baba yaga

22. Hold Mabon

tree

I have no idea how to even go about describing what happened for Mabon this year.

At least, not in a way that the majority of my readers would understand and I’m not even sure that the people who have experience in the situation/skill set would get it either. But it involves a drum circle, an oak tree, and Baba Yaga’s hut.

I normally start to work with Baba in fall and winter, so her reappearance nearish the first day of fall isn’t terribly uncommon. One of her motifs is spinning [think the spinning that a person would do during ecstatic dance], and she has the infamous chicken legged hut. I have never however experienced the spinning hut myself prior to tonight and it will be interesting to see how this plays out-I don’t know what this means. It didn’t run away or get aggressive so I suppose I have that in my favor. Listen, we’re talking about a folkloric symbol that can carry itself around on chicken legs, I don’t think the fact that a house can get defensive is truly the oddest aspect of this story.

As for the mundane side of Mabon we went to the park for drum circle. Mid is trying hard to make sure I have down time that doesn’t involve looking for roaches, packing, unpacking, cleaning, and wondering if the movement I’m catching out of the corner of my eye is a roach [I have come to realize that I am getting a lot of allergy related floaters, which are slowly driving me insane, like something out of a Poe story]. I did do better with the drum circle than I did with the concert last month. I sat under an oak tree and just was for awhile.

I will do my traditional bread later this week, or next weekend, schedule permitting. Same with applesauce and my normal Mabon/fall foods, it will have to be fit in with the rest of my tight schedule. Everything has to be done by the 30th so while I’m a little frightened that I’m running out of time I also know there’s a definitive end point.

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Hansel and Gretel

sundaylegends

I haven’t been blogging because blogging requires a voice, and I haven’t felt like talking recently. Not in a blogging sense anyway. I’ve been working on getting that voice back but I’m still stuck in a months long rut of just repeating the same projects over and over again and people are asking me to keep repeating those projects or work on stuff they want me to help them with or the like. I have been doing things like improving my bread making skills-so it’s not a total loss.

Part of my lack of voice is that even with my red notebook of folklore ideas, nothing is coming to me for writing ideas. I ended up turning to a Facebook group to get an idea for this post, but it’s currently topical for me. Fall is when I start thinking Baba Yaga and crone magic.

Hansel and Gretel were the children of a woodcutter, who loved them dearly. They had a happy life with their father, who was a widower. Eventually their father grew lonely and decided to take a wife. But his new wife did not love her stepchildren nearly as well as their father did; however she was a patient woman and settled into her new life.

Everything was fine until a drought struck. The crops died in the fields, and hunger set in. The woodcutter did what he could until he was forced to admit that his family was most likely not going to survive. He wept bitterly. His new wife came to him in the night and said the unthinkable: take the children out to the woods in the morning. Give them a little bit of bread.

Leave them there.

While he knew that it would break his heart forever to do so, in the deep of the night he also saw the wisdom in his wife’s words. So he didn’t fight her.

However the children were still awake in the next room and heard this plan. Instead of being at risk of being abandoned, they stole a little bread [in some legends they left with a pocketful of stones] and left a trail behind them when their father attempted to leave them in the woods. They simply followed the stones back home-much to their stepmother’s horror.

The next day after their return, their father takes them back to the woods-this time making sure there are no rocks, just bread. The children leave another trail but the birds eat the crumbs. However they manage to make it back to the house again, only to find that the doors have been locked and they are alone.

The siblings decide to brave the woods themselves and eventually find themselves in the deep dark of the forest. However what they find amazes them; there is a house made entirely of gingerbread and candy.

The scent of the house lured them forward and the two find it owned by a crone. The crone is ugly and blind, and she invites the two into the house. Not sensing anything dangerous here the children enter the house-and are quickly imprisoned by the crone who is really a witch, who desires to eat the children.

The crone puts Gretel to work in the kitchen while attempting to fatten up her brother. Eventually the children manage to outsmart and overpower the witch, push her into her own oven, and escape.

They make it back to their father-who, especially after the death of his second wife in the famine, is elated to see them. They live happily ever after. Except for the dead crone and the dead wife.

