The first religion ever created was the Cult of Bear. According to archeological discoveries that occurred in caves on territories of Switzerland and Slovenia, Neanderthals worshiped cave bears. However, some archeologists claim that there are not enough pieces of evidence to support the claim that our Neanderthal ancestors worshiped bears.
The Cave Bear Cult – Fact or Vanity?
Drachenloch cave (Dragon’s cave) in Swiss and Mornova’s cave in Slovenia are some of the locations on which the bones of cave bears were found. At first, one would be right to say that this is completely normal. Caves are the natural habitat of cave bears. They use caves for hibernation (hence the scientific name Ursus spelaeus or “cave bear”). Over centuries of such occupation, bears died in great numbers and left an abundance of bones to be found by future excavators. This particular species went extinct about 24 000 years ago.
What, however, made trained archeologists extrapolate the existence of a cult was the way in which bear bones were arranged. The bones were positioned in such a way that was not naturally possible.
Story of Dragon’s cave – How Everything Started?
In the time period between 1917 and 1921, the archeologist Emil Bachler made an astonishing discovery in the cave above Tamina valley in Swiss. This was when the assumption about the cave bear cult being the first religion emerged. The dirt debris was full of cave bear bones. However, the position of carnivore remains indicated patterns that were highly different from the ones natural cause of events could produce.
Symbol Of Life – Living By Eating Itself
In the part of the cave, Bachler had found a cave bear skull standing upright between two shinbones. A thighbone of the bear was pierced through the gap between the cheekbone and the skull. It was like the bear was eating himself.
Since the bone had to be twisted ninety degrees to get through the opening it is impossible that it ended there by a coincidence. Neanderthals, whose bones can also be found in the cave, were the ones to put it in that position after the successful hunt. Some professors say that this implies the nature of their mythology and psychology. Neanderthals didn’t observe animals as inferior forms of existence. They considered them equal and revered them.
But the skull with thighbone pierced through is just a little part of it. Inside the two interior chambers of the cave, there were 10 inches high mortarless walls located around 20 inches from the cave’s bedrock. Behind these walls, there were large accumulations of bones belonging to the cave bears. Mostly, it was a word about legs and skulls. Where these walls were present, bones were high in numbers. However, in the places without these little structures, bones were very rare to stumble upon.
In addition to this, six masonry chests full of bear bones were found. One of them was three feet high and covered with a large limestone slab. Inside, there were bear skulls aligned in the same direction. Further analysis proved that carnivores, at the time in which they were deposited, had little to no meat on themselves. This fact neglects claims that chests and cists were used as the caches of meat.
Bear Cult In Modern Days
In northernmost Japan’s island Hokkaido, live Ainu people whose culture is still around worshiping bear. These are the aboriginal people of Hokkaido. They have many ceremonies. The most prominent is the ceremony of a bear.
They live from hunting and fishing. After eating an animal they collect and exhibit its bones to express reverence to the spirit of their pray. This is due to a belief that such an act will make animals return to them and allow them to once again, hunt and survive.
The Bear Ceremony
A bear cub is caught and held in a wooden cage for three years. He is raised so he could be sacrificed when the time comes. During its captivity, the bear is treated with kindness. When the time for the ceremony comes, the beast is half-tamed. Ainu people offer prayers and a libation to the bear divinity. When we say libation we literally mean it. A man takes a cup full of some drink and stick which he shoves into the cup and puts inside the cage so the bear can take it. Then the bear must be brought out. They tie the bear in ropes and lead him towards the sacrificing place where children earlier brought cakes for spirits. The deity must be happy so Ainu people try to amuse him during the way.
When the bear arrives at the place of the sacrifice the gathered crowd joins in singing traditional songs. After some time of parading the beast, participants of the ceremony start shooting it with decorated arrows. But these arrows are not sharp and they do bear no harm. Eventually, the bear is tied to the central post. The executioner says the prayer for the quick death with a bow and arrow in his arms. A shot or two is considered the right way for the spirit of a deity to leave the body. The sacred-blood must not touch the soil. However, pure snow does not contaminate the blood. “Magic” arrows are then shot to the sky to signify the passing of the spirit.
After this, the dead bear is strangled with a wooden pole. This is to release the tension that was made by the previous ceremony. Then the bear is decorated with a necklace. Spirit is gratified and then body skinned, split, and divided according to strict rules.
Young men reenact the pleasure the spirit of divinity must have encountered while being released from the body. After the show, Ainu people drink the bear’s blood. They call the drink “The Divine Mensome”.
The head of the bear is still believed to attract a lingering spirit. The sacred fire burns in front of the head. It is so because Ainu people believe that they will attract the spirit of the holder of space – the source of all life on earth.
They also make offerings to their dead ancestors. It is the only part of the ceremony in which women are allowed to take part. Small cakes get thrown around and everyone scrambles to get them. They believe that cakes bring luck in their intimate association with the bear God. At the place of the great offering, women start their dance. It is because spirits and Gods are now present as guests and they must be pleased and entertained.
Men also start to dance with ceremonial swords that are supposed to guard them against evil spirits. Then they all move to the final feast held in the large house. The head of the bear is set near the sacred east window. The lingering soul is the main guest on the feast. After the prayer, the body of the bear is eaten. The feast includes beer. Men get drunk and dance. The celebration lasts till morning. At the dawn, God must leave those that took care of him for so long. The head is taken out to the sacred window and brought to the place of sacred offering where the sacred fire is still burning. Offerings and prayers are again given to the holder of space and to the spirit of the bear. Head is then fixed to a fourth pole and the bear is asked to return. They promise to treat him with the same reverence and kindness. And when the time for the departure comes there will be another festival. Men dance again to please the parting spirit. They give finally prayers and end the ceremony.