Bear Symbolism & What It Means To Dream About Bears (Or See One)

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bear symbolism

While bears may be intimidating and frightening to most people, they are incredibly fascinating creatures who have been the subject of mythology and legends for centuries. And though there are only eight species of bears, they have habitats in South America, Europe, Asia, and North America; bears exist on all continents except Africa, Antarctica, and Australia.

When we think of bears, our first thought is probably about how large and protective they are of their families. We may also wonder about their survival during hibernation and harsh conditions, their hunting prowess, or even the darkness involving poaching and exploitation.

But with bear symbolism in mind, you'll soon learn just how majestic and revered bears truly are.

Bear Symbolism & Spiritual Meanings Of Bears

Despite their reputation for their savagery and aggression, bears symbolize courage, strength and power, protection, curiosity, and trust. In addition, a bear represents spiritual power, harmony in nature, intuition, primal energy, and maternal love.

Though they are quite large animals, bears can run up to 35 mph depending on the species, and are able to move their limbs fast. They can also climb up trees and have good dexterity, making them perfect examples of what strength and vigor look like.

In addition to their hunting and agility, bears are protective and nurturing, especially towards their bear cubs. A mama bear will do anything in her power to protect her young, even against male bears who are known to kill cubs that aren't theirs. Not only are bears loving and protective, but courageous as well.

Due to their high intelligence, bears are innately curious. Yes, they can be aggressive in certain circumstances, but their true nature is one that is playful and inquisitive!

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Bear Encounters and Omens

Because they are so curious, you may stumble upon a bear in the wild, inspecting its surroundings or looking for food. Often, bear encounters occur right in your own backyard or during a camping trip, but bears are known to avoid humans if possible, making sightings a bit rare.

If you see a bear, it may have a spiritual meaning associated with it.

Yes, bears could be a sign of danger if you get too close, but encountering one represents the energetic boundaries you put in place, focusing on your personal and spiritual growth, finding purpose when you feel stuck, or bringing balance back to your life.

What Different Types of Bears Symbolize

There are only eight species of bear, but some have symbolic meanings attached to them, including the polar bear, black bear, brown bear, grizzly bear, and others.

Black Bear Symbolism

Black bears are the most common bears in North America and symbolize curiosity, trying new things, child-like wonder, growth, and playfulness. However, these bears can also represent vulnerability and insecurity in challenging times.

Polar Bear Symbolism

One of the largest bears to exist, polar bears are incredibly fierce and represent spiritual growth, living a full life, believing in yourself, and taking risks.

Grizzly Bear Symbolism

Grizzly bears are a subspecies of brown bears, and though they appear aggressive, they are just overly protective and territorial. Grizzly bear symbolism relates to protection, being inspired by the divine, personal freedom and independence, courage, and strength.

Panda Bear Symbolism

Though they are famous for their love of bamboo, there are roughly 1,800 panda bears left in the wild, making them endangered animals. Panda bears symbolize living in the moment, creating a foundation for your life, and putting a stable life first.

Koala Bear Symbolism

Koala bears are actually marsupials who are closely related to wombats. Despite this, they represent being patient, enjoying the small things in life, and keeping an open mind.

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Bear Symbolism in Dreams

When you have dreams about bears, be sure you're paying attention to the circumstances of the dream, and how the dream itself makes you feel. These are all important aspects to keep in mind when considering dream interpretation.

Dreaming of a bear attacking you

A bear dream that's about this creature attacking you is actually a reflection of your own aggression in the physical world. You may have negative feelings towards someone you know, or resentment that keeps building.

Dreaming of a bear biting you

When a bear bites you in your dream, it can signify real threats or lies in your life, specifically by someone close to you. Consider this a warning sign that you must address any turmoil in your relationships.

Dreaming of bear cubs

To dream of bear cubs or baby bears represents your own child-like innocence and your desire to feel protected in real life, or it can mean that you're in a growth phase and are seeking support.

Dreaming of a talking bear

Though a dream of a talking bear may seem silly, this actually means that you must pay very close attention to the messages you're being sent from the spirit world. Trust in yourself and listen to what your guides have to say.

Dreaming of a group of bears

A group of bears, known as a sleuth, can indicate problems in your personal or professional relationships. It's time to realize your own negative contributions to your relationships, and figure out how you can improve your communication.

