Tag Archives: wisdom

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.

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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:

Ashputtel

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Cinderella is one of the oldest and most inter-cultural stories of our times.  By our times, I mean the time of existing written language.   Stories of Cinderella’s ilk actually have their roots in ancient days we remember now, only in trance and dream.   Going back in time, the paper trail grows thinner very quickly, but in our day academicians are magicians; creating volumes of learned lore out of the tiniest scraps of script.  I’m extremely wary faced with any of their superlatives, particularly ones like first, oldest, purest, etc.  Having said that, folklorists have found dozens of variations on Ashputtel, as the Grimm’s version is called.

Cinderella 1

I voted for Grimm over Perrault even though it means giving up the fairy godmother, because the Grimm story seems to retain more traces of its pagan origins.  True, Perrault kept the word fairy, but in the sophisticated court circles he frequented,  everyone accepted that fairy indicated a light trifling bit of nonsense rather than a supernatural being of immense power capable of inspiring shock and awe.  Though the story dealt with magic, still a dangerous subject to touch on in the late 1600’s, he covered himself nicely by making his fairy a godmother.

A century later, the Grimm brothers faced the same fear of church censorship and toned down the sex while upping the violence in the tales they collected.  Ashputtel’s piety is stressed several times in the tale.  However, she knows enough hedge witch lore to ask her father for a branch from a living tree.  The hazel twig he returns with is planted on her mother’s grave and watered with Cinderella’s own tears.  How did she know how to do that?  We can only surmise that her mother taught her this ancient lore.  Hazel trees, in Celtic tradition, represent wisdom.  Druids held them sacred and believed they could induce invisibility by wearing crowns woven from supple hazel twigs.  Later they became known as wishing caps, able to grant their wearer’s wishes.  In the Grimm version of this tale  the tree,  in company with a  white bird, responds to Ashputtel’s tears and desires by letting three ball gowns fall from its branches.  Is this white bird, probably a dove (symbolic of the Holy Spirit) another nod to the church, mitigating the power of the tree?  Or is it just a natural combination of Pagan and Christian symbols intermingling as one culture supersedes the other?

In my collage you can just see the tree peeking out from under Cinderella’s knee.  A white bird perches on her shoulder, fore-shadowing a change in fortune.  The two step-sisters hover in the background, whispering mean things about her.  The step-mother’s dark presence dominates the wealthy household from which poor Cinderella, perched precariously on her pile of lentils is banished.  This collage is a snap shop – a second frozen in time – that sets the scene for this story to unfold.  The father is missing, just as he is throughout most of the tale.  His absence is palpable and leaves the family, deprived of balancing masculine energy, out of balance.

Purple Fruit

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Krishna#1

The Universe in Krishna

Young Krishna and the Purple Fruit

 I read and re-read the story.  I asked myself, “What is this story really about?”  My immediate answer … I don’t know.  Perhaps, it will come to me as I work on my Collage.

As I looked through my images, I have boxes and boxes of cut images that I’ve collected over the 15 years that I have been doing collage art, I realize there are no images of Krishna as a child. In fact, there are only a few Hindu images period.  Hindu Mythology is a subject with which I am only casually acquainted.

I know a little bit about a few of the Hindu deities. I know Ganesha, the elephant headed god that removes obstacles, Hanuman, the Monkey headed God that helped recover a stolen Goddess, Kali, the Goddess who slays the demons, and Shiva, the lord of the dance. Otherwise, the many myths and epic stories that make up the religion of Hinduism are foreign to me.

Finally, I found a picture of a child playing the flute. I decided I would make it into a Young Krishna. Therefore, my collage will start with that image.

I looked up Krishna on the internet and read about Him on the Wikipedia website. I have many images of the Universe so I will include a few. I discover Krishna is a simple herdsman using his flute to bring the animals together. When I finish the collage and complete the Wikipedia article, I feel like I know a little more about Krishna

The Universe is Krishna, and Krishna maintains the Universe. Each of us are the Universe, we are it and we are Krishna. The divine spark is in each of us. What about the Purple Fruit. Krishna gobbles the purple fruit. I decided the purple fruits are plums.
However, after I re-read the story again, I change my mind and decide the fruits are cherries.

I grew up in San Leandro, CA, which at the time had hundreds, perhaps thousands of Cherry trees. There were cherry orchards and cherry trees lined the streets. In the spring, the entire town glowed with Cherry blossoms. We could hardly wait for the cherries. From time to time we would climb up in the trees and test a cherry or two to see if they were ripe yet. Finally, the cherries would turn a deep purple red. My brother and I would climb up into the trees and pick cherries popping them into our mouths as fast as we could pick them. I know from experience that there is no way you can eat all the cherries off a cherry tree.

In our Tale of the Purple Fruit, the older boys are upset because Krishna is gobbling up all the fruit. They are afraid that he will eat all the fruit and they will get none. He is not doing what they told him to do. Krishna knows that there is plenty of fruit and so he doesn’t worry about what he is doing. Besides, he is still very young and is driven by the taste of the Cherries. They are ripe, juicy and delicious. At some point He will be full.

Krishna, just like my brother and me who had been told Do NOT eat the fruit, we did not follow instructions. We just thought … ripe Cherries ready for the picking … gobble, gobble …Yum!

 

The Serpent

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Adam & Eve The Serpent

Adam & Eve The Serpent

The Serpent

The Serpent is one of the oldest and most widespread mythological symbols. Its meanings are highly complex. The Serpent is a symbol of life and death, it is solar and lunar, light and darkness, good and evil, wisdom and blind passion, healing and poison, spiritual and physical rebirth. The presence of a serpent is often associated with female deities and the great mother.

In some cultures snakes are fertility symbols, and in others they symbolize the umbilical cord, joining all humans to Mother Earth. The snake is assigned many aspects. It is  shown as a Dragon, a snake twining up a trunk or staff, and as a Naga sheltering the Buddha.

In Christian mythology, the snake acts as tempter. It convinces Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The snake is evil, the devil himself.  In many religions, the devil is a supernatural entity that is the personification of evil and the enemy of God and humankind.

After Eve and Adam have eaten the fruit, God confronts them. Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake. God expels the two of them from the Garden and places a Cherubim at the entrance to keep them out. In his anger, God tells Adam that he will live by his labors, Eve will suffer in childbirth and the snake will forever be the lowest of the low.

In Gnosticism, the snake is thanked for bringing knowledge to Adam and Eve.  With knowledge, Eve and Adam are freed from the Demiurge’s control. I want to give credit to the serpent and to the woman who listened to the snake. Eve took a bite of the apple and a) she didn’t die, except to her old naive self and b) she was wiser and more conscious for having done so. By sharing her discovery with Adam he became wiser too. So instead of seeing the snake as the devil and the apple as sin, we need to be thankful for the disobedience, the curiosity to listen to something outside of the box, explore life’s possibilities, grow beyond childhood and listen to the wisdom within.