Tag Archives: childhood

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:

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Finding My Flock

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Finding Your Tribe

I can’t stress enough the importance of finding your tribe.  Wild women make up mine.  You see them here – young, middle-aged, old – maiden, mother, crone.   Sisters, companions and beloved friends, peers, these are the commadras.  Isn’t it strange we have no feminine words for buddy, pal, compadre?  I think we women need more words to signify and define the nuances of our rich femininity.

The Ugly Duckling is about finding the companionship of peers; of those who share an orientation to the Earth and life, which coincides with your own.  Of course first you have to know what that is.  Hence the quest in the first part of life.  That’s the part where we waddle and quack about the world, making mistakes getting hurt,  enjoying and suffering huge tidal waves of emotion as we come to terms with our own humanity and the condition of being human.

Not everyone makes it.  Some crack, some break, some turn away and refuse further exploration, some never engage with solitude or introspection, some become addicted to the rush of novelty.  For me, there came a time when I began to know who I am.  When that happened, I I began longing for peers – those ones who also know themselves.

Mostly, I find them among women.

Femininity encompasses another layer of belongingness.

For the first three decades of my life I didn’t like other women much.  I thought men were smarter, more interesting, and led more exciting lives because, in my family, my Dad was the good guy.  He was calm in the midst of my mother’s erratic emotion and fair in the face of her injustice.  He “got” me, in a way I believed my mother never would.   Happily, in my thirties I discovered, the Goddess, the women’s movement and consciousness raising.  It changed my life and opened interior and exterior worlds to me, expanding heart, psyche, mind, soul and body.  It also opened the door to understanding and reconciling with my mother.

They also brought me to the profound realization that the Earth is one integrated whole soulful organism of which I am an integral part.  There is nowhere I go on this planet where I do not belong because the culture of nature is deeper and more encompassing than any human culture can ever be.

This collage celebrates my journey and all the different kinds of women who travel with me – my tribe, my commadras, my peers.  They bring me happiness, vitality, joy – each one of them holds home in her arms.

Know Thyself

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The Ugly Duckling_NEW

We seem to be choosing stories about mothers and children lately and The Ugly Duckling is no exception.  However, my first thoughts on reading it again were not about mothers, but about belonging and not belonging.  Re-calling Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ phrase “the mistaken zygote,” I went back to my well-thumbed beloved copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves.

Let me digress a moment here and say this book ought to be every woman’s Bible.  If I were in charge (!) I would make sure every girl gets one as part of a coming-of-age package presented at the celebration of menarche. Of course I ended up re-reading the whole chapter, smiling and crying a bit to see the condition of being female so beautifully understood.  Buy it, steal it, borrow it and refuse to return it!  Get your hands on a copy and keep it close at hand.

Speaking of this story, written by Hans Christian Anderson and published in 1845, Clarissa says:

It is a psychological and spiritual root story.  A root story is one that contains a truth so fundamental to human development that without integration of this fact further progression is shaky, and one cannot entirely prosper psychologically until this point is reached.

That point is all about finding who you really are, accepting who you are, and also finding others like yourself who will affirm, confirm and value who you are. In Clarissa’s words:

The duckling of the story is symbolic of the wild nature, which, when pressed into circumstances of little nurture, instinctively strives to continue no matter what   …

The other important aspect of the story is that when an individual’s particular kind of soulfulness, which is both an instinctual and a spiritual identity, is surrounded by psychic acknowledgment and acceptance, that person feels life and power as never before.  Ascertaining one’s own psychic family brings a person vitality and belongingness.

I loved this story the very first time I read it.  Then, I got to see Danny Kaye play Hans Christian Anderson in the movies!  At age seven, I developed a mad crush on him, learned his songs by heart, and saw every movie of his my parents allowed. I still sing, “Quack! Get out!  Quack! Quack!  Get out!  Quack! Quack! Get out of town!” to myself some days.

My dad was in the army and we moved around so much I was always the new kid in town.  I never fit in at school and I felt like a stranger at home. Hans Christian Anderson could have written this story for me.  I identified completely with the ugly duckling; he sustained and encouraged me.  Having read it, I believed that one day I too could find people like me who would value me.  Looking back on my life, I am still amazed at the power of  stories, which I read as a little girl, to influence and nourish me.  In fact, I dedicated my first volume of poetry Be A Teller Of Tales to:

 Piglet & Pooh,

Ratty, Mole, Alice,

Humpty Dumpty, Br’er Rabbit,

Pinocchio, Mrs. Doasyouwouldbdoneby,

Mrs. Pigglewiggle, Charlotte, Uncle Wriggly,

Mary Poppins, Curdie, Cinderella, the North Wind, the Five Little Peppers, Heidi, Black Beauty and all

the other beloved creatures and characters

without whose leadership, companionship

and instruction I would know

nothing of storytelling

and much less

about life.

