The bear can be seen as the spirit of the wild. Because it cares for its young in almost human fashion, the bear was a much loved symbol of the Great Mother as the Self, from around 50 000 BC. ‘To bear’ is to carry, to give birth; awakening from hibernation is to be reborn. (1)

Jason of the Golden Fleece, early alchemist, was baffled by a task set him and his men by Poseidon’s wife: when she had unyoked the horses from Poseidon’s chariot, they were to ‘recompense our mother amply for what she had suffered all the long time she bore us in her womb.’ Then, a great horse came bounding out of the sea, a monstrous animal, with its golden mane waving in the air. It shook itself, tossing off the spray in showers, and galloped away. 

They realized that Poseidon’s wife had unyoked the sea-horses; now, the task of the Argonauts was to take up the load: ‘Argo [their ship] carried us in her womb; we have often heard her groaning in her pain. Now, we will carry her. We will hoist her on our shoulders,’ carrying her through the desert, bearing, following the trail of the horse, who would surely lead them on.

The mythical hippocampoi were sea-horses, horses with fishtails, chained at the bottom of the sea, forced into service by Poseidon. When freed, they became horses. (2; 3)

If psychic pain is too much to bear, vital energy remains trapped, acted out as compulsive riding of Poseidon’s wave. The hippocampus in the brain functions as the master puzzle builder, integrating long-term autobiographical memory (4). By engaging with the complex in a therapeutic relationship, by bearing the process, the discomfort and pain, a fundamental shift may eventually occur, freeing up trapped energy, inspiring and strengthening the weak ego.

Initially, the Argonauts had been carried by the potentially transformative, mother-ship container. (5) As the Self, She ‘bears’ and ‘births’ us, and them, through the process of becoming, individuation. In turn, we have to bear and suffer Her so as ‘to recompense [the Self] amply,’ fulfilling our role in evolution.

Photo credit: Dea Artio with her bear counterpart, Switzerland, 2nd Century BC (B. Johnson, 1994 p.345)


  • 1. Buffie Johnson, Lady of the Beasts, 1994 p.338
  • 2. Wikipedia, Argonautica, written by Apollonius Rhodius, 3rd century BC
  • 3. Theoi Greek Mythology:
  • 4. Daniel Siegel, The Healing Power of Emotion, 2009 p.168
  • 5. Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, 1963 p.45