Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Stone of the Bear Kami

In the Japanese fairy tale "The Bear Guardian," we see one of the more interesting aspects of the ancient Japanese belief systems, which is that nearly any kind soul may become a kami in the form of a tree or stone. Certainly the peoples as far away as Ireland and Iceland held similar beliefs but they have long since lost most of their tales so one must dig to find the hidden meaning under their fairy tales. In Japan however such meaning is out in the open for anyone to see. This is what makes Japan so interesting because while most peoples have lost their ideas about the nature of the soul and the world the people of Japan have not.
In the story of "The Bear Guardian" a lumberjack gathers wood in the forest when he comes across a bear which had been injured by an arrow. The lumberjack helps the bear who in turn then helps him bring wood out of the mountain. Eventually the bear becomes a giant stone beside the road, who's soul is believed to protect the village and those out in the woods.
Bears are of course often considered to be sacred beings in their own right, the Ainu of Northern Japan believed that bears were heavenly kamuy in an earthly form. Women of the villages might even go so far as to breast feed bear cubs themselves in order to take proper care of these important spirits. Stones as previously mentioned are also of sacred significance, especially among the Altaic, Indo-European and Uralic peoples living in northern Eurasia. Some of the most important kami of Japan are said to reside inside of stones. In another fairy tale the powerful kami of thunder and rain lives in a large stone on a mountain. The parents of most of the kami of Japan are also said to reside in (or be the souls of) two large rocks.