One of my favorite Native American myths growing up was that of the Bear Warrior. According to legend, the warrior desperately wanted to find love. However, he did not want to be loved for his good looks, his family’s wealth, or even his skills. He wanted to be loved for his heart.
The warrior prayed for guidance in finding his true love. In response, the Great Spirit turned the brave into a bear.
“I don’t understand,” cried the young brave. “What did I do wrong? Is it bad to pray for true love?” The Great Spirit sent a deer to explain his actions to the warrior.
“You said you didn’t want to be loved for your good looks, your family’s wealth, or your skills,” said deer. “In this form you will not be.”
“But what maiden will want to marry a bear?” questioned the warrior. “I can’t even go home in this form. If I do, I will be surely killed.”
“No,” said deer. “You will not be killed. However, you are right in that you can’t go home.”
“Then how am I to find love?” asked the brave. “And where am I to live?”
“Follow me,” said deer. He took the young warrior far away from his home to a cave near a spring. “You will stay here,” said deer. “The Great Spirit will inform your people that each week a young maiden of marrying age must be brought to you here. If she is unworthy, she will be sent home. Only the maiden found worthy need be sacrificed to you.”
“I still don’t understand,” cried the warrior. “What does this have to do with finding love?”
“The maiden who sees you for yourself and not the form of the bear which you currently inhabit, will prove herself worthy of your love.” With that the deer disappeared.
The brave settled down in the cave to wait. As promised, within a week, a tribal elder brought a young maiden to him. He walked up to the girl who immediately screamed and tried to move away. The brave shook his head no, which was the sign for the elder to take the girl away.
Week after week for more than a year, the ritual continued. But not one maiden saw past the bear exterior into the soul of the warrior. Just as the brave was about to give up altogether, an amazing thing happened.
As always, the tribal elder brought a young girl to the cave. And, as usual, the bear walked forward to see how the maiden would respond. But this time the girl smiled at him. “Hello,” she said, looking straight into his deep brown eyes. “Are you the bear’s keeper?”
“What?” asked the brave incredulously. “Do you not see the bear before you?” he asked.
“No,” she responded. “I only see you. Is he inside the cave?” she queried.
With that, the brave’s outer appearance changed so that even the tribal elder could see nothing but the handsome young brave. “At last,” he said. “I have found someone who might love me for myself.”
The warrior explained his story to the maiden and she was touched by his need to find someone who could see him for who he was and not what he represented. They quickly fell in love, returned home, and married.
It is said that no couple in the village was ever before or after as happy as the Bear Warrior and his maiden. They became a symbol of hope, faith, and most of all the power of true love.