Tag Archives: forest

Through The Red Door

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Out the Red Door“Through the Red Door”
(It’s her imagination)

… As the curtain rises, we see little Johnnie all dressed in his new hat, red coat and black boots. He is standing next to the reading chair.
“I want to go outside and play,” he called to his mother.
It was early morning, even his cat Goldie was still asleep. Through the big window behind him he could see the garden with the cone flowers and the white picket fence. He wondered when his Mother would let him go beyond the white fence? He had a sandbox near the stone dove and a hiding place near the fountain. He loved to go through the red door into the garden. But he also longed to go over the white fence across the grass and beyond the meadow. He imagined exploring the forest. He heard there were creatures living in there. Perhaps he would see Winnie the Poo, Brer Rabbit, Mowgli or Mole and Ratty. He was sure the Hundred Acre Woods, the Riverbank, and the Jungle were in there among those far off trees. He wanted to check it all out for himself. He knew for sure that true adventures happened out there because his mother read to him from the night-time storybooks.

She sat in the corner and leaned up against the pillar She had her note book and pen ready and the story started to write itself. It was magical . What is it about the Red door that made her think of her cousin Johnnie. He was such a cute little guy. His daddy had bought him the boots. The black hat had come from her. The red door prompted the red coat with the black trim. Now dressed in the imaginary outfit little Johnnie stood in this imaginary room staring off, his hands clasp in front of him.”

I love the creative process. When I look at the finished Collage new stories and possibilities show themselves. The images prompt a tale of my own creation. Part of the fun of our image exchange is opening the mail and looking through the items enclosed.
Right away I fell in love with the child in the Red Coat. I also loved the Blue Rose. Which can be seen in the collage behind the stone bird. I eliminated a couple images but there were two other images I tried to include but even after altering there size and tucking them in here and there I couldn’t get them to work in this composition.

What’s it all mean? What do I see in the combination of images that have spoken to me?
I love the red door. It is unpretentious, strong but not threatening. I love the view of the flowers, their color, their form. I enjoy considering the white picket fence, the large evergreen tree and the mist on the meadow leading to the forest off in the distance. The chair, its style is formal but the fabric is delightful and reflects the petals on the garden flowers .I had the image of a pile of contemporary pillows for a while. I wanted to use the image but not as pillows. I like the pattern. I turned the pile on its side along the bottom third of the compositional frame but they migrated up to the top. They have a mask like quality to the design pattern, as if they represent a chorus watching the story or theater curtains lifted to expose the stage play. The scene has a safeness, a warmth about it. Is the young woman the child’s mother, his nursemaid, babysitter, a relative or an older sister? I also love the young woman’s gaze. She is lovingly focused on the child. The child is a wonderful, precious, innocent. How lucky women are to “know” the wonder of the new innocent. The cat, curled up under the chair reminds me of my cat, able to sleep anywhere. I find the pillar she is leaning against with its curves very feminine and sensual. The stone bird, missing its beak, makes it hard to tell if it is an owl or dove, both familiars of the Goddess. The blue petals of the rose form a halo behind the bird’s head. A Rose is also very special to the Goddess. This piece reminds me of innocence, safety, love, protection and the playfulness of our imagination.

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“A Little Bird Told Me …”

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"A Little Bird Told Me ..."

“A Little Bird Told Me …”

“A LITTLE BIRD TOLD ME …”

“A little bird told me …” is a common saying in the American English language. It denotes that the speaker has learned something that he wants to tell the listener but doesn’t want to divulge how, where or who gave him the information.  In Aesop tales there are lots of stories where birds “sing” out the moral lessons to the uninformed.
Here is a brief list of some of the tales.

The Cock and the Pearl … In this fable the rooster finds a pearl lost in the hay and because it is something shiny he is pleased it is his. The other chickens would rather have barley-corn, something they can eat. The message being …”Precious things are for those that can prize them.”

