Tag Archives: folktales

Burying the Too-Good Mother

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June whisking up some self-loathing for the rest of us.

I was raised in the South.  My mother was completely in love with American Camelot, so my brother and I were named after Jackie O and JFK.  The programming to be the perfect, June Cleaver, mom was baked in with a fried onion crust in lovely Cornel servingware. My mom so wanted to be June– but found the weight of being a single mom in the 70s to heavy for June’s apron strings and high-heeled vacuuming.  I’m becoming increasingly convinced that her inability to let June go fueled her alcoholism and many other (self)sabotaging behaviors.

In preparing for the upcoming e-course on using archetypes for emotional alchemy,Getting to Know YOU, I’ve been doing some work around the Too-Good mother that dies at the beginning of Vasilissa.  Many feminists have bemoaned how the mother is always dead before the curtain goes up in so many folk tales, and it can look pretty misogynistic if you don’t understand the deeper meaning…  Read more

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?

 

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.