Category Archives: Symbolism

“What’s His Name?”

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Scan_Pic0016Rumplestiltskin (revised)

“What’s His Name?”

Once upon a time there was an attractive young woman who was an excellent spinner. She worked very hard at spinning and her yarns were known across the kingdom. A Goblin had noticed her and imagined that one day he would have her first born child as his very own. (This is the way goblins think.) The idea that he would father a child with the beautiful girl was highly unlikely since the imp was quite ugly, and the young woman would never agree to such a thing. He was going to have to rely on trickery. He spent most of the next 3 afternoons considering ways he could make his day-dream come true. He loved the idea of having a child.  Someone he could teach all his acquired skills plus the ways of magic. He became obsessed with the idea.

Finally, he could stand it no longer, he had a plan and he set about manifesting what he wanted. First he made an appointment to see the King. The King found the Goblin so repulsive he made the imp stand facing the wall so that he did not have to look into his bitty eyes, nor consider his bulbous nose. The Goblin went on and on about this young woman who could spin yarn. He told the King that she could spin straw into gold. “Besides that,” the goblin said, excitedly, “she is quite beautiful.” The King was thankful for the information; he did not want to anger the Goblin so he gave him a spot of tea, a pot pie and a coin of silver and sent him on his way.

Next the goblin went to the Miller, the young maiden’s father and whispered in his ear. “Miller, How would you like to be appointed the “King’s Miller”! The Miller’s eyes brightened. “I know a way that you can impress the King and get the appointment to Master Miller. Would you like me to tell you how? “

The Miller invited the Goblin into his office and offered him refreshment. “Yes,” said the Miller. “Tell me what I’d need to do.”

The Goblin began. “Dress your daughter in her finest. Take her and her spinning wheel along with several bags of straw to the castle and get an audience with the King. Tell the King that your daughter has come to show him how she spins straw into gold.”

The Miller could hardly believe his ears. “What is that you say?” The Goblin repeated himself, speaking slowly and clearly. “But, Sir,” the Miller said. “My daughter is a wonderful spinner, but she can not spin straw into GOLD.”

“The King doesn’t know that,” the Goblin said, smiling. “It is my plan to trick the King. I plan to come along, disguised of course. I’m going to use my magic to create the illusion that she is actually spinning straw into gold. The King will be so impressed he will ask your daughter to marry him. She will become the Queen.”

“I don’t understand,” said the Miller. “Why are you doing this magic?”
“I want your daughter’s first born child.”
“Heavens NO! That’s a terrible idea,” said the Miller.
“Wait hear me out,” said the imp. “Once your daughter becomes Queen, she can demand the King make you his Royal Miller and require all the farmers in the kingdom to have their grain milled here at your place. Don’t you see, you will become rich.  Your daughter will become Queen, she will have lots more children. She will hardly miss the first born. If you will help me, I shall do all the rest. What say you about this idea.”

After much thought the Miller agreed. So he went to the King and bragged that his daughter could spin straw into gold. “Well” said the King. “Bring her here. I  want to see this phenomenon.”

The next day the Miller dragged his daughter into the Kings chambers set her on her stool and put her spinning wheel in front of her. The Miller’s helper, who was the goblin in disguise,  brought in several bags of straw and set them next to the bewildered daughter.
“Now,” said the Miller, “My daughter will spin this straw into GOLD.”

“What are you talking about,” said the daughter. “Straw into Gold? Are you crazy? Straw can not be spun into gold.”

The Miller lend over and whispered to his daughter. “Try it out! This spinning wheel has been turned into magic. I bought it special for you. Take a handful of straw and start spinning. Do it, you will see.” The daughter did as her father asked. She grabbed a handful of straw and twisted it around the spindle, whir, whir, whir went the wheel and the spool filled with gold. The King sent for more straw. All through the day and night, handful after handful of straw was turned into gold. The King was astonished. The daughter was amazed. Even the Miller was delighted. The Goblin, in his helper’s cloak, began to hum softly. The King called for his men. When they arrived he had the Miller, the Daughter, and the Miller’s helper locked up in another room.

“Bring me the Royal Spinner,” the king yelled. When the old woman arrived she looked at the spinning wheel and then at the King. “You called,” she asked.

