Illustrations from Russian Lacquer Boxes
(Art captioned by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.)
Baba Yaga and her Magical Colts
by Lashenko of Kholuy
From the Russian Fairy tale, "Marya Morevna"
[Courtesy of Russian Sunbirds]
9 March 2000,
Note from Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.:
I read this essay last fall on an online Slavic Pagan list and wrote to see if I could design a webpage for it and link it to my site on Crones & Sages. I soon learned that the man who had posted it had gotten it from a woman on another list, the Dark Goddess list; when I checked back through that list's archives and wrote the person who had posted it, she put me in touch with another woman who was thought to be the author. I just learned from that woman, however, that she has no idea where it had come from -- someone prior to her had simply copied and pasted the text into an e-mail.
The trail ended there. No one knew the original author.
I am therefore putting it online as an anonymous piece of writing. If anyone knows the actual author, please let me know! I would like to get her permission to use it here and then give her credit for this work. Meanwhile, I hope you'll enjoy her insights....
BABA YAGA - THE BLACK GODDESS
By AnonymousI have been thinking and thinking about the image and story of Baba Yaga now for months and wondering how girls and women can resolve the seemingly paradoxical story of a bony heartless witch with the image of innocence of a rejected and abandoned girl. The following essay outlines how we use myth and story to perpetuate unconscious mindsets and it also unveils the gifts that these stories unfold in our inner psyche.The story of Baba Yaga is prime among many images of the Black Goddess. The Black Goddess is at the heart of all creative processes and cannot be so easily viewed. Men and women rarely approach her, except in fear. Women are learning of her through the strength and boldness of elder women who are not afraid to unveil her many faces.
Sofia as wisdom lies waiting to be discovered within the Black Goddess who is her mirror image. Knowing that, until we make that important recognition, we are going to have to face the hidden and rejected images of ourselves again and again.As women, we are confronted throughout our lives with unavoidable body messages regarding the uniqueness of our form and the inevitable changes that characterize aging and the passage of time. Although aging presents difficult challenges for both men and women, women confront some specific difficulties because of their gender. In traditional narratives, the end of biological fertility has relegated women to the status of "old women" who are stereotypically viewed as poor, powerless, and pitiful in our sexist and youth oriented culture. Baba Yaga, often referred to as the Black Goddess, and Vasalisa, often representing Sophia (Matthew's 1992, p. 289-90), are intrinsic to the psyche of girls and women because they shows us that the illusion of form can hide wonderful qualities within.
Baba Yaga, ugly, haglike, flying in her mortar,
seemingly isolated and abandoned,
yet broom at hand, ready to sweep the clouds across the skies
and reveal her hidden cosmic nature
[Courtesy of Russian Sunbirds]One of the cruelest of stereotypes that older women face is the "menopausal woman." These are accentuated by the very fact that younger women are often rejecting or distancing to older women in society, unwilling to identify with women older than themselves. These experiences are painful confirmations that the aging woman no longer meets the social criteria of a physically and securely attractive woman. The common result for most women is the activation of shame -- as if becoming/looking older means that something is deeply and truly wrong with oneself.Conscious femininity is a cyclic process (Woodman 1990) and involves an awakened awareness of the triple form of the Goddess - Mother, Virgin and Crone - and how she exists simultaneously and continuously in all of our psyches, each taking center stage in awareness at different moments. These archetypal patterns are considered intrapsychic modes of consciousness in the individual, and the primordial image of a powerful and integrated woman, crowned with wisdom gleaned through real experience, is again reemerging through both the individual and collective psyches of humanity. First, however, women must learn to embrace, respect and honor their changing bodies, abilities, capacities and WISDOM. We can learn a lot from Baba Yaga!An archetype is a universal symbol, an inherited mental image to which humankind responds, and which is often acted upon as an unconscious reaction to human experience. These stories are no different and the story of Baba Yaga exemplify this phenomena. The female experience is symbolized by and archetypally corresponds with the ancient Triple Goddess as the creator and destroyer of all life -- "the ancient and venerable female divinity embodying the whole of female experience as Virgin, Mother, Crone" (Mantecon 1993, p. 81). The archetypal figure representing the end of a woman's childbearing years, or the "third age" for women, is the third aspect of the Triple Goddess, the Crone.At the climacteric or menopause, women are often forced to stand precipitously between the culmination of past experiences, to realize that youth is left behind, and prepare a new space within whereby a fresh image will coalesce as she envisions