient Hunters

Bears spend most of their waking hours looking for food. While grizzly bears and polar bears are capable of taking down large prey, such as elk or caribou, more often they hunt smaller animals, such as rodents or salmon.

As apex predators, bears are extremely patient hunters. A polar bear can swim for days in pursuit of food or wait patiently for hours by an ice hole until a seal pops his head up to get a breath of air.

This video from BBC Earth shows how grizzly bear patiently await salmon that are swimming upstream to spawn.

Patience and tenacity win the day.

The bear spirit animal reminds you that no matter how much you want to achieve a goal, often it’s patience and tenacity that will get you what you want. Furthermore, you must hone your skills, which requires time and practice.


Giant pandas eating bamboo.
Giant Pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) eating bamboo, Chengdu, China. Photo: Center for Research and Reproduction of the Giant Panda.

While bears are known as the largest carnivores on land, they are actually omnivores. In the case of the giant panda, physiologically they are carnivores and they are known to small rodents or carrion. However, 99 percent of their diet is plants, and mainly bamboo.

Brown and black bears are known to eat grasses and sedges, fungi, roots, herbs, berries, and nuts. They will also eat insects and carrion. Essentially, bears are opportunistic eaters.

The bear spirit animal has something to teach us about eating. Pandas have evolved over millions of years from being meat eaters to being nearly 100 percent vegan. Like gorillas and elephants, they prove that you don’t have to eat meat to be big, healthy, and strong.

Always be hungry for new ideas and experiences.

In addition, the bear spirit animal tells us to be open minded, to be willing to try new things, and to seize opportunities when they come. Bears are both practical eaters and inquisitive gourmands.

If the bear power animal resonates with you, it could mean that it’s time for you to branch out, maybe try some new foods that will make you healthier and stronger, or simply to get out of your comfort zone in other areas of your life. The bear spirit may also be telling you that if you’re eating too much, it may be time to include more plants into your diet!

Curious and Playful

Like canines, bears are highly intelligent and this intelligence manifests in an innate curiosity. Bears like to smell things, often standing on their hind legs to get more of a scent, and they like to inspect new objects in their environment.

This video exemplifies just how curious and playful bears can be:

Even though bears can be very serious and sometimes aggressive animals, their nature is also to be curious and playful. If the bear spirit animal makes him or herself known to you, they may be reminding you that you possess an innate curiosity and a playful nature. Life isn’t just about work and putting bread on the table. Take time to explore the world and experience what’s going on beyond your immediate purview. Be fearless about trying new things.


As powerful and ferocious as they can be, let’s not forget that bears are cuddly too. How else could the Teddy bear become such a beloved and iconic comfort toy to so many, generation after generation?

In this video from Beastly, you can see how affectionate Kodiak bears can be.
Male Kodiaks can get up to 1,400 pounds and stand nearly 10 feet tall on their hind legs. Nevertheless, they still enjoy a good chin rub.

The bear spirit animal may be reminding you that you can be affectionate, cuddly, and gentle. You don’t have to be tough and gruff all the time.


When you think of animals that hibernate, bears are usually the first animal that comes to mind. However, bears actually go into a state called torpor in which they can easily be woken up. While in this state, they do wake up occasionally to forage for food before going back to sleep. (True hibernating animals, such as marmots, go into a deep slumber that makes them difficult to wake up. In fact, marmots can reduce their heart rates from an average of 190 beats per minute to 2 or 3 beats per minute when they are in hibernation.)

If the bear is your spirit animal, you are a person who needs your deep sleep. You may even be grouchy if you’re woken before you’re ready. So, it’s important for you to protect your right to sleep.

Retreat, rest, reflect, and recharge.

You may also be a person who needs time to go into retreat so you can recharge. It’s important for bear men and bear women to have their respective man caves and she sheds – sanctuaries where they can go to rest, reflect, and recharge. The bear spirit animal reminds you not to let your energy get too drained. Find ways that you can get away from it all, protect yourself from interruptions, and explore your dreams in tranquility.

Bear Meaning in Greek and Roman Mythology

Ursa Major and Ursa Minor constellations
Ursa Major and Ursa Minor constellations. Photo: Panda Thwiki.

The constellations Big Bear and Little Bear, also known as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, are the inspiration behind the Greek myth about Callisto, of which, there is also a Roman equivalent.

In the story, Callisto is a nymph and the daughter of King Lycaon, as well as a companion to the hunter goddess Artemis. As was the way of the nymphs, Callisto had vowed to always remain a virgin.

