Beasts Hold Important Offices in the Cosmic Order
Deeply distrustful of their powers of achievement, people do not seek salvation in the human sphere. Their main religious functionary, the shaman, travels to the world beyond to obtain a blessing. He must also shed his human rationality and obtain a state of superhuman frenzy; he is helped by animal familiars, for human strength is not sufficient to the task.
Beasts, altogether, hold important offices in the cosmic order. In a widespread myth, the world was formed when a bird brought some mud from the bottom of the sea. Beasts may create storms and winds. And the highest god of the Ainus is a bear.
The bear is the most sacred of all creatures, so holy that in some places his name must not be pronounced. When this noblest of all beings is killed, countless ceremonies are enacted to assuage the guilt of the human hunters. The bear is brought to the village where he is received in joy and reverence; the slayers try to overcome their shame and guilt in the rousing celebration of the “bear wedding” or “bear feast.” Seated in the place of honor, the beast is the Lord of the festivity. Throughout, the fiction is maintained that the bear is still alive, or that he himself had willed his death.
— The Faces of the Goddess, p. 40