BEARS >> Love of Literalness
Buffon states that the black bear, which is our American species, lives altogether upon fruits, vegetables, and roots, never eating flesh; and that he is altogether mild and harmless. Our New England farmers would modify this statement, so far as concerns the autumn season, and the mother with cubs. During the summer, the bears live in the woods, as Buffon says, shunning the abodes of man, and escaping from him so shyly that it is difficult for hunters to find them at all. At this season they feed upon the leaves and tender twigs of trees, upon roots, ants which they lap greedily out of the ant hills, the larva of beetles, which they dig out of decaying stumps and logs, and very largely upon berries, of which they are extremely fond. But when berries fail, in the autumn, the bears come down to the orchards and corn fields, not infrequently making havoc among the sheep also. Then they are frequently seen, and are easily taken in traps.
At all seasons, if one comes suddenly upon a mother with cubs, he will find her fierce, brave, and dangerous. “A bear bereaved of her whelps” is a Scripture symbol for desperate courage. The brown bear of Europe and Asia, Buffon describes as a fiercer animal, who attacks rather than avoids man, though finding his food and his home among the mountains and in the forests.
The bear is not only wild, but solitary. He shuns all society by instinct. He removes from places to which men have access. He finds himself at his ease only in the places which still belong to Nature. An old cave among inaccessible rocks, a hollow formed by time in the trunk of an old tree, in the midst of a thick forest, serves him for a home. He retires thither alone, passes a part of the winter there without provisions, without going out from it for several weeks. . . . The mother takes the greatest care of her little ones. She makes for them a bed of moss and leaves in the bottom of her cave, and nourishes them with milk until they can go out with her. She brings forth in winter, and her little ones begin to follow her in the spring. The male and the female never live together. They have their separate retreats, and often far apart. . . .
The bear has good powers of sight, of hearing, and of touch; although his eye is very small compared with the size of his body, his ears are short, his skin thick, and his hair plentifully tufted. He has an excellent sense of smell, perhaps more exquisite than any other animal.
The same naturalist describes the anatomical structure of the bear, but the only point which we can notice is that instead of walking upon the toes, like most other quadrupeds, the bear lays his whole foot upon the ground, so that what is commonly called the “hock joint” becomes in him the heel. Mr. Wood writes:
As is the case with many animals, the Syrian bear changes its color as it grows older. When a cub, it is of a darkish brown, which becomes a light brown as it approaches maturity. But, when it has attained its full growth, it becomes cream colored, and each succeeding year seems to lighten its coat, so that a very old bear is nearly as white as its relative of the Arctic regions. (Bible Animals)
The bear is one of the omnivorous animals, and is able to feed on vegetable as well as animal substances, preferring the former when they can be found. There is nothing that the bear likes better than strawberries and similar fruits, among which it will revel throughout the whole fruit season, daintily picking the ripest berries, and becoming wonderfully fat by the constant banquet. Sometimes, when the fruits fail, it makes incursions among the cultivated grounds, and is noted for the ravages which it makes among the chickpeas. But during the colder months in the year the bear changes its diet, and becomes carnivorous. Sometimes it contents itself with the various wild animals which it can secure, but sometimes it descends to the lower plains, and seizes upon the goats and sheep in their pastures. . . . As the bear is not swift of foot, but rather clumsy in its movements, it cannot hope to take the nimbler animals in open chase. It prefers to lie in wait for them in the bushes, and to strike them down with a sudden blow of its paw, a terrible weapon, which it can wield as effectively as a lion uses its claws.
After speaking of the motherly instincts of most animals, he says:
Most terrible is the wrath of a creature which possesses, as is the case of the bear, the strongest maternal affections, added to great size, tremendous weapons, and gigantic strength. . . . When the bear fights, it delivers rapid strokes with its armed paw, tearing away everything that it strikes. A blow from a bear’s paw has been several times known to strip the entire skin, together with the hair, from a man’s head, and, when fighting with dogs, to tear its enemies open as if each claw were a chisel. (Bible Animals)
An anecdote, which seems to me highly characteristic, is related of a pet bear attached to a British regiment. The bear: . . . was promoted to the office of sentinel over the property contained in a baggage wagon. Unfortunately, the poor animal’s sense of justice was so acute that it executed its responsible office with too much zeal. On one occasion a soldier had gone to the wagon, with the intention of
robbing it of some of the property contained therein, and quietly inserted his arm under the coverings. His intended depredation was, however, soon checked by the teeth of the watchful bear, which bit his arm with such severity that the limb was rendered useless for the rest of the man’s life. Some little time after this occurrence, a child belonging to the regiment made a similar attempt upon the wagon, and was killed by the bear in its anxiety to fulfill the trust that had been committed to its charge” (Natural History).
