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A Bear Tribe Story for Midwinter

By Eva Greenslade

I wrote this last year. This story is based on research and recreation of Palaeolithic Animistic Midwinter Ceremony and belief by Kate Fletcher and Corwen Broch. The songs and prayers within the story are traditional poems written down by Kate and Corwen

It's also my imagination and flows from my experiences at the bear feast midwinter camps.

Before you hear or read this story, I’d like to invite you to make yourself comfortable, wrap a blanket around yourself, sip a warm cocoa and light a candle or if you have a fireplace, light your fire.

Allow your gaze to soften into the flames, allow the light to warm your soul, the warmth of the cup in your hands to warm your heart and blanket wrapped around you to warm your body.

As your gaze softens, take your mind’s eye to a place on earth long before your birth, a time when fire was the fuel of life. A time when our people knew the land, when they knew the stars, the cycles, and knew they were part of earths fabric. A time when our people knew where they came from, and knew where they would return to when they left life’s stage.

It was at this time a great story of origin was held deeply, with love and honour, in the hearts of our distant family.

This story was that of a cave dweller, a honey paw, a snub tail, a brown furred being that died in winter and returned each spring. This cave dwelling being, went each winter into the depths of the caves of our people’s ancestors.

This huge fur covered being emerged each spring with unspoken tales of their time with death in the cave with our people’s ancestors.

To our people this being must have held an untouched wisdom of the earth, of the mystery of life. This being also returned in spring, emerging from the death of winter with small cave dweller cubs. Emerging as if gifts from their ancestors perhaps.

There is a memory held in the hearts, souls, and bones of our people from this time before you and I had this opportunity to walk earths stage. A memory and knowing that they were all children of the big furry cave dweller who could stand high on hind legs just as they could, and as you and i can.

The cave dwelling being was the distant father of the people of these lands. Great Utzo once an orphaned cub brought back from the tribes first hunt, and thereafter all were descended from him.

As we sit here feeling this story so far, visualising the cave dwelling being as we know them, imagining life as it was for our people, we can see and feel deep within our bones the thread of this story too.

Let's allow these woven threads to reveal themselves further within the story as it unfolds next.

The frosts lay heavy on the earths sleeping ground that hold the slumbering trees, the moon is high in the sky on this night, the stars of old hang in the tapestry of their stories in the deep blue night sky. An owl hoots to its mate, twit twoo. There is a stillness in the air.

A smell of woodsmoke and light from the fires of the village round houses stains the stillness of the air. A man of many seasons dressed in warm furs, furs from the cave dwellers of the past. He enters the nights stillness from the warmth of his home. He looks up the north to see the familiar stars of the great Ursa major watching him. Then from the north, a dancing green light appears ebbing and flowing on the horizon, it disappears and another flows out towards him, dancing gracefully. He never tires of this beautiful dance of light, it takes his breath away. He feels in this moment in his heart the ancestors are call to him. This is the light from their world during the nights of frosts covering the ground. This is the light of the celebrations, the reminder to trust in the ancestors, and feel the wisdom of the earth to carry his tribe through this season of the stars and frosts.

To us this light is the aurora borealis.

The man of many seasons calls to his friends and family in a sound of the night. The sound so clear blending in with the night time sounds, not even the trees would know he made it, but his family know. The men emerge from their dwellings all dressed in furs from cave dweller. They hold drums and repeat the noises of night back to him.

They begin to softly beat their drums, a heartbeat to draw up the wisdom of the earth. As they do this they begin to hum and sing.

The man of many seasons pulls the fur hood, a head of the fur being, over his head to become and be at one with the cave dweller. He feels the spirit of the cave dweller flow through his veins and he roars as if he were the great Utso. As the spirit of cave dweller takes hold of him he begins his dance. A dance that allows him to connect with all cave dweller spirits, a dance that allows the connection to show the man where a cave dwelling spirit might be who would be willing to give up his life for the tribes survival during this time of frost.

As he dances his visions, his tribe sings their songs.

Then the drumming and dancing slows to a stop, the old man of many seasons, stand still, huge and tall in his cave dweller skins.

A younger man steps out from the crowd that has gathered around him, and approaches the man of many seasons, he asks.

Where was Bruin born

the honey-paw turned over?

The old man answers:

There Bruin was born

the honey-paw turned over

In the upper air

upon the Great Bear's shoulders

The young man asks:

Where was Bruin given birth

the bear's cub brought up?

The old man answers: in a little woolen box

in a little iron box.

On the peg of a small cloud.

The young man asks:

How was he let down to earth?

The old man says:

in a sling he was let down

in a silver sling

a golden cradle

On a nameless, quite untouchable string

Then a group of men stepped forward from the crowd around the old man, and a few more emerged from their dwellings in furs, with spears in hand. The hunters.