“See that, that spinning wheel,” he said. “It spins straw into gold.” The old woman looked at the King as if he was crazy. “Impossible,” she said.
“Here is a bag of straw. I want you to spin it into gold.” The Old woman sat down at the wheel and tried to spin the straw. No matter how hard she tried she could not spin straw, let alone spin it into gold. The king called for another woman and ordered her to spin the straw into gold. She too failed. Then he called another woman, and then another. When the last of the women gave it a try and failed he sent for the Miller’s daughter. He ordered her to spin straw into gold. “Whir, whir, whir went the wheel and the spool filled with gold.”
As the King watched the Miller’s daughter spinning he saw that she was in fact quite beautiful. He loved all the gold she was spinning and he realized he loved her too. So he got down on one knee and asked the Miller’s daughter to marry him and she agreed. She had always wanted to be a Queen. Plus, the King wasn’t all that bad to look at.  It wasn’t long after the marriage that the King made the Miller the official Royal Miller and all the farmers had him grind their grain.  Everyone was very happy. Especially the Goblin. His idea was working.  About 10 months later the new Queen gave birth to a darling little Prince.

The Prince was a healthy, happy baby and one day when the Prince was exactly 3 months old, the Goblin appeared before the Miller. “Well now Miller,” said the imp. “I have come for your daughter’s baby.” The Miller had forgotten about the agreement. “How in the world am I going to get my daughter and the King to give you their little Prince?”

“You will think of some way. Besides I kept my part of the bargain. Now it is time for you to keep your part,“ said the Goblin. “I shall return in 3 days to collect MY little Prince. And I warn you, he had better be here waiting.“ The Miller got tears in his eyes. I can’t do it. That dear little prince belongs with his mother. Taking him away would break my daughter’s heart Take pity please.” He fell down on his knees and begged the goblin to reconsider.  He offered to give the Goblin all of the money and treasures he had received since becoming the Royal Miller. “No” said the imp. “A deal is a deal!”

The Miller was depressed. He didn’t know what to do.  That evening he went to the King and Queen. He told them about the terrible agreement he had made with the Goblin and how the Goblin had played a trick on all of them by using magic to spin straw into gold. The King was outraged. He wanted to cut off the Miller’s head but the Queen  took pity on her father. And after a sleepless night, the three of them came up with a trick of their own. Well, they didn’t exactly come up with the idea by themselves; it was the Royal Sorcerer, Merlin who gave them the answer. Merlin said, “If you can figure out the Goblin’s true name he will have to leave the kingdom because when  his real name is spoken out loud he will lose all his power.  Basically we will neutralize him. The trick will be to figure out his true name. The King beseeched his people to help him find out the True Name of the Goblin.

On the third day at noon the Goblin was due to come and collect the little Prince. At quarter of 12 the Queen was crying for they had not figured out the Goblin’s true name. Into the King’s chambers ran the official Games Keeper “Your Royal Highness,” he said trying to catch his breath. “I think I know the Goblin’s true name. “
“Out with it. Tell us the name.” said the Queen. “Hurry! Please!”
“I was out in the woods this morning and I heard the squirrels barking. I heard the birds, especially the blue jays squawking, and I heard the Foxes crying.  What was all the ruckus about, I wondered. I crept through the bushes and saw an ugly little man, the goblin I think, dancing around a fire.  He was singing and clapping his hands. I continued to hide and I listened to him and what he was saying… “Today I bake, tomorrow I brew, next day, it’s the young child that’s mine just the same as Rumplestiltskin is my name. “

As the Royal clock struck noon, the large chamber door swung open and in strolled the manikin. “So,” where is he”, the Goblin shouted, looking around the room. “Where is MY little Prince” The King, and the Miller stood with their arms folded over their chest. A few feet behind them the Queen was sitting and holding a bundle of blankets. The little Prince was staring at the ugly goblin.

“Not so fast,” said the King.
“Listen here,” said the Goblin. “I don’t want any trouble.” he smiled, his sharp green teeth showing. “If you don’t cooperate I will be forced to use my magic to take the Child in the most unpleasant way.”

“We don’t think so. Your power is no good around here, Rumplestiltskin,” they shouted. Then everyone in the room yelled over and over again. ‘RUMPLESTILTSKIN, RUMPLESTILTSKIN, RUMPLESTILTSKIN!”
The goblin got so angry he whirled around, whirl, whirl, whirl, stomped his right foot so hard that it sank into the earth. Then he pulled at his left leg with both arms and split himself in two. That was it. He was never seen again and never again was straw spin into gold.

The King, the Queen, the Miller and the little Prince lived happily ever after. The end.

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Rumpelstiltskin

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Rumplestiltskin 1_0001

This is actually a collage I made years ago. It was the last of a series of fairy tale collages I created last century.  I was never very happy with it.  I think because this piece is a rather traditional overview of the tale and I’ve always felt that in this story, justice wasn’t really served.  It seemed to me Rumpelstiltskin had been cheated.  As I recently discovered, I’m not the only one who felt this way.  Sara Maitland in her beautiful book From the Forest: A Search for the Hidden Roots of Fairy Tales rewrites Rumple’s story in a much more sympathetic vein.

As you might have guessed, the strange little woodland creature was my favorite character.  I loved the combination of grotesquerie and wisdom, foolishness and wicked pragmatism; besides, like me, Rumple had a very strong innate sense of Justice.  Like me he was an inveterate outsider.

I liked that he lived in the woods and danced wildly around the fire at night.  Because of the time and places I grew up in, I didn’t do any moonlight prancing until my early forties.  it turned out to be every bit as wonderful as I had anticipated.  I despised the greedy king and father. The maiden seemed rather dim at best, not to mention untrustworthy.  Of course, at the time I hadn’t any children of my own and had not an inkling of the lengths a mother would go to keep her child.  Still, in spite of my intervening years and experience I still prefer Rumpelstiltskin and my inner child would have much preferred to grow up in the forest.

One day, while puzzling about what it might mean to spin straw into gold, I suddenly realized that straw could stand for all the mistakes and unpleasantness in my past, while the gold stood for all the meaning, insight and teaching, which had grown out of those events.  With this same end in mind, we have unraveled fairy tales over the past twelve months, harvesting innumerable golden threads that connect our personal lives to the greater history and heritage of humankind.  Thus, Rumpelstiltskin seems a fitting conclusion to our year of twitching our tales and spinning the resultant fallout into gold.

That’s the One!

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That's the One!

“THAT’S THE ONE!”

This is the story of the Little Prince’s first Christmas Tree.

Once upon a time, when the Young Prince was a tiny wee child his mother and father, Prince John and Princess Margaret, decided that they would go out and select his very first Christmas tree. Usually the trees that were cut and brought into the castle for the Winter Celebrations were selected by the King and Queen’s gamekeeper, but this year, this special year, the Prince and Princess decided to do the selecting themselves. They arranged for the red sleigh and a pair of dabble grey horses, Molly and Pie, readied.

The gamekeeper and the groom cleaned and polished the sleigh and groomed the horses. The Prince and Princess and the little Prince were dressed in their warmest winter clothes. They hurried out to the stable and climbed into the sleigh. The gamekeeper placed a huge white bear skin over their laps. “You have a fine clear winter day to go Christmas Tree cutting,” the gamekeeper said. “The best of luck to you. “ He gave Molly a slap on the rump. Prince John snapped the reins and Molly and Pie stepped forward. Soon the sleigh was moving smoothly over the snow, the bells on the horses jingled as they rode along. The sun was bright and the forest was near. Across the meadow, the royal family rode leaving behind a sleigh trail. The Prince knew just were he needed to go. He had talked to the gamekeeper early that morning. It was cold and crisp and everything was blanketed with snow from the snowfall of the night before. The forest trees had snow patches on their limbs. The little Prince was sound to sleep in his mother’s arms.

The Prince and the Princess commented on the beauty all around them. It wasn’t long after they had moved beyond the castle gates that they came to a huge Black Oak. “Grandfather Oak has lost all his leaves,” the Princess said. “He looks so different.” The large tree was the site of many a summer picnic. Next, they could see the small like. It was frozen over. Soon they would be entering the Pine Grove. The Prince knew the grove and he thought it a fine place to find the perfect Children’s Winter Tree.