The Ugly Duckling gave me a sense of self-worth.  It inspired me to keep looking for my “pack” and gave me the courage to approach them whenever I did find another pack member.  I was very happy to return to the story after all theses years, read it again and find it as edifying and useful as ever.  I still feel heartstruck at the exile of the duckling, proving that old scars never completely fade away.  Perhaps that’s why the tones in this collage are so dark – not something I intended.  All Anderson’s stories are tinged with shadows, even those with happy endings.  I suppose it’s why I love them so. They never prevaricate or pretend. As a child, nothing was more frightening to me than lies. I could always trust Mr. Anderson to truthfully reflected the uneven mixture of pain, grief, joy and happiness I found life to be.

My collage shows the mother duck with both her own duckling and the strange creature she has inadvertently hatched.  The chickens and cat represent barnyard fowl, the ignorant nay-sayers of this world.  I included the cat because it foreshadows the danger the cygnet will meet on his quest.  The swan, is his true nature; the creature he will find at journey’s end.

Peas

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Peas_0001

To me this story is about power – who has it, who wants it, who needs it.  Last month we dealt with Krishna and his mother and touched on issues of motherhood.  This month the story brings me to issues of childhood.

When I was little it seemed like I was in a continuous struggle for power with my mother; a struggle into which I had arbitrarily been plunged without instruction book or reason.  Of course I’m describing my feelings – the language came with education and experience and years of introspection and reflection – but I knew instinctively, as all young animals know,  that understanding the power dynamics of my tribe was vital to survival.

I know now, she did not see me as her adversary.  In fact, the struggle I took so personally wasn’t personal at all.  Her anger, come by honestly, could not be directed at its proper target and so she turned it on herself and on me.

Peas were a huge issue.  I hated them, she insisted on serving them.  Truly they made me gag.  It was the texture more than anything else, but the color didn’t help.  In the beginning they were canned.  The frozen ones were mildly better though by the time they came around the battle lines were so entrenched no one could back down.  On the nights she served peas I often sat in front of am congealing food until bedtime.  I devised all kinds of devious ways of folding them up in my paper napkins and then excusing myself to go to the bathroom where I flushed them down the toilet. I stuffed them in my pockets, pushed them into the soft stick of butter in the butter dish, dropped them in my glass of milk, and fed them to the dog who spit them out.  He didn’t like them either.  Naturally, these stratagems usually failed, resulting in interminable lectures about starving children in foreign climes.  The slightest hint of defiance in the form of body language or glances led to high-pitched angry tirades that shattered everyone’s peace for the rest of the evening.

Years later, my mom went back to college and took all kinds of classes.  We grew to expect weird innovations in our family routines with each new course and teased her unmercifully, but I was proud of her.  She willingly embraced those new ideas, pondered their meaning and applied them to her own internal process.  One day, I was sitting on a kitchen stool chopping onions for the meal she was fixing when suddenly my mother burst into tears and said, “I’m so sorry I made you eat your peas.”

It was an extraordinary moment of contrition on her part and forgiveness on mine.  It was all that was said.  I think we were both shocked.  We didn’t talk about my childhood again until years later when I had garnered the courage and experience to be able to initiate the conversation.

My collage shows a child spitting out her peas – her mouth, like Krishna’s, is full of stars to remind us how precious children are.  There are two other little ones here – the goblin I thought myself to be and the defiant self-possessed little girl who clung to her own identity and integrity.  The fabric in the background refers to the part of this month’s story I liked best – the bed covers and mattresses of many colors.  My mom loved fabrics and patterns and taught me to love them, too.  My eye for color and talent for composition are part of her legacy.

Bed was a special place for me – the place I could be myself, escape into imagination, and read to my heart’s content with the help of a flashlight.  It was also my cache.  I hid food under the bed.  Not peas, of course, stolen cookies and forbidden chocolate made up my stash.  You can see candy wrappers and cookies peeking out beneath the pillows.

My peas, like the princess’s are like  grit rubbing against the soft vulnerable flesh of an oyster.  Year after year,  I exude nacre to ease my discomfort, working and re-working the raw material of childhood until it becomes a luminous, precious pearl that enriches and enhances my life.  The proverbial pea also provides grit in the sense of “true grit.”  I’ve found that in my life it is the dis-comforts that make me strong and build my character.

The Dirt Eater

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I’m still mulling over this month’s story – thinking of the difficulties of parenting, which are really about the difficulties we have with engaging respectfully with anyone we meet.  I even wrote a an essay to post on my other blog , only to realize it was a diatribe and I’d basically said it all here, so why repeat? Instead I turned to poetry, forgot the struggle with words like discipline, punishment and consequence and returned to story, which is the whole point of this exercise.

I did find out in the course of my research that Indian mothers begin to worry if their young children (boys and girls) don’t exhibit a little  saitani (devilishness).

The Dirt Eater

Mother!  Mummy!  Mom!”

All day long, a constant

teasing litany –

complaints, tattles, whines

“He did this.” “She did that”

“No I didn’t!” “Yes you did!”

