What was the role of the bear in Norse mythology? (Are there bears in Asgard?)
The Norse æsir gods had animal helpers, but did anyone of them have a bear? Have bears been found in graves, like dogs and horses et cetera? Are there Norse illustration of bears?
Some Norse warriors were called berserks because they wore the fur of bears. And fur from bears was an important export good.
Is it lost in the tradition because there never were any bears on Iceland? And absent from archaeology because one couldn't sacrifice a wild animal that one doesn't own.
But while the wolf was an as dangerous animal, it was semi-domesticated and Odin owned wolves. Am I just missing alot of references to bears in Asgard, or did the bear have a different kind of role to play than other animals?
The bear is depicted in the Beowulf story. Some version describe the Grendel with a bear head and the cult of the Grendel's mother dress as bears. Maybe the bear is considered an evil totem of sorts.
I remember a myth about the origin of iron and steel: one of both came from the paw prints of a bear and the other from the prints of a wolf. I can't seem to find it anymore though. If anybody has a tip about this it would be much appreciated.
You raise a really good point. It is strange that there are no bears in Norse myth. The wolf seems to have really engaged them, perhaps because of the duality of wolf/dog, tame and wild, while the bear to them was totally wild.
I wonder if @LocalFluff isn't on to something, because berserks were seen as totally outside society, too unpredicatable and dangerous to have around. (In Egils saga Skallgrim kills a servant when the berserker rage descends on him, and nearly kills his son.) A wolf could become a dog, but you can't tame a bear and put it to use or have it as a pet.
By the way there were a kind of berserkers, ulfhednar, who turned into wolves, although you don't hear so much about them.
PS - The Lewis chessmen include berserks, biting their shields.
Yes, there might be something here: the lynx and wolverine are also absent, and the boar has only one representative, and that is a construct rather than a "natural" animal. However, there are deers, grazing the leaves of Yggdrasil. Also, while you can make a pet out of a wolf, doing so is much harder than raising a dog. And you can actually tame bears: dancing bears were once common, and there is a nice short saga about and icelander who brings a tame polar bear to the court of king Sven of Denmark.
@andejons The alternative cost of domesticating a bear (or an elk) is to eat its meat and use or sell its hide. The meat and skin of a wolf is not as competitive, so it is relatively more economical to domesticate them. Maybe the myths of the animals had to do with the relationship between human and animal. Bears are not social animals and they have no other predator than post-stone age humans.
You need to have a wolf pup be less than three weeks to be able to tame it with any reliability, and even then it will not be as reliable as a dog would. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolves_as_pets_and_working_animals If you want a pet wolf, you pretty much has to deliberately go about getting one.
This is really interesting. What's the name of the saga about the Icelander with the polar bear? I think the fact that bears aren't social and not particularly economic explains a lot. I never thought about lynx and wolverine, but it's true that the other larger predators don't feature in Norse myth either.
Bears do not feature much in Norse mythology, at least when it comes to the stories involving the gods. The one story I can think of which even mentions them is how Gleipnir, the chain that fettered Fenrir, was made: one ingredient was the "sinews of a bear", together with several more fantastic items, such as the breath of a fish.
However, they do appear in other stories: in the story of Hrólf Kraki, the hero Bödvar Bjarki (the norse version of Beowulf) is asleep during a great battle, but it turns out that there is a great bear fighting in his stead. When he is woken up, the bear disappears. This is told in the Bjarkamál.
As for art, the only thing I can think of is some Vendel era metalwork, which contains what looks like a bear-man:
The elk (or moose) is also absent, isn't it? As opposed to reindeers which were nomadically domesticated (by the sami people in the far north and by not vikings AFAIK). I wonder if it has to do with elks and bears being undomesticated large mammal as the reason for why they aren't present in connection with the norse gods. And if it says something about the function of animals in their mythology. Those are the two largest animals in Scandinavia and they get alot of attention still today.