Of all the beasts in the animal kingdom, bear tattoos probably have the richest and broadest symbolism across time and cultures.
In Ancient Greece and Egypt, the Great She-Bear was found in the Ursa Major (“Big Dipper”) constellation, and was believed to be the incarnation of the Goddess Artemis (Greek) or Diana (Roman).
In the Old Testament, the bear symbolized cruelty and evil influence, and was used to represent the King of Persia, who brought death to his peoples. Later, Christian artists co-opted the bear as a positive symbol. Ancient lore stated that bear cubs were born shapeless, and were given form by the mother bear. In Christian symbology, this was used as a metaphor for reform and regeneration.
Across Europe, the bear was a symbol of warfare for the Celts, was considered an ancestor to the Lapps (who called it “grandfather”), and became the national symbol of Russian.
The bear probably had the greatest influence on Native American tribes. Though the bear walked upright like a man, it was viewed as a supernatural being, and sometimes as a god. For the Pueblo Indians, the bear represented hunting, battle, and healing. For the Sioux, it was second only to the
as a totem animal. The bear represented Wind Powers, and stood for the whirlwind, confusing your enemies, curing powers, and the ability to find things.
For the Native American, the bear was a symbol of self-reflection. Its annual hibernation in a cave was symbolic of our need to use silence to hear the voice of the higher self. The bear represented both the feminine powers connected to earth and creativity, and the masculine powers of strength, courage, persistence, invulnerability, and observation. It was commonly associated with vision quests, and many believed that bears were once people who formed their own spiritual tribe.
If you get a bear tattoo, you may wish to think about what type of bear to use. The common Black bear (which can be black, brown, cinnamon, or blond in color) is the least aggressive of the species. It is clever, and has excellent vision and hearing, but would rather climb a tree than engage in conflict. If your reason for getting a bear tattoo is to symbolize power tempered with wisdom, this might be the route to go.
If your reason for getting a bear tattoo is to symbolize dangerous and deadly strength and power, go with a Grizzly! Averaging 1000 lbs. (453 kg), the grizzly can run up to 36 mph (58 km), and it does not bluff or back down. It is most recognizable by its large shoulder hump – a mass of muscles, some of which are connected to its jaws – which ensure a powerful bite. By the way, should you ever encounter one of these in real life, do not make eye contact and do not run!Regardless of your tattoo, make like a black bear and climb and tree!
For more information on Bear tattoos and Animal tattoos, see the resources listed on our
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