Besides meditation, I did more mundane kinds of research on the habits of bears and the folklore surrounding them. I also looked up the meaning of “bear” (which means “brown”, but has a fascinating history — I’ll post on it at some point soon) and words related to it. I realized that the name Orson means “little bear”. The name Acadia goes back to the Greek region of Arcadia, which means “land of the bear”. Ali herself had gone to Ursinus College, “Bear College”. The name of Arthur, the king revered by most of the revival druids (especially in Britain), is probably related to the Welsh word for bear…
Cave of the Bear
And the next time I meditated, a saw the bear in its real form. It was there among the rocks, on the other side of the stream, a brown bear, on all fours and looking in the water, dragging its paw in the stream, fishing. Then there was a flash of silver and a splash, and the bear had a fish in its mouth. It lay down like a dog, holding the fish on the ground between its paws, and began to eat. After a moment, as I continued to watch, the bear looked up at me. I was a little afraid, but not too much. Although the bear was clearly strong and powerful, there was something in its gaze that welcomed me as a respected equal.
I crossed the stream and the bear approached.
I got the feeling it wanted me to follow, and it led me away from the cave entrance and toward a single huge tree, tall and broad and old, its branches high and spreading. I looked up the trunk, and not far up there I saw a large beehive perched among the leaves. I climbed the tree, gathered some honey in glass jars that I happened to have with me (bees almost never sting me), and brought them down for the bear. This gift was accepted with grace.
Then I realized the sun was starting to go down. I followed the bear back to the entrance of the cave, and turned and face back down the hill, where I could see the rippling rocky stream below, and the mixed forest of oaks and beeches and pines, and several other rocky hills nearby. The sun had already fallen behind the hills, and the sky had become ruddy and gold and purple. For a moment I stood and watched the sunset, feeling the cool breeze of evening, and smelling the gentle scents of the forest below. The birdsong had quieted, and all I could hear was the wind. The first stars were appearing now.
I felt a tremendous sense of peace and security. This is one of the gifts of the Bear: self-sufficiency, protection, peace. There is no threat that can harm the bear in its domain; it does not want or fear. But there are other gifts, too.
I turned back to the entrance to the cave, and the bear led me in. Inside it was very dark, but there was a dim red light coming from a small fire burning in the center of the stony floor. The firelight flickered on the walls. I did not see the bear; but I could feel its presence everywhere around. It had not gone away: it was there, in the walls, in the floor; its life burned in the fire. It is as if I had entered the very soul of the bear. I felt its strength and protective energy all around, holding me, surrounding me, welcoming me. By entering this place, I had come to where the bear was most vulnerable, to share its warmth, its protection, its abundance, its heart.
I sat down by the fire, facing the cave entrance. The fire burned low and dim; and I could see, or sense, the stars outside, crowding the sky like scattered diamonds. The wind was blowing, and I felt the warmth of the small fire before me. Here is where the Bear comes to be reborn: like the sun, it retreats into its cave in the winter, and her cubs are born there, like the young sun of spring. Then I looked up at the walls of the cave, and realized that there were faint red lines of fire there, as if reflecting or echoing the flames; and the lines were tracing the stars and swirls and symbols painted on my pipestone bear.
Bear and Temple
I returned to the Bear’s realm several times over the next week, exploring it, finding its limits. There were clear boundaries: in one direction, a thick impassable forest of pines; in another, a place where the river ran up into another bear’s territory, and so on. The Bear’s realm didn’t seem to be connected to my inner landscape anywhere.
However, I did find quite a surprise when I went around the mountain to the side opposite the bear’s cave. Here the mountain’s lower slopes were covered with oak trees, and the earth was thick and rich and shadowed. I scrambled down the slope and encountered another stream, crossed it, and climbed up the bank on the other side. I saw a tumble of great stones embedded in the hillside, forming another cave. I poked my head in, wondering if there was another bear here, but it was obviously empty.
At this point I felt compelled to climb up this new hill, so I went on up. The earth was soft and loamy, and smelled of fallen leaves. It was just a short climb to where the land leveled out again, and I saw an opening in the trees ahead. And there, where the dark shadows ended, and an open sunny meadow opened up, with bees humming among the flowers — there was Apollo’s second temple, exactly as I had first seen it in meditation years ago.
It was still abandoned and dirty, leaves of past autumns layered on the floor, spiders everywhere, and a sense of mustiness, lichen, and aging stone. The pool was muddied and cloudy. But now I knew what to do.
I went back down the hill, across the river, and up the other side, back to the bear’s cave. I called to the bear, and she — now I knew it was a she — followed me — down the hill again, over the river, and up to the empty cave in the hill. She was delighted with it, and immediately began cleaning it, clearing it of dust and brush. I continued up to the second temple, and started my own cleaning job.
Every once in a while I returned to that place. I would actually go to the temple and imagine myself cleaning it, scrubbing away at years of grime and stain; and I would hear the bear working in her new cave. Now the temple sparkles, and the cave is cleaned and ready. There is even a hearth fire burning within it.
There is a lot more to be discovered here. I don’t yet know why there is a second temple, but in a way I know it’s a connection between the bear’s world and my usual haunt. I don’t know what will happen now that the connection has been made. Maybe nothing; maybe everything…
How many other guides do I have that I just don’t know about?
(Thanks to Ali for the beautiful photographs of my bear fetish.)