Tag Archives: sun

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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I am Raven.

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TricksterRaven#3

I am Raven

I Upset Things. It’s my job, it’s what I do!

This story comes from the people of the Pacific Northwest. A people closely linked with the sea. It is a tale that explains the tides.  My favorite parts of the story are when the lines, “It’s my job. It’s what I do!” are said by Fog man, The Man who sits on the Tide, and finally by Raven. Each character knows their part in the over all plan. Each of us also wants to fit in and be part of an over all plan.  For some of us, knowing what our job is isn’t the easiest thing to figure out.

The seagull in my collage symbolizes “not knowing.” He is about to land on top of the head of the giant that sits on the tide. In the Tale, Raven asks Seagull if he knows how to move the water out of the way, but Seagull does not reply because he is busy searching for answers himself.

In some indigenous cultures, you are given a name that explains what you do.  In our Tale, the person who makes fog is called the Fog Man. Early on, many surnames came from what the person did. For an example, Shoemaker,  Schumacher, let us know that the person made shoes. The person named Fletcher was the individual who puts the feathers on arrows so they fly straight. Today, our name rarely represents how we fit in. Today we have to decide for our self. Yet, we are still judged by what we do. Most of us realize that there is more to who we are than how we earn a living.

Raven and Seagull are the main characters in another story. When the great creator created things, he kept them separate in Cedar boxes. The boxes contained such things as mountains, fire, water, wind and seeds for all the plants. One of the boxes was given to Seagull who decided not to open his box. All the animals tried to get him to do so but he refused. The animals called upon Raven to get Seagull’s box open. Raven tried reasoning with Seagull, but that didn’t work. Next he tried to trick Seagull into releasing the box, that to failed.  Finally, Raven was so angry that he stuck a thorn in Seagull’s foot.  Seagull dropped the box and the lid fell off. Out came the Sun, the moon and the stars. This brought light to the world and allowed the first day to begin.

Raven is an old friend to me.  I wrote a story that had Raven as an important character. He acted as a go between people and the gods.  He is the one that blithely goes forward believing in the  future and his role of happily discovering it.  I loved the trickster.

Trickster as Creator

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Raven MeetsThe Man Who Sits On The tide

Raven Greets The Man Who Sits On The Tide

Unlike the primary gods who make something out of nothing and get the whole shebang rolling, Tricksters create from prima materia – the primary materials of this Earth.  In this role they are the first artists, fast change artists to be exact, for change is what they create.

This story from the Pacific Northwest is full of fog and the sea.  It tells the tale of how Raven created tides.   The surge and ebb of the sea usually occurs four times a day, though some places experience it only twice.  The Moon’s gravitational pull is the principal mover of tides, but the Sun, deep sea tides, the Coriolis effect and varying depths of water near the shore all contribute to different level s and frequencies.   Yet, even with today’s technology accurate tide depths are not easy to predict.   The sea remains a mysterious fascinating force and so does Raven.  His heavy wing beat and raucous cry never fail to send shivers of awe down my backbone, especially on a foggy beach just as the tide begins to turn.

Fog can be a symbol for doubt and confusion but it can also be a warning that some knowledge is best kept hidden.  It can provide a hiding place or refuge, but it can also facilitate loss or conceal lurking danger.  Fog muffles sound and plays tricks with direction and acoustics.  In films, fog is an ominous harbinger of change for the worse and sometimes symbolizes evil itself.   Fog and Trickster make a very good match.

Personally, I love fog.  I like moving in a magic bubble of air; outside of it, I see nothing, but inside all is revealed.  Fog changes the landscape, alters shapes makes every step a surprise as things emerge and disappear.  For me, fog makes magic almost tangible.  I always greet it with little leap of the heart, excitement and frisson of fear.  Now, anything can happen, “there might be giants.”

And in this story there are.  The Man Who Sits On The Tide is gigantic enough to stopper a hole in the seabed that allows the ocean to empty.  It seems like an important job.  Disturbing him could have grave consequences.  Yet raven attacks this giant with impunity.  He employs two natural resources, fog and pain.  Wielding them with wit and determination he trains the giant like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

This is Trickster at his finest, creating profound change for the benefit of all, including him.

Black/White

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Taijitu Entangled

Taijitu Entangled

Black and white, held to be polar opposites, both contain within themselves diametrically opposed meanings. White can be cold, sterile, barren, the color of funerals, grieving and death, Black can represent decay, despair, sin, funerals, grieving and death.  White can be purity, spiritual ecstasy, new; death can be fecund, rich, warm, the source of the divine spark of life.

