S T E P H A N I E R A Y N E R
BEAR AS SHAMEN
All of Stephanie Rayner's work involves an attempt to define the meaning of modern science and bring its icons within a genuinely beautiful and persuasive art. Her affects are poised and intelligent, her objects like complete clear embodied thoughts. In her work she is lighting the way to our spiritual future."
Director, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery
The bear was seen as a great shamanic healer for both giving herbal medicines to human beings and having the ability to resurrect himself from death. The word for bear in many native languages means the equivalent to doctor. The bear was incorporated into both healing and initiation rituals. Because those traditions were fundamentally rites of renewal re death and rebirth, the initiation ceremony patterns involved prolonged isolation in a dark hut or cave, fasting and symbolic death and rebirth to parallel a bear in hibernation. Each year the bear, with the first heavy fall of snow that marks the beginning of winter, crawls back into the earth…the source of all life and the place where all life must return. They lie underground (the tomb) in a death like sleep and the world sleeps with them. In spring they awaken and emerge into the rebirth of Earth’s cycle of life. So the initiate “dies” without fear of annihilation because they now share the bear’s power of resurrection.
The bear hunting peoples of the Sub Polar regions of Asia, Europe, Scandinavia and North America all shared a similar ritual ceremony to honor the bear that has its roots in Neolithic times. Because the bear stood, sat, used its paws like hands, took time and great care raising its young, ate a diet like theirs and lived in caves, the Neolithic peoples saw the bear as a relative …to quote the Cree… “the bear is a man wise in the way of the woods”. This ritual, last seen in Cree country in 1936, brought together the three symbols of renewal…the bear, the moon and the World Tree.
As a world renewal ceremony it juxtaposed the contrasting elements of the universe: sky/earth, male/female, water/fire, life and death.
The ritual ceremony would begin with the bear revealing the location of his den in a dream to a woman of the tribe. In the spring twelve holy men were selected to go to the den and call the bear out to his sacrifice. He must come willingly and be guided by the twelve to a large lodge built specifically for the ceremony. The lodge was built with two doors at opposite ends over which hung a waxing and waning moon. At the center of this room was a massive tree trunk. The bear would be killed as near to this tree as they could get him to come. The chief of the tribe could only kill the bear with an axe or a spear. Then the bear skull and skin would be hung on the tree trunk which was for them the actual center of the world…therefore the place of first creation. This World Tree reached from the womb of the earth through the twelve levels of the universe to the abode of the Supreme Being. It supported the sky, connected the layers of the universe, periodically and faithfully regenerated the earth and provided a means of communication with the Supreme Being. Whomever or whatever climbed the tree became immortal …the god that must die to be reborn…and provided a conduit for the prayers of the people to The Creator.
Bear As Shamen: Crystal Polar Bear Skull W 9" x H 7 1/2"