Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Bear from Bearbrass

I was born in a country that has no native bears. Koalas are cute but they are not bears. As a very small boy, I remember howling in a Melbourne department store because I wanted a teddy bear as big as myself, and was not allowed to take it home.
    My European ancestors knew the bear well, and warriors among them made a practice of going berserk, which means literally to wear the "bear-shirt", in an effort to embody the strength and fury of the bear in battle. Especially after I moved to England, I dreamed of fighting in an army of ancient warriors who trooped into battle under the banner of the Bear Goddess.
    That cycle ended many years later, after I had moved to North America. Still in leather armor, weary of battles, I threw down my weapons and went out into the wilderness to die. A bear cub found me there, took my hand, and led me to a place of healing. By now the bear had appeared to me, again and again, as a healer and protector. Whenever I opened a healing circle - and any gathering of dreamers can bring through healing - I led the singing of a Bear song I had learned from the Mohawk people.

Don't cry little one
Don't cry little one
The bear is coming to dance for you
The bear is coming to dance for you

I titled a depth workshop that became one of my favorites "Dancing with the Bear: Reclaiming the Arts of Dream Healing." The first time I held this workshop, a woman physician from Alaska joined us because both her grandmothers - one Athapascan Indian, one Euro-America - visited her in the same dream and told her, "You must go to Robert Moss so you can meet the Bear. Until you meet the Bear, you will not be a true healer." She had never heard of Robert Moss, but she did a quick internet search and discovered I was leading "Dancing with the Bear" in Oregon a couple of weeks later. She bought a plane ticket, met the Bear, and now her patients are blessed to encounter both the best of Western medicine and the gifts of the Medicine Bear when they go to her office.
    I have enough stories of the Bear to fill a book, and maybe that book will be written. Yet I

have long been aware of the irony that an Australian who comes from a country with no native bears should have become so close to this ally in shamanic dreaming and healing. I am happy to report that there is a bear in my Australian antecedents, unknown to me until recently.
     From Robyn Annear’s excellent book Bearbrass: Imagining Early Melbourne I learn that Bearbrass was one of the names by which Melbourne, the city where I was born, was known in its early days. "Bearbrass" was an attempt by the early settlers to render the supposed Aboriginal name for the site. It appears to be a mis-rendering of "Birrarung", meaning "river of mists" in the language of the Wurundjeri people. O
ther variations include Bareport, Bareheap, Barehurp and my favorite, Bearberp. 
     I can picture the solemn and dignified expressions on those around me when I next announce that I come from Bear Burp.

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