The Princess had asked her maids to bring down the decorations from the storage room. “Put the one marked Children’s Tree in the Nursery. “ It contained all the special ornaments for the Little 1’s first tree. She had talked with the Cook earlier and knew that the kitchen staff was busy making cookies and dainties for the tree. She was thinking about the special decorations that were saved from her special first Winter’s tree. They were in the trunk with the Prince’s special trinkets from his first winter celebration. She remembered that on her first tree there was a jeweled star that her mother always placed on the very top. There were also shiny red balls that sparkled in the fire light. She was hoping that they could find a pine tree that was similar to the one she had as a child. She could picture the tree in her mind’s eye.

A woodsman’s axe was on the floor of the sleigh along with rope to tie the tree down. When they came to the grove of pines Prince John slowed the horses down. “Keep a look out for the tree you want,” he said. “Over there,” she said. The sleigh moved over near where she had pointed. The Prince got out, took the axe from the sleigh and headed to the small tree. “Stop,” said the Princess, “Now that I can see it up close, I think it is too small. “ The Prince got back into the sleigh and Molly and Pie walked on. The Princess turned her head this way and that. She considered all the trees she could see. “Let’s go over there,” she said, pointing down hill… The Prince turned the sleigh and headed the horses in that direction.  “What about that tree,” the Prince said. “I like that one,” he started to get out of the sleigh. “No, that won’t do,” the Princess replied. “It’s lopsided.” The Prince pointed at another tree. The Princess shook her head no. The Prince moved the sleigh again to a new location in the grove. “Do you see anything promising over here, my darling?” The Princess looked around. She frowned and shook her head no. The Prince snapped the reins and Molly and Pie pulled the sled farther and farther into the forest.  “Which one of these beauties shall we pick?” the Prince asked, stopping before a cluster of trees. The Princess handed the Little Prince to her husband and got out of the sleigh. She carefully inspected several trees. Came back to the sleigh and stated none of them would do. The Prince looked down at the little Prince and said, “My goodness, your mother is after an extraordinary tree.  It will have to be quite special,” the Prince said, handing the bundled child back to the Princess… Again, Prince John moved the sleigh. “There! Over there!” said the Princess. “That’s the One! That’s the perfect tree.”
The Prince got out of the sleigh, got the rope and axe and headed towards the tree. “Which one is it now?” The Princess was so excited she carefully laid the Little Prince down on the Bear Skin, making sure he was well covered and got out of the sleigh. “This one,” she said, pointing at the mid-size Pine Tree…

The Prince chopped down the tree and the two of them dragged it back towards the sleigh. The first snowflake softly landed on the Princess’s nose. “Oh, no,” she said. “We’d better hurry. It’s starting to snow.”  The two of them had been so interested in finding the Little Prince’s tree that they fail to notice that the sky had darkened and the weather had completely changed. The snowflakes fluttered down… Soon the snow fell like rain and they could hardly see the horses or the sleigh. The Prince and the Princess ran dragging the tree behind them. “The Little Prince,” Princess Margaret yelled, letting go of the tree and running for the sleigh. The horses were uneasy. Molly and Pie were straining at their harness and the red sleigh was being jerked this way and that.

The Wee little Prince with his soft rabbit skin cap was snuggled in his blankets. The Princess scooped him up and climbed back into the sleigh covering them with the bearskin. “Hurry,” she said, as the Prince tied the tree to the rails. The Prince called out to the horses, snapping the reins, “Take us home, Molly. You know the way Pie.” The horses pulled and nothing happened. The Prince stood up and worked the reins again. “Let’s go,” he called… Finally, the sleigh jerked forward. The snow was really coming down. “It’s a good thing we aren’t too far from the Castle,” said the Prince… The Princess and the Prince could hardly see the horse’s rumps the snow was coming down so hard. “I can’t tell which way to go, “the Prince said. “I’m hoping Molly and Pie know the way home. “The Princess held the baby close. “How is the Little Prince doing?” asked the Prince. “He seems fine,” said the Princess. She could see her breath as she spoke. Her lips were so cold it was hard to form her words. “I’m amazed that he is still asleep.  Look at his pink cheeks.” The Prince looked over and he could see the Little Prince’s rosy nose…
Snowflakes coated the Prince’s hat and beard. “Can you make the horses go any faster,” she asked. The Prince shouted, “Come on Molly, Come on Pie. Step it up.” The horses got into a rhythm just short of running and the sleigh sailed along. The Prince yelled, “We just passed the Old Grandfather Oak.” The Princess nodded her head.  We are almost home, she thought. “It’s a good thing the horses know the way because I can’t see very far. “. The ride was jerky and the sleigh bumped along but they were making good progress. The Prince knew that they needed to slow it down a bit or the sleigh could over turn. He talked sweetly to the horses reassuring them that they were doing a fine job. The red sleigh glided over the fields and through the Castle gate, across the meadow and into the courtyard. The gamekeeper was there waiting for them. “Hurry,” he said. “Get inside. I will take care of the horses, sleigh and the tree.” The Prince helped the Princess out of the sleigh. She had wrapped the little Prince inside her coat. They entered the castle and moved quickly to the fire burning in the huge fireplace.

