Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Domavoya *

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Crick, crack, crinkle

babushkas lash twigs

to birch handles, muttering

small incantations.

 

Swish, swash, swish, swash

shuffling backwards

bending forward, they

sweep the roadway clean.

 

Rub a dub dub at forest’s edge

gnarled thumbs smooth fragrant oil –

poppy, castor, clove

deep between wrinkled thighs

 

mount their brooms

scream Baba Yaga’s name

and shoot like wild comets

over tundra, taiga, steppe.

 

Clip, clop, clip, clop,

a horseman is coming

clad in gold armor

riding a golden horse.

 

Babushkas fall from the sky like bats

drifting down to doze in doorways

lizard lids closing

on bright blackberry eyes.

 

Someone creeps shadow-wise

across a darkened threshhold;

bony hands snap out to clutch and catch,

exacting a fierce reckoning to pass.

 

Who wants to cross? And why? they ask

What you most fear, will find you here.

What will you trade to get in?

What will you give to get out?

 

 

* Russian word roughly equivalent to concierge

© 2010 Christine Irving

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Talisman

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Baba1Sadly, Michelle’s new computer has also malfunctioned so her silence is based on a lack of means rather than will or desire.  We wonder if we have slighted some creature of myth or overlooked some entity in one of the tales.  If so, we are heartily sorry and do here apologize.

I on the other hand am stuck!  I simply can’t find any more images, so far, that resonate for me with Baba Yaga.  I think we erred in picking an iconic figure rather than delving into a particular story, though it does underscore our point about the efficacy of story in deepening self-knowledge, connecting to community and inspiring creativity.

As I mentioned earlier, Baba Yaga has been part of my personal mythic line-up for a long time.  Several years ago, I created a Baba Yaga figure out of one of those small wooden anatomical figures used by artists to remind them of the proportions of the human form.  I decided to photograph her for you in lieu of a collage.

Much as I love collage, if one is not a painter (I am not; Michelle is.) it can be very restrictive if one is attempting to express a specific idea – for example finding the picture of an ugly old woman is difficult.  Google springs immediately to mind- but somehow to me it feels like cheating.  Silly isn’t it! Or I could go out and buy a new magazine, but that seems to violate the element of serendipity I value in my work.  Collage, the way I do it, has to do with recycling, rearranging and refreshing already created images into new contexts and juxtapositions.  The work reflects the larger work of nature, in which basic elements are constantly being shuffled and redealt into new alignments to produce a novel shape or configuration.  Collage is humbling because one can never forget that the parts and pieces, the ideas and symbols are part of a larger whole and derive from many sources.  Painting, drawing, sketching leaves more room for ego and idiosyncrasy.  In it, connections, borrowings and derivations are more subtle and the unique contributions of the artist more immediate and visible.  I often long to be able to paint what I see, but there is some disconnect between hand and eye for me that increases my frustration level to the point it is no longer satisfying to attempt.

Doll making on the other hand – at least with a basic body shape to work with, seemed more within my grasp.  Actually assembling the pieces parts was rather like making a collage.  My Baba Yaga wears purple velvet pantaloons tucked into felt boots sporting pearl buttons.  Her long-sleeved peasant shirt is silver to represent the moon.  She wears a fur-lined vest in the colors of autumn leaves and her fur-collared velvet cloak is springtime green.  I sewed three small brooms to the hem so she can sweep away her footsteps as she goes.   A tiny skull hangs around her neck, reminiscent of her Indian cousin Kali.  A babushka – the traditional head scarf worn by Russian women – covers her gray head (I donated a lock of my own hair) and her face is fierce and smeared with red.  Nose and teeth are made from real shards of bone.  She wears a bunch of keys at her waist because she holds the keys to our questions about the mysteries of Life/Death, our relationship to nature and our connection to the past and future.