However, lusty Zeus saw Callisto and decided he had to have her. Thus, he transformed himself into Artemis to trick Callisto into falling into his embrace. As things go, soon after Callisto found herself pregnant. Enraged by the indecency, Artemis kicked Callisto out of her group of nymphs.

Later, Callisto gave birth to a son named Arcas. This was when Hera, Zeus’ wife stepped in. Enraged by her husband’s infidelity, as so often happens, instead of inflicting her revenge on her cheating spouse, Hera blamed Callisto, and thus turned her into a bear.

Sixteen years later, now a teenager and a hunter, Arcas happened upon a bear in the forest and was about to kill her, not knowing his target was his own mother. Sensing the catastrophe, Zeus decided to right his wrongs, so, he turned Callisto and Arcas into the constellations Big Bear and Little Bear.

Bear Symbolism in Celtic and Anglo Saxon Folklore

Bronze figurine of the goddess Artio and a bear, from the Muri statuette group, circa 4th century, discovered in Bern, Switzerland. Photo: Sandstein.

Bears appear in a number of ancient Celtic and Anglo Saxon stories. The Celtic goddess Artio was known as a bear goddess. According to Judith Shaw in the blog Feminism and Religion, for the Celts, Artio was the goddess of wildlife, transformation, and abundance. Artio is sometimes depicted as a bear or as a goddess with a bear, as she is in the statue pictured here. The statue was discovered in Bern, Switzerland in 1832 and is now in the Historical Museum of Bern.

Great Kings Descended from Bears

Folklore experts also speculate that King Arthur’s name was inspired by the Romano-Celtic god Mercurius Artaius, who was possibly a bear god. Bears were considered the king of all animals, thus many great kings were thought to be descended from bears.

The Anglo-Saxon hero Beowulf may have also been named after a bear. His name is sometimes translated to “bee wolf” – meaning a bear that attacks bees to get their honey, says the blog Druidry. Furthermore, Beowulf was the inspiration for the character in The Hobbit named Beorn who shapeshifts into a bear.

Bear Meaning in Nordic Myths and Stories

Engraving of a Norse berserker in bear fur about to decapitate his enemy.The term “berserk” was inspired by none other than bears. In the ancient Norse language, berserkers were warriors who went into battle wearing bear skins, or “bear coats,” and fought in a trance-like fury.

The god Thor is also associated with a bear, and his mother was considered to be the mother of Earth. Bears are often depicted as protectors in Norse folklore – symbolizing females who are calm and strong, but if pushed, will become extremely aggressive.

As in Celtic and Anglo Saxon folklore, in Nordic stories, the legendary king of Denmark, Knuut II the Great, was said to have descended from a bear.

Sami Bear Rituals

Another Nordic culture, the Sami, revered the bear and believed, as the Native Americans did of wolves and owls, that the bear was capable of moving between the material and spiritual worlds.

While the ancient Sami revered the bear, they would still hunt, kill, and eat bears, as well as wear the bear’s head and fur in ceremonies. The Sami had a complex ritual around killing bears, which they believed would help to appease the bear’s spirit after he or she was killed.

Bear Meaning and Symbolism in Finnish Culture

In Finland, bears were and still are revered. The ancients Finns believed that bears would reincarnate through women, according to the blog Druidry. For this reason, women were warned to stay away from the body of a dead bear.

In Finnish mythology, the great bear named Otso was nursed by a woodlands goddess in a cradle that was swung by bands of gold between the branches of budding fir trees. Otso was not supposed to ever use his teeth and claws, but as things go, he ended up using them. Thus, this gave the ancient Finns an excuse to hunt bears.

The Honey Eater

Winnie the Pooh is clearly not the only bear who was obsessed with honey. The Finns had many nicknames for Otso, including The Honey Eater, Honey Paw of the Mountains, as well as other affectionate names like The Forest Apple, The Fur Robed Friend, and The Pride of the Thicket.

Bears in Slavic Culture and Folklore

The ancient Slavs worshipped bears as well. A bear was associated with the god Volos, who was the patron of domesticated animals. However, like the Sami, the Slavs had a complex relationship with bears – both revering them then killing and eating them.

The Nivkh and Bears

A captured bear with members of the Nivkh people with a circa 1903.

The Nivkh people, also called the Gilyak, are an indigenous ethnic group that live in eastern Russia and Sakhalin Island, which is off the coast of Russia, north of Japan.

