Tag Archives: baba yaga

Abraham’s Path: The Ambiguous Way

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Abraham’s Path: The Ambiguous Way. Join us 6/12/14 http://www.facebook.com/events/403867586418328

Working closely with Baba Yaga lately, ambiguity has been one of the central themes.  I was thrilled at the release of Maleficent, and seeing an ambiguous female character portrayed sympathetically is huge, I tell you, HUGE.  Ambiguity is something that is central to the Wise Woman tradition and all of the Life/Death/Life goddesses (who are the most powerful).  Yet its something that women, caught in the crossfires of Maddona/Whore syndrome, have had little societal support to step in to.

In thinking about this, I’ve turned to the stories that brought me to the ball to begin with:  those of the Abrahamic tradition.  The story of Abraham is a story of ambiguity, questioning, and uncertainty.  How very odd that the traditions that followed are now so marked by black & white thinking and claims to certainty.  I think its time to look at these stories again and work from there.

I’ve republished one of my first blogs from 2009:

“Abraham’s relationship to God is marked by great sacrifices: to ask a tribal desert-dweller to leave their family and society is worse than death. Indeed, what makes Abraham’s story so relevant to our lives today is that even now we still find this to be a terribly frightening prospect. We define ourselves by our families, our culture, our geography, our language, our food, the religious practice we were raised with… Abraham left all of these things and embarked on a unique path. He would not lose that rugged individualism and continued to live and act in ways that were far from the societal norms, but were in alignment with the convictions of his heart, and his relationship with his Creator. Abraham shows us that questioning does not necessarily mean the dissection and death of faith, but is rather the basis and edification of True faith.”

Read the full blog post on The Deeper Marriage.

 

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The Wild Woman Within

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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.

Georgia O’Keefe’s “Pelvis with Moon” has long been one of my favorites, and not only helped me finish my 1/2 marathon training, but be able to stay at my mother’s deathbed. Have I told you that story?

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?

 

Wax On, Wax Off

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When I tell the story of Vasilissa, most listeners are as terrified of Baba Yaga as the story’s heroine. She lives deep in the forest in a house that dances and whirls on chicken legs. It is surrounded by a fence made of bones, with skulls that illuminate the yard- making it bright as daylight in the middle of the night.

She is an Arch-Crone. A Wild Woman. A force of Nature not to be tamed- and oh how that ruins one’s reputation in “civil” society. She understands and accepts the Life-Death-Life cycle and is thus a necessary teacher for anyone looking to step into their full Authentic power.

How you see the tasks says everything about where you are and where you're going.

Why does she frighten us so? There’s no doubt that she is an aide to those of a pure heart- Vasilissa being one of them. Do we question the purity of our own hearts and souls? To what degree is her reputation actually based on her nature and actions, and to what degree is it a projection of our own feelings of self-doubt and self-hatred?

By the time Vasilissa comes on the clearing in the woods where Baba Yaga’s hut lives, we’ve seen her slaving away for her step-mother and step-sisters. Every task completed is an excuse for more work to be piled on, and more criticism to be heaped on that when all is said and done. At first, it seems that Baba Yaga will just do more of the same… but something here is different. There is no criticism levied when all is said an done.

Perhaps we got Baba Yaga all wrong… What’s going on here? Is there a meaning to the tasks she’s assigned Vasilissa?  What skills would Vasilissa be developing while doing the Baba’s bidding?

We’ll be looking more deeply at Baba Yaga’s character Thursday 7/11/13 at the Food & Folktales event in Downtown Mesa.  Join us!

Dark places and hard times

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Was listening to a webinar yesterday led by Fabienne Frederickson on the breakthrough mindset of successful people, and she said something about “those times we’d rather not re-live.”  I was struck by her very careful word choice…  We all know the times she’s talking about: those times that squeeze and even pinch us.  The ones where we’re struggling to get a breath.  Where our sources of comfort turn brittle.

The places that show us that we’re still not over those abandonment issues. Where the sense of betrayal is so intense it becomes physically palpable.  I remember one such time, I literally heard my heart breaking.  It made a sound- like cloth being ripped down the middle.

I noticed that she didn’t say “those times we all wished had never happened” or “those times we’d rather forget”.  She said “those times we’d rather not re-live.”

There is an acknowledgment here.  A nodding to the difficulty, of course, but an awareness of the role that difficulty played in making us who we are today.  Like bones that need the muscles to pull on them and create resistance to keep them strong, so too do we need those difficult times to lengthen our souls so we can reach to the sky.

Remaining in that awareness keeps our heart and mind open so that we can effectively navigate the rocks and choppy waters when we’re in them.  In the tale of Vasilissa, the little doll in her pocket often replies “Say your prayers. Get your rest.  The morning is wiser than the evening.”

When we find ourselves in the middle of a crisis, stepping back to surrender to the moment brings us peace.  That peace enables us to see solutions we would be blind to if we let anxiety and fear take over.  When anxiety reaches a certain level, it literally severs dendrite connections in the brain. When the anxiety levels reduce, the dendrites will reconnect- like a game of Red Rover.  Its easy to understand how rising fear and anxiety levels diminishes our ability to find the solutions right in front of us.  We need to find our rest.

Once rested, it all seems to fall in to place.  Things don’t seem as terrible as we’d thought. We’re on the other side; we got past the trolls under the bridge. We’ve made it through the night and find ourselves in the light of morning.

So was all that really necessary?  Did we have to go through all that to get here?  As Joseph Campbell would ask, what is the gift in that dark place?  (I love how this post handles that question!  I mean, what do you do when your hood pops up and smashes your windshield while driving down the road??  I got all kinds of messages from my closet collapsing, I can only imagine how much she was able to mine from that experience).Baba Yaga crashing through the forest

Returning to the story of Vasilissa, at first glance, it’d be easy to say that the work she’s forced to do for her step mother and step sisters and the work she does for Baba Yaga are equally soul-crushing, yet both are freeing her in different ways.  Both are teaching her vital lessons about who she is, who others are, and how the world works.  Both are teaching her about power- though in different ways.

It is because of this work, because of this hardship–not in spite of it– that Vasilissa is able to return home with the light of Wisdom gone before.  Because of having worked through the difficulties that this light- scary though it is- is her helpmate rather than an adversary.

For Christians, today is a yearly reminder of the power of those hard places and dark times.  Easter morning is a celebration of the triumph of the light, the return of spring after a hard and long winter–a theme in religions and cultures round the world and throughout recorded time… yet there would be no celebration had there not been the cave.  No heart-expanding world-shifting forgiveness had there not been such deep betrayal.  This is where the Christ figure paves the way and shows the example– release of bitterness when faced with persecution from those he’d helped.  Forgiveness at the hands of betrayal.  Reaching for connection in times of abandonment.

The tendency to close down and harden in such times is fierce.  To choose instead to open up and soften –after a period of solitude– unlocks a deeply transformative power into our lives and in those around us.

How do we do that?  Release our grip on resentment and bitterness.  See how we contributed to our relationship with the metaphorical step-families in our lives.   Look past our fear of the Baba Yagas to see what they gave us.  Choose openness and dialogue instead of walls and defenses.  Practice looking past what makes us afraid to the Love it has to offer.

Getting past the gatekeeper

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I’ve noticed that every time I am moving towards the next level, I have this attack of sorbridgetrollts.  I know I am not alone.  Finally make the decision to move on up by sending your CV out there, or get out of a relationship that’s not working, or ask for that raise you know you deserve and here it comes–  the negative head-chatter.  The judgmental family member/colleague that says out loud what you’ve been afraid of.  Self-sabotaging episodes.

“Who do you think you are?”

“What right do you have?”

“You’re just going to screw it up.”

Whatever your committee’s favorite shaming and fear-inducing phrases are, they’re in a near-constant loop.

Yet, push through and do it anyway, and the whole world opens up.  Nothing I was worried about happened, or if it did, it wasn’t a big deal.  Its like there are these boogeymen at each portal to the next level that make all this noise and try to scare me back, but actually have no power.  Harmless.  They’re just waving their arms and making noise, really.

In folk tales, there are no shortage of such creatures.  The reputations alone of these trolls under the bridges of our lives are often enough to keep us from even going near the bridge, let alone daring to cross it.  Yet it is in this daring that we survive.  Dare we not, and it is the fear that held us back that will consume us.  The negative, critical, searing questioning that will intensify and make the next bridge even more frightening to cross.

In the story of Vasilissa, our heroine is the victim of a plot intended to kill her.  She is sent to Baba Yaga’s house deep in the woods to get fire.  Frightened at the prospect of being eaten by Baba Yaga, Vasilissa arrives at the hag’s hut after a few days of traveling through the woods.  Even with all this time to mentally prepare, she’s still terrified when confronted by Baba at the gate.

…”Why are you here?” the Baba demanded.

“I live with my Stepmother at the edge of the woods, and we are in need of fire.” Vasilissa answered.

“Yes, yes.” Baba Yaga sneered, “I know your people.

“Why should I give you fire” she shot back.

“Because I asked.” Vasilissa replied.

 

She’s facing the horrible stuff of legends, and she doesn’t justify.  She doesn’t explain.  She doesn’t try to win pity points.  She simply asks for what she needs.

This takes ovarios.  And it works.

