- Hide menu

Friday Feature: Spirits That Walk In Dark and Light

Mark Swazo Hinds Large Sandstone Bear Sculpture

It is October’s final Friday, and the calendar races headlong toward month’s end and the time of All Souls’. Here, it is a time for remembrance, and for respect; for honor, and for healing.

It is also a time when not all that walks is necessarily of this world.

Some such beings may be benign; others, less so; still others, possessed of affirmatively malign intent. And then there are those that perhaps have little do with worldly humans, yet they have a purpose here, although one perhaps known best — or only — to them. There are spirits that walk in dark and light, and some that choose only one or the other.

As I have written here recently, this is bear season: There is a sizeable black bear population in these mountains, and they are now emerging occasionally into the line of human sight as they search for food sufficient to sustain them through their long winter’s sleep. They tend to stay close in the darker hours; these are beings best known for, at this limited season, venturing out to walk in the golden light of dawn. And once in a great while, although it has been years, perhaps decades, even, since anyone has heard of such an event, a member of the people will spot a ghost bear.

I’ve written at length at ghost bears here before, or as they are better termed in our way, spirit bears. In Canada, they call it the Kermode bear, but Francis Kermode was not its “discoverer,” only the white man who, through the transformative powers of colonialism, was privileged to label it for the rest of the world. But our peoples in the North have always known of the spirit bear, and while its presence is exceedingly scarce in places like my own lands, there is still an identifiable and thriving population in Canada in a region just above the border with the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

The dominant culture has always maintained that such bears exist only in that area, but our peoples have always known better. My own have stories as old as time about the spirit bear; even here, on the southern tip of the Rockies known as the Dragon’s Tail, ghostly white bears who appear only on rare occasion have always been part of the people’s history, both ancient and contemporary.

And, of course, science supports the reality of the sightings: The black bear manifests in four color variants, black, brown, red, and white (the white being not a pure white, but a more ivory shade known as “blond,” while the red is often called “cinnamon”). and the white bears that are known as spirit bears have always been genetic variants of the ordinary black bear, with no albinism present in their genetic make-up.

For a being that, in so many indigenous traditions, represents medicine and healing, a rare genetic variant would seem likely to hold even greater power than others of its clan. And so it is perhaps unsurprising that my thoughts should have turned, on this day, to the great medicine bear wrought from pale near-white sandstone by Mark Swazo-Hinds. From its description in the Other Artists:  Sculpture gallery here on the site:

This enormous medicine bear by master carver Mark Swazo-Hinds (Tesuque Pueblo) is substantial enough to be displayed on a large coffee table.  A museum-quality showpiece carved of very pale sandstone in a subtle version of the traditional Southwest hump-backed style, he’s more than a foot long and extremely heavy.  He carries a complex medicine bundle crafted in Mark’s own inimitable style, of macaw and turkey feathers, pieces of turquoise, old pottery sherds, and shells, tied on with fabric to keep it secure.

Sandstone; turkey feathers; macaw feathers; pottery sherds; turquoise; shells; fabric
$2,500 + shipping, handling, and insurance
Weight and fragility require special handling; extra shipping charges apply

Wings captured this photo of Mark’s bear some years back, in the early hours of a day such as this, its coat glowing near-white in autumnal morning sun. It is possessed of a spectacular, and spectacularly powerful, offering bundle: one that includes feathers shining electric blue and turquoise, amber and pumpkin, in the dawn light; one bedecked with beads and stones and shells and pottery sherds of ancient design. It looks for all the world like a small but solid spirit bear — no ghost, he, but a being devoted to medicine and power.

On this day, as the threshold between worlds narrows ever more, as our thoughts turn to the coming celebration of All Souls’ and to those who have walked on before us, he serves as bright spot, a bit of solid, sandy illumination, earthy sandstone lit from without by the sun and from within by the work’s own immanent power.

There are spirits that walk in dark and light, but this one is also light itself.

~ Aji










All content, including photos and text, are copyright Wings and Aji, 2017; all rights reserved. Nothing herein may used or reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the owners.

Comments are closed.

error: All content copyright Wings & Aji; all rights reserved. Copying or any other use prohibited without the express written consent of the owners.