There’s one more reason why Bear is such an important symbol for me. I’d like to tell you about it. The mother bear is one of the most tender, nurturing, and fiercely protective mothers in the animal world. In the spring when she emerges from her den, she brings with her at least one new cub who was born during the hibernation. The first and most difficult lesson she teaches her baby is to stay hidden and quiet high up in a tree while she searches the forest for food. It is essential that the cub remain in the tree, for if she climbs down and wanders around alone it is only a matter of time before she will become lunch for a ravenous adult male bear.
Having no idea of the danger that awaits, in those first few days out of hibernation the cub tries to climb down and follow her mother. When this happens the mother must swat her child firmly and chase her back up the tree. Finally the poor baby stays, afraid of being alone, but more afraid of the disapproval of her mother. Soon she learns to trust that if she stays there long enough, Mother will eventually come back. Then the joyful cub can climb down out of the tree and together they will eat, play, and snooze until it is time to return to the den for the night.
Mother and cub follow this routine for about two years. During this time the dutiful child learns her lessons well from the good mother. Then one day the mother bear trees her cub as usual. She goes out into the woods as usual. And she never comes back.
The sun’s rays lengthen. Twilight arrives. The baby waits in the tree. She is hungry. She is lonely. She is afraid. Maybe she is angry. How dare Mother stay away so long? Still she waits. Night falls. She hears terrifying noises and there is a gnawing hunger in her belly. But she has learned her lessons well so she waits for her mother like a good little bear.
Here is the terrible truth that the baby bear must learn: in order to survive and grow into a mature bear capable of becoming a nurturing mother herself, she must commit an act of disobedience against the good mother. She must climb down from the tree. The moment she leaves the tree’s safety and makes her sad and lonely way through the forest is the moment she accepts her royal birthright. No longer will she be a naive and innocent princess. She has no choice but to grow up. The Queen of her universe is dead. Long live the new Queen.
Like the baby bear, our job during the first half of life is to become civilized and safe. But the journey is not over once we have learned to respect society’s authorities — whether familial, political, or spiritual — for too often they are flawed and their agendas stifle our psychological and spiritual growth. The baby bear’s predicament represents our ego’s awakening to the personal meaning and sacred authority of our own souls. At some point we, too, need to commit an act of disobedience against the good mother of society so we can expand into the authentic, compassionate, and responsible moral beings we were created to be.
It may seem cruel, but society’s abandonment of us when we grow strong enough to go our own, individual ways is actually a gift that initiates us into discovering the guidance and wisdom of our inner mother, Sophia, the feminine side of the Beloved. How have you been initiated by Mother Bear?