Tag Archives: Women Who Run With the Wolves

Talisman

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Baba1Sadly, Michelle’s new computer has also malfunctioned so her silence is based on a lack of means rather than will or desire.  We wonder if we have slighted some creature of myth or overlooked some entity in one of the tales.  If so, we are heartily sorry and do here apologize.

I on the other hand am stuck!  I simply can’t find any more images, so far, that resonate for me with Baba Yaga.  I think we erred in picking an iconic figure rather than delving into a particular story, though it does underscore our point about the efficacy of story in deepening self-knowledge, connecting to community and inspiring creativity.

As I mentioned earlier, Baba Yaga has been part of my personal mythic line-up for a long time.  Several years ago, I created a Baba Yaga figure out of one of those small wooden anatomical figures used by artists to remind them of the proportions of the human form.  I decided to photograph her for you in lieu of a collage.

Much as I love collage, if one is not a painter (I am not; Michelle is.) it can be very restrictive if one is attempting to express a specific idea – for example finding the picture of an ugly old woman is difficult.  Google springs immediately to mind- but somehow to me it feels like cheating.  Silly isn’t it! Or I could go out and buy a new magazine, but that seems to violate the element of serendipity I value in my work.  Collage, the way I do it, has to do with recycling, rearranging and refreshing already created images into new contexts and juxtapositions.  The work reflects the larger work of nature, in which basic elements are constantly being shuffled and redealt into new alignments to produce a novel shape or configuration.  Collage is humbling because one can never forget that the parts and pieces, the ideas and symbols are part of a larger whole and derive from many sources.  Painting, drawing, sketching leaves more room for ego and idiosyncrasy.  In it, connections, borrowings and derivations are more subtle and the unique contributions of the artist more immediate and visible.  I often long to be able to paint what I see, but there is some disconnect between hand and eye for me that increases my frustration level to the point it is no longer satisfying to attempt.

Doll making on the other hand – at least with a basic body shape to work with, seemed more within my grasp.  Actually assembling the pieces parts was rather like making a collage.  My Baba Yaga wears purple velvet pantaloons tucked into felt boots sporting pearl buttons.  Her long-sleeved peasant shirt is silver to represent the moon.  She wears a fur-lined vest in the colors of autumn leaves and her fur-collared velvet cloak is springtime green.  I sewed three small brooms to the hem so she can sweep away her footsteps as she goes.   A tiny skull hangs around her neck, reminiscent of her Indian cousin Kali.  A babushka – the traditional head scarf worn by Russian women – covers her gray head (I donated a lock of my own hair) and her face is fierce and smeared with red.  Nose and teeth are made from real shards of bone.  She wears a bunch of keys at her waist because she holds the keys to our questions about the mysteries of Life/Death, our relationship to nature and our connection to the past and future.

Working with the doll, gluing my own hair on her head, engendered a more profound grasp of what it means to be a crone, a wisdom holder, an elder and a quintessentially wild woman.  As always, I am deeply grateful to my estimable guide Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She is a mentor par excellence; her book Women Who Run with the Wolves is one of my Bibles.  In it Dr. Estes explores Vasilisa, the story most often associated with Baba Yaga.  It contains many parallels with Cinderella (the reason M. and I chose to concentrate on the witch).  However, in Vasilisa the dead mother is represented by a doll.  Not until I reread the chapter for this essay did I realize the connections between my doll and the one in the story.

The talismanic numen of the doll is that it reminds us, tells us, sees ahead for us.  This intuitive function belongs to all women. It is a massive and fundamental receptivity … possessing immediate access to a profound wisdom that reaches to women’s very bones.    ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Baba Yaga provides a direct connection, not only to our own old age, but also to our oldest ancestors.  (From another perspective – our youngest predecessors) Her lineage is very old.  I think she probably first came to consciousness among the hunter-gatherers of the primeval forests of Northern Europe.  As people became more agrarian and expanded the clearings and meadows into farmland they kept her stories alive. As Pupul Jayakar states so eloquently in her book The Earth Mother, speaking of Indian history:

    … like a spiral it coils and uncoils.  Within this movement nothing is totally rejected, nothing discarded, no issues polarized. The alien and heretical are neither confronted nor destroyed; instead they are transformed.  The rural tradition has a skill of genius, in inventing myths and reinterpreting texts, that reduces the alien to familiar symbols and metaphors.

