Tag Archives: Child Archetype

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:

Bringing Back the Light

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An archetypal content expresses itself, first and foremost, in metaphors. If such a content should speak of the sun and identify with it the lion, the king, the hoard of gold guarded by the dragon, or the power that makes for the life and health of man, it is neither the one thing nor the other, but the unknown third thing that finds more or less adequate expression in all these similes, yet-to the perpetual vexation of the intellect-remains unknown and not to be fitted into a formula.
~ Carl Jung”The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” CW 9i, par. 267

This piece rose out of Bunce’s Hindu interpretation of the Red Riding Hood story, which I posted last week. Here you see Indra the Sun god (represented in the story by our huntsman), dancing light back into the world. As the dark clouds roll away the Radiant Child is reborn once again. She carries our sun in her hand as she returns to bless Earth with warmth, light and life.

The Radiant child is an archetypal image carried (if you agree with Carl Jung and I do) in the collective unconscious of all Homo sapiens. He defines archetypes as, “Collective universal patterns or motifs, which come from the collective unconscious and are the basic content of religions, mythologies, legends, and fairytales.” The Hindu Krishna and the Christian Christ Child are examples of such arising.

The Radiant Child links the past to the future and represents a reconciliation of opposites. She/he is an androgynous figure who synthesizes consciousness and unconsciousness. The child is godlike, surrounded by an invulnerability born out of the wisdom of innocence. The Radiant Child inspires love and rejoicing, but also awe and fear. This particular manifestation of the godhead can be more terrifying than an angry Thor or Zeus; in its innocence the child sees through all hypocrisies and fabrications, like the boy in another tale who noticed that the emperor wore no clothes.

Nakedness is one of the Child’s attributes. It is a symbol of manifestation the transformation of energy from spirit to matter. It also represents purity and primeval essence that knows no fear.

Naturally all these words and ideas have their shadows, represented in my collage by the rolling clouds and dark tones, but notice they are essential to my composition. The darkness frames and defines the light. The clouds, with their life-giving moisture and soothing shade are not banished – simply pushed aside to create a balance. The dancing golden god/man represents that equilibrium as he balances on the toes of one foot.

Since I posted this morning, I’ve read a paper by my friend Jack Meier in which he explains the reason I felt compelled to add Van Gogh’s olive trees to this collage before I finished it. (Oh yeah! olives i.e. Athena – a radiant child in Her own right, fierce Wisdom). What Jack said fits perfectly with my own interpretation of this picture:

What this image of vegetation refers to is a continuation of the life process, which lasts forever and is beyond the opposites of life and death. This image is not to be understood concretely, but as a symbol for something psychic; existing beyond life and death, a mysterious process which survives the temporary blooming and dying of visible life, which is, after all, a changing of form.