Working with the doll, gluing my own hair on her head, engendered a more profound grasp of what it means to be a crone, a wisdom holder, an elder and a quintessentially wild woman.  As always, I am deeply grateful to my estimable guide Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She is a mentor par excellence; her book Women Who Run with the Wolves is one of my Bibles.  In it Dr. Estes explores Vasilisa, the story most often associated with Baba Yaga.  It contains many parallels with Cinderella (the reason M. and I chose to concentrate on the witch).  However, in Vasilisa the dead mother is represented by a doll.  Not until I reread the chapter for this essay did I realize the connections between my doll and the one in the story.

The talismanic numen of the doll is that it reminds us, tells us, sees ahead for us.  This intuitive function belongs to all women. It is a massive and fundamental receptivity … possessing immediate access to a profound wisdom that reaches to women’s very bones.    ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Baba Yaga provides a direct connection, not only to our own old age, but also to our oldest ancestors.  (From another perspective – our youngest predecessors) Her lineage is very old.  I think she probably first came to consciousness among the hunter-gatherers of the primeval forests of Northern Europe.  As people became more agrarian and expanded the clearings and meadows into farmland they kept her stories alive. As Pupul Jayakar states so eloquently in her book The Earth Mother, speaking of Indian history:

    … like a spiral it coils and uncoils.  Within this movement nothing is totally rejected, nothing discarded, no issues polarized. The alien and heretical are neither confronted nor destroyed; instead they are transformed.  The rural tradition has a skill of genius, in inventing myths and reinterpreting texts, that reduces the alien to familiar symbols and metaphors.

    The gap between orthodox dogma and heretical belief is never unbridgeable. Deities and systems maligned and ostracized in one age become benevolent and respectable in another.

This is why folk tales are so important because they contain the seeds of the past and future.  Seeds thousands of years old, found buried in tombs or encased in long-forgotten storage jars have been sprouted by anthropologists.  Just so, ancient concepts and insights can be held in folktales to re-emerge centuries later and blossom into something with contemporary relevance.  Who knows what of our wisdom, understanding or technology will disappear to re-emerge in the future?

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Death and Ambiguity

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The Crone

While Baba Yaga may have her more benign moments, in truth, she is a terrifying creature of great power; a cannibal, said to have devoured the flesh of those whose flaming skulls form a palisade around her chicken-legged hut.  Cannibalism seems repulsive and horrible to modern eyes, but originally people ate bits of the dead in order to share their manna, their spirit, and make it their own.  Taking a bite of one’s ancestor meant incorporating some of her/his power and wisdom into oneself and opened a door to communication with the dead.  In the same way, eating some of one’s enemy allowed access to their courage and intelligence. In a way its about conservation, recycling and continuity; learning from the past and bringing its lessons forward.

Skulls served the same purpose.  Many ancient cultures from Celts to Mayans collected skulls and incorporated them heavily into their culture and art considering them the repository of intelligence and  home to the soul.  Within it repose the organs of all the senses including touch (though skin spreads across the rest of the body as well). To behead a person is to sever his/her connection to Earth; to collect it is to retain some of their essence.  To preserve the skull of one’s ancestor maintains an immediate and personal souvenir, which acts as both a mnemonic device and a means of communication with the dead.  Read more about skulls on Magdalene A.D.’s Facebook page.

The skull has long been a symbol of death, but in more ancient times it also stood for rebirth.  After all, bones last longer than any other part of us – sometimes for century upon century – look at our own far distant great, great, great, great, etc. grandmother Lucy!  Thus, in a weird paradox bones represent both immortality and mortality.  The witch Baba Yaga embodies that same ambiguity with capricious displays of ferocity and benevolence. So too, do her familiars the cock and the cat.  These animals are powerful symbols in many cultures around the world – sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.  Both are psychopomps – spirit guides who move between worlds carrying messages and leading souls through the veils that separate one plane from another.  Out of all the tangled myth and meaning associated with these animals two things stand out for me.

