Winter is my favorite season of the year. There is something about dark days and long nights that nourishes my soul. The cold and quiet that comes with deep winter allows me the time to contemplate the direction of my creative work.
In An Unspoken Hunger, Terry Tempest Williams writes about these connections between place and creative healing. “Writing becomes an act of compassion toward life, the life we often refuse to see because if we look too closely or feel too deeply, there may be no end to our suffering. But words empower us, move us beyond our suffering, and set us free. This is the sorcery of literature. We are healed by our stories. By undressing, exposing, and embracing the bear, we undress, expose, and embrace our authentic selves. Stripped free from society’s oughts and shoulds, we emerge as emancipated beings. The bear is free to roam.”
“We are creatures of paradox, women and bears, two animals that are enormously unpredictable, hence our mystery,” Williams continues. “Perhaps the fear of bears and the fear of women lies in our refusal to be tamed, the impulses we arouse and the forces we represent….As women connected to the earth, we are nurturing and we are fierce, we are wicked and we are sublime. The full range is ours. We hold the moon in our bellies and fire in our hearts. We bleed. We give milk. We are the mothers of first words. These words grow. They are our children. They are our stories and our poems.”
The duality represented by bears presents a balanced cycle that mirrors my own journey through each year. Summer and autumn months offer prime opportunities to explore my surroundings. I collect material, capture color, and walk through the world gathering material for my own personal hibernation. When winter comes, I travel inwards through collected dreams and senses. This is my chosen time for creative work.
“If we choose to follow the bear,” Williams writes, “we will be saved from a distracted and domesticated life. The bear becomes our mentor. We must journey out, so that we might journey in. The bear mother enters the earth before snowfall and dreams herself through winter, emerging with young by her side. She not only survives the barren months, she gives birth. She is the caretaker of the unseen world. As a writer and a woman with obligations to both family and community, I have tried to adopt this ritual of balancing public and private life. We are at home in the deserts and mountains, as well as in our dens. Above ground in the abundance of spring and summer, I am available. Below ground in the deepening of autumn and winter, I am not. I need hibernation in order to create.”
There is a rich history of mythic traditions relating women to bears. According to J. C. Cooper in An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, bears represent resurrection. In Women Who Run With the Wolves, psychologist and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estés links their transformative and regenerative power to many goddesses around the world.
“The bear is associated with many huntress Goddesses: Artemis and Diana in Greece and Rome, and Muerte and Hecoteptl, mud women deities in the Latina cultures. These Goddesses bestowed upon women the power of tracking, knowing, ‘digging out’ the psychic aspects of all things. To the Japanese the bear is the symbol of loyalty, wisdom, and strength. In northern Japan where the Ainu tribe lives, the bear is one who can talk to God directly and bring messages back for humans. The crescent moon bear is considered a sacred being, one who was given the white mark on his throat by the Buddhist Goddess Kwan-Yin, whose emblem is the crescent moon. Kwan-Yin is the Goddess of Deep Compassion and the bear is her emissary.”
“In the psyche, the bear can be understood as the ability to regulate one’s life, especially one’s feeling life. Bearish power is the ability to move in cycles, be fully alert, or quiet down into a hibernative sleep that renews one’s energy for the next cycle,” she continues. “The bear image teaches that it is possible to maintain a kind of pressure gauge for one’s emotional life, and most especially that one can be fierce and generous at the same time. One can be reticent and valuable. One can protect one’s territory, make one’s boundaries clear, shake the sky if need be, yet be available, accessible, engendering all the same.”
It’s going to be a wonderful year, indeed.
Images: “Playing With the North Wind” by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997), photography by Katerina Plotnikova, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” by Kay Nielsen (1886-1957), “Hibernation” by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997), “The Snow Princess” by Ruth Sanderson, “Bear Woman” by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997), “The White Bear King” by Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914), and “Pink Moon” by Jackie Morris.