The Swallow and the other Birds … In this tale the Swallow warns the other birds to pick up every one of the seeds being sown by the man or else they will repent it. The birds pay no heed to the Swallow’s warning and the seeds grew into hemp that is made into cord, and the cord into nets that catch the birds to their demise.  “Destroy the seed of evil, or it will grow up to your ruin.”

The Jay and the Peacock … In this story a Jay finds several Peacock feathers and ties them all to his tail. He struts among the Peacocks who note right away that he is a fraud and drive him away. When he returns to the Jays who have also witnessed his behavior he is shunned. “It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds.”

The Peacock and Juno …This tale tells of a Peacock that petitions the Juno to have a voice of a nightingale in addition to all his other attractions. The Juno refuses his request. “Be content with your lot; one cannot be first in everything.”

My favorite is the fable of The Crow and the Pitcher.”  The Crow that is half dead with thirst comes upon a Pitcher which has water in it. The water however is in the bottom third of the pitcher and the neck of the pitcher is to narrow for the Crow to reach the water. The Crow finds a pebble and drops it into the pitcher. He continues to drop pebble after pebble, one at a time into the pitcher until the water rises to a level that the crow is able to quench his thirst. “Little by little does the trick.”

In my collage the little bird is a Chickadee. A song bird that loves the forest. This puts me in mind of W.C. Fields and Mae West in the movie called “My little Chickadee.” Mae West often wrote her own lines for the movies, W.C. Fields did too. There are many funny lines in this old movie from 1940 worth repeating.
Cuthbert J. Twille: W.C.Fields
Flower Belle Lee: Mae West

Cuthbert: “… Whom have I the honor of addressing, M’Lady?”

Flower Belle “Mmm, they call me Flower Belle.”

Cuthbert “Flower Belle, what a euphonious appellation. Easy on the ears,    and a banquet for the eyes.”

And
Cuthbert: “I’ve been worried about you, my little Peach Fuzzy. Have you been loitering somewhere?”

Flower Belle: “I’ve been learning things.”

Cuthbert: “Unnecessary! You are the epitome of erudition … a double superlative. Can you handle it?”

Flower Belle: “Yeah, and I can kick it around, too.”

And

(Last line of the movie – each saying a line associated with the other)

Cuthbert: “If you get up around the Grampian Hills – You must come up and see me sometime.”

Flower Belle: “Ah, yeah, yeah. I’ll do that, my little Chickadee.”

How Twitch This Tale?

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Earlier I mentioned that I thought poor Rumpelstiltskin got a raw deal, but of course there are other ways to look at the story.  Change perspective and the rather dim-witted, gullible and mendacious maiden becomes a clever and enterprising young woman who must use subterfuge and beguilement to protect herself from the machinations of greedy and lascivious men.

What was the Miller’s motive in making such an extravagant claim in the King’s hearing?  In the pre-industrial age millers were incredibly important entrepreneurs.  Grain was of no use to anyone until it had been ground into flour.  Local agricultural communities depended on their mills to provide the means to sell a cash crop.  The millers not only ground the grain they helped the farmers sell it.  They were canny sophisticated men, well versed in local politics and unlikely to blab recklessly in the presence of their betters.  So why did the Miller make this boast.  Did he want to get rid of his daughter?  If so why?  Was she already pregnant?  Could the baby have been his?

On the other hand, maybe his daughter was already pregnant with Rumplestiltskin’s child.  The story says nothing of his age or looks, just that he was short.  Perhaps the maiden devised this plan to buy time, find a husband and get rid of a fascinating but creepy suitor.

The story seems to hinge on the value of the newborn child.  Maybe it’s a story about how crazy the longing for a child can make a person and what lengths someone will go to in order to fulfill that longing.

The more I studied this story, the sadder everyone seemed.  The king and the maiden in my collage are both unhappy looking.  Rumple is merely manic.  The message this story carries may be simply what it seems – riches cannot buy happiness.