    The gap between orthodox dogma and heretical belief is never unbridgeable. Deities and systems maligned and ostracized in one age become benevolent and respectable in another.

This is why folk tales are so important because they contain the seeds of the past and future.  Seeds thousands of years old, found buried in tombs or encased in long-forgotten storage jars have been sprouted by anthropologists.  Just so, ancient concepts and insights can be held in folktales to re-emerge centuries later and blossom into something with contemporary relevance.  Who knows what of our wisdom, understanding or technology will disappear to re-emerge in the future?

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Know Thyself

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The Ugly Duckling_NEW

We seem to be choosing stories about mothers and children lately and The Ugly Duckling is no exception.  However, my first thoughts on reading it again were not about mothers, but about belonging and not belonging.  Re-calling Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ phrase “the mistaken zygote,” I went back to my well-thumbed beloved copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves.

Let me digress a moment here and say this book ought to be every woman’s Bible.  If I were in charge (!) I would make sure every girl gets one as part of a coming-of-age package presented at the celebration of menarche. Of course I ended up re-reading the whole chapter, smiling and crying a bit to see the condition of being female so beautifully understood.  Buy it, steal it, borrow it and refuse to return it!  Get your hands on a copy and keep it close at hand.

Speaking of this story, written by Hans Christian Anderson and published in 1845, Clarissa says:

It is a psychological and spiritual root story.  A root story is one that contains a truth so fundamental to human development that without integration of this fact further progression is shaky, and one cannot entirely prosper psychologically until this point is reached.

That point is all about finding who you really are, accepting who you are, and also finding others like yourself who will affirm, confirm and value who you are. In Clarissa’s words:

The duckling of the story is symbolic of the wild nature, which, when pressed into circumstances of little nurture, instinctively strives to continue no matter what   …

The other important aspect of the story is that when an individual’s particular kind of soulfulness, which is both an instinctual and a spiritual identity, is surrounded by psychic acknowledgment and acceptance, that person feels life and power as never before.  Ascertaining one’s own psychic family brings a person vitality and belongingness.

I loved this story the very first time I read it.  Then, I got to see Danny Kaye play Hans Christian Anderson in the movies!  At age seven, I developed a mad crush on him, learned his songs by heart, and saw every movie of his my parents allowed. I still sing, “Quack! Get out!  Quack! Quack!  Get out!  Quack! Quack! Get out of town!” to myself some days.

My dad was in the army and we moved around so much I was always the new kid in town.  I never fit in at school and I felt like a stranger at home. Hans Christian Anderson could have written this story for me.  I identified completely with the ugly duckling; he sustained and encouraged me.  Having read it, I believed that one day I too could find people like me who would value me.  Looking back on my life, I am still amazed at the power of  stories, which I read as a little girl, to influence and nourish me.  In fact, I dedicated my first volume of poetry Be A Teller Of Tales to:

 Piglet & Pooh,

Ratty, Mole, Alice,

Humpty Dumpty, Br’er Rabbit,

Pinocchio, Mrs. Doasyouwouldbdoneby,

Mrs. Pigglewiggle, Charlotte, Uncle Wriggly,

Mary Poppins, Curdie, Cinderella, the North Wind, the Five Little Peppers, Heidi, Black Beauty and all

the other beloved creatures and characters

without whose leadership, companionship

and instruction I would know

nothing of storytelling

and much less

about life.

The Ugly Duckling gave me a sense of self-worth.  It inspired me to keep looking for my “pack” and gave me the courage to approach them whenever I did find another pack member.  I was very happy to return to the story after all theses years, read it again and find it as edifying and useful as ever.  I still feel heartstruck at the exile of the duckling, proving that old scars never completely fade away.  Perhaps that’s why the tones in this collage are so dark – not something I intended.  All Anderson’s stories are tinged with shadows, even those with happy endings.  I suppose it’s why I love them so. They never prevaricate or pretend. As a child, nothing was more frightening to me than lies. I could always trust Mr. Anderson to truthfully reflected the uneven mixture of pain, grief, joy and happiness I found life to be.

My collage shows the mother duck with both her own duckling and the strange creature she has inadvertently hatched.  The chickens and cat represent barnyard fowl, the ignorant nay-sayers of this world.  I included the cat because it foreshadows the danger the cygnet will meet on his quest.  The swan, is his true nature; the creature he will find at journey’s end.

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.