Tag Archives: paradox

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.

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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.