I gave this story a green background because the forest plays such a large part – at least in my imagination.  The woods are Rumplestiltskin’s stomping grounds.  His magic seems to derive from his relationship to the woodlands.  It is the one place he feels safe enough to utter his true name.

Names are very important in magic.  They hold a person’s personal power.  If the true name of an enemy can be discovered, then he can be forced to do your bidding.  If the true name of a plant or mineral is known than you can use and manipulate it for your own ends. Remember, in the Genesis creation story Adam was granted the right to name each animal and thus define it.  In other words, he was given dominion over the animals.

The sunlit grain fields, the clearing in which the mill stands and the walled extravagance of the castle all speak of land that has been tamed.  The forest is a wild place and maybe Rumpelstiltskin wants only to protect the legacy of wildness for his child, or by extension, all children.  The story may well be a protest against the groundswell of technology presaged by the invention of watermill and spinning wheel.

Different meaning, different issues, different interpretations make these tales timeless.  We see once again that the personal is political and vice-versa.   Every time we revisit the tales, the wheel spins again and straw is spun into gold.

 

Rumpelstiltskin

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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.

Kwan Yin and the Fox

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Kwan Yin and the Fox

One foggy night, long long ago, Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion, was passing through the narrow streets of a small rural town on the banks of the river Mu. Smoke from cooking fires combined with the damp cold air to produce fevers and loud hacking coughs that shook the thin paper walls of the houses and caused the entire population to toss and turn in fretful sleep.  Kwan Yin moved tirelessly from house to house laying cool fingers on hot foreheads, dripping her sweet balm onto the parched lips of sick children.  With so much human misery voicing discomfort and fear it was astonishing that her ears picked up the faint whine of a distressed animal.

It was coming from beneath an old overturned rowboat on the banks of the river.  A bent oarlock kept one side barely raised above the mud, while the other lay half-buried in muck.  Bending down to peer beneath the boat, Kwan Yin spied two emerald green eyes glowering from a far corner.  The smell of blood and urine and the sharp musk of fox told her all she needed to know.  The animal had become trapped, who knows how many days ago; faced with starvation, unable to extricate itself, it had begun to gnaw at its own paw in a last desperate attempt at freedom.

“Hush,” she hummed. “Hush, now.  Lie very still.”

Grasping the edge of the splintering wooden boat, the goddess heaved with all her strength, but he boat refused to budge.  Dropping to her knees, she dug a small hole in the dirt.  Placing her lips close to the ground she called softly, “Izanami, Sister Earth, can you hear me?”

The ground trembled beneath her knees.

“Please, dear sister. Grant your unworthy little sister this one small favor.  You hold a rowboat, old and crumbling, painted blue, half-buried beside the River Mu.  It holds one of your living creatures captive.  I beg you to release the fox into my care.”

The sound of tumbling rocks grinding against each other rose out of the hole.  Kwan Yin listened patiently to the familiar grumble.  She knew the lecture by heart – “Stop interfering, taking every disaster to heart, attempting to change the natural course of things …”Finally, the lengthy tirade ground to a stop.  The hole snapped shut as the river bank gave a convulsive twitch and flipped the row boat up in the air.  It landed with a splash, half in and half out of the water, drenching Kwan Yin’s white kimono.

She shook out her wet robes and tore a strip off the bottom of her underskirt.  The fox bared its teeth as her hand approached the mangled paw, but the fight went out of him at her touch.  His heavy sigh, sounded like a sob, like giving up, and for a moment she thought him expired.  Then his pink tongue, rough as a cat’s, licked feebly, twice across her fingers.

At that moment lights appeared at the end of the cobbled lane.  Gongs sounded, men shouted, and cymbals clanged.  A shaman’s voice rose above the crowd, exhorting the angry mob to search out the fox spirit who had brought sickness to their village.  Scooping the fox up in her arms, Kwan Yin stepped quickly into the rowboat.  The sudden redistribution of weight dislodged the boat from its loose mooring.  A moment later a strong current seized them in its grip and bore them away.

