My Ancestors Were Bears

Deep in my bones, in the blood of my veins, swirls the blood of a hundred thousand ancestors who came before. From here in this land, from across the great sea to the east. Ancestral memories of Turtle Island, the Northlands of Europe and the Islands, the Continent, Eurasia, and Western Africa pool in the recesses of my mind. And among the blood of those human ancestors, runs the tiniest veins of those nonhuman. Other. Beast and Faery, both. Something I had suspected, known really, buried in my bones, long, long before the Others told me. Before Brighid and the Morrigan, before Grandmother Bear and other Spirits told me. I knew. I knew a longing deep within me, I knew a shape I ached to take, I knew a sea I yearned to swim, I knew a cave I yearned to claim. It is a strange melancholy, to be seal-kin without a sealskin to find, never being able to return to the Sea. It is a strange heartache to feel the salmon writhing in your paws and the warm blood in your mouth, life stirring within a deep earthen slumber, never being able to look in the water's reflection and see the face of a beast looking back. At least, not physically. Astrally, it is all possible. But the physical ache, the longing in the bones like when the Old Ones know when rains are a-comin'... that's still there.

My ancestors worshiped Bear. They knew Bear as Brother, Kin. He was the King of the Forest, the Keeper of the Ancestors to my great-great grandmother's people, the Finns. They were great magicians, the Finns. Their roots with the Bear People running deep. Elsewhere along my bloodlines come stories of women taken as bear-wives. Their offspring shapeshifters and great healers. These are my people, too. Among them all, the Bear was keeper of great wisdom, she knew the healing ways of the Plant People. She brought the life with her in the return of Spring as she emerged from her winter's sleep with her cubs, she was the Great Mother.

Recently I was presented with a gift, a gift that I would pay for a hundred-times over again, from a woman who I have a special place in my heart for, though we know each other only through brief exchanges about ordering her herbal products online. Her medicine speaks to me, her ways, her ancestors too. Simple, strong medicine. But this... this was beyond anything I could have dreamed. It was pure, rendered bear fat. Tallow, from a spring brown bear taken last year in the high mountain canyons of my birth state.

That tin isn't filled with just creamy, buttery tallow. It is filled with magic. Pure Spirit essence. Not even opening it, just taking the metal tin out of the shipping package my arms shot up with an electric charge, burning, the sensation reminding me of a blazing Oregon wildfire. Taking off the lid and bringing it close to breathe the pungent, musky scent deep into my lungs, my lips went numb and my mind dizzy and heady and filling with recognition. I could feel it there, on the edge of my waking senses, a bulking furry presence. It was comforting, masculine, familiar, and overwhelming.

So I settled into place, popped in my earbuds with my journeying music of choice, and dropped down into my breath. The tin in my hands, I could feel the energy pulsing up my arms, heating me. Flashes of previous journeys with Grandmother Bear and the Bear Goddess flitted across my mind's eye. I opened the tin, and rubbed the creamy tallow into my wrists, the pulse points on my neck, my temples, third eye, heart center, the tops of my feet, and my womb. I held my palms over my face and breathed deep, deeper. Dropping down, down, down. Free falling in the darkness to the worlds below, beyond, carried on the scent of the bear. Searching for it. Wanting to know it. I alighted, bare feet on the hardpacked earth. I walked the trail, grasses and flowers and high altitude pines growing along the rocky hills. I came to a cave, and there it waited. There He waited. This Spring brown bear, human expressions seemingly overlaid on his bear form.

He told me he was killed per custom, properly, with honor and ceremony, and though his earthly flesh was dead his spirit lived. His medicine spread out into the world in the healing salves the woman had crafted. That was the medicine of Bear anyway, so he was very pleased. He sat across from me, a fire between us. He told me I wasn't human, told me what I had heard before, what I knew, but it reaffirmed it. I was seal-kin, Selkie. The water of the ocean in my blood, he could smell it. But there too, was Bear Clan. I was of the Bear People. My ancestors worshiped the Bear, honored Bear. And somewhere, one of the women of my line had married a bear. Had given him children. And they knew the ways of the land. The ways of beast and plant and man. Of healing, of killing and of nurturing. They knew the healing ways of plant and tree and earth and water and sun. Their blood is in my blood. They could turn into both bear and man, that shape held within me...

I sat with that, those images, and when my vision returned to the cave where we sat, he was holding his great brown paws over my palms, and when he pulled them away, a yarrow plant with its furry slender leaves and white umbel flower was in my left hand and a stinging nettle plant in my right hand. "These are the first two plants you are to learn, to know," he said. "Know their magic, make their medicine a part of you. Yarrow-- which stops bleeding of energy and the bleeding of blood. Which protects against dark spirits. Which cools the blood. Nettle-- which normally is tender of stalk, but when broken down and twisted together and formed into something new, it becomes stronger-- like you. That normally is protected by stinging needles but allows those who come to it humbly to access its medicine, its magic. Like now, see, it doesn't sting your flesh even as you hold it bare-handed. Healer of hearts, a tonic for kidneys and heart overwhelmed by strain and stress and heartache. Builder of blood and stopper of bleeding like yarrow, which it pairs well with."

Then he is across the fire once more. It is like he is smiling, such a human gesture. He is cocky and sure, but also calm and regal, a young male in his prime. He would have me, I feel it. Instead he urges me, pushes me to take on my bear form. I have ridden Bear before, my spirit in Her body. But I have never called out my own form before. But it is there in my bones, in my DNA. I let the shift take me over. I see my hands become paws with great claws. I feel my face crack and lengthen. I shake out my fur. It is golden-blonde, like wheat. The urge to hunt overtakes me, and I stand, almost touching the roof of the cave. I run from the cave and down the valley. I see it, smell it. My prey. A bull elk. I run full-tilt and tackle it, buggling, to the ground. Blood, hot and metallic, fills my mouth. Strong jaws gripping tighter. I thank it for its life given that I may live. Liver, kidneys, heart, and shank are eaten. The rest is given to the crows and wolves, sitting, watching me. I walk to the water to drink, to clean the blood from my fur. I walk on and find blueberries and eat of them, and then come across Him in a meadow. He is courting me, walking circles, each of us in our bear form, light and dark. Sun and Shadow. I shift back into my human form, it is sunset, then quickly the sky darkens, the full moon rising over the treeline. He does the same. Brown skin, black eyes, black hair, which is shaggy and long down his back. He is strong of build, his arms are safety. His eyes are hungry...

Thus begins my training, a continuance of what was begun with Grandmother Bear and the Bear Goddess. Into the ways of healing, of plant medicine, of magic, of my ancestors, as taught by Bear. So begins the exploration of a missing part of my soul-self, of maybe learning to satiate a longing in my bones. So begins a potential courtship, with a Spirit. A spirit of a man, dark of skin and eye and hair, a man who is also a bear.

Some may think this fantasy, a story. And while yes a story it may be, it is also truth. As I know it. This reality is real, this flesh I can touch, but the Astral realm, the Otherworld, is also very real. Magic is real. My ancestors are real. There are many among us who are also Otherkin, who are courted by Gods, who are taught by Spirits. But very few share their experiences with the greater community, or with anyone at all. Should we? I don't know. But will I? Some of it. This was the start, a taste, a glimpse into the wildwood of my soul.

Will you keep on the path with me?

Juniper Wren

*So far I have been unable to locate the original photographer of the photo of the Slavic girl walking with the brown bear, so if anyone can find out, please let me know so that I can give proper credit. Blessings~ EDIT: It was done by Olga Barantseva <3

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