Bear worship is the religious practice of the worshiping of bears found in many North American and North Eurasian ethnic circumpolar religions such as the Sami, Nivkh, Ainu, and pre-Christian Finns. There are also a number of deities from Celtic Gaul and Britain associated with the bear and the bear is featured on many totems throughout northern cultures that carve them. Bear worship may have been practiced as far back as the Middle paleolithic period amongst Neanderthal societies.
The Bear festival is a religious festival celebrated by the Nivkh. A Nivkh Shaman (ch’am) would preside over the Bear Festival, celebrated in the winter between January and February depending on the clan. Bears were captured and raised in a corral for several years by local women, treating the bear like a child. The bear is considered a sacred earthly manifestation of Nivkh ancestors and the gods in bear form. During the Festival the bear is dressed in a specially made ceremonial costume and offered a banquet to take back to the realm of gods to show benevolence upon the clans. After the banquet the bear is killed and eaten in an elaborate religious ceremony. The festival was arranged by relatives to honor the death of a kinsman. The bear’s spirit returns to the gods of the mountain ‘happy’ and rewards the Nivkh with bountiful forests. Generally, the Bear Festival was an inter-clan ceremony where a clan of wife-takers restored ties with a clan of wife-givers upon the broken link of the kinsman’s death. The Bear Festival was suppressed in the Soviet period; then the festival has had a modest revival, albeit as a cultural rather than a religious ceremony.