Muffled in darkness with nothing to see or do, the unlikely companions soon fell fast asleep.  They awoke in the midst of a snow-covered forest.  The boat drifted along more slowly now, closer to the banks.  Once or twice, Kwan Yin managed to snatch a branch of frozen berries from an overhanging bush.  She fed them one by one to the fox along with mouthfuls of snow, melted in her cupped palms.

The fog had dissipated and though the days remained overcast, at night the skies cleared to reveal a strange star burning large, low and bright on the western horizon.  The beautiful compelling light seemed to be guiding them. The two companions took to sleeping during the day and sitting awake at night to sing and yelp at the beautiful sight.

As the fox recovered, his red fur began to shine and his nose gleamed shiny and black. The green eyes sparkled with mischief and his scraggly tail fluffed out into a glorious bush.  One day he spoke.  “Tonight is the longest night,” he said conversationally,

Kwan Yin glanced at him, “You needed have bothered pretending not to talk.  I can read minds and I speak the tongue of every sentient creature.”

The fox looked crestfallen for a second.  “I knew there was something funny about you – you never eat or drink.”

“What do you mean – the longest night?”

“You mean you don’t know everything?”

She shook her head.

“It means the year is changing.  Winter is coming, but at the same time the light returns, the days get longer.  Tonight is a magical time of transition. Anything could happen.  Perhaps, our journey will finally come to an end”

No sooner where the words out of the fox’s mouth when the boat bumped into the bank and stuck fast in a tangle of roots.

“It’s almost midnight, “whispered the fox.

“Somewhere, a baby’s being born, a radiant child, a special child.  I can sense the mother’s labor pains and feel her joy,” replied Kwan Yin.

Above them the star flared.  It shone on the snow shrouded trees where one bare branch burst into flower.

“Time to go,” said the fox.  He jumped into Kwan Yin’s arms, licked her face and jumped.  The snow flew up in flurries, sparkling in the moonlight.  She blinked and he was gone.

 

 

The Winter Crow

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There was once a mad, bad, white, winter crow so impertinent and insolent and filled with such insouciance that nothing could humble him. Tiring at last of his disruptive nonsense, the Goddess Brigit set out to enchant him and he fell in love, promising anything for just one kiss.  Brigit, binding him with his own words, made him messenger to the gods.  From that day forth he flew back and forth between worlds, diving into the Below, soaring into the Above visiting the abodes of gods, elementals, angels, djinns and humans; observing innumerable acts of kindness, greed, compassion, love and terror.  At first his own feelings bewildered him – rage, pity and mirth cracked his heart open; tears of laughter, grief and frustration moistened it and caused it to soften and expand.  Gradually, Brigit, keeping her side of the bargain, tamed his feral spirit until he began to take pride in his job, venturing now and then beyond the strictly necessary to work his own magic on situations and circumstances in order to better the conditions of the beings he encountered on his errands.

Usually, the crow flew home to Brigit on Solstice night to celebrate the Return of the Light with her and all the other animals.  Deep within the forest they gathered in a grove of evergreens to sing and chant, honoring the Darkness, praising the Light; celebrating the mystery of Life and Death.  Over the years, humans had heard rumors of these rites. They had begun to imitate them, or at least the way they imagined them to be, by cutting living branches and taking them into their own homes to decorate with nuts and berries; making up their own songs and ceremonies for they, too, recognized the turning of the wheel of the year and wished to honor it.

This year was a special year, one of the rare times when the full moon coincided with Solstice, illuminating the longest night with her magical light. The crow was late and tired, but as he flew through the forest, determined not to be late to the convocation, his concentration was interrupted  by an oddly sorrowful creaking.