Ignorance is bliss, I think

ignore, rise above,

find my center, ground…

“Krish’s eating dirt again, Mummy.”

Damn! It’s true.

Mud dribbles from baby lips

streaking towards his chin

like old man wrinkles.

Pica they call it,

eating disorder common

in toddlers, obscurely named

from the Latin for “magpie”

though actually, the word is older.

Long time gone, before Olympus

Picus ruled – Woodpecker God/King

holy shaman, rattler, shape-shifter.

He comes to me some nights;

ancient figurehead of myth and memory;

He-Who-Haunts-My-Dreams, now

locked between closed pages,

boxed books, another life, a previous

consideration, a different vision …

Krish twists away,

impatient to escape my grasp.

Snapped from reverie,

 I jerk him back

squeeze his tiny jaw until

clenched teeth release.

The stubborn pretty mouth I love to kiss

opens wide, becomes a portal, doorway

to creation.  Constellations form from chaos;

dance celestial rounds then fade,

while all around, in between

and through that cosmic

firework display, new avatars

arise and melt in turn.

Awe stuck, I stare

bemused, mystified

but somehow, not surprised.  I think

I’ve always known divinity

resides within each child –

each individual life

a universe –

burning stars, reeling galaxies

impossible to fathom

rich, mysterious, arcane

endlessly fascinating, curiously

accessible, infinitely

out of reach.

Mud, I think.

Alpha, omega;

question and answer

melded in paradox.

I scoop up soil

mound it in my hand

pick out a pebble,

dried leaves, a twig.

Krish licks his thumb, rolls

it in the dirt I offer, cuddles

in my lap and sucks.  Tears

drip through my smile;

all around us

stand his brothers

waiting for the scold.

They’ll wait forever.

And a Child Shall Lead Them

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And A Child Shall Lead Them_NEW

Besides motherhood, this story seems (to me) to be about doorways and the insouciance of children.   There’s something about it that keeps me making these very simple compositions with only one or two images.  I keep trying to make it more complex and layered, but when I do it all looks like a muddle to me and again I’m reduced to the child and the universe.

Doorways to me are about choice. Do we pass through them or pass them by? Do we slam them shut or fling them open?  Where do they lead?

Krishna’s mouth offers  infinite possibility.

In fairy tales doorways generally lead one into a different reality, another kingdom, an alternative universe.  Portals challenge us to change – our minds, our attitudes, our perceptions and assumptions.  Change is at the heart of all fairy tales.  And change is the core of the life force.  Someone once told me,”Change or die!”  I took her advice, and the new growth deriving from the changes I made continues to thrive and grow to this day. I think my collage says- “Don’t be afraid.  Look at me.  I’m a child, yet I step out without fear.

I think the name of this piece is, And a Child Shall Lead Them.

In the Shadow of the Forest

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Waiting in the Shadow

To me, the scariest part of the Red Riding Hood story comes when the wolf dresses up in Grandmother’s clothes. He pretends to be something he’s not in order to fool Red while intending her harm. It’s pretty easy to figure out why this is my negative – I grew up with a mother prone to fits of rage – she could turn on a dime from ordinary mom to a raging fury. Scary. The huntsman could easily be a stand-in for the dad meant to protect me. Although he never approved of her angry outbursts, he believed parents should “present a united front.” Their behavior left me with a lifelong aversion to hypocrisy and a desperate (at least for the first couple of decades) need both to understand how things work and to see them for what they really are. All in all, not such a negative legacy. Both traits stood me in good stead. The drive to understand is a blessing, for as I’ve come to learn, understanding engenders forgiveness and provides the ground from which compassion may arise.

Much has changed since my childhood – more relevantly, much has expanded – mind, heart, memory, information, compassion and comprehension have all increased in capacity. The space taken up in my interior landscape by childhood trauma is decreasing proportionally. In fact, I can now fit it onto an 8×10 piece of canvas covered cardboard. Not that the over-size fangs, preternatural hearing and x-ray vision don’t still lurk in the shadows. Of course, they do. The evidence of their power is right here; captured in the imagery I chose to use.

But let’s go back to the benefits of my shadowy legacy. Not only was I frightened of those huge teeth, ears and eyes – I wanted their power for myself. Just now, writing these words I didn’t expect to say, that have never even occurred to me before, I begin to understand. I used to think I owed my talent for acute observation to the need to gauge my mother’s moods quickly. Probably true, but also (also being one of my most favorite words), I now see that I probably sharpened the acuity of my own senses in order to acquire some of the power those amplified sense organs could bestow.

See how this process works? I could have sworn I’d figured out everything about the dynamic between my young mother and the girl-child I once was. Yet, the collage has revealed a new piece of information. I understand more about why I am what I am. Once again I get to marvel at the interrelatedness of the universe, the prevalence of synchronicity and the elegance of cosmic timing. I am more connected; more humble, easier than I was when I started. Halleluiah.