Bear Gods and Goddesses around the world

Niina Pekantytär

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Ildiko The Hungarian Bear Goddess

Finnish and Hungarian are relative languages, therefore it is no surprise that there are similarities in early Finnish and Hungarian myths. Mielikki the goddess of the hunt and Ildiko the Hungarian goddess of the hunt are very much alike.

Ildiko was the goddess of love, hunt, fertility and the circle of life. She was the guarding between life and death. People prayed to her to help them to give birth and to give them a painless death. Ildiko is a very common Hungarian name and it might gave Germanic origins and refer to the name Hilda which means battle, sometimes the name Hilda has been connected to the moon.

As the goddess of hunt Ildiko was the goddess of balance. She was the goddess of prosperity to the hunters but also the protector of animals. Ildiko can be considered a shamanic goddess. With the spread of Christianity, she was connected to witchcraft and the Christian concept of the devil.

Most myths connected to Ildiko are lost, but we do know that her sacred animal was the bear and she was connected to bravery, strength and wisdom.

Odin and the bears

Odin is one of the most well-known gods in Scandinavian myths and he is similar to the Finnish god Ukko. Odin is the god of wisdom and knowledge. The one-eyed shaman, who knew the secrets of runes. Odin´s sacred animals are ravens and wolves, but there are myths where Odin is connected to the bear. According to some stories his guards are two giant bears. This can refer to berserk. Berserk´a were Viking warriors who dressed up into bear furs. The word berserk comes from old Norwegian and means "a bear shirt". These warriors believed that by wearing bear furs they would tap into the powers of the bear. The qualities connected to Odin, such as wisdom, courage and healing are often connected to bears as well.

The constellation of Ursa Major

Ursa Major was a sacred constellation for several Finno-Ugric tribes but they were not the only ones. In Greece, the constellation is connected to the myth of Callisto. The Druid name for this group was Arthur’s Plough, and the constellation was also seen as a bear in Native American and Hebrew tradition.

Slavs and the bear worship

Bear was one of the most worshipped animals among the ancient Slavic tribes. It was connected to the god Volos, who was the protector of animals and wilderness. In Slavic folklore, the bear is usually depicted as a male, either as a father, husband or groom.

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Korean Bear Woman

According to the legend, god Hwan had a son called Hwanung. Hwanung had a habit to peek into the human world. When his father asked why he was so sad Hwanung replied that he worried about men and their faith. He wanted to bring friendship and peace into their world. Hwan was moved by this and let his son travel to the human world. He gave him 3000 servants, three air spirits, the god of the wind, the god of the rain and the god of the clouds to accompany him.

Hwanung landed on the Taebaek mountain under the sandalwood three (in the area of current North Korea) and there he started a city called Shinsi, which means the city of gods. Hwanung ruled all the city life. He was the god of agriculture, human relationships, justice, good, bad and illnesses.

One day he was approached by a tiger and a bear and they asked that Hwanung could turn them into humans. He gave them 20 garlic claws, a handful of mugwort and told them not to eat and stay away from the sun for 100 days. Tiger and the bear resided in a cave but the temperamental tiger left before hundred days had passed. Bear stayed in the cave and after 21 days she turned into a beautiful woman and started to go by the name of Ungnyeo (bear-woman). She was grateful for Hwanung for the transformation, but she longed to have a child, but because she had been a bear in her previous life, no men wanted to touch. Hwanung felt pity for her after seeing her praying under the sacred birch three. He married her and they had a son called Dangun Wanggeom, which means both "altar prince" and "sandalwood".

About 4000 years ago, Dangun, the ancestor of Koreans started a kingdom called Asadal, which means "place where the morning sun shines". This was the first Korean kingdom, in the area of current Manchuria. According to the legend, Dangun was the descendant of Hwanung and the Bear-Woman. He ruled for 1500 years and he was told to live up to 1908 years old. Then he decided to leave this earthy realm, head to the mountains to live a quiet life and there he slowly turned into the spirit of the mountain.

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Folklorist and historian. Alcott essayist. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

Finland, MN
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