Tag Archives: transformation

The Fearsome Wild Hag

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Baba Yaga flies away

Baba Yaga flies away

Baba Yaga

The Fearsome Wild Hag

     Baba Yaga is a Slavic folklore supernatural being, one of 3 sisters with the same name who appear as deformed and/or ferocious-looking women. Baba Yaga flies around in a cauldron shaped like a mortar, dwells, deep in the forest in a hut, usually described as standing on scaly yellow chicken legs, that walks about all by itself, sometimes twirls around and around like an ecstatic dancer. Her fence is usually decorated with human skulls. As she travels, she rows her vehicle with an oar shaped like a pestle. All the while she sweeps out the tracks of where she has been with a broom made from the hair of a person long dead.

 Baba Yaga is fearsome, for she represents the power of annihilation and the power of the life force at the same time. Even through Baba Yaga threatens, she is just. She does not hurt anyone as long as they treat her with dignity and respect. She expects honesty, courageous and straight talk. You must be able to accept her as she is warts, wisdom, and all. Respect in the face of great power is a crucial lesson. So many of her feminine attributes and forces are vast, all are formidable. It is understandable that the first time we come face-to-face with the Old Wild Powers, both men and women take one anxious look and make tracks.

She may help or hinder those that encounter or seek her out. At times Baba Yaga plays a maternal role. She is closely association with forest wild life. She sometimes frights a hero, (promises to eat him,) but helps him if he is courageous. According to Vladimir Propp’s folk tale morphology, Baba Yaga commonly appears as either a donor, Villain or maybe altogether ambiguous. A donor in a fairy tale is a character that tests the hero, or heroine and provides magical assistance to them when he/she succeeds. In many folktales she kidnaps and eats naughty children (usually roasts them in the oven.) She has her familiars, the three horsemen, red, white and black.  And of course, she has at least one black cat and crow.

Baba means Old Woman or grandmother. Yaga means horror, shudder, or chill, witch, pain or worry. She first occurred in 1755 listed among Slavic gods. The Slavic god Perun appears equated with the Roman god Jupiter. Baba Yaga appears to have no equivalence, attesting to her uniqueness even in this first known attestation.

Baba Yaga has bony legs, when inside her dwelling, she may be found stretched out over the stove, reaching from one corner of the hut to another. Her nose is repulsive, so are her breasts, buttocks, vagina.  In some tales a trio of Baba Yagas appear as sisters, all sharing the same name. Her long chin curved up and her long nose curved down, and they met in the middle. She has a tiny white goatee and warts on her skin from her trade in toads. Baba Yaga is the fearsome wild Crone.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, The story begins, ‘Once there was, and once there was not … ‘. This phase alerts the soul that this story takes place in the world between worlds where nothing is as it first seems. The woods can be that luminal space between realms. In my collage I show Baba Yaga flying about in her cauldron rowing with her pestle. Below you can see her hut and fence surrounded by forest. It is night and the moon is full.

The Ugly Duckling

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Uglyduckling#1The Misplaced Egg

The Ugly Duckling

 The Ugly Duckling is a story about an egg misplaced. Somehow a swan’s egg gets into a duck’s nest. The story doesn’t tell us how that happens. It just begins with the odd egg being a matter of fact.  A barnyard mother duck is sitting on her clutch of eggs waiting for them to hatch. Finally the little ducklings are born, all are doing well. The mother duck is upset because there is still one egg, the largest egg still to hatch. The mother isn’t sure what to do.

 An old duck comes by and takes a look at the egg and declares it is a Turkey egg which she has had experience trying to hatch. She tells the mother duck about her involvement and how it turned out to be a turkey chick and how when it was time to teach the ducklings to swim the turkey chick wouldn’t get in the water. She advises the mother duck to abandon the egg but the mother duck decides to spend the extra days sitting on the egg. When the egg cracks open and out pops the creature inside she is amazed at how ugly it is. It has big feet, grey down plumage, long neck, a large beak and is twice the size of her other babies. This poor thing is pretty unappealing, perhaps it stayed in the egg to long or maybe it is a turkey. She takes her babies down to the pond and they all jump in including her ugly duckling… As it turns out the ugly baby can swim and swim better than the others… She decides it isn’t a baby turkey.

 When she takes her babies to the barnyard all the other animals comment about the “odd” one. Everyone picks on and ridicules the ugly duckling until the ugly one runs away.

 We all have had moments, or periods in our life when we felt like a misplaced egg … an ugly duckling that can’t purr or lay eggs. These are difficult times. We wonder who we are and where we belong. We look for our tribe, our kindred souls. It is a time when we feel alone and unsupported. If we aren’t careful we can start to hate our self or hate the others. We have no role models, no friends and no sense of our worth. Hans Christian Andersen tells of the poor baby duckling’s struggles and wanderings. At one point the baby almost freezes to death.

 In the story the cygnet notices all the different animals, wonders where he might belong. When he sees the mature swans he is impressed at their beauty, skills and graceful nature. As a young one he is not old enough to join them as they migrate to their winter grounds. It isn’t until the baby finds his “people” his fellow swans that he can really see himself. When he looks at his reflection and is amazed at how he has transformed. When the children see him on the pond with the other swans and declare that he is the most beautiful of all he arches his long graceful neck and swims with pride and happiness. Like the ugly duckling all of us need to realize that are uniqueness is what makes us beautiful.

Raven Comes Flying

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raven3

Raven flies on two wings

riding the winds of change,

beating  zephyr to gust, breeze to tempest

spinning vortices from each pinion,

tumbling tornadoes of transformation

to make and remake this world.