No wonder the Chinese married these opposites into a timeless symbol of wholeness – the immediately comprehensible Taijitu.  The moment one sets eyes on this figure one knows what it means.  Two opposing, yet complementary flowing black & white figures, each containing a piece of the other, fit together to form a complete circle.  The inextricable oneness of  yin (feminine) and yang (masculine) is obvious, especially to a Jungian who can easily perceive the anima and animus in the contrasting dots within each figure. The two halves of the circle resemble fish  and people have been running with that association almost since it first appeared.  When I considered the black and white prompt for a story about out-of-balance femininity and masculinity involved with a fish, the Taijitu figure was a no-brainer.

Tajitai

I decided to enclose my fisherman and his wife in an entangling net to represent how stuck they were in their marriage, their poverty, their assumptions, etc.  The story of the Fisherman and His Wife disturbs and intrigues.  It affects us.  So, the net also represents the world net of Shiva, which one cannot touch without setting off vibrations that echo through the cosmos.    Just as in the story, though it isn’t mentioned per se, all the changes effected by the wife and fish touch on hundreds of lives.  AHA!  I do believe I’ve just unraveled the meaning of those staggered, stepped maidservants, soldiers and flames, which so puzzled me.

I had great fun making Zen tangles out of the squares of the fish net.  I used a Sharpie marker to draw them and the fish.  The lines are rough and crude without the definition of a fine-tipped pen, because the story is kind of rough and crude itself.

The tangles represent the changing nature of the sea – its many moods and manifestations.  They also stand for the shape-shifting nature of the fish who is also human.  The Taijitu figure is derived from an intricate system of solar measurement used to determine the calendar.  In my collage, along with the other meanings, it refers once again to the unchanging change nature of the natural world. The whole philosophy of Taoism rests on an idea inherent in this symbol – the complementary nature of opposing components.  It is also the basis for the system of divination called the I Ching.  So it is appropriate to use it to represent both the universal nature of storytelling and the divinatory way in which we use collage to reveal hidden meanings in our lives.

I’m very grateful to Leah Piken Kolidas of Creative Every day for sprinkling a bit of magic on this site with prompts that always send us in new directions.

The Sun, Moon and Stars

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The Sky is the Limit

The Sky is the Limit

The Fisherman and His Wife

(Week #3 The Negative aspect.)

 The Sun, Moon and Stars

 When someone says, The Sky is the Limit,” they could be talking about the Fisherman’s wife. She wants the Sky, the Sun, Moon and Stars. Why not? All her other wishes to date had come true. However, this wish is different. This time the wish becomes “The end”! The Magic Founder takes it all away, everything. The Sky was the limit.

What is interesting about this tale is the lack of rules. When the Magic Fish is caught and released, the Prince Fish says nothing. The story does not explain the parameters, limitations or expiration of the Fish’s enchanted magic. The fish doesn’t say, “I will grant you 1, 2, or 3 wishes.” There are no boundaries stated in this story; nothing is specified. Is the Sky the limit?

When the Fisherman’s wife suggests to the Fisherman that he is entitled to ask for a wish because in essence he saved the fishes life, we don’t know what to expect. Perhaps there is an unwritten rule covering this event. The Fisherman’s wife seems sure that this is the case while the rest of us reserve our opinions until later. We don’t know the rules about magic fish. We gasp at the wife’s demands. We are appalled at her greediness. Yet the Magic Fish continues to grant wish after wish.

We are not sure how long the Enchanted Fish will demonstrate its gratitude.  We wonder when the pay back is exhausted.  We question why the Fisherman is entitled to wish granting.  Is it because he let the fish go? Alternatively, is it because the fisherman now knows about the fish’s magic and, therefore; is entitled to use its powers?

Another twist to the tale is it’s the Fisherman’s wife making all the demands and not the Fisherman. She didn’t catch the fish. She didn’t give the fish back its life. However, she is the one running the show. She feels entitled to her demands because she is married to the Fisherman.

The “bad guy” in the story is the wife. The wife may have become evil (greedy) because the fish didn’t set parameters, and the fisherman never stands up to her demands. I was continually annoyed with the Fisherman. He is an example of an enabler. He plays the role of the long-suffering husband. “What’s a fellow to do?”  He protests but weakly and ineffectually. He and the fish become the slaves of the wife.  He allows her to be the center of the universe, making wishes that always escalate never being satisfied.