The Baba didn’t eat Vasilissa right there on the spot.  She didn’t eat Vasilissa at all.  But to be able to stand in the face of that kind of Wild Power and hold her own, Vasilissa had to know what she wanted.  Just knowing what we need is half the battle won.

When we know what it is we need, when we’ve connected to what happens if we don’t have what we need, courage comes much more easily.  The fear of going forward becomes less than the fear of turning back- and that’s all you need to get past the gatekeeper.

After betrayal, where?

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hanging bulb I read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison in high school.  The story of a wide-eyed and idealistic young black man heading to New York to make his way in the world and the disillusionments he met along the way scared me, broke my heart, and shook me in numerous other ways.

On a recent trip to New England, I went to go see the Huntington Theatre production of Invisible Man in Boston.  The performance was riveting, and the story again stirred me on a very deep level.  I’d spent the train ride from D.C. to NYC working on the curriculum for my upcoming class using the Baba Yaga folk tale of Vasilissa.  The unreasonable expectations put on Vasilissa by her step-family resonated with the inner adolescent and young adult in me.  They weren’t giving her tasks and chores to encourage her development or even help the family: they were doing it to get her killed. To destroy her.

This is a betrayal that claws at the soul.  Those that are charged with building up and fostering development instead tear down and sabotage, even seek to annihilate.  It can push us into an identity crisis, questioning our value and place in the world.  The tale of Vasilissa triggered this in me, so I wove inner adolescent work and its occupation with identity into the course.  Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes uses the tale of “Wasilissa the Wise” in her book Women Who Run with the Wolves as a means to reconnect with our intuition.  That intuition will be deeply damaged if we’re cut off from ourselves because we haven’t forgiven ourselves for being betrayed in the first place.Vasilissa guided back home with new insight

And that’s often what happens.  We think we ought to have known better.  We replay the scenario over and over again in our minds, highlighting the details that hindsight spots so easily.  We beat ourselves up.  We blame others.  We swear never to let it happen again.

Riding home on the green-line, the performance of Invisible Man and my work with Vasilissa danced in my head while I pondered betrayal.  How do we recover from these soul wounds?  How do we emerge with a heart that is stronger–expansive and supple–instead of thickening the walls and pulling away from the connections we long for and need like water?

The next day, we traveled to Salem.  Being the site of the infamous Salem Witch Trials, my musings on betrayal–and how to move on afterwards–continued.  When we returned to Boston in the evening, I sent my partner on to the symphony without me so that I could meditate and journal on the subject.  He willingly went solo once he realized that me not attending meant no appeasing my Southern sensibilities about appropriate attire for cultural events and he could just go on in his jeans and sneakers.

I returned to the flat we’d rented for the week, and settled in, ready, as Rumi would say, to welcome whatever knocked.  Betrayal drudges up all manner of emotions:  anger, resentment, hurt, acute vulnerability, blame, shame, fear, suspicion, and more.  I let the feelings rush through me, observing the images and memories they brought to mind, and the stories that had been attached to what it all meant.  I noticed how my impulse was protective.  How the narrative that strung the memories together urged security, called for an oath of “never again” and sought to make good via extra fortification, heightened cynicism and lessening trust of others.

So natural, so human, when faced with betrayal to heighten security.  Yet I thought about what that means in the outside world when we choose to foster security over community.  When we embolden defenses instead of connection.  It leads very quickly to loss of freedom, oppression, and even tyranny.  If I don’t want those things dictating the society around me, I need to make sure they don’t reign within me.

How?

How do we move past betrayal and not allow it to close us up?  To add thickness to the walls around our hearts?  I asked these questions as I embraced the parts of me that longed for revenge.  The parts that were bruised and bled.  The parts that howled in pain.

What did you learn from this betrayal that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise? 

“That people suck” a part of me answered, adding, “Don’t trust anyone!”.  I almost had to laugh. That couldn’t be the answer: I know where that narrative leads, and its not a place I enjoy visiting, let alone living.  It is a place where Fear rules instead of Love.

So natural, so human, when faced with betrayal to heighten security, to close off, to quit trusting (myself as well as others).  Yet I thought about what that means in the outside world when we choose to foster security over community,  when we embolden defenses instead of connection.  It leads very quickly to loss of freedom, oppression, and even tyranny.  If I don’t want those things dictating the society around me, I need to make sure they don’t reign within me.

Again, the question surfaced: What did you learn from this betrayal that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise?

I stuck my foot in my heart’s door and wedged it open.  Listening now with open heart:

How did it make you more aware? What did it teach you about yourself that’s brought you further? How did it help you recognize and appreciate the good people in your life?  What did it teach you about operating in illusion? 

Finally, I pulled out my journal and began to answer the question.  A good question it is, for it holds many keys…