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: