What is Arctolatry?

Have you ever heard the word arctolatry before? If not, what do you think it means and what does it have to do with bears? We’ll give you a hint. The word originates from the Greek language where arktos means bear and latreia means worship or service.

Long before modern times, ancient peoples in North America and worldwide had great respect for their wild neighbors. In the case of bears, some cultures even worshipped them! Here in the States, archaeologists and scholars have uncovered numerous cave paintings – called pictographs, petroglyphs (rock carvings), and altars that were dedicated to bear deities. Native Americans even carved bear effigies into their totem poles.

Throughout different cultures, there are a wide variety of myths that depict the role of the bear as either a mother, a powerful influencer of nature, or an enforcer that keeps people and animals in check. In North America, bears are a symbol courage, strength, and leadership. In fact, bears are one of the most important animals in Native American cultures!

The next time that you are on a hike in the desert southwest, keep an eye out for carvings or drawings on rock walls. See if you can identify any bears! When you find these hidden gems, think about what life was like back then and how native peoples lived alongside their wild neighbors. How do you think other animals like mountain lions or coyotes influenced early cultures?

Denise Peterson

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