The Nivkh would capture bear cubs and raise them as they would a human child.

However, after a few years, they would prepare an elaborate ceremony that involved dressing the bear in a fancy costume and then killing the bear and eating it in a ceremony overseen by a shaman. The Nivkh believed the ceremony would calm the bear’s spirit, which would return to the god of the mountains.

The Legend of St. Seraphim

St. Seraphim feeding the wild bear
St. Seraphim feeding a wild bear. Image: Alex Bakharev.

The legend of St. Seraphim is about an ordained hieromonk who lived in the late 1700s. The monk withdrew to a forest hermitage outside of Sarov, Russia in order to pray and be more in tune with nature. The ascetic monk soon attracted wild animals, including bears, wolves, rabbits, foxes, and birds, who would peacefully visit him at his hut.

During one such visit, Matrona Plescheeva, an eldress at the Diveevo Monastery, witnessed St. Seraphim feeding a wild bear by hand. As he fed the bear, Matrona Plescheeva described the monk’s face as being “joyous and bright, as that of an angel.”

Bear Symbolism in Asian Mythology and Folklore

In ancient China, when Xuanyuan Huangdi, also referred to as the Yellow Emperor, ruled the country starting in 2,697 B.C., he built his capital in Xinzheng. Apparently there were many bears in the area. In addition, Xuanyuan Huangdi had bears in his palace, and was thus nicknamed “You Xiongshi” or “Bear Emperor.”

The Story of Shan Hai Ching

Like the Sami, the Nivkh, and other ancient cultures, the ancient Chinese saw bears as being connected to the divine. In the myth Shan Hai Ching (Classic of Mountains and Seas), which dates back to the 4th century B.C., there was a mountain called Bear Mountain that had many caves.

Bears lived in these caves and it was believes that gods and spirits would play with the bears there. During summertime, the doors of the caves would be open. Then, they would close in the wintertime. However, if for some reason the doors of the caves were opened in winter, it would mean impending doom.

During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 9), bears were popular, as many discovered artifacts from that period depicting bears attests. However, bears were also used as sources of entertainment, including in bloody battles with other animals.

Bear Meaning in Feng Shui

In Feng Shui, bear symbols are used to protect the home, particularly when placed near the main entrance. In Feng Shui, bears symbolize masculine energy.

Bears in Chinese Medicine

A perverse aspect of how too many Chinese view bears even to this day is how bear parts are used in Chinese medicine to trick people into thinking that consuming bear organs will somehow make them more virile.

This depraved way of thinking is along the lines of a hunter killing a wild animal, taking photos with the carcass, posting the photos on social media, and nailing the dead animal’s head or skin to a wall. In either case, the behavior only reveals how insecure and weak the person feels inside, yet the activity does nothing to make them more physically vital.

Not the Answer to Male Virility

Men who are consuming bear bile, rhino horn, and other animal parts to feel more masculine must pay closer attention to real science. For example, men who are suffering from erectile dysfunction (ED) should know that in the vast majority of cases, the cause of ED is heart disease or clogged arteries, both of which are caused from eating animal products. Studies show that vegan men have less heart disease and ED.

Furthermore, a study published in the British Journal of Cancer found that vegan men have 13 percent higher testosterone concentrations than men who eat meat, and 8 percent higher testosterone concentrations than vegetarians who eat dairy and eggs. In other words, if you want to truly be virile, don’t eat bears or other animals.

Bears to the Ainu of Japan

An Ainu woman with facial tattoos and a captured bear cub
An Ainu woman with facial tattoos and a captured bear cub, circa 1922. Photo: Juliet Bredon.

The Ainu, an Indigenous people who live in some of the islands of Japan, refer to bears as “kamuy,” which translates to “god.” The Ainu see other animals as gods, but bears are the kings of all gods.

The ancient Ainu believed that when gods visited the world of men, they took on the appearance of bears. Like the Sami and the Nivkh, the Ainu revered bears but also ate them.

Like the Sami, the Ainu would capture bear cubs and raise them, even treating them with better care than their own human children. Yet, when captured bears reached the age of 2 to 3 years old, the Ainu would sacrifice and eat them.

Bear Meaning in the Bible

In the Bible, bears are used as both positive and negative symbols. In II Kings 2: 23-24, a gang of youths are mocking one of God’s prophets, which is the equivalent to mocking the word of God. To teach the youths a lesson, God sends two she-bears to maul them. In this case, the bears are an extension of God’s will.

