The USA together with the Russian Federation have put a proposal to the CITES Conference of Parties March 2013 to uplist polar bears (Ursus maritimus) from Appendix II to Appendix I. The proposal considered that this higher level of protection was needed as polar bears, in addition to being threatened in the future by the increasing loss of ice in the Arctic (summer ice has decreased by 15-20% due to climate change) also are significantly affected by trade. Indeed, the USA proposal mentions that from 2001-2010 something like 6798 polar bear products were traded, including skins, skulls, trophies, “bodies” and live animals. 79% of the trade emanates from Canada.


Adoration of the Bear by  Oleg Gurenkov

Adoration of the Bear by Oleg Gurenkov

One of the oldest myths in the world is the story of the young girl who marries the bear.  In most versions, the she is captured by the bear because she is indolent or rude and so is taken back to his people where she becomes his wife and bears (sic) him cubs, part bear, part human.  It is important to recognize that she is not raped.  She marries. Over time she matures.  A true bond is created.  Sometimes her children are bears and she loves them so. After some time, loneliness for her own people calls her back home and she returns with her sons. When they return to human settlement, they take on and keep the shape of the human.  Then, in one version or another, the brothers or her sons, set out to hunt the bear and are taught this mystery by the bear who offers himself to his human kin.

The myth is concerned, primarily with right relationship between human and other.  The necessity for such a connection is implied in the recognition of Bear people.  Bear people and human people are equals in power and the Bear people demonstrate sacred authority.  Shape shifting, bear to human, human to bear, is also is central to this myth.

What does shape shifting mean politically? We can become each other.  This reduces differences.  This implies the possibility of alliances and mutual concerns. Such understanding was fundamental to most Indigenous cultures and allowed for ecologically balanced and environmentally sane survival tactics.  Hunting is balanced and sacred wisdom is a gift from the animal to the human.

However the history of Western culture is one of increasing alienation from the natural world. Disrespect has led us to the degradation of the environment. It has led to the crisis we find ourselves in.  The increasing extinction of species leads, if things continue in this way, to our own extinction as well.

Right relationship and respect continues as a theme in the fairy tale, The Three Bears.  Here there is no recognition of the ‘other’ by the human girl.  Goldilocks does not recognize that she is in a foreign terrain and needs to act with respect. She is even more naïve and immature than the girl in the old myth,  Goldilocks assumes she has a right to what belongs to the bear. No bond of recognition or connection occurs between human and animal.  The Three Bears marks the development of disconnection between the species.  This is implied by the bears losing their bearness and living in a human habitat.  This is not shape shifting; this is colonization.

Beauty and the Beast is another variation on the same theme.  Beauty goes to live with the Beast (read Bear.) Then loneliness, for her own people, also calls her home.  However, love has been awakened and she returns to the Bea( r)st.  This is where the story shifts.  The Bea( r)st turns into a man.  The shamanic skill of shapeshifting is replaced by enchantment, a conversion by evil means.  A profound way of knowing is demonized, a common trend in Western culture.

There is a Cherokee Bear legend about the Ani Tsaguhi.  http:www.firstpeople us/.  A young man from this clan makes his way more and more frequently to the mountains.  After a while his parents notice that the young man is growing long brown hair.  He is transforming and wants to live away from the people.  His parents decide to follow and live where he lives.

The clan elders try to persuade the Ani Tsaguhi to stay at home. They send messengers who are “surprised to notice that their bodies were beginning to be covered with hair like that of animals, because for seven days they had not taken human food and their nature was changing. The Ani Tsaguhi would not come back, but said, ‘We are going where there is always plenty to eat. Hereafter we shall be called Yonv(a) (bears), and when you yourselves are hungry come into the woods and call us and we shall come to give you our own flesh. You need not be afraid to kill us, for we shall live always.’ Then they taught the messengers the songs with which to call them and bear hunters have these songs still. When they had finished the songs, the Ani Tsaguhi started on again and the messengers turned back to the settlements, but after going a little way they looked back and saw a drove of bears going into the woods.”

In this story, the bears will live always.  The humans shape shift into bears and the bears teach the sacred songs, reveal the mysteries, so that the hunters will always have good fortune.

In a similar Cherokee story, told to me last month, by Cherokee elder Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD, a young man wants to join the Buffalo people but can’t until he proves that he walks among them with great respect.

The old myths teach the good ways (Native American) or right relationship (Buddhist.) They present the political principles through which we are to govern ourselves and our habitats.

How far we have come from this: later Western stories reflect our ignorance and disregard.  The commentary after the myth on the Indigenous People’s Literature site is “Aho. We are all related.”  This is the essential principal from which good governance develops.