What is the significance of the fish being a flounder?  Who in the story is floundering around?  The Sea demonstrates our emotions as the wife increases her demands?  The Sea is the reflection of the force of Nature, and the gauge of Divine wrath over the natural order of things. When the Wife asks to rule the moon and sun she is saying she wants to be in charge of the cosmos. “Dark and stormy,” the Sea Rages its fury.

In my collage I show the fisherman’s wife asking for the Sun, Moon and the Stars.  Finally, we discover when “Enough is enough!”  The Tale is over. Asking to be a God is over the top. The Sea, the Magic Fish, the Heavens all say, no more and everything is changed back to what it was in the beginning.  The Fisherman and his Wife live once again in their shack and order has been restored.

The Papess

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Pope Joan with pigs 200

La PapesseDivinatory meaning
~Upright ~

Intuition, wisdom and secret knowledge, the feminine side of the male personality. Something remains yet to be revealed, but patience must be observed. Duality and mystery. Hidden influences affect both home and work and intuitive insight suggests new solutions. The influence of women.

~Ill Dignified or Reversed~

Lack of personal harmony and problems resulting from a lack of foresight. Suppression of the feminine or intuitive side of the personality. Facile and surface knowledge. Repression and ignorance of true facts and feelings. In women, an inability to come to terms with other women or themselves. Things and circumstances are not what they seem.

The most interesting part of this story for me was the odd inclusion of the Pope in the wife’s list of ambitions. Those of you who have read my novel Magdalene A.D. know how interested I am in feminine Christian religious figures. It’s taken years for me to accept my Christian cultural heritage because of the long history of misogyny so deeply entwined in it. Only by going back to the beginning and learning how the divine feminine insisted on her reappearance, despite concerted efforts to excise her, could I finally begin to reclaim some part of Christianity as my own. Magdalene A.D. was an exercise in active imagination in which I rewrote a traditional story, filling in the blank spots with my own midrash in an attempt to help heal this deep historical wound.

So, of course the idea of a female Pope fascinated me. There is a legend, dating in written form back to the thirteenth century, describing the reign of Pope Joan. As the story goes, enamored of learning, she disguised herself as a man and became a priest in order to peruse her studies. (It’s hardly unusual for women to disguise themselves as a man).  Joan, erudite and wise beyond her years, rose quickly in the estimation of her peers to the point that they elected her Pope. Perhaps she had a lover; perhaps she was raped – at any rate two years and seven months into her reign she gave birth to a baby boy during the middle of a public procession right in the middle of the street. Some versions say she died; others that she was done away with; still others that she repented and spent the rest of her life in a convent doing penance.

As with many other traditional tales, one can safely assume that oral traditions long predated the actual inscription of the story. The story of Pope Joan may antedate the written account by two or three centuries or more. The most interesting part for me is the persistence of this legend. The Papess found her way into the earliest tarot decks and also into folk tales like The Fisherman’s Wife. Why did so many people believe it? What, about this particular story, appealed to the popular imagination so much that scholars and novelists wrote about it and engravers illustrated it?

I’ve dressed my fisherman’s wife in sumptuous robes and a diamond mitre. As in the story she is surrounded in flames. I still don’t know what these staggered torches stand for. Do they echo the myriad lights carried by the faithful in religious processions? Perhaps they represent the enormous super-sized candles on the high altars of cathedrals. Candles were an extravagance and burning dozens at a time might seem the height of luxurious abandon to a woman only days away from life in a pigsty. Fairy tales were often told to illustrate the vast divide between rich and poor. They provided a safe way to criticize and make fun of the establishment (church and state) and to rewrite abhorrent circumstance into an easier more bountiful existence. The many lights might have been a critical look at the extravagance of the church at the expense of the poor. The fisherman’s wife might be an allegory for the vain ambition and worldly lusts of a supposedly sacred institution dedicated to the precepts of a Master who asked his followers to walk away from all worldly goods.

I like my little Papess. She seems to have a sly peasant twinkle in her eye, as if to say, “I’ll just play this out and see how far I can take this joke.” I think her good common sense tells her that the deck is stacked against her and this ride can’t last. I also think that under her cynicism and street smarts lies rage – hot and fiery as the flames that surround her. She’d like to burn everything down and start over- even if it means starting from scratch again in her pigsty.