In 1 Samuel 17:34, bears are treated in the same way that wolves are in some parts of the Bible: as symbols of evil or the devil because they threaten the flock, who represent the parishioners. While God and Jesus are symbolized by the shepherd who protects the flock.

At other times in the Bible, bears are seen as fierce protectors. In 2 Samuel 17:8, Hushai says, “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. And your father is an expert in warfare, and will not spend the night with the people.”

Bears in Native American Culture

Sioux Medicine Man: Medicine Bear-Ma-To- Ican
Sioux Medicine Man: Medicine Bear-Ma-To- Ican, 1872. Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

As they held great respect for all living beings, Native Americans also revered bears.

Dreams of Bears

Because dreams are so personal to the dreamer, I find it hard to apply specific metaphors every time a person dreams of a bear. However, I do share the belief held by many Native American tribes that bear dreams are messages from your super consciousness and they are worth studying.

Bear dreams for the Native Americans were messages from their ancestors. I personally hold this belief that it’s especially easy for your angels or spirit guides to communicate to you through your super conscious when you’re sleeping. What’s important is to consider when analyzing your dreams is the emotions you were feeling in the dream, whether it was fear, anger, anxiety, etc. Then, consider it in the context of what’s going on in your life that may require guidance.

Bear Medicine

While every Native American tribe has unique beliefs, in general bears are considered to be powerful medicine beings bestowed with special wisdom. According to the site Native Languages, because bears continue to fight even after they are gravely wounded, the Native Americans believed they had special healing powers. Thus, some Native American tribes would include a bear’s claw in their medicine bundles, and warriors wore bear claw necklaces for power and strength.

The Protector of the People

For the Miwok tribe, who lived in the area that is now central California, bears were considered the protectors of the people.

For the Inuit, bears are a powerful totem animal. The Inuit believe that if a hunter is killed and eaten by a bear, he or she will reincarnate as a shaman who carries the power of the bear spirit within them.

For the Pueblo Native Americans, bears are one of six directional guardians, which meant they were protectors and masters of the medicine for an important region. The Zunis, another tribe of the American southwest, carved stone bear fetishes for protection and good luck.

Many tribes hunted bears, ate their meat, and used their other parts for clothing and jewelry and in their ceremonies. Yet, most tribes shared taboos around when bears were hunted and killed. For example, it was verboten to kill a mother bear with cubs. Some tribes considered it disrespectful and even dangerous to insult bears or mention their names outside of ceremonial contexts.

The Bear Dance

Native American Bear Dance
The Bear Dance. Lithograph by George Catlin, 1844. Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

The Ute Native Americans of Colorado have been celebrating bear dances for centuries. Spanish explorers recorded seeing them perform bear dances as far back as the 15th century. The bear dance is performed in spring, when bears come out of hibernation. It’s a celebration of life, much in the same way other cultures celebrate the arrival of spring.

Other tribes, including the Caddo, Lenape, and Iroquois, also have bear dances that generally celebrate the transition from winter, when bears are in hibernation and considered to be in communication with spirits, to spring, when bears come back to the material world and the Earth awakens or is reborn.

Bear Clans

The Native American clan system is organized around family groups based on the maternal line. The clans served as a system of community organization, division of labor, and some historians surmise that they helped to keep gene pools healthy by preventing close relatives from marrying. Generally, clans have animals that are associated with them, and a number of Native American tribes have bear clans.

Tribes that have bear cleans include the Creek, whose bear clan is called Nokosalgi or Nokosvlke; the Chippewa, whose bear clan and totem are called Nooke; the Algonquian tribes, such as the Mi’kmaq and Menominee; the Huron and Iroquois tribes; the Plains tribes, including the Caddo and Osage; the Hopi, whose bear clan is called Honngyam or Hona-wungwa; the Navajo and Pueblo; and the northwestern coastal tribes including the Tlingit, Tsimshian, Nisgaa-Gitksan, and Salishan.

Modern Bear Symbolism

While bears have held a variety of meanings to ancient cultures throughout history, it’s important to mention a bear symbol in our modern world.

Polar Bears and Climate Change

Sadly, polar bears have become a symbol around the world for climate change. As the Earth heats up because of human activities, polar bears are literally seeing their native habitat melt away. At the end of this post, there is information on which bears, including polar bears, are critically endangered, and how you can help keep these majestic beings to stay alive and even thrive.

