Emma-Jayne Saanen

[Totem Animal] Brown Bear

In June, I had decided to take a break from active spiritual work. But as I am a proverbial open house, it wasn’t long before I was being tapped on the shoulder by a totem.

It was Brown Bear. I was determined to make the most of my break, but I told him I would work with him come July.

My interactions with Bear were different from my interactions with other totems. The main difference was that I couldn’t “journey” to visit him. Instead, I had to go to a place in the real world to speak with him.

My first visit to him was a challenge.

Here is my related entry from LiveJournal:

I was stopped twice on my path to the Cliffs.

The first time, an enormous Herring Gull blocked my path. Screaming, and with his wings spread he charged at me. After getting a massive fright and being startled backwards, I gathered my thoughts and decided to ask him what the problem was. He continued screaming – apparently I hadn’t been giving him the time he deserved (I have been trying to work with Gull for a few months now, but I just can’t get a feel for him) and that I was ignoring him.

I’ll be damned if I am going to stand for that. So using my cunning (lol), I decided to fight fire with fire. I focused on Pigeon and the gift of wings she gave me, I felt them grow from my shoulder blades, spread out to their full size … and I charged right back at Gull, screaming at him, telling him that if he wants to work with me, he needs to stop being an arrogant asshat and let me in. Why should I do all the work for little reward? Building a relationship takes two.

Saying nothing, Gull backed off and let me pass.

Nearing the Cliffs, I became aware of eyes staring at me from all around, and at the end of the path there was a mass of rabbits, acting as one and representing Rabbit. I asked him to let me pass and he said no. I wasn’t allowed to make Bear welcome here, Rabbit’s children have it easy here, and no more predators are allowed to threaten his children.

I told him that it wasn’t my choice to make, but Bear’s children would not be returning here anytime soon although Bear does want his presence felt on the land once more. I asked Rabbit to accompany me, and he could speak with Bear himself. Rabbit did not like that one bit, I could tell, but he couldn’t really back out of it, could he?

So myself, and a carpet of rabbits made our way to meet Bear.

Confused, Bear asked me what was going on. The rabbits shifted uncomfortably as I explained that Rabbit didn’t want him here. Raging, Bear charged the rabbits and told Rabbit that he was making a home here, and when his children arrive, he’d better watch out! They ran, and Rabbit was shaken.

I used to be scared of Rabbit, but not anymore. He’s just a bully, and relies on numbers to intimidate.

I asked Bear why he chose an aggressive tactic over a peaceful one. He replied simply “Because I have a reputation to maintain”. Why would anybody want that kind of reputation? Bears, from my research, seem to be quite peaceful animals who mind their own business on their search for food and shelter. They do seem to like their solitude. Perhaps this show of aggression is to create a barrier so people won’t bother him? I think this is something I do.

I talked to Bear about some of the Celtic mythology I picked up about bears – mostly that they are protectors, and help with journeys to the Otherworld. He laughed and said that isn’t quite true, but when I learn to shapeshift as him, I can tap into that energy to secure myself, to feel a bit more confident and to shield my energy a bit so I don’t get so drained.

I had a lot to think about here.

My second experience with Bear focused on his source of Power. In my practice, I feel that each totem has a body part that is representative of their strengths.

For Maned Wolf, she has a really powerful third eye.

For Feral Pigeon, hir wings grant her strength.

For Saanen Goat, the power lies in his horns.

And for Brown Bear, his power stems from his paws and claws.

I asked Bear about this, and he took me on a walk through the woods. His paws carried him where he needed to go, they allowed him to access food sources (tearing bark, shifting logs, digging roots and intimidating other predators away from their kills) and they allowed him to defend himself and his children (he told me about the insane strength a female bear can draw upon to defend her cubs).

When I try to shapeshift as Bear, it is the paws I feel first and the strongest. They are a source of security for me.

From here, things started to get quite bad for me. Since my “journeying” break, I had been unable to go and visit the Otherworlds and due to a series of real-life issues, I was exposed to very dark and horrible experiences whilst being isolated from the people I usually ask for help.

I was totally alone, and had to spend a good few weeks fighting some of my inner demons. I’m sorry for not going into details, but I’d rather not discuss any of it on a public forum.

Bear is a harsh teacher. I asked him how he handles being alone in dealing with life, and his answer was “I am a bear”.

Such a simple answer, with so much in it. Being solitary is second nature to him. Do I need to learn to be more like Bear? Or do I need to accept that I am a social animal, and learn to feel connected all the time? Personally, I am drawn to the former. I can’t be connected all the time. The world is too noisy, I’d go insane. I need to willingly disconnect, and also handle when someone else makes the choice to disconnect me.

From here, I am learning to be more like Bear. To be comfortable with myself and who I am. I have started working with different aspects of my personality, which has developed into an internal eco-system. All of these aspects grow from my core being. I’m breaking myself down to see what I am made of, and to see my strengths and weaknesses. It’s challenging work, and like my “journeying” I am learning as I go along. But I have a bit more respect and love for myself.

I feel that Bear’s lessons are an extension of Sheep’s lessons. I have never been so aware of my dependency on other people. It’s not a bad thing, humans are social animals after all. But I need to realise that I too am a strong person, and I do have the resources I need to look after myself. I just have to find them.

Bear has been a very hands-off teacher, and I found this really upsetting at first. I have a low opinion of myself, and see myself as weak and useless a lot of the time. But not anymore. I’m flawed, and broken, but I am all the person I need to be. And I thank Bear for helping me to realise that.

Bear Week started on the 1st July, yet it is still ongoing. I am still trying to get my head around all of this, and hope to write a clearer summary soon.


  1. Great post. I added your blog to the RSS Feed on my page.

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