“That was a close call,” the Princess said. “I’m so relieved to be inside were it is safe and warm.”
“How is the Little Prince?” Prince John said.
The Princess opened her coat, and then unwrapped the babe. His eyes opened, his little face puckered up and he let out a cry. “Look! We’ve disturbed him.“ The Prince and Princess looked at each other and laughed. “Now you cry, little one. You missed all the excitement,” the Prince said. “He is hungry,” the Princess said, leaving for the nursery with one of the Maids.

That evening the gamekeeper brought the Christmas tree up stairs. It was ready to be decorated. The trunk had been bought from the storeroom and sat open. Everything was made ready. The Princess came into the nursery and spoke to the gamekeeper. The Maids set to decorating the tree.  The tree was lovely. The cook brought up all the cookies and the dainties and they were tied on the tree.

The next morning the Prince, the Princess and the Little Prince came into the Nursery. The Little Prince sat up and clapped his hands. His eyes twinkled. The Princess got tears in her eyes. “It is perfect. This tree looks just like my tree when I had my first winter celebration. Later in the afternoon all the children around the castle would come to the nursery and sing songs. Then they would raid the tree and eat all the wonderful things that the cook and her staff had prepared.

The Prince smiled and handed the Princess a gift all wrapped in silk cloth with a wonderful green ribbon tied into a bow. “This is for you, my darling,” he said. The Princess opened the gift. It was a carved wooden red sleigh with two dappled gray horses that look a lot like Molly and Pie. The Princess kissed the Prince and put the carving near the top of the tree just under the sparkling jeweled star. “This is wonderful,” she said, giving the little Prince a kiss on his cheek. “When he gets older I will tell him the story of Molly and Pie and how they saved us and the perfect Christmas Tree.” The Prince put his arms around his little family and remember the day before when all depended on his dappled gray horses. He was grateful to Molly and Pie. Their Christmas Tree cutting could have come out so differently. “I told the gamekeeper to give the horses some extra oats,” the Prince said. “Yes,” said the Princess. “They deserve it.” The two loving parents looked at their son and at the Children’s Christmas Tree. The room was all decked out in evergreens.. The fire in the fireplace made the room warm and when they looked out the window they could see that the snow was still falling.

December 2013 “The Christmas Tree”

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For the Month of December we will be working with the tradition of creating a  “Christmas Tree”

Decorating an evergreen, usually fir, spruce, or pine is part of the celebration of Christmas and the Winter Solstice rites. The evergreen tree and its branches are often made into a wreath,  swag or garland  and  used to decorate the house, hall, store, barn  or building.  It is also placed in the town square. This month we will work with the evergreen tree and make up our own stories to accompany our collages. You might use the prompt, evergreen tree or Christmas Tree  and see what stories come up for you.

The Evergreen Christmas Tree

Here is a little history of the Christmas tree. Cutting down an evergreen tree and bringing it into the house is both a secular and a religious symbol of Winter and Christmas.

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity. It is a Scandinavian custom to decorate the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil. They also set up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.

Alternatively, it is identified with the “tree of paradise” of medieval mystery plays that were given on 24 December, the commemoration and name day of Adam and Eve in various countries. In such plays, a tree decorated with apples (to represent the forbidden fruit) and wafers (to represent the Eucharist and redemption) was used as a setting for the play. Like the Christmas Nativity crib, the Paradise tree was later placed in homes. The apples were replaced by round objects such as shiny red balls.  The entire tree didn’t come into the house until the 19th Century. However; it was common for an evergreen branch to be brought in, hung from the ceiling and decorated with edibles, like apples, nuts, cookies, colored paper, stars made of straw, ribbons, and wafers.  People believed in the tree‘s magical powers linked with harvesting and success in the New Year.

