I’ve been working with the story of Vasilissa for almost two years now. I’ve never worked with a story that long before, and its been an amazing journey. Its one thing to know in my head that every character in a story represents a different aspect of ourselves, its another thing to experience it fully. Over the past two years, I have been the step-sisters gripped by jealousy and suspicion when I was focusing on others’ work rather than my own. Lord knows I can identify with the father who ignores what he’s being called to see and instead focuses only on the words that sound so nice. I have been the scared child wandering in the forest, I have faced fierce, wild, power and held my own. I worked for Baba Yaga, the Old Wild Mother who lives deep in the forest, by going to the river and examining the patterns of the persona, by sweeping the floors of my psyche to keep them clear of clutter, but it wasn’t until last week that I actually found her inside of me.
I had been reflecting on Baba Yaga. On her house deep in the woods, far away from the structures and planning of the city, far away from the rules of civilization. The forest stands for our subconscious world or unconscious world in folk/fairy tales.
Why is she so frightening to us? Why is she so frightening to me?
I closed my eyes and dove inside of me. I went swimming looking for the place in me that is far removed from society and its rules. Appetites emerged as a door. In the story of Vasilissa, Baba Yaga has a fierce and ravenous appetite. You wonder if she will eat you up- consume you completely and still want more.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her book Women Who Run with Wolves, attributes Baba Yaga’s appetites with her need for creative activity, her desire for Life, for living fully. The pot of ideas should always be simmering on the stove to make sure there’s something to feed her when she gets home.
Indeed, many of the appetites that we fear- food, sex, belonging- will become unhealthy when we’re not feeding those creative fires. When I did the evening program for the Am I Hungry? retreat, I came home with a sign I’d made during the day program for my refrigerator door that reads: “If I’m not hungry, what I *need* isn’t in here.” It is a call to travel the dusky forest path to Baba Yaga’s hut and see what she’s cooking for her nourishment.
What is it that I *really* need? Forget what society says I should or shouldn’t need. Forget what others may say. Drop the story about what it means that I want this or want that– let alone need. Just drop in and listen earnestly. Listen as a witness. Listen to understand. Listen with compassion. This is the only way I can find myself. The only way I can even approach authenticity, let alone live there.
This is what Baba Yaga calls us to do. This is where she draws her power from. And it scares us silly. Especially in women.
I swam deeper inside of me to find her. To the places in me that I push down and away. The parts of me that I want to tame. The parts of me that I’m afraid of. The parts of me I’m scared will take me over if I even admit that they’re there. The part of me that yearns, longs, open-mouthed and gutterally. That rages and rattles my cage. The part of me that won’t scrub out. That pushes back.
I found her in my hips.
My most womanly part. The part that won’t fit in “boyfriend jeans”. That stretches any shirt cut too narrowly. The part of me that I catch myself clenching a thousand times a day. The part of me that has been so wretchedly violated. The part of me that ushered my son into the world. The part of me that keeps the rhythm. My seat. My frame. My physical foundation.
In the story of Vasilissa, Baba Yaga’s house is surrounded by a fence made of bones. There are skulls atop the bones that light up when the sun goes down, making her yard as bright as day. The skulls stand for the wisdom of the ancients, of our ancestors.
Lamarck’s theory about parents passing on adaptations through the genes, as well as more recent studies are demonstrating that we really do inherit our ancestors’ wisdom, stories, and even hang-ups. I am struck with the realization that those that have gone before me live within me. Their knowledge and stories are in my bones. The root chakra or tribal chakra, is located at the base of the spine, sheltered by the hips, and connects us to our tribe, to the earth. When there are imbalances, they often manifest as issues around physical and financial security. When I’m working with clients that have difficulty connecting with their feelings- particularly uncomfortable ones- I teach them to ground themselves, to breathe into the root chakra and sink in their hips, connect to how the hips support them, then connect to the earth supporting the floor beneath them, and the earth supporting their body in so many ways, which supports their life in so many ways.
Baba Yaga’s house is on chicken-legs, and it dances and twirls around–so full of life, it is. I see my hips as her bone-surrounded yard, and feel the lightness of my legs and body spinning and twirling around when I’m at my best. In many tales, Baba Yaga’s house has an elusive door. Those not invited would walk around and around the house and not find it. It only appeared when she called it. What a marvelous metaphor for sexual agency! It certainly speaks to our ability to close ourselves off to unwelcome visitors. One thing that I’ve learned in my healing journey is that no matter what the situation is, it impacts us the way we allow it to. As children, our thinking is so limited, so we’re much more vulnerable, but as adults, we decide who we let in, and who we don’t. We decide how we are influenced, and what we’ll do with those influences. The door only appears when we call it.
We deny this agency, then we fear our appetites. We view ourselves as victims in our own bodies. Is the prevalence of domestic violence- where we are victims in our own homes- a reflection of this? Recovering from DV certainly requires that we claim our agency over our lives, and that begins with how we view and relate to our bodies, our emotions, our drives and our appetites.
Claiming our purpose and passion in life does the same. Indeed, in the work I do to help people discover their passion, much of it is following appetites. What can’t they get enough of? What have they tried to move away from and can’t? What things do they love that society or their family has told them they should shew or avoid? What do they love that they’ve pushed away because it rails against societal views of what it means to be a woman? Or because pursuing it would mean laying down ideas of being “nice” or conforming in other ways?
How does it call them to move away from society and its rules? To heed the winds that brush through the forest trees deep in their subconscious? To go find Baba Yaga’s house and learn to feed her to satisfaction?