Animal lore explains the saying that children can be ‘licked into shape’. It was once believed that bear cubs were born formless and were literally licked into shape by their mother. Shakespeare knew of the belief, for in Henry VI the crippled Duke of Gloucester is described as an ‘unlick’d bear-whelp’.
In Celtic myth the bear is a lunar power, emblem of the goddess Berne; it also represents Andarta -‘Powerful Bear’, while the ‘Son of the Bear’ occurs frequently in Irish and Welsh names. The dual symbolism is also apparent in the Celtic association between the Bear and the Boar, with the Boar as spiritual authority and the Bear as Temporal Power. Although no longer native to these islands, the bear has remained one of Britain’s totem beasts at a deep level. An old Gaelic proverb, ‘Art an neart’, describes a hero as a bear in vigour. Arthur’s own name derives from the British ‘arth’ or bear. The constellation of the Plough or the Great Bear is also called Arthur’s Wain.