her future. This is real labor. The traditional constructs that are available to women are largely influenced by patriarchal standards of youth and beauty and we need fresh constructs that honor the diversity of life in all of its forms.When a culture's language has no word to connote "wise elder woman," what happens to the women who carry the "Grandmother" consciousness for the collective? Prejudicial (prejudged) attacks throughout history against older women symbolized patriarchy's feminization of fear: the ultimate fear of annihilation, to be nonexistent (no existence). Centuries-long indoctrination limits our imagination so that we see this ancient aspect of the feminine only in her negative forms. We see her as the one who brings death to our old way of being, to our lives as we have known them, and to our embodied selves.Our fear of the unconscious makes the Crone or Baba into an image of evil. The prevalence of paranoid masochism finds its expression through feminine perversion. Kristeva (1986) writes from "Stabat Matar" that: "Feminine perversion is coiled up in the desire for law as desire for reproduction and continuity, it promotes feminine masochism to the rank of structure stabilizer" (p. 183).Structure stabilizer! Natural death is to be feared, hidden away, certainly not recognized as part of the natural rhythm of cycles of birth, death and rebirth? Only when death becomes projected does it become a monster to be feared. There is an unconscious belief that a woman who has outlived her husband has somehow used up his life force. Walker (1985) claims that the secret hidden in the depths of men's minds is that images of women are often identified with death. Women have also bought into this mindset largely because of lost connection with their own spirituality and the natural cycles of nature!
Vasalisa Approaching the Hut of Baba Yaga
[Courtesy of Tradestone International]To be sent to Baba Yaga was tantamount to being sent to one's death, but Vasalisa was actually helped by Baba Yaga. By facing her own worst fear -- death itself, Vasalisa became liberated from her previous situation and immaturity.The myths of our society tell us much about the attitudes and world view of the myth-owners (Kaufert 1982), and these attitudes are the products of women's roles within the wider society. Myth arises out of the collective level of humankind's experience, which is presented through images and symbols that resonate within our psyche. It is something we inherit from our ancestors and it is expressed through our genetic, racial memory. Kaufert (1982) reminds us however, that "myth is a system of values presented as if it were a system of facts" (p. 143).The symbol of the Crone is unique to a feminine worldview where the face of the Virgin and the fecund Mother, the Virgin Mother Mary, was absorbed in Western tradition into Judeo-Christian imagery. Likewise, we see the image of Vasalisa embodied as this innocence. The Crone has retained much of her pre-patriarchial character where she has haunted the fringes of Western culture, largely ignored, unacknowledged and rejected; one that often strikes fear into the hearts of men and some women because she has tremendous power and cannot be confined (Hall 1992). "Wise women," in the past, were literally seen as having the power of life and death. They symbolized maturity, authority, attuned to nature and instinct. They were women whom men could not bind by making pregnant. They personified, as Hall (1992) writes:That aspect of life that men would most like to control but against which they are powerless: death. The Crone was healer, seer, medicine woman and, when death arrived with inexorable certainty, she was the mid-wife for the transition to another life (p. 170).
Baba Yaga's Hut:
standing on its magical Chicken-Leg,
yet revolving like the solar symbol it is,
always rising & setting in a new place,
bringing birth -- and death -- daily.
[Courtesy of Russian Sunbirds]Over time, and in recent history the Crone became associated with the dark side of the feminine; the withered old hag, the witch. Ironically, the word "Hag" used to mean "holy one" from the Greek hadia, as in hagiolatry, "worship of saints." (Starck 1993). And during the middle ages hag was said to mean the same as fairy.In deconstructing these familiar images of the older aging woman, we must first identify their symbolic roots and challenge them in order to allow for potent, vital images that energize women's potential creative spiritual evolution. In this quest it is crucial to find valued female images that present creative and spiritual power, that offer a paradigm of ongoing formation and integration. If we do not do so, we risk encountering images of women that reinforce stereotypical models and moreover, can only alienate us from our own truest selves.The Crone is a figure who incorporates both dark and light, life and death, creation and destruction, form and dissolution. The doll [Vasalisa's doll, given to her by her dying mother] becomes the symbol of the Sibyl, a figure of inspiration and intuition. She acts as a guide through the great passages of life, leading a woman into her own inner knowing.
.........Continued: Baba Yaga: Page Two
Pages designed 8 March 2000;
art added and captioned 9 March 2000.
Published 9 March 2000.
Author of text is unknown.
Copyright © 1999-2000 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
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