Animals always played a important role among Slavic people. Animals such as wolves, bears, hares or foxes thanks to the wide area of distribution firmly entrenched themselves in various legends, stories, mythology and art of Slavic people. In Christianity wolf was associated with evil spirits but still most of these animals left a strong mark on our cultures.
Bears have also left such a strong symbolic impact that today most of people when you would mention Russia would first think of a bear as it’s symbolism, but there are also other Slavic regions (like Lika region, Croatia) where bears are a symbolic animal that is representing the whole area. Now we will analyze each of them separately:
Wolves had a enormous effect on Slavic populations, hence all the legends about werewolves. During early Christianity spread upon this lands, it was banned to eat wolf flesh because it was believed you would become a werewolves afterward. Wolf was always associated with a character of a “stranger”, he was never able to live with people. Early Christians saw him as a devils dog, he who owned the dark forest with it’s wolf-pack. To Slavic pagans wolf was associated to Slavic god Veles and as such he was a symbol of wild untamed nature but still it was an animal which villagers respected, mostly out of fear.
These little critters were usually given also a male “phallic” role in their symbolism. It was the symbol of fertility but also shamanism and ancient drug usage. Some local folk legends say that if a married woman would dream a hare it would mean she would give birth to a son in near future. Rabbit is largely considered being unclean, and speed of a hare is associated with quite a negative sign: if hare runs along the mans house, expect fire.
The most popular character of Russian folklore, a fox. It’s sly and quirky so it could cheat anyone, thanks to its skill where she is able to circle around the legs (like cat), she is stronger than a wolf or a bear in folk tales because of it’s deceptive skills. In many folk tales this dodgy animal with a sharp wit and mischievous behavior tricks peasants. But this was foxes own downfall, because hunters started hunting them for trophy and their fur or paw bracelets became a relic that would bring wealth and prosperity to owner.
Thanks to the many human-like bear habits, and the ability to stand on its hind legs, the old Slavs believed that the origin of man and bear are closely related. There was a legend among Kievan Rus (after their baptism) that bear was a human wrapped in a beast because of his deadly sin. This is why in old times it was a taboo to eat bears meat. The bear was naturally considered as a very clever animal, so any amulet containing his hair, or even other “parts”, brought not only success, but also the added wisdom to it’s wearer.