# ADSactly History: The Bear Cult of the Primitive People
*Hello, dear @adsactly readers. We continue our quest to understanding the spiritual evolution of our earliest ancestors by taking a look at their religious beliefs. In order to do this, we should use our imagination to try to understand what Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens made of a world that was full of mystery. If they looked at the sky, they knew the Sun brought light and warmth, but they didn’t know what it was. Presumably, they learned to tell it was going to rain if the sky was overcast, but they had no idea what thunder and lightening meant.*
However, the first place they looked was around them, in their immediate vicinity - earth, trees, rivers and, above all, animals. For the Neanderthal, as well as for Homo Sapiens, the animals were the most important. Their lives depended on the creatures that roamed freely around them. Remember they were hunter-gatherers, so if they could not get enough meat, they starved. At the same time, bears and lions and rhinos could easily kill them. Naturally, the primitives first evolved animist beliefs. They populated their world with spirits of animals, plants, rivers.
*The Red Bears of the Chauvet Cave*
The term animism was coined in 1871 by English anthropologist Edward Tylor, in his book ‘Primitive Culture’, in which he defined it as "the general doctrine of souls and other spiritual beings in general". His theory was based on observations about the religious beliefs of native populations in Africa or Asia, but it applies very well to primitive populations.
One of the first and most prevalent animist religion was bear worship, which could be found in most of the European continent, but went as far as Asia.
Anthropologists believe the cult of the bear appeared in the time of the Neanderthals, 50,000 years ago, maybe even more. Evidence of this cult are the numerous bear bones found in different caves inhabited by primitive people. The way the bones were arranged indicates some sort of ritual taking place. For instance, in a cave in France, at Saone-et-Loire, the bear skulls were arranged in a perfect circle. Other caves with bear remains arranged with particular care were found in Switzerland and Slovenia.
*Fossil skeletal bear remains found in Germany in 1774*
If you would like to learn more about this cult, you should definitely read ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’, an excellent book by Jean M. Auel. It is a work of fiction set at a time Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens coexisted, the plot itself is fascinating, but the book’s greatest value lies in the unbelievable amount of research the author put into this work. If you’re interested in early human history, you can find in this book detailed descriptions of the most relevant aspects of their lives, from carving stone tools, to making the clothes on their backs to the technique of hunting mammoths with nothing but a few wooden spears.
According to Auel, Neanderthals had complex rituals and used totems to get protection from their spirit animals.
One of the most important proofs of the existence of this cult is the fact that up to this day, the bear is the central animal in many folkloric traditions around Europe.
*A bear festival of the Nivkh population, around 1903*
In Ancient Slavic religions, the bear was associated with the god Volos, patron of domesticated animals.
Th indigenous Nivkh population which inhabited the Amur river valley in mainland Russia had a winter bear festival that survived till modern times, before being banned by the Soviets. The inter-clan festival, beautifully described in the book I mentioned, involved one of the groups capturing a bear cub and raising it as a child. Once it reached maturity, the bear would be slain in an elaborate ritual meant to release its spirit, an act which the Neanderthals thought would bring them favors from the animal deity.
In Romania where I live we still have a New Year tradition, called the Dance of the Bear, only nowadays it is performed with a man dressed as an animal. Folklorists believe it is a custom that has been preserved from pagan times. In fact, the greatest local god from before Christianity was called Zalmoxis, which it is believed meant ‘bear skin’.
Remnants of the old bear cult can also be found in Japan. The Ainu people who live on several Japanese islands call the animal *kamuy*, which means god in their language. The also have a winter festival which involves the slaying of a bear in a ceremony meant to return its spirit to its proper home.
Evidence of an ancient bear cult have also been found in northern Norway, near Alta, where more than 6000 rock carvings of animals have been found on several sites. The oldest among the carvings were dated to around 5000 BC. The bear is represented in such a position as to indicate the animal was not only hunted, but also worshiped. Of special interest to scientists are the vertical tracks that come out of the bear’s den, with one theory saying it represents a reference to the belief in after life and the bear’s ability to cross between realms.
*Venus of Willendorf, Austria*
Some 40000 ago, in the Upper Paleolithic, another type of religious beliefs began to emerge. On various sites across Europe scientists have discovered small statues of women, generically referred to as Venus. It is believed the statues represented a goddess of fertility and were probably used in religious rituals.
Two ancient ritual statues have also been discovered by archaeologists on a Neolithic site in Romania. The most famous one, *The Thinker of Hamangia*, is considered by UNESCO on a short-list of the ten most precious prehistoric artifacts in the world. The Thinker is believed to represent some nature god, while the statue of the woman that was found with it is most probably a fertility goddess.
Moving from animal cults to more abstract anthropomorphic gods represents yet another step in the spiritual evolution of the primitive man. The fact that so many pagan traditions are still alive after such a long time indicates just how strong these beliefs were and how deeply they are rooted in our collective psyche.
Across Europe, bears are probably the most powerful animals, but in other regions of the world it could be that people feared and worshiped other beasts.What sort of animal cults have been preserved in your area?
**Post authored by @ladyrebecca.**
**References**: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_carvings_at_Alta), (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bear_worship).</center>