Bears in celtic mythology

Discussion in 'Celtic Mythology' started by Caburus, Jun 18, 2012.

  1. Caburus

    Caburus Active Member

    Are there any stories of heros encountering bears in Irish/Welsh/Scottish mythology?
    Bears are said to have survived in these countries into historical times, they appear in Pictish carvings, and bears appear as titles or as comparison to a warrior's strength (Arthur and Math both have names that could mean 'bear'), but I find it odd that they don't appear in the same way that wolves, boars, deer, ravens, etc do if they were still part of the wildlife when these stories were originally being told.
  2. Myrddin

    Myrddin Well-Known Member

    I feel like there is, but I cannot for the life of me, right now, give you one. I will have to look into it now.:)
  3. LegendofJoe

    LegendofJoe Active Member

    Come to think of it, I do not think i have ever encountered a bear myth in Celtic myths.
    Important animals include deer, dogs, crows, stags, eagles, otters and salmon.
  4. Rhonda Tharp

    Rhonda Tharp Active Member

    I recall learning about King Arthur in reference to Ursa Major...

    From wikipedia

    Some scholars have suggested that is relevant to this debate that the legendary King Arthur's name only appears as Arthur, or Arturus, in early Latin Arthurian texts, never as Artōrius (although Classical Latin Artōrius became Arturius in some Vulgar Latin dialects). However, this may not say anything about the origin of the name Arthur, as Artōrius would regularly become Art(h)ur when borrowed into Welsh.[9]
    Another possibility is that it is derived from a Brittonic patronym *Arto-rīg-ios (the root of which, *arto-rīg- "bear-king" is to be found in the Old Irish personal name Art-ri) via a Latinized form Artōrius.[10] Less likely is the commonly proposed derivation from Welsh arth "bear" + (g)wr "man" (earlier *Arto-uiros in Brittonic); there are phonological difficulties with this theory - notably that a Brittonic compound name *Arto-uiros should produce Old Welsh *Artgur and Middle/Modern Welsh *Arthwr and not Arthur (in Welsh poetry the name is always spelled Arthur and is exclusively rhymed with words ending in -ur - never words ending in -wr - which confirms that the second element cannot be [g]wr "man").[11][12]
    An alternative theory, which has only gained limited acceptance among scholars,[13][14][15][16][17][18] derives the name Arthur from the Latin Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation Boötes, near Ursa Major or the Great Bear,[19] which is the latinisation of the Greek Αρκτοῦρος (Arktouros) and means "Guardian of the Bear",[20] ultimately from ἄρκτος (arktos), "bear"[21] + οὖρος (ouros), "watcher, guardian".[22] Classical Latin Arcturus would also have become Art(h)ur when borrowed into Welsh, and its brightness and position in the sky led people to regard it as the "guardian of the bear" and the "leader" of the other stars in Boötes.[23]
    A similar first name is Old Irish Artúr, which is believed to be derived directly from an early Old Welsh or Cumbric Artur.[24] The earliest historically attested bearer of the name is a son or grandson of Áedán mac Gabráin (d. AD 609).[25]
  5. Caburus

    Caburus Active Member

    Cheers. The only bear related motif I can put with Arthur (apart from the possible meaning of his name) is that he fought a giant called Rhudda, on Snowdonia. This giant made his cloak from the beards of his defeated foe, and I wonder whether the image of a giant wearing a shaggy hairy coat would look like a bear, and so could have originally been a bear.
    But as with LegendofJoe, I feel there ought to be some bears in Celtic myth, but I can't actually find them.
    Rhonda Tharp likes this.
  6. Myrddin

    Myrddin Well-Known Member

    There is a story in Arthurian legend in which King Arthur has a dream in which dark clouds gather to make the shape of a great bear, as a dragon flies into the foreground to attack it. The creatures fight, and eventually the dragon takes the bear's head off. Upon waking up, Arthur Pendragon asks the ship's seer what it means, and the seer tells him that the dragon represented Arthur and his army, while the bear, his opponents. The striking down of the bear menat Arthur would be victorious.
  7. Alejandro

    Alejandro Active Member

    There may not be any hero-vs-bear stories but the ancient and medieval Celts do seem to have done a fair bit of bear-worshipping. It is speculated on the same basis as King Arthur's name that the Romano-Celtic god Mercurius Artaius, and on the same basis as Math's name that the Brythonic god Matunos and the Gaulish god Matutinus (both also identified with the Roman Mercurius), were bear-gods, or somehow related to bears. Evidence of a Gallo-Roman bear-goddess named Artio, who apparently bore both human and animal forms, has been found in Switzerland and Germany, most notably in the form of a statuette in Bern[e], Switzerland, the name of which place, according to legend, is derived from the word bär, "bear."

    As an originally (or apparently originally) British story, would the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears count as Celtic mythology? Also, there's the originally medieval British version of the Bogeyman, namely the Bugbear (or Buggbear), which is a creepy, evil bear which lurked in the woods waiting to scare naughty children. According to Wikipedia.org, the creature's name derives from an old Celtic word bug for evil spirit or goblin, thus making this a hobgoblin bear.
  8. Caburus

    Caburus Active Member

    Arthur was apparently unconvinced by the seer's interpretation. The King identified himself with the bear, and Rome with the dragon, thereby he was a tad worried. Perhaps this is evidence that his name did have the route meaning 'bear'.
  9. Caburus

    Caburus Active Member


    The trouble is, most of this is just speculation - there are no bears in the Britsh myths as we have them. Bear shaped objects were found in Lancashire, and bears are on Pictish stones, so they presumably existed, but they are lacking as active elements in what we have. The more I think about it, the odder it seems. Artio could be linked to Artemis, who is associated with the bear in some of her myths.
  10. Caburus

    Caburus Active Member

    Two great suggestions.
    Not sure how old Goldilock's Three Bears are. According to wiki there is no evidence before Southey (who was also poet laureate), so maybe if you accept this, you'll need to throw Rupert Bear, Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear into the mix too! I'll have to investigate.
    As to bugbear; in our family they always referred to bedbugs. Pinga-bears were also a slang term for woodlouse. Pinga means 'imp', so might relate to the hobgoblin theme. I'll have to find some books on fairy folklore.
  11. Alejandro

    Alejandro Active Member

    Weird that insects should be referred to as "bears" of whatever sort, or vice versa. Oh, I never knew that Winnie the Pooh was actually English... or is he an American bear created by an Englishman? Hmmm... Upon second thought maybe we should doubt the "Celticity" of these teddies if they're actually British, since that should make them rather more Germanic (Angle + Saxon) than Celtic. Non? Another folk teddy, who's decades younger than all the above, namely SuperTed, seems more Celtic, since he's Welsh.


  12. Caburus

    Caburus Active Member

    SuperTed!! Rebirth of the Celtic bear-god & ally of Mother Nature. Nice idea. :)
    Despite the input of Disney, Winnie the Pooh is English. From Sussex. Paddington was from darkest Peru. Rupert was a Polar bear who wore yellow tartan; so Caledonian/Pictish?
    Woodlice are also often referred to as 'pigs' in some way or another (tiggy-hogs, sow-pigs, chucky pigs, gramer-sows) . Seems an odd label, but perhaps the observation that they roll up into balls led to comparing them to hedgehogs (hedge-pigs, whose young are called piglets).
    Having trouble tracking down Bug-bears as scary bears in the woods. Word seems to be 16th Century import from Europe.
  13. theter is one i know but is there any storys involveing furrys i mean really

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