Bear Quotes

As it was with wolves, it was challenging to find quotes about bears that are positive. There are plenty of quotes about bears symbolizing grouchiness and other traits that are actually more human than anything else. So, in honor of bears, here are a few positive ones.

“Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly.”
– Proverbs 17:12

“Are people more important than the grizzly bear? Only from the point of view of some people.”
– Edward Abbey

“Also, the cow and the bear will graze, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.”
– Isaiah 11:7

“The farmer grows the corn, but the bear eats it.”
– Nepalese Proverb

“The mountains have always been here, and in them, the bears.”
– Rick Bass

“I think that I was slightly naive. I thought that if I showed people the beauty of the Arctic and the beauty of the polar bears that they would care so much that they would stand up and try to make a change.”
– Lewis Gordon

“If some of our teenage thrill seekers really want to go out and get a thrill, let them go up into the Northwest and tangle with the grizzly bear, the polar bear, and the brown bear. They will get their kicks, and it will cleanse their souls.”
– Fred Bear

“There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to mean horses and gun fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

Are Bears Endangered?

It’s a sad fact in our modern world that the legendary guardian and almighty protector now needs our protection. If the bear spirit animal is calling to you, it may mean that you are here to help save bears.

There are eight species of bears in the world, and of the eight, six are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as threatened with extinction.

It’s important to keep in mind that even if large predators are not on the endangered species list, they are still highly at risk because wild animals around the world have lost and continue to lose their essential natural habitats to humans. In addition, they face risks, as we do, from the impacts of climate change.

Bears on the Endangered Species List

Here is a list of the eight species of bears in the world with a notation for those who are at risk of extinction.

1. Brown Bear – Ursus arctos

Brown bears exist throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, according to the World Atlas. They, along with polar bears, are the two biggest terrestrial carnivores living in the world today. There are a variety of subspecies of brown bears, such as the grizzly bear, East Siberian brown bear, the Syrian brown bear, and the Tibetan blue bear.

For a glimpse of California’s great brown bear – the grizzly – check out this video from Yosemite National Park:

2. Polar Bear – Ursus maritimusAt Risk of Extinction

The polar bear generally lives within the geographical area that’s the Arctic Circle, of which the countries Canada, The United States, Russia, Greenland, and Norway have a foothold.

This video from Discovery UK gives you a glimpse of polar bears and adorable cubs in their native habitat, the island Svalbard, Norway.

3. Asian Black Bear – Ursus thibetanusAt Risk of Extinction

Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus)
Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus). Photo: Orlica.

The Asian black bear, known for the signature white moon-shaped crescent across their chest, is found in the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent, as well as northeastern China, eastern Russia, Korea, Taiwan, and some of the islands of Japan. Subspecies of the Asian black bear include the Baluchistan bear, the Himalayan black bear, the Tibetan black bear, and others.

4. American Black Bear – Ursus americanus

American black bear
American black bear (Ursus americanus). Photo: Thomas Fuhrmann

The American black bear is native to North America. They exist in Canada, throughout Alaska and the continental U.S., as well as Mexico.

5. Sun Bear – Helarctos malayanusAt Risk of Extinction

Southeast Asian sun bear
Southeast Asian sun bear (Helarctos malayanus). Photo: Keven Law.

The sun bear lives in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, where their range includes the countries of India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia.

6. Sloth Bear – Melursus ursinusAt Risk of Extinction

Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus)
Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus). Photo: Wilfried Berns.

The sloth bear is native to the Indian subcontinent.

7. Spectacled Bear / Andean Bear – Tremarctos ornatusAt Risk of Extinction

Andean bear, or spectacled bear
Andean bear, or spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus). Photo: Futureman.

The spectacled bear, also referred to as the Andean bear, is the only living bear species that is native to South America. They are found in the Andes Mountain regions of Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Argentina.

8. Panda Bear – Ailuropoda melanoleucaAt Risk of Extinction

Panda bear
Panda bear (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). Photo: Benjamín Núñez González.

The panda bear is native to south central China.

Organizations that Protect Bears

If you care about bears, please support organizations that are fighting to protect them. Here are a few:

Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) of Southeast Asia. Photo: Keven Law.

The National Wildlife Federation

Center for Biological Diversity

Defenders of Wildlife

Polar Bears International

American Bear Association

World Wildlife Fund

Animals Asia

International Association for Bear Research

List of Bear Sanctuaries

Bear Paw


May the bear spirit guide and protect you.


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