In early 2013, master storyteller and dear old friend, Diane Wolkstein, asked me to write an essay for a section of StoryTelling Magazine, which she was guest editing with Loren Neimi on the Politics of Story.  When Diane died suddenly while researching her next story project on the Monkey King in Taiwan, Neimi continued with the section. BEAR MEDICINE FOR THE WORLD was published in Volume 25, Issue 2, June-July 2013: Remembering Diane Wolkstein.  It broke my heart and eased my heart to be with Diane at the end having known and loved her for over thirty years.


  1. Laurie Markoff October 27, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Dear Deena,
    Took me a while to get to read this new posting, as I have been busy planning the Women’s Lodge Samhain Ceremony, which will take place on November 3. When I was with you at the Healer’s Intensive, when I climbed the hill, I saw an elephant in the mountain. When I asked what I could do for him and he said, “My people are dying…can you do nothing to help?” I said,” I am helpless to prevent the slaughter”. And he said “This Samhain, when you dance with your beloved dead, do a ceremony for ALL of the beloved dead.” I heard this as human and non-human.
    And so, the invitation to this ceremony asks each woman who comes to choose a being who is extinct, endangered or being harmed by human culture and to bring an image of that being. We will do a ton glen practice, in which we will allow each woman to bring to mind her grief over the death of family, friends, other humans, and then other beings. We will talk about how an individual death can be a tragedy, but extinction means that the being does not get to pass on its seeds, that its voice will never be heard again, its form gone from the earth. We will dance with our friends and family who are gone, who we believe we can invite across the veil to be with us at this time of year. And then we will dance with these beloved other-than-human beings, wearing black veils with their pictures over our hearts. Perhaps they will join us across the veil as well. Perhaps we will be able to shape-shift, perhaps not. Martin Prechtel says that Praise expresses our love for something we have, and Grief expresses our love for something we have lost. May our hearts open to praise the web of life, to grieve those we have lost, and may the connection help us to find the way to preserve the beings that remain with us.

  2. burrowing owl November 2, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Thankyou for telling us about Diane Wolkstein, master of wormhole navigation ! (20 years ago, 0ur masters program in Jungian Art Therapy brought her to perform at UNM)
    The spike in sudden death of young professionals will continue spiraling.

    Pacific killer whales are holding silent vigil…—
    their primal songing quelched by nuclear waste…
    in prelude to melting like the starfish.

    An alpha brown bear presides…
    as the ram nails the farmer to the barn.

    As the penumbral eclipse of the blue Harvest Moon
    has a word with the farmer, the lost lamb, and the full cougar.

  3. jessie November 10, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Hi Deena,
    I enjoyed reading this…it reminds me of my dream that i had in college….in which their is chaos and war in the world all over. I do not know what to do, or where to go. Someone arrives in a white pick up truck. In the back is a huge dead white bear. The person in the truck says he must give this bear to me. There are lots of people around me but everyone is frantic…no one cares that there is a dead bear. I realize that i must bury the bear, that i must have a ceremony for it. I realize that this is the most important thing for me to do. i know that if i do not honor it no one around me will.

    Thank for letting me remember this dream, and move forward in the way of honoring.

  4. Deena Metzger November 10, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Hello Jessie: This is an extraordinary dream and speaks. so strongly, to the need to create right relationship and real relationship with the other species. Also, I wonder what the polar bears, so gravely threatened now, would say to someone who is will to stop in the midst of chaos, to bury her dead. Bless you, Deena

  5. Deena Metzger November 10, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Beloved Diane died in Taiwan where she was learning Chinese and doing research for her next piece. Impossible to imagine the world without her.

  6. Deena Metzger November 10, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    I wonder what happened on Samhain, whether the animal spirits and ancestors came, and how the living might have been altered by their dance with the dead.

  7. Laurie Markoff November 11, 2013 at 11:29 am

    We danced a waltz with our beloved dead. And yes, they came. My daughter’s twin who died in the womb appeared in the arms of my closest friend, much to her surprise. My husband’s best friend Russ, who died suddenly in 2000, appeared with Jana, the 18-year-old daughter of his close friend who died the year before he did. We re-membered our beloved dead…and so they came. And then we expanded our Circle to the Council of All Beings…we put on our veils, with pictures of the other-than-human beings pinned over our hearts…we sounded their sounds and danced their dances. I became an elephant…using my trunk to feel…touch…comfort…bumping my bulk into others so they would feel my presence. Afterward, we took sacred communion…eating a small bit of food in a cabbage leaf and reciting this prayer:

    Thank you, Holy Mother for the gift of this nourishment.
    I honor ALL the beings who were sacrificed
    So that I might be sustained.
    May I use this energy in support of all life.
    And may life continue
    Long beyond my time
    Blessed Be.

    In the morning, the first Email I received said this “Dear Co-creators,
    I’m too tired to put my gratitude into adequate words, but I must say a preliminary thank you for yesterday’s amazing ritual. I can feel it working its magic in me, and I believe in our whole community. Carolyn and I on our ride home both said that we felt stirred to some new kind of activism on behalf of the Council of All Beings — not sure what it will be, but feeling the stirring . .”

