The bear, a fallen king returned to the throne | EUROtoday

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VSvery yr, within the month of February, within the Pyrenean valleys, a wierd ritual takes place. Men wrap themselves in fur and, claws out, run by means of the streets, growling, in search of ladies and ladies to mate with. They are chased by decided hunters. This uncommon spectacle finds its consequence in a ritualized scene: as soon as captured, the bear-man is shaved, thus regaining his humanity. This ceremony marks the victory of man over his animal facet, whereas expressing respect and concern in direction of the bear, emblematic determine of the Pyrenees.

From one village to a different, the type might range, however the situation stays primarily the identical, symbolizing the top of winter and the rebirth of spring, with the bear waking up from hibernation. After a decline within the Nineteen Sixties, the festivities have skilled a revival of curiosity during the last thirty years, notably due to their inclusion in UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage, a classification which locations them alongside culinary traditions corresponding to baguette, or sports activities like mountaineering.

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People of all ages and backgrounds participate, serving to with the group, enjoying roles, singing or collaborating in chases. These practices are transmitted by means of associations and colleges, in addition to inside household and buddy circles. In the Pyrenees, kids naturally play bear. And on the media scene, the animal occupies an essential place, as evidenced by the loopy story of the undocumented bear.

The bear is worshiped as a god

Although little dependable knowledge exists on the evolution of those festivals over time, the historical past of the brown bear species and its interactions with the completely different European societies which have encountered it, feared it, confronted it and even staged, had been meticulously studied by Michel Pastoureau, specialist in colours, animals and heraldic indicators, in a outstanding work, The bear. Story of a fallen king (Threshold, 2007).

We uncover that, underneath Charlemagne, there have been important massacres of untamed animals. The enemies of those animals aren’t a lot the king and his troops because the clerics who encompass them. At the top of the VIIIe century, the bear is an admired creature, thought of extra highly effective than another beast. He reigns as king of the forest and all animals. “Warriors search to mimic him and harness his energy throughout wild rituals. Chiefs and kings make it their attribute and attempt to seize its powers by means of weapons and logos. » The bear is revered as a god in Germany, Scandinavia, in addition to within the Slavic world, and its worship can take frenzied and demonic varieties.

The Church's struggle in opposition to bears

“However, this veneration of the Germans doesn’t cease there. In their eyes it’s not solely an invincible animal and the embodiment of brutal drive, however additionally it is an intermediate creature between the world of beasts and that of people, and even an ancestor or relative of man. The male bear is alleged to be interested in younger ladies and to want them carnally. He usually searches for them, typically kidnaps them, then rapes them and provides beginning to half-man, half-bear beings, who’re all the time indomitable warriors, even founders of prestigious lineages. »

For the Church, all that is completely appalling, the bears should be eradicated. The Christian faith waged conflict on the bear for a millennium, till its cult disappeared and, all through Europe, an unique animal, the lion, took over the title of king of animals. “Deprived of all status, the bear is remodeled right into a circus and fairground beast. Often humiliated or ridiculed, he however continues to occupy a spot within the creativeness of males. » Through these conventional festivals, he as soon as once more turns into a revered and feared companion, a guardian, a double, briefly what he was when he shared his territory, his preys and his fears with prehistoric man.

From acrobats to new shepherds

To proceed the ursine journey, we extremely advocate the magnificent work by Clara Arnaud, And you’ll move like winds (Actes Sud, 2023). The plot takes place within the coronary heart of this valley the place the custom of bear coaching has deeply marked native customs, whereas the reintroduction of the plantigrade arouses tensions. In this gripping story, destinies intersect: that of a Pyrenean shepherd, haunted by a tragic accident, that of a younger ethologist answerable for finding out the habits of bears and discovering satisfactory responses to predation, in addition to that of of a younger acrobat who got down to conquer New York together with his pet at the start of the final century.

Questioning the connection with the wild, the writer, winner of the Mouans-Sartoux prize for a ebook dedicated to the planet, the readers' prize of West France and finalist for the Fnac novel prize, paints with finesse and precision a meticulously documented image of contemporary pastoral life, marked by drama, in a poignant and immersive type which plunges the reader into the center of the Pyrenean mountains.