Speaking of pigs! Pigs are ancient symbols of both fertility and death – earthly dwellers and creatures of the underworld linked since long before recorded history with both the moon and the feminine divine. Pigs are ferocious omnivores who will devour shit, grain, human flesh and their own off-spring with equal abandon. Fierce hunters, their tusks appear in the mouths of both demons and gorgons, but their large litters and fleshy bodies also symbolize abundant life and fertility. Their sacred nature is acknowledged in Egyptian, Semite, Indian, Native American, Polynesian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Asian and Greek myth. European culture links them most closely with Persephone and Cerridwen. Their inclusion here hints at a deeper more arcane mythic level to this story. I’m reminded of Kali dancing on the body of Shiva. The Wikipedia article explains the Tantric interpretation of that image thusly:

“The Shiv tattava (Divine Consciousness as Shiva) is inactive, while the Shakti tattava (Divine Energy as Kali) is active. Shiva and Kali represent Brahman, the Absolute pure consciousness which is beyond all names, forms and activities. Kali, on the other hand, represents the potential (and manifested) energy responsible for all names, forms and activities. She is his Shakti, or creative power, and is seen as the substance behind the entire content of all consciousness. She can never exist apart from Shiva or act independently of him,just as Shiva remains a mere corpse without Kali i.e., Shakti, all the matter/energy of the universe, is not distinct from Shiva, or Brahman, but is rather the dynamic power of Brahman.[45] Hence, Kali is Para Brahman in the feminine and dynamic aspect while Shiva is the male aspect and static. She stands as the absolute basis for all life, energy and beneath her feet lies, Shiva, a metaphor for mass, which cannot retain its form without energy.”

(More on pigs – Jack and Catherine Hart have created a wonderful mythic resource on their website – the page on pigs is fascinating.  The Harts deserve big kudos for their generous sharing.)

I mustn’t forget to mention the moon- a feminine symbol if there ever was one, and profoundly associated with water and emotion. The fisherman’s wife’s next ambition will be to become Lord of the Sun and Moon. All her efforts have been leading up to this. She wants to have mastery over both feminine and masculine – perhaps she wants equity both within herself and without; perhaps, her struggle with her husband has been all about righting the balance between masculine and feminine. But, here the Prince disguised as a fish finally balks. It’s beyond even his power to give her mastery over the Sun and Moon (i.e. masculine and feminine, in other words, herself). Maybe the lesson of the story is that equity of this kind can only be achieved internally by individual effort. No matter who we are or what resources we command, happiness and contentment are contingent on learning to know ourselves. We ignore this lesson at our peril.

Week Four: Light

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Light is the prompt that Leah Piken Kolidas chose for this month. I was having a hard time connecting Red Riding Hood to the concept except in the most abstract way. Then I discovered this interesting quote in John Thackery Bunce’s Fairy Tales, Their Origin and Meaning. It still seems a bit of a stretch to me, but at least I’ve got something to go on.

One of the fancies in the most ancient Aryan or Hindu stories was that there was a great dragon that was trying to devour the sun, and to prevent him from shining upon the earth and filling it with brightness and life and beauty, and that Indra, the sun-god, killed the dragon. Now this is the meaning of Little Red Riding Hood, as it is told in our nursery tales.
Little Red Riding Hood is the evening sun, which is always described as red or golden; the old Grandmother is the earth, to whom the rays of the sun bring warmth and comfort. The Wolf–which is a well-known figure for the clouds and blackness of night–is the dragon in another form; first he devours the grandmother, that is, he wraps the earth in thick clouds, which the evening sun is not strong enough to pierce through. Then, with the darkness of night he swallows up the evening sun itself, and all is dark and desolate. Then, as in the German tale, the night-thunder and the storm winds are represented by the loud snoring of the Wolf; and then the Huntsman, the morning sun, comes in all his strength and majesty, and chases away the night-clouds and kills the Wolf, and revives old Grandmother Earth, and brings Little Red Riding Hood to life again.
Or another explanation may be that the Wolf is the dark and dreary winter that kills the earth with frost, and hides the sun with fog and mist; and then the Spring comes, with the huntsman, and drives winter down to his ice-caves again, and brings the Earth and the Sun back to life.

~John Thackery Bunce Fairy Tales, Their Origin and Meaning