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Friday Feature: Winter Spirits and the World’s Healing

Furry Bear 1

Although it may not seem like it here, it is winter, the season of low light and cold winds and long dark nights. Despite all of the comforts and conveniences that contemporary society privileges us, modern humanity seems largely to detest it, if only because it provides fodder for complaint. As one of the few who loves the season, I’ve spent a lifetime listening to family, friends, colleagues, and perfect strangers kvetch and moan about cold and snow and clouds and dark. For most, it’s simply inconvenience wedded to habit: What good is weather if you can’t complain about it?

But those who see only the negative in winter miss so much beauty.

I’m never happier than on a cloudy day; if it’s stormy, so much the better. In the winter, I live for the snow, although we’ve had vanishingly little of it yet this season. I no longer ski, and most of what I do out in it involves hard work, but to me, snow and the season that births it are both gifts of the spirits: beauty, grace, cleansing, even healing.



In the way of several of our peoples (my own included), Bear is the being who represents Medicine. The correlation is simple: Bear possesses those great, powerful claws on her front feet, and knows instinctively where to dig for roots for use as medicine. Bear is also protective in other ways, a physically powerful creature who will defend her own to the death, if need be.

But in the winter, Bear sleeps.

Now, I suspect that our own bears in this area are not yet sleeping much, although we are nearly two months past the point where they normally enter that state we loosely term “hibernation” (bears actually engage in something that falls a bit short of the word’s strictest definition, able to move in and out of sleep as conditions demand or permit, but it’s the word in common use). We have had only a couple of nights that have dropped into single digits, and the vast majority of the days thus far have reached (and passed) fifty degrees. Climate change disrupts more than precipitation schedules, and the fallout from changes in winter sleep cycles for hibernating animals is still unknown.

But even in slumber — indeed, by the very fact of her slumber — Bear has much to teach us.

We live in a world that is increasingly frenetic and frantic, one that looks askance at a lack of activity and regards all rest with a critical eye. It’s not a healthy worldview in the least, but the nature of the dominant culture demands it, and with society now interconnected in real time by mazes of highways, literal and technological, it’s virtually inescapable.

But winter was meant for what the modern corporate manager calls “downtime.”

The human body was never intended to keep such a punishing pace, to be on call at all hours or to work around the clock. It 3was designed for people to follow their own circadian rhythms, whether that means rising before the dawn or staying awake until the night sky has begun to fade. For most, such patterns of living are impossible now; we are forced into schedules set by others, patterns reinforced by what it takes simply to survive in the world today.

Winter reminds us to slow down, to appreciate the long night, to find rest where we may.

Winter reminds us that sleep is medicine.

And a little bear wrought out of a pale stone of a winter earth, a bear with his own small medicine bundle, brings us the lesson. From its description in the Other Artists:  Sculpture gallery here on the site:

Furry Bear 2

Taos Pueblo master carver Ned Archuleta has coaxed a little “furry” medicine bear from this chunk of stone:  The hair of his coat is carved right into his body. This little guy is  This piece really shows the variability of pink alabaster:  All of one small block of stone, his face is nearly white, but from the ears back his body shows varying shades of rose, almost purple, in the stone’s matrix.  Inlaid bits of turquoise serve as his eyes, and his medicine bundle, tied on with the traditional sinew, is of turquoise and coral beads.  At a little under 4″ long, this piece is almost — but not quite — small enough to be considered a fetish; he fits comfortably in your hand, or on a desktop or mantel. Another angle shown at top.

Pink alabaster; Sleeping Beauty turquoise; coral; sinew
$125 + shipping, handling, and insurance

This diminutive bear has always seemed to me to be a spirit of winter, despite the fact that he would normally be at rest now. Part of it is his pale color, of course, like ice tinted by a setting sun. Part of it, perhaps, is his elongated snout, which makes him seem that perhaps he shares more than usual genes with his cousin the polar bear. Part of it, too, might be his modest stature and the equally modest size of his medicine bundle: nothing extra, nothing to go to waste, just enough for what is required.

And of course, at the moment, he probably walks abroad, still seeking food, the air not yet cold enough for his long winter’s sleep.

But for now, he brings us a message that we need, not only for our own well-being but for the health of Mother Earth — a message of the need for rest. It is a time of winter spirits and the world’s healing, and in these days of the long darkness, we, too, should heed and heal.

~ Aji










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