——————————————————————————————————–

What is interesting with this version of a witch crone story is that the only real benefit that the children receive from their time with the witch is that they’re sort of riding out the time until the false mother (the stepmother) leaves their lives again. There is a suggestion that the children weren’t in any real danger, and one actually has to wonder why they waited so long to leave again, what with the witch being weak enough to be pushed into an oven by a child. This story doesn’t make her out to be a Baba Yaga type, capable of taking someone out herself. In some variations the witch is actually rich and the children steal money to bring back home with them.

There are some noted parallels to the Baba Yaga archetype, but the story is not simply a retelling of earlier Baba stories. Baba takes on a much heavier teacher role in her stories; for all of her unpleasantness, Baba Yaga teaches or provides the hero with an item or wisdom, and follows through with her promises as well as her warnings. Her standards may be high, but she plays fair as long as you stay within her boundaries. In the case of Hansel and Gretel, while the stories may stem from a similar route (or the Hansel story may have actually evolved out of the Baba Yaga archetype) the function of the witch crone here is markedly different: the children here are gaining nothing from the crone except perhaps the triumph of the strength and cunning of youth over aged femininity.

I’m getting a little bit rambl-y but the role of older women as a whole in this story is interesting. There’s a heavy suggestion that the first mother wouldn’t have let the children out in the forest in the first place-and we’re definitely not supposed to be siding with the stepmother for doing so. In fact the only woman who comes out of this story looking okay isn’t a woman at all; we cheer on Gretel’s actions as she and her brother work to free themselves. The stepmother and the crone are both presented as the dark mother; these are women who sort of forgot how to ‘woman’ along the way and we’re definitely not supposed to be okay with that. I have seen discussions where there is a suggestion that this is a reflection of stances on women, but my personal suspicion is that we’re seeing more of a development of a shadow element than a direct comment on the role of femininity. I know I write from a horror perspective, but I have to wonder if our current rejection of the mother and crone presented here are based more on a societal refusal to reject the feminine shadow more than a true gender imbalance statement: after all, we aren’t questioning the role of the father and his shadow in this encounter at all. But then, men have a much longer history with embracing their shadows in literature then women.

The Appeal of Chicken Legged Huts

chicken-763960_1280

This is a repost from my side blog, from last summer. It’s just applicable now more than ever. My side blog is where I go when I feel the need to be openly cranky. I don’t post over there that often, but when I do there’s a rawness that shows up that doesn’t show up here that often. I’m busy right now, and am working on getting the links up to date, so you know, expanded repost.

I thought that maybe my time with Baba Yaga had finished.

There have been several things that I have finished this summer, and I have found myself back to where I started on path [literally]. The only way that this would be more literal would be to somehow move back to the apartment I was living in when I was in grad school and started practicing outright.

But I haven’t felt the old hag poking around in close to a month, and honestly, I missed her.

It sounds weird to say that I miss Baba more than any of the other energies that I’ve worked with that wandered away, but I feel like I’m finding my center the most while I’ve been working with her. She is not a pleasant person. I can understand why people shy away from the hags and the crones, and the darker queens. Baba is not a person that you go to for comfort. I’ve heard it said that Frau Holle is who you use as Baba’s balance; she’s the one that you go to when you need a grandmother.

But I don’t need a grandmother right now, I need someone to slap me lightly [who am I kidding, Baba doesn’t do anything lightly-and the folklore shows that] and tell me that I have the wisdom to do this-the wisdom you find in crisis, in fights, in stress, and in the hard times (don’t worry, it’s not as worrisome as all that sounds. July is just always a high energy month for me). Baba is not nice but she’s fair. You put in the work, you see results. You do not deserve a reward just because you asked for something. Baba Yaga is who reminds us that just because you feel as though you are deserving, doesn’t mean that you are actually deserving. Yet.

And frankly it was sort of like being taken halfway on a quest and then being dumped in the middle of the woods. Like, sorry, it’s been real. Find your own way home now.