The cat, a known familiar of witches, hunts in the dark, pouncing on her prey and bringing it into the light.  She symbolizes the work the Crone demands of us- to hunt through our own shadows for whatever gnaws, festers and corrupts and bring it into the consciousness.

For Malays, the foot of the rooster represents a three-way cross roads; a place where destiny can change. Hecate, ancient Queen of witches, herself the crone aspect of a pre-Olympian triple Goddess (Persephone, Demeter, Hecate) was worshiped outdoors at places where three paths crossed. The number three has been considered sacred since the dawn of time and still survives in modern Christian culture as The Trinity. Hecate’s crossroads can represent the past, present and future as well as possible new directions to take in one’s life.  It’s interesting that she offers a three-way choice, rather than an either/or decision.  Hecate, like Baba Yaga represents choice and ambiguity.

The Crone understands connection and entanglement and yet she is essentially simple, basic primitive. Her mantra is easy to understand: Change or die.  She grasps the meaning of life’s most basic paradox: the one is contained in the many and the many in the one; all entities formed from the same matter, connected by the same life force, but each one singular and unique.

This is a lot of telling to explain what the collage intends to show!  Hopefully, it’s all there.  If nothing else, the feminine symbols carved into the trees, half-hidden behind their trunks, indicate  the unequivocally feminine nature of this goddess and her mysteries. Or do they?  As humans age their bodies change; women and men become more and more androgynous in  appearance and wisdom.  Individuation is about becoming more completely human.  The true Crone integrates within herself both cat and rooster, feminine and masculine.

The Fearsome Wild Hag

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Baba Yaga flies away

Baba Yaga flies away

Baba Yaga

The Fearsome Wild Hag

     Baba Yaga is a Slavic folklore supernatural being, one of 3 sisters with the same name who appear as deformed and/or ferocious-looking women. Baba Yaga flies around in a cauldron shaped like a mortar, dwells, deep in the forest in a hut, usually described as standing on scaly yellow chicken legs, that walks about all by itself, sometimes twirls around and around like an ecstatic dancer. Her fence is usually decorated with human skulls. As she travels, she rows her vehicle with an oar shaped like a pestle. All the while she sweeps out the tracks of where she has been with a broom made from the hair of a person long dead.

 Baba Yaga is fearsome, for she represents the power of annihilation and the power of the life force at the same time. Even through Baba Yaga threatens, she is just. She does not hurt anyone as long as they treat her with dignity and respect. She expects honesty, courageous and straight talk. You must be able to accept her as she is warts, wisdom, and all. Respect in the face of great power is a crucial lesson. So many of her feminine attributes and forces are vast, all are formidable. It is understandable that the first time we come face-to-face with the Old Wild Powers, both men and women take one anxious look and make tracks.

She may help or hinder those that encounter or seek her out. At times Baba Yaga plays a maternal role. She is closely association with forest wild life. She sometimes frights a hero, (promises to eat him,) but helps him if he is courageous. According to Vladimir Propp’s folk tale morphology, Baba Yaga commonly appears as either a donor, Villain or maybe altogether ambiguous. A donor in a fairy tale is a character that tests the hero, or heroine and provides magical assistance to them when he/she succeeds. In many folktales she kidnaps and eats naughty children (usually roasts them in the oven.) She has her familiars, the three horsemen, red, white and black.  And of course, she has at least one black cat and crow.

Baba means Old Woman or grandmother. Yaga means horror, shudder, or chill, witch, pain or worry. She first occurred in 1755 listed among Slavic gods. The Slavic god Perun appears equated with the Roman god Jupiter. Baba Yaga appears to have no equivalence, attesting to her uniqueness even in this first known attestation.