“It’s only the wind rubbing against the bare branches of that sleeping oak,” he thought, though it sounded like something crying. He flew on, but the sad sound followed him. Giving a weary sigh, he circled back and landed on a branch.

“You’re supposed to be asleep. Why aren’t you sleeping?” asked the crow.

“I’m lonely,” wailed the tree.  “My branches are bare. The people who love me in the summer for my delicious shade have gone inside, taking the evergreens with them, leaving me alone.  The evergreens are wearing the ribbons maidens wind around my trunk in May!  They are cradling beautiful red apples their needled branches never bore and flaunting the many nuts my cousins and I worked so hard to grow while I must stand here with only the cold North Wind for company, too far from the Brigit’s congregation to hear the singing!”

The crow shifted impatiently on the branch waiting for the tale of woe to subside.

“Everything has a place and a season and a purpose, “he explained, reasonably.

“But it’s not fair,” groaned the tree.

“Nothing’s fair,” thought the crow crossly. “It’s not how things work.”

A faint vibration ruffled the crow’s feathers – a padding of paws, a fluttering of wings as animals began to gather deep in the heart of the forest.  Suddenly he felt sorry for the poor silly tree; rooted in place; tossing and turning its branches; fretfully awake while his brother and sister trees dreamed sweetly of summer and the rest of the world celebrated.

“Listen,” he said suddenly.  “I’ll tell you a secret I’m not supposed to talk about.”

He dropped his harsh caw to a croaking whisper.

“The animals aren’t the only ones that sing tonight. All the planets join in and the stars keep them company.  If you are very still and quiet, you might hear them. The stars are good fellows, always ready to share a lark and a laugh.  They owe me a favor.  So stay very quiet.  No more moaning!  I’m going now, but be patient. Keep very still and wait to see what happens!”

Giving a jump he flew straight up the sky and circled the stars muttering a little rhyme.

                                                                              Little Stars, come settle down

                                                                              Upon these branches bare

                                                                              Glimmer soft this solstice night

                                                                              And pretty twinkles share.

One by one the stars dropped softly down, clinging to the tangled branches of the bare tree.  The Earth had begun to hum and the stars sang along in a sweet shrill counterpoint, voices rising to join the solar song.  The tree stood straight and tall, all his grievances forgotten, shivering with pleasure and delight; hung with a thousand points of lovely light.

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.

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.

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:

Coyote as Trickster

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Coyote says, “RUN!”

In this story of Coyote, we discover that he does not understand the cultural rules about gift giving. When he returns and demands the Rock, Iya, give his blanket back Coyote has disregarded the cultural belief that what is given is given forever.  He is reminded that the blanket is no longer his by Iktome who says, “It is Iya’s blanket now!” Coyote still thinks of the blanket as being his.

When Iya tells Coyote “NO” because he likes having the blanket.” Coyote explains that it is cold out and he needs HIS blanket back. He tells Iya he doesn’t want to catch a cold.  Yet,  Iya still says “NO!” This makes Coyote angry. Coyote just takes the blanket and leaves.  Iya warns him that it is not over.

There have been times in my life when I have not understood the rules or the person I’m dealing with seems to have a different set of rules that I don’t understand.  The whole idea of etiquette or manners is to make social interchanges comfortable and pleasant.

The newspaper columnist Dear Abby or the writer Emily Post are often asked about what manners and/or etiquette rules apply in very specific social situations. Not all rules are written down. In addition, as our society becomes more and more complex new rules have to be established.

My collage this week shows the Rock chasing Iktome and Coyote through the river. Coyote has his blanket flapping behind him. The over all collage depicts a patchwork broader suggesting that the entire piece is a blanket. The reason for the dispute.

Despite the fact that rocks don’t need blankets and Coyote did make the mistake of giving his away, Coyote cannot be an “Indian Giver”.  He cannot expect the Rock to give the blanket back. As the Rock explained, “What is given, is given.”