The tribe begin to sing another song, the Hunter’s Song:

Forge a spear of magic metal,

Forge a lancet triple-pointed,

That I may awake great Otso,

Forge a lancet triple-pointed,

Forge the handle out of copper,

That I may awake great Otso,

Hide thy claws within thy mittens,

"Otso, O thou Forest-apple,

That they may not harm the hunter

"Otso, O thou Forest-apple,

Let thy teeth remain in darkness,

That they may not harm the hunter

The singing ceased and the community of people who weren’t in the hunting party went back into their homes to prepare for the hunters return.

Each hunter in turn picked up their spears, and approached the old man.

The old man looked from under the great cave dwellers face which covered his head, his eyes different, deep, and filled with the spirit of the cave king.

He looked into each hunters’ eyes and spoke aloud this prayer:

Guide the skier by the sleeve

direct him by the coat-skirt

lead him towards that headland

move him towards that hillock

where the quarry may be caught

and the game brought home!

The old man then spat on a huge bundle of mugwort. He began to hit each hunter with the bundle from head to toe in ritual, they each then headed towards a big bowl of burning mugwort and welcomed the smoke around their bodies, their spears, and to steep into their clothing and hair to clear them ready for the hunt.

The man of many seasons leads them to the perimeter of their village, and offers each hunter a word of blessing and encouragement as they step beyond the tribe’s borders and into the wild.

The man of many seasons returns to his fire, and watches from afar as the party tread onwards, across the frosted ground. The wintery landscape around them, illuminated, white as the moon and stars reflect on a million ice crystals. The hunters finally arrive at a rocky outcrop, squatting like a toad against the horizon, the very vision given them by the man of many seasons, the shadowed maw of a cave visible at its base.

Every sense in their being now heightened, they walk towards the cave, aware of every movement they make.

Finally, in position the hunters become still, silent, as they wait. Then the low hum of singing gently rises on the wind as they start their song to wake the bear.

Wake up now, brother


the sun is shining on the hills


Wake up now, brother


the ants are running on the snag


Wake up now, brother


birdsong is ringing in the ears


The song rises, echoing, reverberating around the frosty cavern. As the hunters call out their challenge to the great Utzo, Cave dweller.

The honeypaw rises to meet their challenge and the hunters meet him, iron against fur, claw against flesh. Finally, the growls and cries of battle fall silent and the son of Ursus spills his life onto the stone but has taken his payment in blood.

The hunters kneel in front of great Utzo and honour his life, giving thanks that through his death their tribe may yet live.

Be thou praised, O mighty Ukko,

As thou givest me great Otso,

Givest me the Forest-apple,

Thanks be paid to thee unending

The hunters bear their guest home, through the icy hills meeting the rising sun, until he is brought before the doors to the largest village roundhouse. From within yellow light spills out against the pre-dawn darkness. The sound of singing can be heard from inside as the non-hunters prepare for the feast to come.

Then the oaken doors swing wide, bright light and joyous sounds washing over the victorious hunters, welcoming the hunters in from the cold. They carry their guest to his place of honour on an alter in the centre of the roundhouse.

Throughout the day the tribe sing, offer prayers, dance, and celebrate the life of their guest of honour.

Big foot, Broadfoot

Lightfoot, Sticky-mouth

Short-tail ,Bobtail

Snubnose ,Honeypaw

Wild Dweller, Footstep Widener, Night Time Prowler, Golden Feet x2

Bee Wolf ,Forest Apple, Winter Sleeper, Golden Friend x2

Earth Owner, Forest master, Mountain Ruler, Golden king x2

As the solstice sun once again dips below the horizon, ready to take its longest rest before its return in morning, the people of the tribe prepare to say farewell to wise Utzo. They prepare his earthly remains ready to guide his spirit back to the sky father.

The tribe take hold of the skins and walk outside into the night. In the silence of the night the low hum once more of voices break out across the nights sky in these words….

Golden one, be on your way

Golden precious make your way

along the golden lane

along the silver road!

You'll not be taken far from here

just to a pine tree on a hill

a juniper at the field's far edge.

There the wind will meet your needs

the wave will drive you perch

on one side a whitefish strait

nearby the sweep of a salmon run.

The hearts of the tribes swell as the dancing embers and smoke of the fires of the village rise, guiding great Utzo back to his sky father, back to great spirit. The greens and blues of the dancing lights from the ancestor’s dance to greet the great spirit of Utzo, from behind a cloud Ursa Major, the Great Bear, shines down as the rising smoke meets him to allow him to dance on the shoulders of the all father once more until he may return to earth.

The tribe spend the longest night feasting around the great fires, telling tales of the origins of their tribe when great Utzo became their grandfather, they tell tales of hunts, of friends they miss, and dream of hopes for their future with the returning light.

All night the fires burn until they fade into embers as the sun rises to begin warming the lands and lengthening the days once more.

And so, the cycle continues….


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