Bears were on my mind for the Winter 2005 issue, when our theme was Totem Animals. Oscar Wilde must surely have said something about the pleasure of quoting yourself, so I shall, from that issue, which seems a perfect introduction to what I have to say two winters later:
My spiritual life began two weeks after my mother’s mother died, when I was in fifth grade. I’d just gotten into bed and was about to turn off the light on the bookcase beside me – when my beloved grandmother appeared at the foot of my bed. Nothing like a movie ghost, she was solid and looked younger than I’d ever seen her, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a dress more elegant than anything she’d worn in life. Smiling, she said one sentence to me, then vanished: “Always remember that we belong to the bear clan.”
Even though I had no idea what she was talking about at the time, my grandmother seeded in me a love of bears that continues to this day. A small black iron bear that I bought on Castro Street sits among pictures of her and other ancestors. Not too long ago, stroking my facial hair, a friend said, “You’re too thin to be a bear. What are you?” Taking into consideration the habitually dark circles under my eyes, (a genetic trait according to my doctor; a sign of chronic stress by my acupuncturist), the friend decided I’m a raccoon.
Not much chance I’ll be at the forefront of a new movement. Bears have a certain clout that raccoons lack. Bear skulls have been found on stone altars in some of the earliest archaeological sites. Several years ago one of my guides told me that when Earth was deciding to generate sentient land life it chose primates as its first choice and bears as the backup, should the primate experiment fail. To this day, I was told, bears stand at the doorway to possibility for all of us, not to mention that they do stand, rendering them humanish in form, unlike most other animals.
Researching bears I discovered a few things I didn’t know. There are seven species of bears which evolved from dog-like ancestors. Imagine that! Male and female bears look alike. They are omnivores. In cold weather bears retreat to their caves or dens, but they don’t actually hibernate like some species. Instead, bears enter a period of torpor, which has inspired cultures all around the planet to connect them with dreaming and dreamtime.
This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane. We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going. So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!
Andrew Ramer is a writer and educator. He is the author of numerous books including Revelations for a New Millenium, Little Pictures: Fiction for a New Age and the Gay classic Two Flutes Playing: A Spiritual Journeybook for Gay Men from White Crane Books.
Ramer lives in San Francisco. Praxis is a regular feature of White Crane.