    And I was satisfied.

    Last night I went to Comma William’s journey circle. On my journey, the elephants took me to their tribal home in Africa. They said that since I had invited them to dance with my tribe, that I must come to theirs. They did some kind of sound healing with me, playing instruments and ringing bells and sounding and touching me with trunks and bodies. I asked what it was for and they said “for opening…so it will be easier for you to hear us and others”. I could not ask for a greater gift. May I be able to hear what is needed.

    So yes, Deena, they came. In fact, I believe they are always here. If we can only learn to listen.

  8. Marilyn Steele, Ph.D. November 12, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    Dear Deena,

    I am enjoying your newsletters, and celebrate with you the USA and Russian Federation proposal on behalf of the bears. May it be so.

    I thought you would be interested in a bear dream, one of many, I had years ago while working with Jungian elder and shaman Don Sandner:

    There is a spiritual conference of some sort being held down the hall. I’m a student, a seeker, a candidate. Interested. I walk into the room where everyone is sitting on the floor in a circle, listening to a thin white man with slicked back brown hair, dressed in flowing white trousers and shirt. As if he were Indian, or saint, or guru. His talking, his teaching, is a mixture of German philosophy, existential thought, who knows what else. A mish mosh he’s stolen from every tradition, without the heart of it. Clever, but intellectual and dry. I also don’t like the way his presence takes up all the room so no one can speak or ask questions.
    I wander into another room, hidden in the back. It’s a bit dark, but I can see the bear standing in the center. A huge brown bear. I am amazed, but not frightened. I am so attracted to him. We embrace, then fold to the ground on our sides, face to face, to make love. I know this is a secret and hope we won’t be discovered. Somehow I know, this is a true teacher, a true religion.

    Blessings to you. Your work and words have inspired me for many years.

    Marilyn Steele, Ph.D.

    The Wild Feminine

  9. Deena Metzger November 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Thank you for writing, Marilyn and posting your dream. The dreams underwrite our thinking and help us know if we are on the path or not. Isn’t this dream about the movement from abstract and disconnected Western mind to kinship with all beings? Maybe, on a personal level for you, it underlines the gift, as with Don Sandner of being a Jungian elder AND a shaman. The human way and the animal way become one in Sandner and in you, more particularly, in the dream.

    And, yes, as you said in an email exchange with me: “And yes, exactly. The kinship of all beings, our spirit and souls reunited with the body. With the Earth. The wild and sacred Feminine coming back to life…in the nick of time.”

  10. Marilyn Steele, Ph.D. November 15, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    So true isn’t it? And I think there is such loneliness and grief for so many at being separated from that kinship, feeling estranged from nature, their own wild soul nature. I can see so much more fully now what a blessing it was to grow up in Hawaii, one of the few places on Earth where the wild and sacred feminine still thrives in a visible, palpable way as part of the culture and land.

  11. Lurena Hay-Miller November 18, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    In Aug. 2013 I was in Boulder, CO to do major healing/spiritual work. Buffalo appeared everywhere I went but most intently in Longmont and near the Denver airport where there was recent land development. They were in fear and terror and grief so palpable I couldn’t sleep at night. At first it was just one buffalo who appeared; when I acknowledged him he brought the whole herd. They only left when I connected with THEIR grief and THEIR loss and how very sorry I was for them and that as much as I would like to be able to do something there was nothing I could do but offer love and ask for forgiveness on behalf of those who had destroyed them and their way of life. Interestingly it was but two weeks later that those same areas were devastated by the “1000 year floods”. I have been to the area many times before and never had that experience with the buffalo. I often communicate with beings from the other side and assist those stuck here and wonder if the new development opened up the wounds of the area, activating the buffalo consciousness. I believe the area is cleansed now, the Great Mother having cried her long held tears.

  12. Deena Metzger November 18, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Thank Lurena for writing. I feel that we are entering into a real conversation here in response to this posting, that speaks of the great animal grief, spirit’s response and Her grief, and the increasing conversation between humans and the animals through the meditative, dream and ritual realms. Let us all use, if it seems appropriate, this page to help each other know how to meet these times. Blessings to all and the buffalo.

  13. cathy taylor November 19, 2013 at 5:07 am

    A poem written in response to women lodge samhain circle with laurie markoff and council of all living things and the elephant:

  14. Marilyn Steele, Ph.D. November 19, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Thanks to Lurena for sharing that powerful and beautiful encounter with buffalo. It does seem these memories, spirits and griefs are in the land, released by the various intrusions and assaults. We humans are shaken too, in our wild souls, although there is much numbing and denial to our deep need to connect to and house these living spirits. What an illusion to think it is only the animals “out there” and that we are not being harmed in fundamental ways!

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