Baba Yaga has bony legs, when inside her dwelling, she may be found stretched out over the stove, reaching from one corner of the hut to another. Her nose is repulsive, so are her breasts, buttocks, vagina.  In some tales a trio of Baba Yagas appear as sisters, all sharing the same name. Her long chin curved up and her long nose curved down, and they met in the middle. She has a tiny white goatee and warts on her skin from her trade in toads. Baba Yaga is the fearsome wild Crone.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, The story begins, ‘Once there was, and once there was not … ‘. This phase alerts the soul that this story takes place in the world between worlds where nothing is as it first seems. The woods can be that luminal space between realms. In my collage I show Baba Yaga flying about in her cauldron rowing with her pestle. Below you can see her hut and fence surrounded by forest. It is night and the moon is full.

Baba Yaga – Ancient of Days

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Baba Yaga

In the past months we’ve explored in some depth the feminine archetypes Maiden and Mother.   As autumn season deepens and the old pagan year ends, it seems fitting to spend time with Crone.  We’ve chosen Baba Yaga, the Russian woodland hag to represent her.  Rather than focus on a particular story we will focus on Baba Yaga herself.

Basically Baba Yaga means ‘Grandmother Witch.’  It is wise when speaking of fearsome entities to address them with a euphemistic honorific.  For instance the Irish call their fearsome fairies ‘The Gentry.’  Both appellations carry an ironic undercurrent.

Baba Yaga appears at first glance to be quintessentially Russian, but she is much much older, predating any kind of nationalistic identity with its civilized and Christian veneers.  In her stories she often uses her keen sense of smell to sniff out “the Russian scent.”  Her origin lies deep in Slavic paganism; she comes from a time of endless taiga (forest) when boreal woodlands spread unchecked across northern Europe, Asia and North America. Her roots reach deep into the dawn of human history.  She is “the Arch-Crone, the Goddess of Wisdom and Death, the Bone Mother. Wild and untamable, she is a nature spirit bringing wisdom and death of ego, and through death, rebirth.”  Like that feminine symbol the Moon, her aspect is both light and dark.

Her identity as the triple goddess archetype Maiden, Mother, Crone is reflected in tales, which include her two sisters.  Dealing with these archetypes is tricky – like all good scientifically minded children of this modern age, we want to analyze, identify, dissect, and isolate; we want to take things apart and see how they work.  But the three sisters work together and cannot be separated.  A woman is never only mother, maiden or crone. The memories, experience and intuitive wisdom of each phase mix, meld, and re-define themselves. They ebb, flow, whirl and lie in static pools of calm.  At any moment in a woman’s life she can be thirteen, thirty, or ninety-three.

And so with Baba Yaga, who can change shapes at will and replace her haggard features with young beauty any time she chooses. She can grow and shrink, fly hobble or run like the wind. She is a solar goddess governing the progression of the days with her three Knights (Red Knight = the day bright sun, White Knight = the dawn, and Black Knight = the night; red, black and white are colors long associated with triple goddesses.)  She is a lunar goddess with her thirteen fiery skulls set on posts around her chicken-legged house.  The house spins on its legs, just like the Earth and Moon when the Baba is away, flying through the air in her mortar and pestle while sweeping her tracks away with a broom.

The Crone is a rich and complex archetype but her chief attribute is wisdom.  She is the keeper of life’s memories and experiences.  She represents the power inherent in each woman and man to transform the pain and suffering of life into wisdom, the ability to learn from our mistakes.

In this collage we approach Baba Yaga carefully from the side, rather than head on. We come as the girl child who appears so often in her tales.  Children, not yet having lost their connection with the spirit realm from which their souls originate, hold their own particular brand of wisdom.  The Crone is able to return to a childlike place of open-eyed and hearted wonder and bring to it the wisdom of experience.  In between childhood and old age, we humans often bumble around on one quest or another searching for self, wealth, meaning, love, substance, answers – all manner of things. The Radiant Child and the Crone reach out to each other across that gap.  We often see this reflected in everyday life by the rapport between children and grandparents that seems to jump a generation.

