Bear on the Vézère

Tony Gerard Dolan
Bear in Chateau near Thursac

Chateau Near Tursac

Joseph Campbell cited the Cave Bear as the first significant deity based on the finds at Wildkirchli, Drachenloch and Wildenmannlisloch in Switzerland and Petershöhle in Germany dating to over 50,000+ BC - the chapels belonged to Neanderthal Man. The Cave Bear, a bit like Neanderthal Man, became extinct about 27,000BC no doubt partly due to its vulnerability during hibernation (note Campbell refines this opinion by suggesting the Lion in Africa was in fact the first deity/Animal Master and that this was later taken on by the bear). Indeed its candidacy for deity status must have been suggested by how it 'offered' itself passively in winter to the spear points of hard pressed hunting communities.

The painting, or etching, on the cave walls of bears is not uncommon but the following image of a carved upright bear taken by my wife in a chateau near Tursac on the Vézère seems remarkable. In particular the hybrid human-bear form suggests the role of the bear as an animal master responsible for the replenishment of the herds, the sort of entity with which a shaman would have to deal in their ecstatic metaphysical flights. In this case it may even be a mistress of the animals. The Greek name Potnia Theron refers to Artemis, the root of whose name Art derives from the Indo-European root for bear.

Bear worship survived to quite recently in North-East Asia and in particular among the Ainu people of Russia and Northern Japan. In the Golden Bough James Frazer has an interesting section on bear sacrifice.

Other Artefacts of Interest in the Chateau

Venus Figurine

Also of interest is a steatopyous venus suggesting the generative and nourishing capacity of the female form.

Carved Mammoth

On careful inspection beautifully carved mammoth shows many lines and incisions that may suggest a charm which through sympathetic magic aids the hunt of these powerful animals. Such cuts and incisions are also found on many of the cave paintings.

It is worth wondering as to why these artefacts are not moved to the Paleolithic museum in Les Eyzies only a few kilometres away which houses the greatest collection of paleolithic artefacts in the world.