Bear Moon - UPDATE January 15, 2017

I was a day late photographing what some Native American tribes call the Bear Moon that marks the time when black bears give birth. The picture shows the moon a day past full.

Bear Moon - a day past fullBear Moon - a day past full

This blurb by a Lily Fan tells more about the Bear Moon.

“The full moon in January is sometimes called the ‘bear moon'. Black bear cubs are generally born in January. The mother bear licks them clean, keeps them warm and moves into positions to make it easier for them to nurse.” This statement is on the January page of the 2013 Shadow’s Clan calendar. But what is a bear moon?

Most material that can be found about bear moons is in Native American lore. Basically, a bear moon indicated the time of year that mother bears gave birth to cubs in January. This term is still around today, although nothing much can found about it. An interesting statistic from January 2013 however: Lily had her cubs on January 12; the bear moon occurred on January 13.

A quote from an article by Lynn Rogers, “A Bear in Its Lair,” written in 1981, says the following about bear moons: "Research scientists were not the first people to look into a bear den. Indians noted the locations of dens they found in the fall…Members of the Winnebago Bear Clan called the first moon of January the bear moon because it is then that the cubs are born and then that the bears begin to lick their paws. Both observations are accurate. The Indians also believed that mothers washed their newborn cubs with fresh snow. According to a clan saying, snow during the bear moon meant that another cub had been born and that the bears, which had control of the weather, were calling for fresh snow to wash their young. Mothers do lick their newborn cubs, but the use of snow has not been documented in modern times.”

Many Indian tribes had words in their languages for bear moon. The Potawatomi Indian tribe of the Great Lakes region had the name, mkokisis, for the full moon in January. The word means “moon of the bear.” The Osage Lunar Calendar makes reference to the December full moon as the “baby bear moon.” The Kuenai Indians called the full moon the Black Bear Moon. In the Osage tribe, Hąhewira, "night luminary," is the word for moon. When -wira occurs in a calendrical context, it will denote "moon" or "month", as in Hųč-wi-ra, "the Bear Moon".

In “Bears, The Encyclopedia of Hocak (Winnebago) Mythology” by Richard L. Dieterle, he writes: "On the Hocak calendar there are two Bear Moons, the Hųjwičonįną (First Bear) and the Hųjwioragnįna (Last Bear). They occur in January and February respectively. The first of these has been called "Little Bear's Time," on account of the birth of bears in the hibernation den."

Sometimes it is simply called Hunjwíra, the "Bear Moon." In other Indian lore, the January moon is known as the Wolf Moon or the Cold Moon, as well as the Bear Moon (among many other names). It is the Bear Moon all month long, not just at the full moon, and is usually one of the brightest moons of the year.

Another source says that a bear moon is a thin sliver shy of full. Full moons always rise around the time of sunset, and don’t set until sunrise; full moons are up in the sky all night long.

So, it seems that no matter whether the moon is full or not, it’s a bear moon in January because that’s when cubs are born!

Thank you all for all you do.

Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center

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