The forest represents the untamed wilderness where the Baba is most at home.  Our own wild spirits, from which flow courage, grit, determination and endurance, are the raw materials we bring to the work. Baba Yaga, terrible flesh-eater though she is, responds well to respect and a willingness to learn. Beside her sit mortars in which to grind grain and herbs, baskets of seeds for planting, and pots to hold her spells. Cauldrons, pots, cups, bowls symbolically represent the womb – that most ancient vessel of transformation and birth.

For more on Baba Yaga as Crone I highly recommend the essay by Anonymous posted by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D. on her website Mything Links:

Abraham and Sarah The Big Picture

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AbrahamSarahScan_Pic0003Abraham and Sarah

 This story comes from the Bible and the book of Genesis. About 2,000 BCE Abraham lived in Mesopotamia what is modern day Iraq. Abraham’s father, Terah was the tenth in descent from Noah. Abraham believed in one god, Yahweh. At that time, the majority of the people worshiped many gods. In Egypt there was Isis and Osiris, in Sumer the people were familiar with the story of Inanna and Dumuzi.

 In a dream or vision Abraham’s God told him to leave his home, the place where his family had lived for almost 75 years. God said he would lead Abraham into the desert to Canaan, the promised land, where he would start a new nation. God said he would bless Abraham with sons. God also said that if Abraham was obedient and make God his only God, Abraham and his children would be God’s chosen people. This was the covenant Abraham made with God.

 Abraham was married to Sarah. Sarah was barren. The couple had no children. They were both elderly. But Abraham believed in God and knew that what God told him would come to pass. God said, “Look up at the stars, you will have a son. He will have children, and from them a great nation will come. Because of God’s promise all people on earth would be blessed.

 Sarah felt bad that she had not given Abraham children and decided to offer her husband Hagar, her maid servant. Hagar was young and Abraham agreed. After Hagar got pregnant with Abraham’s child her behavior changed and Sarah got angry and treated Hagar poorly. In time Hagar runs away. God appears to Hagar and promises her that if she goes back and serves Sarah that he will make sure Hagar will see that her son Ishmael will be the father of so many children that no one would be able to count them. When Ishmael is born Abraham was 86 years old.

 When Ishmael is almost 14 years old Sarah conceives Abraham’s son Issac. This is a miracle because Sarah was over 90 years old and Abraham was almost a hundred.

 In my collage I show Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Issac and Ishmael. From Abraham and Sarah comes Issac, and Issac gives birth to Jacob and from this line comes Jesus. From Hagar and Abraham comes Ishmael and from this line comes the life of Mohammed. From the figures in my collage comes 3 major religions.. They are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

 

 

“Where I’ve been this September”

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Where have I been?

     My old computer died. It’s taken me all month to get a new computer and get it up and running. I am posting a collage and essay for the September’s tale of “Abraham and Sarah”. It covers the Big Picture of the story. I wanted to add a bit of research I did when working with the story. 

     The word Semitic refers to a large language family of Middle Eastern origin. Hebrew/Canaanite/Phoenician/Carthaginan languages are included as Semite languages among others. The word Semite means a member of any of various ancient and modern Semite speaking people originating in the Near East. Abraham was a Semite.

     Mesopotamia (between the two rivers) The area between the Tigris and Euphrates river systems. Iraq of today and Northeastern section of Syria and a much lesser extent Southeastern Turkey, Southwestern Iran and Kuwait. Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization in the west. Bronze age Mesopotamia included Sumer and Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian Empires.

     The Rivers … The Tigris and Euphrates rivers originate in the Mountains of Armenia and in the extreme south they unite and empty into the Persian Gulf.

     The earliest written language was Sumerian. The oldest text came from the Temple dedicated to the Goddess Inanna at Urak.

      These are just a few of the interesting facts I found and wanted to share.

     I want to thank Christine for doing a fabulous job with September’s story. I loved reading what she had to say about her Collages and the negative and positive aspects of the story.

     For the month of October we will be exploring Baba Yaga the Russian Witch stories. I’m running way behind schedule and hope to get back on program soon.