February Storm Moon: The Hunter, Bear and Rowan

The cold winter month of February is still ice covered in many parts of the northern hemisphere, or a time when storms sweep in from Atlantic, when strong winds blow, or of cold crisp mornings when silver frost sparkles in the pale orange Sun. This is the month of the Ice or Storm Full Moon, a period of cleansing and purification in preparation for the year ahead, of the first stirrings of spring when the sap starts to rise and signal the return of the power of the Sun.

The first half of February is ruled by the rowan or mountain ash in the Celtic tree calendar, L (Luis) in the Ogham alphabet. Associated with quickening, rowan was often used for protection against negative forces and would have been used to bless the boundaries of the land. The wattles of the rowan were used by druids to drive away unwanted spirits when all else failed, and the tree was often planted by them in sacred groves for ceremonial and oracular purposes. The lush bright berries of rowan were considered a food fit for the gods, said to possess the sustaining value of nine meals. [1]At times when fresh food was scarce, this lush berry would have been a prime target for foragers; though raw berries taste bitter, when cooked they are delicious and packed full of nutrients. In Norse mythology, the rowan was also considered sacred and the first woman was also said to be created from it, probably because of its association with blood.

Orion the Hunter still reigns supreme in the February night sky. Though the archetype of the Hunter is one of the oldest known to humanity and manifests in different mythologies round the world, the evidence for Hunter god or goddess in Celtic mythology is relatively thin on the ground. Cernunnos, the Horned God and Lord of Wild Things is the closest archetype that has survived and is most notably depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron. He is often shown wearing antlers, surrounded by stags, dogs or bulls, and sometimes a horned serpent. In a later incarnation he appears as Herne the Hunter (of Robin Hood legend), accredited by some to Shakespeare in the Merry Wives of Windsor.

In the British Isles, there is some evidence for the cult Diana the Huntress during Roman times. Mistress of the Wild Beasts, the Greenwood and springs, Diana is often depicted with bows and arrows and a hunting dog at her side, and inscriptions to her have been found scattered over areas of Scotland, Wales and England. Though she was obviously imported, the cult of Diana seems to have taken root in fertile soil showing that there was also some native predisposition towards the Huntress goddess before the Romans arrived. In one case she has been assimilated into the cult of the Celtic mother goddess Mabonus, whose son Mabon was also a hunter. [2]

Though not seen in Britain, Arduina was a forest and hunting goddess prevalent across the Ardennes region who also had clear links with the Greek Artemis, on whom the Roman Diana was also based. She was often depicted riding a wild boar, like Freya of Norse mythology who also could originally have been a goddess of hunting before being tamed by the male orientated pantheon. Arduina was celebrated well into the Middle Ages and there are records of her cult at Luneville in the Ardennes when children dressed up as bears in her honour.

The etymology of the word Artemis derives from the Greek word arktos meaning bear, and this in turn could have derived from a proto-Indo European root word for ‘bear’ as the name crops up in lands associated with the migrating Indo-Europeans. For example, in Switzerland the bear goddess Artio was the major cult of Bern, and in Wales, arth is the word for bear, from which Arthur is also derived. In Greek mythology, Arkas was the name of the son of Kallisto, a follower of Artemis, that was changed into a bear by Hera and then set among the stars as the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. Therefore a link with Artemis and the bear has existed since earliest times, alluding to a deep connection with the huntress archetype and the bear.

In fact, the Goddess of the Wild Hunt has clear Palaeolithic origins, when the land was covered with boreal forest and fresh water, when man hunted game to survive and lived in awe of the large and powerful beasts with which he competed for survival. As Lord of the Beasts, evidence of bear worship dates back around 70,000 years to Drachenloch in Switzerland where stone altars and caches of bear bones attributed to Neanderthal man have been found. Aspects of this cult seem to have been taken over by modern man and evidence of bear worship has also been found in many Ice Age caves across France, most notably at Lascaux when the Magdalenians seem to have used bear heads and pelts in ceremony.

So there is mounting evidence for a primal cult of the bear as a sacred creature that climbed and ascended a world pole at the centre of the world that linked with the seven circumpolar stars of Ursa Major that we now call the Plough. This cult later developed into Palaeolithic shamanism and became a triple world cosmology linking Heaven, Earth and the Underworld, again largely mediated through the bear. Therefore, the cult of the Bear and the Huntress, as recorded in the legends of the Greek Artemis, contain important clues that can help us piece together the minds of our most distant ancestors.


[1] John Matthews, ‘Ancient Wisdom from the Greenwood,’ 2003

[2] See earthandstarryheaven.com for more details

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