In consequence of its too severe and literal faithfulness, the poor beast had to be shot. In addition to these accounts, it should be mentioned that the bear, when taken young and kindly treated, becomes quite tame, and is teachable; that he is playful, enjoys rough fun—young bears taking great pleasure in tumbling one another over in the snow—and is extravagantly fond of honey, which he eats eagerly, comb, young bees, and all, caring little for the stings of the old ones (Natural History).
The human affection which corresponds to this description is a more or less vehement love of literalness. It is an affection that loves to carry out a command to the letter with a grim, humorous enjoyment in seeing it hit in unexpected ways. It loves to buffet with precepts and texts, admitting of no explanation that does not exactly coincide with the letter. Though rough and surly, as well as humorous, it may do good service to truth and right by insisting upon full compliance with literal truth; or, on the other hand, because of its want of intelligence concerning spiritual things, it may insist ferociously upon the literal fulfillment of precepts which it does not understand, even to the destruction of much good, gentle life.
For example, there have been many who in a good spirit have insisted upon a literal and exact observance of the commandments in regard to the Sabbath and false speaking, refusing to permit any work on the Sabbath, however useful, and requiring the plainest speaking of truth, no matter how inappropriate. They quote the severest texts concerning those who do otherwise, and strike formidable blows with them. In proper places they may thus do good service. I have heard, also, the texts with regard to the destruction of the world, and a final last day, used to crush every hope of continued happy life in the spiritual world after death. Numerous like instances will occur to everyone familiar with theological discussions about faith, baptism, creation, redemption, and other subjects.1 An astonishing degree of strength and vehemence flows into such literal discussions, which, when known, one is not inclined to rouse carelessly. But the people who love the fallacies thus defended are usually silent, retiring, and solitary, shy of spiritual truth, especially when it explains the Scriptures. At this they take angry alarm, and quickly become furious, as if in defense of their life. Their dogmas strengthened with texts, they brandish furiously, like claw-armed paws, and strike blows which are certainly formidable. In states of inactivity they keep those dogmas constantly in mind, thinking them over and over unintelligently, as bears suck their paws. That bears lay the whole of their great foot on the ground, and dig in the ground for much of their food, represents a clinging to external things; their extravagant fondness for honey corresponds to love for the pleasantness of natural knowledge. Swedenborg says:
By a bear are signified those who read the Word, and do not understand it, whereby they involve themselves in fallacies. That these are signified 1. See an enumeration of many such fallacies, signified by the feet of the bear, in Apocalypse Explained #781.
by bears was clear to me from the bears which I saw in the spiritual world, and from such [spirits] there as were clad in bearskins, who had all read the Word indeed, but without seeing any doctrinal truth in it; also who had confirmed the appearances of truth therein, and thus were involved in fallacies. In that world there appear bears that are hurtful, and bears that are harmless, and some that are white; but they are distinguished by their heads, those which are harmless have heads like calves or sheep.” (ApocalypseRevealed #573; also Conjugial Love #78)
Those with heads like calves would represent the power of literal truth from innocent desire to know what is useful; and those with sheep’s heads represent the power of such truth governed by mutual love. In Apocalypse Explained he says:
That a bear signifies power from the natural sense of the Word, as well with the upright as the wicked, may appear from the following passages:
“When Elisha went up to Bethel, as he was going in the way, there came little children out of the city and mocked him, and said to him, Go up, thou bald head! go up, thou bald head! And he looked back upon them, and saw them, and cursed them in the name of Jehovah; and there came two she-bears out of the wood, and tare in pieces forty-two children of them” (2 Kings 2:23, 24). . . . That this was not done by Elisha from immoderate anger and without just cause, may be evident from this consideration, that he could not be so cruel to little children for only saying, Go up, thou bald head. It was indeed a reproach against the prophet, but not a sufficient cause for them to be torn in pieces by bears. But this took place because Elisha represented the Lord as to the Word, thus the Word which is from the Lord; by bald head was signified the Word deprived of its natural sense, which is the sense of the letter; by the bears out of the wood is signified the power derived from the natural and literal sense of the Word, as was said above; and by those children were signified those who blaspheme the Word on account of its literal sense being such as it is. (Apocalypse Explained #781)
Their destruction, therefore, represents the loss of spiritual life in those who despise the letter of the Word; and their condemnation by the letter itself.
David, keeping his father’s flock, slew the lion and the bear that attacked the flock, and gave this to Saul as proof that he should be able to overcome the Philistine. And it was so, because the lion was a representative of the love of rule by interior falsities, and the bear of a similar love acting through literal fallacies; and the Philistine represents those who teach faith and not goodness, and seek power through both means.
Turning from these evil things, it is pleasant to read that when the Lord’s kingdom shall be established upon the earth, “The cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together”; which signifies that the power of the literal sense of the Word will not be abused selfishly, but will be used wholly in companionship with neighborly kindness. It is also said that “The lion shall eat straw like the ox”; meaning that the love of rule will no longer destroy spiritual life by its dreadful falsities, but will love and protect the innocent thought and life of mutual helpfulness.
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875