Dreaming of hunting a bear

Hunting a bear in your dream means you are in the process of working your way towards success. This dream can also mean that you're searching for a more prosperous and fulfilling life.

Dreaming of an injured bear

A dream about an injured bear is a bad omen, and symbolizes issues in your waking life. You may feel stuck or trapped in your circumstances, and are looking to free yourself from what is holding you back.

Dreaming of killing a bear

To dream of killing a bear means that your waking life may be full of obstacles, but you're ready and willing to overcome whatever life throws you. This dream can also represent your willingness to protect those you love from harm's way.

Dreaming of a dead bear

A dream of a dead bear means you are in control of where life takes you, so it's up to you to harness your mental and physical strength and move forward.

Dreaming of a brown bear

If you dream about a brown bear, it's a sign of new beginnings and opportunities in your life. However, this dream can also indicate that you may be spending too much time away from your loved ones and need to instead focus on nurturing your relationships with others.

Dreaming of a black bear

When you dream of a black bear, it relates directly to your own innate intuition; you may also have the tendency to "read" other people. With this dream, it's a nudge to remain strong in the face of adversity and use your own gifts to guide you.

Dreaming of a white bear

Dreaming of a white bear or polar bear represents trusting your inner wisdom to move through difficulties in life. This dream also symbolizes being able to overcome those exact not only with your wisdom, but your resolve.

Bear Spirit or Totem Animal

Spirit animals are spirit guides that keep you on the life right path and teach you important lessons along the way. Similarly, totem animals are also spirit guides, but animal totems are only invoked when you need guidance.

You can't choose your spirit animal, but you'll know if you have a bear spirit animal if you've had a profound experience with this creature or resonate with them in some way.

Those with a bear spirit animal are nurturing, protective of their loved ones, compassionate, motivated, naturally curious. For individuals who have a bear as a spirit animal, they may appear intimidating or off-putting to others in their first impression, but once they open their hearts, people find them incredibly loving.

If you have this spirit animal, bear teaches the importance of being independent and selfless, finding your own speed in a world that may feel overwhelming at times, and taking the time to relax and decompress from life's stressors.

A bear totem is called upon when you're in need of self-care, strength, courage and protection. Having a bear totem means finding ways to stay sure of yourself and overcoming difficulties.

With a bear totem, you are known for being a leader who is playful and fun-loving, but may struggle with your anger and burn out quite quickly.

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Spiritual Meaning of Bears in Christianity and the Bible

Bears are mentioned in both a negative and positive context throughout the Bible. Though they aren't one of the most mentioned animals in this religious text, bears are portrayed to represent nurturing and protective traits.

There are various passages throughout the Bible that involve bears:

2 Kings 2:24: "He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys." This verse discusses youths mocking God and his prophets, and to teach a lesson, God sends bears to maul the young boys for mocking the word of God.

1 Samuel 17:34-35: "But David said to Saul, 'Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.​'" In this passage, bears are portrayed as evil because they are capable of destroying flocks of animals; God and Jesus are instead portrayed as protectors of the flock.

Hosea 13:8: "Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open; like a lion I will devour them — a wild animal will tear them apart." A mother bear whose cubs are killed is a ferocious creature, and this verse speaks to a bear's protective nature.

Bear Symbolism in Mythology and Folklore

Native American Bear Symbolism

To Native Americans, bears are incredibly sacred. The spirit of the bear is considered to be a keeper of infinite wisdom, protection, and healing powers.

Because of how revered bears are in Native American culture, bear medicine is a large part of their beliefs. Because bears are believed to have immense healing powers and wisdom, some tribes would use a bear claw in their medicinal rituals, and warriors also wore bear claws for protection.

While many tribes did hunt bears for their meat, using additional parts in jewelry or rituals, due to the deep sacred meaning the bear holds, other tribes forbade killings of bears, believing it to be disrespectful or dangerous.

Some tribes also have what is known as bear clans, a system where relatives trace their kinship through the maternal line. Clans often have animals associated with them, and for certain tribes, the bear is their totem.

Far Eastern Bear Symbolism

In Chinese culture, the bear is a symbol of masculinity, bravery, and a protector of the home. Bears are a large part of Feng Shui, and individuals put bear symbols in their home to invite in positive energy.

For over 3,000 years, bears have been an important part of Chinese medicine. Bear bile has been used as a cure for all different conditions, including heart disease, fever, and even gallstones.