Old men tell Raven tales –

each wing warrants a season

its own time of telling.

The Wing of Making demands respect. Awe

silences young warriors, stifles the giggles of girls.

Creation myths recount beginnings, touch mystery

summon ancestors, First Man, First Woman.

Such stories require gravitas, solemnity, ceremony.

Solstice passes, season shifts

long nights, colder days cry out for laughter;

 fables to fend off boredom, hunger, rage.

Now, old men flap jaws and arms

send shadows soaring ‑ light/dark, dark/light

The Wing of Mischief craves hilarity,

famished for mirth to shake the belly

   leave the strong men sniggering

awash in helpless tears.

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Raven flies on two wings

riding the winds of change,

beating  zephyr to gust, breeze to tempest

spinning vortices from each pinion,

tumbling tornadoes of transformation

to make and remake this world.

©2013  Christine Irving

The Fisherman and His Wife

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FishScan_Pic0005The Fisherman and His Wife

(The Brothers Grimm)

Week #1 The Big Picture

In the telling of this story, the Magical Fish is often a Flounder. I looked up Flounder to see what they look like. I also discovered some interesting facts about this type of fish.

Founders grow to about 15 inches and weigh around 2 pounds. They are a group of flatfish species.  They are found at the bottom of the Ocean, Pacific and the Atlantic, and in lagoons and estuaries. It is the left eye flounder that lies on its right side. They are usually brown but vary in shade depending on the color of the substratum. The Flounder in our story is “Special” he is the shade of gold. The blindside of the Founder, the side facing the bottom, usually is white.

Flatfish like Founder are unlike most other fishes in that they begin life as a bilateral animal, swimming similarly to other fishes. However, as they mature they lie on the bottom on one side of their body. At this time a metamorphosis begins and involves complex modification of the skeletal structure of the head, and rearrangement of the nervous system and muscle tissue. Additionally, the eye on the side that faces the bottom migrates to the upper side of the body.

Comparing the transformation of our Magic Founder with the stagnate Fisherman and his Wife is interesting. The Wife is dissatisfied and greedy and the Fisherman is complacent. Neither is interested in real change. The Fisherman is caught between disturbing the talking Founder who is really a prince and his demanding wife.

The Sea portrays the fish’s emotions. As the Fisherman returns over and over again to ask for more and more – he calls the fish singing the same chant and the fish replies by asking the same question. The fish never  expresses his feelings but the Sea tells tells us. Each visit the Fisherman finds a different Ocean. The waters change, the waves change, the sky changes but the Magic Fish remains the same. Whatever is asked of the fish he gives freely and in spades. The granted wish is even more lavish then the request. The Fish is very generous and abundant.

Yet it does not satisfy the greedy Wife. The hole in her life is not filled or satisfied by material “things.” Having more power does not seem to help her either. Since nothing seems to extinguish her neediness, the great fish in his wisdom takes it all back. The two are returned to their former state. The Fisherman is still complacent, he only wants his wife to stop nagging him, and his Wife is as happy with nothing as she was when she had nearly everything. There is no transformation, nothing has changed.

Shape-shifter

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Werewolf RRh-300

I wish I’d originated the idea of Red Riding Hood as a Werewolf, but I came across it watching Once Upon A Time, a TV show about fairy tales. It appealed to my dark sense of humor and spoke to my abiding interest in all things shamanic. Also I love werewolves. Synchronisticaly, I’ve been re-reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ s book, Women Who Run With the Wolves (if you’ve never read it run don’t walk to the nearest bookstore or keyboard). So when I found a red cape with an empty cowl all I could think of was a snarling wolf head.

The idea of drastic transformation into another species in order to gain perspective on your own is one of my favorite story motifs. Lots of contemporary fantasy writers of the werewolf and vampire genre use it, but my favorite example is still The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White. In it young Arthur Pendragon (Arthur means “bear”) is changed into a series of animals (fish, hawk, ant, goose, and badger) by Merlin the magician.

This collage shows Little Red Riding Hood turned into a large imposing figure of a snarling wolf draped in a long red cape. By transforming into a wolf, she is claiming her inherent wildness the part of her that cannot be contained by culture. We forget so much of the time that we are animals- the same creatures as the ones we watch in nature documentaries with such avidity, love and longing. Their beauty is our beauty; their cunning our cunning; their endurance our endurance. But we forget.

As a wolf, Red Riding Hood is restored to her senses- nose, ears, eyes, mouth regain their direct access to her brain, their messages undiluted , uncensored by the strictures and caveats of her brain. As a human girl she is terribly vulnerable. Basically blind, deaf and dumb, she goes into the dangerous forest bereft of her natural resources. No one has taught her how to move with caution, hide in plain sight or fight. Naiveté is her only protection.

She wears her cloak to remind her to return to the human world- she cannot be wholly herself as just wolf. Civilization restricts but it also offers freedoms the wolf cannot comprehend. Butterflies flutter around her, symbols of transformation. There is one fly. Flies and butterflies are pollinators and thus symbols of fertility. Sex is the underlying theme of the Red Riding Hood story. The girl stands on the cusp of womanhood wooed by both the wolf and huntsman, stalked by her own burgeoning sexuality. The wolf picks her own mate and explores sexual feelings without shame.

Flies are also psychopomp- they convey souls safely into the afterlife. The fly reminds us that death always lurks nearby; the huntsman still patrols the forest. Transformation is a tricky thing- will Red forget her human self, will she be able to change back? Will she remember and learn or continue to cling to innocence? Lots of questions. No answers except your own.