That’s just it though, if you approach the mysteries with respect, put in the work regardless of how picky, nasty, absurd, and ‘dark’ it seems, you learn how to find your way home. Baba Yaga is not the person you turn to for a fast fix and an easy turn around.

But she’s come back grumbling, leaving a trail of ash and chicken feathers behind her. She’s mouthing off of about other people’s mud and why have I let myself slip on my covering, I’m a respectable married woman [I’m not married, but that’s besides the point] and if I’m not going to learn Russian I need to at least take conversational Polish.

Let me get right on that, Baba.

The Dark Mother

the dark mother

A repost from last fall. I’m posting a little early this week because I have to go do wedding stuff and I know that if I wait until tomorrow I’m going to get sucked into the siren’s song of canning peaches.

This is a topic that’s been showing up repeatedly for me this week.

If you’ve been watching this season of American Horror Story, there are times when Fiona is an exceptionally hard character to like.

However, there’s a scene, don’t worry I’m not going to spoil it, last week’s episode that drove home for me the way that the dark mother is present in both folklore and popular culture. It’s a theme that’s been running through my life for the last few weeks as well, and with the coming of winter it’s time to address it.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that we love to talk about the mother, with her compassion, loving, and gentleness but not her counterpart-the dark mother and the crone.

Women don’t seem to like the crone. In the image of the aged woman, they see their future and they fear it. They see the loss of vitality, beauty, and growth. While it’s true that women phase out of one arena-the creation of children and mothering-the crone is rewarded with grace, wisdom, and a deeper sense of self. There is also a fair amount of power in a croning-though it is admittedly a power that stems from being a step closer to death.

In mythology, the crone is sometimes psychopomp and thus fulfills a role that is absolutely pivotal to the life cycle. The pyschopomp, the guide of the souls into the underworld, is the bridge between two realities-that which we already know and the one that is unknowable. The crone sits at the bridge between the two worlds. Hecate, who is a triple goddess-that is maiden, or untried woman, mother/warrior/healer, and the crone, is the only deity who is capable of facing down Hades and mentoring Persephone during winter. It is her wisdom and grace that allows Persephone to move into her role of queen and also comfort her mother Demeter.

The crone as the witch is sometimes underestimated as well. Baba Yaga is one of those crones and dark mothers who can’t be fit into a perfect role. It is easy and perhaps desirable to make her into a terrifying creature, what with her habit of decorating with skulls and eating both heroes and children, but it is from her house that the cycle of the days (the colored riders) come forth and heroes, if they are both respectful and courageous, gain great wisdom. She is full of features that are deplorable, and yet is her that gives Vasilisa fire and teaches her the value of community and aid.

The crone and the dark mother are both associated with destruction, but mythology is often careful to remind us that creation and destruction are linked in a cycle, not independent entities. Winter, for all of its death and darkness is what prepares the ground for the rebirth of spring. Many plants need the winter to mature seeds so they can be planted in the spring.  Cailleach Bheur, or Beira, is both the spirit of winter and the mother of all the gods and goddesses in Scotland. She is paired with Brighde, who watches over the spring and summer. It is her dual nature, the destroyer as winter and mother of gods that marks the dual nature of the dark mother and crone.

Baba Yaga, Part 3

Of  course, just then, Baba Yaga came home. She was so very, terribly excited because she knew that soon she would be feasting on children.

In a splendid mood, she sent the children to a cold bed without a supper after she had feasted and crawled into a warm bed next to the fire. The children shivered throughout the dark night, but held onto the hope that the cat had given them.

The next day the children were given two tasks: collect firewood and weave linen. However, the children had other ideas and decided to escape. They took up the items the cat gave them, the towel and the comb, and ran into the woods around the hut. Many things tried to stop them and many times the children outsmarted them.

When Baba Yaga returned to her hut after her duties, she was incensed to find that the children had left.

“Cat!” She cried “What is this?!”

“Well,” the cat said, “you never fed me and they did.”

“Dog!” She cried. “What is this?!”

“Well,” the dog said, “you mistreated me.”

And so on until Baba Yaga had asked everything that aided the girl and boy-and heard their answers.