In 2697 B.C., the Yellow Emperor, Xuanyuan Huangdi, had bears in his palace and was also said to have tamed bears, also using them in combat. During the Han Dynasty, bears were also used as a source of entertainment, battling with other animals.

In Japanese culture, specifically the Ainu people, bears were thought to be god-like; the Ainu referred to bears as "kamuy" which translates to "god." The Ainu people believed that gods who visited humans would appear as bears.

Because the Ainu believed bears would give themselves as a gift to be eaten, they would raise bear cubs, treating them well, and would sacrifice them around 2 or 3 years old, sending their spirits back to the spirit world.

Celtic Bear Symbolism

In Celtic mythology and folklore, bears represented strength and stamina, and were featured in many legends. Bears were thought to be protectors of spirits in dreams, and were a symbol of rebirth due to cubs and their mother reemerging from hibernation in the springtime.

The Celts worshipped Artio, the goddess of fertility, nature, bears, the cycle of the seasons, and the cycle of life and death. Artio was said to hibernate in the winter, and reawaken in the spring. She was also known to take the form of a bear, or appear as a woman who wore a bear skin cloak. Hunters would invoke Artio's spirit for strength, success, and protection.

Other folklore concepts emerged from the reverence of bears, including King Arthur and even Beowulf. King Arthur's name was said to be inspired by Mercurius Artaius, the Romano-Celtic bear god. Beowulf was also thought to be named after a bear, being referred to as "bee wolf," meaning a bear attacking bees to retrieve honey.

Ancient Greek Bear Symbolism

In Greek mythology, the constellations Ursa Major (known as the Great Bear) and Ursa Minor (Lesser Bear), known as Big Bear and Little Bear, were inspired by the myth of Callisto. Callisto was a huntress companion to Artemis, who swore to remain an unwed virgin.

However, she caught the eye of Zeus, who transformed himself into Artemis to trick Callisto. In the myths, Callisto was either transformed into a bear by Zeus, or by Hera or Artemis, to conceal their affair, or as an act of rage for her being unchaste.

She soon discovered she was pregnant, and gave birth to a son named Arcas. Hera, jealous and angry, turned Callisto into a bear. During a hunt, Artemis killed Callisto, mistaking her for a real bear.

Other myths say that Arcas, years later, almost killed Callisto, his own mother, leading to Zeus stepping in and turning both Arcas and Callisto into the constellations Big Bear and Little Bear, or the Big Dipper and Little Dipper.

Norse Bear Symbolism

In Nordic culture, specifically the Sámi, believed the bear could move between the physical world and the spiritual world. Because bears were revered to these people, there were rituals involving killing bears to appease the bear's spirit.

Bears were also associated with the god Thor, as well as his mother, Frigg, the mother of earth. The term "berserk" was inspired by bears, and is a combination of the word "bear" and "shirt." Berserkers were warriors who wore bear skins, becoming frenzied during combat and believing themselves to be immune to fire and steel.

Ancient Slavic Symbolism

In ancient Slavic culture, bears were both worshipped and revered, as well as killed and eaten. Bears were associated with Volos, god of earth, livestock, and the underworld.

The Nivkh, a semi-nomadic people, would raise bear cubs as if they were human children. After a few years, the bears would be sacrificed and eaten, believing the bear's spirit would return to Radegast, the god of the mountains.

One ancient Slavid legend told of St. Seraphim, a preistmonk in the 1700s, who went into the forest to become one with nature. He let wild animals peacefully visit him, which included bears, rabbits, birds, and other animals. An eldress at the monastery also witnessed St. Seraphim hand-feed a wild bear.

Bear Tattoo Meaning

People get tattoos for a variety of reasons, mostly to express themselves creatively or as a memory of something they are proud of. Getting a bear tattoo is a positive symbol that can represent many things, including love of nature, connection to spirituality, harmony, or freedom.

One might get a tattoo of a teddy bear as a reminder of their childhood innocence, or perhaps they get a tattoo of a black bear to remember the strength of this beautiful creature.

Others may get a bear tattoo if they have a bear spirit animal, or because they are courageous individuals, have an unspeakable love for their children, or wish to have a symbol of good luck.

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Samantha Maffucci is an editor for YourTango who has written hundreds of articles about relationships, trending news and entertainment, numerology and astrology. Follow her on Twitter for more.