In the 1800 when George 111 married Charlotte, a German-born queen, the Christmas tree was introduced to the children. The tree became associated with children and gift giving. The custom of decorating trees in winter time can be traced to Christmas celebrations in Renaissance era guilds in northern Germany and Livonia, (present day Latvia and Estonia). The Guild Halls had a decorated tree with dainties that the children would collect on Christmas day. After the Protestant Reformation, such Trees are seen in upper-class Protestant families as a counter part to the Catholic “Christmas Nativity Cribs.”

In 1584, the pastor and chronicler Balthasar Russow wrote of an established tradition of setting up a decorated spruce at the market square where the young men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame”.

By 1870 putting up a Christmas tree had become common in America. Russia banned the Christmas tree after the Revolution. It was reinstated as a “New Year Spruce in 1935.  It became a secular icon decorated with airplanes, bicycles, space rockets and other toys.

The Frog and The Princess – First Encounter

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First Encounter - Frog Prince

Here we see that a privileged princess with a huge sense of entitlement has carelessly dropped her golden ball down the well. The frog, on hearing her piteous tears, has struck a bargain – bed and board with the Princess for the return of the ball.  The Princess, who has no intention of honoring her promise, is lying through her teeth.

On the one hand, this is a story about how power and privilege, carelessly handled, can corrupt decency and erode compassion.  The princess has forgotten that with power comes responsibility – the ability to respond – to stay fully present in each moment, giving one’s full attention to the person(s) and events at hand.  If she had remembered, she would have thought carefully about the consequences of any promises and lies she might make.  She might have considered alternative ways to retrieve the ball, or perhaps just left it down the well.  Instead her power has bestowed a false sense of superiority, not only towards others, but also to the normal rules of decency, respect, integrity and courtesy governing relationships.

The frog is just as deceitful as the Princess.  He has seen an opportunity to advance his own agenda and seized it.  In a culture supporting a more equitable distribution of wealth and power, the frog might have performed a random act of kindness and simply returned the ball.  But deprivation and the princess’s callous behavior have hardened his heart.  With no other resources to fall back on, desperation has made him manipulative and sly, ready to take advantage of any weakness to exploit another and further his own ends.

Coded in fairy tale form, we find the base cause of social unrest and incipient rebellion.  Because it was dangerous to discuss such matters, people’s concern, fear and rage were folded in to the tales and disguised as simple set-ups for happy endings.  Despite pretty descriptions of beautiful girlish princesses and faithful servants, dark feelings imbue these tales and often include brutal acts of violence on the way to resolution.  Vicious episodes, such as the step-sisters mutilation of their feet in Cinderella, the streak of fish blood in The Fisherman and His Wife or the devouring wolf in Little Red Riding Hood speak to a time as turbulent, chancy and violent as our own.  They warn of the dangers of extreme polarization and hint at the possibility of revolution.

On the other hand there is always another, more personal way to read the story.  Water symbolizes both the emotional life of our surface personas and also the inaccessible depths of the personal and collective unconscious.  The Princess, that young, naïve, immature Queen-to-be, represents the un-individuated self.  She has lost her golden ball.  Gold represents fertility, life, dominion, warmth and generosity, it is pure and incorruptible.  So far, the Princess possesses none of these qualities and thus cannot keep hold of her treasure.

The frog, an amphibian, can live and breathe in two realms.  This makes him a spirit guide, or psychopomp – a being who can travel back and forth between worlds.  The word for frog in Japanese is kaeru which also means “to return”.  Traditional beliefs state that however far you may transport a frog, it will always return to the place of departure.  Another meaning ascribed to frogs by the Japanese is “stand-ins.”  Some people carry lucky frog charms and believe that when something threatens them, the frog may “stand-in” and face danger in their place.  In this story the frog displays all these attributes as he dives into the well to rescue the Princess’s best qualities, which she has shoved into the shadows and neglected.  The story reminds me that we can ignore talent and nobility as deliberately as we deny less desirable attributes.  It asks me to consider how I sometimes denigrate or reject my own abilities.

Like with dream work,  one may read a collage or a fairy tale as if every character and object represents a part of oneself.  Taking this approach I’m working with the idea of deception.    If everything in the story represents myself,  what lies do I tell myself and why? What have I lost and how may I retrieve it?

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.