Baba yelled and yelled and finally flew-flew into her mortar, and grabbed her pestle, and flew into the air, after the children.

Hearing the witch coming, the girl cried

“Oh no!” and threw down the towel-and there sprang a river. But the witch flew over a narrow patch.

Hearing the witch coming, the boy cried

“Oh no!” and threw down the comb-and there sprang a heavy wood. But this time it was no use, and Baba Yaga had to turn back, cursing the children the whole way.

And thusly the children returned home to their father, who was overjoyed to see them and promptly sent their unloving stepmother away.
Part 1

Part 2

Based on Russian folktales, including this one collected in 1903

 

 

The Dark Mother

If you’ve been watching this season of American Horror Story, there are times when Fiona is an exceptionally hard character to like.

However, there’s a scene, don’t worry I’m not going to spoil it, last week’s episode that drove home for me the way that the dark mother is present in both folklore and popular culture. It’s a theme that’s been running through my life for the last few weeks as well, and with the coming of winter it’s time to address it.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that we love to talk about the mother, with her compassion, loving, and gentleness but not her counterpart-the dark mother and the crone.

Women don’t seem to like the crone. In the image of the aged woman, they see their future and they fear it. They see the loss of vitality, beauty, and growth. While it’s true that women phase out of one arena-the creation of children and mothering-the crone is rewarded with grace, wisdom, and a deeper sense of self. There is also a fair amount of power in a croning-though it is admittedly a power that stems from being a step closer to death.

In mythology, the crone is sometimes psychopomp and thus fulfills a role that is absolutely pivotal to the life cycle. The pyschopomp, the guide of the souls into the underworld, is the bridge between two realities-that which we already know and the one that is unknowable. The crone sits at the bridge between the two worlds. Hecate, who is a triple goddess-that is maiden, or untried woman, mother/warrior/healer, and the crone, is the only deity who is capable of facing down Hades and mentoring Persephone during winter. It is her wisdom and grace that allows Persephone to move into her role of queen and also comfort her mother Demeter.

The crone as the witch is sometimes underestimated as well. Baba Yaga is one of those crones and dark mothers who can’t be fit into a perfect role. It is easy and perhaps desirable to make her into a terrifying creature, what with her habit of decorating with skulls and eating both heroes and children, but it is from her house that the cycle of the days (the colored riders) come forth and heroes, if they are both respectful and courageous, gain great wisdom. She is full of features that are deplorable, and yet is her that gives Vasilisa fire and teaches her the value of community and aid.

The crone and the dark mother are both associated with destruction, but mythology is often careful to remind us that creation and destruction are linked in a cycle, not independent entities. Winter, for all of its death and darkness is what prepares the ground for the rebirth of spring. Many plants need the winter to mature seeds so they can be planted in the spring.  Cailleach Bheur, or Beira, is both the spirit of winter and the mother of all the gods and goddesses in Scotland. She is paired with Brighde, who watches over the spring and summer. It is her dual nature, the destroyer as winter and mother of gods that marks the dual nature of the dark mother and crone.

Baba Yaga-Part 2

Baba Yaga set the girl to spinning and the boy to hauling water. The girl cried as she spun and her tears became mice.

Your grandmother gave you cookies, they said. And a slice of ham. Give us the cookies and the cat the ham and we’ll both help you.

The girl gave the mice the cookies and went looking for the cat. She found her brother sobbing next to a sieve and a vat of water. He had been told to fill the vat with the sieve-a completely hopeless task.

A flock of birds flew by and sang,

Give us crumbs and we’ll help you.

The girl scattered crumbs on the ground and the birds sang,

Clay and water, water and clay, these two things will save the day!

The children, realizing what the birds meant, packed the sieve full of clay and soon had the vat filled with water.

Searching for the cat, they found him sitting near the door of the hut. The girl fed him the ham her grandmother had given her and begged him to help her.

Steal a towel, steal a comb. When you run from Baba Yaga drop the towel and it’ll turn into a river. If that’s not enough to stop her, drop the comb and it’ll turn into a forest.