Illustrations from Russian Lacquer Boxes
(Art captioned by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.)
[Continued ------ Page Two]
Vasalisa & her doll with the White Horseman of Dawn
(who reports daily to Baba Yaga,
just like the Red Horseman of Noon,
and the Black Horseman of Evening)
[Courtesy of Russian Sunbirds]
We see this in the story of Vasalisa and Baba Yaga, the innocence of the maiden coming of age through a series of tasks. Baba Yaga forces Vasalisa to look within through intuition (the doll) and she awakens to the illuminating light that is carried in her heart. Within the simple limits of a folk story, the interactions of Sophia (Vasalisa) and the Black Goddess (Baba Yaga) are demonstrated. Baba Yaga or the Crone also embodies the inner archetype of Sophia, feminine wisdom. Hall (1992) writes:
Sophia is a Wise Woman, one who epitomizes feminine thought. This thought is of a particular kind. It is 'gestalt' or whole perception; it synthesizes and looks at the overall pattern; it is logical but empathetic, and combines acute observation with intuition. It is relational (taking account of the past in order to project forward into the future), and it arises out of care and concern for man and womankind. It uses both the left and right brain modes of thought. It is creative and concerned with vision and solutions -- attributes which are an integral part of the Wise Woman (p. 179).Sophia plays, hides, adepts, disguises, and brings justice. Interestingly, we see these very same qualities attributed to the wise woman as being Vasalisa's, only not fully formed. Thus affirming the feminist perspective of the Goddess in all of her aspects and that all ways to wisdom are valid paths. Girls and women are encouraged to rely on their own subjective experience or on the communal experience of other women This is a very important point!
From a feminist perspective, the entry into the third phase of women's life is seen as a time of spiritual questing, renewal and self-development. It is a time where women are encouraged to explore themselves through interaction with other females who are providers of friendship, support, love, even sexual satisfaction, rather than a woman's family.
Baba Yaga helping young Ivanushka
[Courtesy of Russian Sunbirds]
Likewise, the young girl growing into maidenhood needs the guidance and wisdom that elder women can provide. She must receive the gifts that the wise ones can give her. Baba Yaga may appear as a witch, yet she is instrumental in folk traditions. She aids heroes to find weapons, simplifying tasks and quests when she is treated with courtesy. Her transposed reflection is none other than Vasilisa the fair - the young righteous maiden who defeats her opposite aspect by truth and integrity (Matthews 1992)
The older woman is the keeper of the wisdom and tradition in her family, clan, tribe, and community. She is the keeper of relations, whether they be interpersonal or with all of nature. Every issue is an issue of relationship. It is assumed that she has a deep understanding of the two great mysteries, birth and death.
Another quality is the ability to be mediator between the world of spirit and earth. She is emancipated from traditional female roles of mothering and is free to make a commitment to the greater community. As a result of this freedom, there is an abundance of creativity unleashed in this phase of life; often expressed through art, poetry, song, dance, and crafts, and through her sexuality as she celebrates her joy (Joussance).
This elder time must again become a stage of life revered and honored by others and used powerfully in service by women themselves. The elder "Wise-woman" can represent precisely the kind of power women so desperately need today, and do not have: the power to force the hand of the ruling elite to do what is right, for the benefit of future generations and of the earth itself.
A powerful Baba Yaga, flying in her mortar,
protecting her forests,
& banishing all obstacles with her pestle and broom
[By Lebedeva of Palekh: courtesy of Russian Sunbirds]
Like Baba Yaga, the Crone must help us by her example and "admonish us to revere all peoples and all circles of life upon this earth . . . not only important for the dignity and self-esteem of each woman, but vital for the countenance of life on our sweet Mother Earth" (Eagle). Since men define power as the capacity to destroy, the Destroying Mother Crone must be the most powerful female image for them, therefore, the only one likely to force them (us) in any new direction.
A woman who denies her life process at any time in her development, clinging desperately to outmoded images, myths and rituals of her past, obscures her connection with Self, the Divine, and therefore, with her spiritual heritage, the natural universe. The same holds true for our daughters, maidens who are coming of age. There is a kind of internal balance and sense of holiness available to us when we accept ourselves as part of a world that honors cycles, changes, decay and rebirth. It is time for women to reflect and give form to the authentic self in its evolving, formative process. The woman who is willing to make that change must become pregnant with herself, at last. She must bear herself, her third self, her old age with labor. There are not many who will help her with that birth. To Crone is to birth oneself as "Wise-woman," and see the world through new eyes.
We have not had the safety valve of feminine metaphor in our spiritual understanding; consequently, the Feminine, both Divine and human, have appeared monstrously contorted, threatening and uncontrollable.
The Black Goddess lies at the basis of Spiritual knowing, which is why her image continuously appears within many traditions as the Veiled Goddess, the Black Virgin, the Outcast Daughter, the Wailing Widow, the Dark Woman of Knowledge.
The way of Sophia is the way of personal experience. It takes us into the realm of "magical reality," those areas of our lives where extraordinary vocational and creative skills are called upon to manifest. Those treasures of Baba Yaga and Vasalisa lie deep within each of us, waiting to be discovered.
Matthews, Caitlin. (1992) Sophia Goddess of Wisdom: the divine feminine
from black goddess to world-soul. London, Eng.: Thorsons, p. 289-90)
Starck, Marcia. (1993) Medicine ways: cross-cultural rites of passage.
Freedom, CA: Crossing Press.
Tijerina-Jim, Aleticia. (1993) Three native american women speak about
the significance of ceremony. Women and therapy: a feminist quarterly, 14 (1/2), p. 33-39.
Eagle, Brooke Medicine. Grandmother wisdom: lessons of the moon-pause.
Guerneville, CA: Harmony Network Productions
Page 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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