Cultural constructs and folklore of bears
Lizanne Henderson (University of Glasgow (Dumfries Campus))
Paper short abstract:
This paper will explore the cultural constructions, interactions and complex relationships between humans and bears in the Northern Hemisphere. The concentration will be on black, brown and polar bears, and will address both the historical and present-day perceptions, usages and folkloric interactions between humans and bears.
Paper long abstract:
The folklore and cultural history of bears is long-standing and complex. Bears make a regular appearance in folktales, legends and myths of various northern peoples but such stories can go beyond simple entertainment and be important in revealing something about the part animals play in human society and culture, as well as the human relationship with and understanding of the land. Many cultures have identified behavioural similarities between bears and humans, some even claiming lineal descent from bears and thus forging kinship ties with them. The bear has strong supernatural associations and is an important figure within shamanistic societies and belief structures. Traditions of the bear as shapeshifter or, vice versa, the human who can assume the form of, or adopt the characteristics of a bear, are widespread. The various conceptions and human constructs of the bear can therefore illustrate the relationship and overlaps between the natural and supernatural worlds as perceived by those living in close proximity to bears. How people connect and relate to their environment, and their perceptions of the natural and the supernatural world, can be indicated through an examination of the various roles and manifestations of bears. Areas to be discussed will include, for instance, the bear as shapeshifters, as a motif in folkloric tradition, legend and folktale, and issues of anthropomorphism. Other topics of human-bear interactions and contact, as in hunting for subsistence or sport, wildlife tourism, as icons and symbols, and the use of bears in advertising, will also be addressed.