The Healing Wheel: The Psychology of the Wheel of the Year

Presenting the eight Festivals within an archetypal framework and connecting that framework to personal development and inner transformation.

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Spring’s Flowering: Baba Yaga and the Gift of the Winter Hag

For the past 6 months or so, I have been hosting a weekly Goddess Meditation at my healing centre. Using the beautiful and insightful Goddess Oracle by Amy Sophia Marashinsky (gorgeous artwork by Hrana Janto) has quickly become a touchstone in the week for many of us who gather on a Wednesday afternoon to see which Goddess will present Herself to us and listen to what She has to say of where we are or what we may need address at this particular time in our lives. It has been an interesting process to observe which Goddesses appear and to see a pattern emerge. There have been times when we have had a slew of challenging Crone Goddesses and the past couple of weeks seen such a trend. But this is not a surprise. These are challenging times for many of us and, though these Goddesses can be a bit unnerving, they reflect a connection to the inner resolve and inner strength that can help see us through. 

Recently, Baba Yaga (Russian/Slavic) came to join us in the meditation circle. Baba Yaga, who rides in a mortar and lives in a cottage that runs through the forest on chicken legs, is certainly one of those Goddesses to make you sit up and take notice. Perhaps the best known of Her tales is the story of Vasilisa, a Cinderella-type tale.

After her mother’s death, Vasilisa the Beautiful is left the only daughter of a merchant who remarries a cruel woman with two daughters of her own. Unbeknownst to all, Vasilisa’s mother had gifted her a small wooden doll with instructions to give it a small amount of food and water if she were ever in need and the doll would help her. One day, when the merchant is away, one of the stepsisters douses the last remaining flame of a candle leaving no light in the house. The stepmother sends Vasilisa to Baba Yaga’s hut for a flame to relight the candles.

The journey through the dark woods to Baba Yaga’s chicken-legged hut is terrifying. Along the way, Vasilisa is passed by three riders on horses: one dressed all in white, one dressed all in red, and the last dressed all in black who passes by just as she reaches Baba Yaga’s hut with its fence of human skulls whose eye sockets began to glow with the appearance of the Dark Horseman. Vasilisa is too frightened to do anything but stand there transfixed until Baba Yaga arrives in her mortar.

Vasilisa expains her quest and Baba Yaga agrees that she will bequest the flame in exchange for some tasks being completed. (Isn’t that always the way? There is always a deal that is struck.) Vasilisa is required to clean the house and the yard, to wash Baba Yaga’s laundry and cook her meal. Additionally, and this is where things become less mundane and more magical, Vasilisa must separate the rotten corn from that which is still good to use, and separate the poppy seeds from grains of dirt. If she is not able to complete all the tasks by Baba Yaga’s next return, Vasilisa will be killed, cooked, and eaten. However, if she IS successfully, she will attain the light.

As oft happens with tales of this sort, Vasilisa is able to get most of the tasks completed but then her ability begins to falter. She despairs. She fears she will fail. Not only will she not attain the light but she will lose her life. But then she remembers the doll in her pocket – the gift from her mother and the comfort it has brought in the past. She feeds it a bit of food and water and the doll urges her to sleep. When she awakes, the tasks have all been completed.

When Baba Yaga returns from her travels, there is naught to be done and the contract must be fulfilled. Vasilisa is given the flame to bring back to her home, although it has a devastating impact on her stepmother and stepsisters. This significant moment in Vasilisa’s life is the turning point that opens the door to wonderful things, but she never forgets the little wooden doll whose help allowed these things to transpire.

This is a scant retelling of the tale. There are many absent flourishes which give a deeper sense of how horrible the stepmother is and how terrifying Baba Yaga is. There is also a whole other aspect to the story which explains the three horsemen. However, I have always found it interesting that Baba Yaga’s tale actually has far more to do with Vasilisa. I have wondered what was going on for Baba Yaga. It is, by no means, a new statement to say that our culture has had a tendency to marginalize the crone. Vasilisa taking centre stage in the story of Baba Yaga has trace elements of that marginalization. If one shifts the reflection and focuses on Baba Yaga, what is the story there? What is going on for her? Why is she so sharp and grouchy? What is her relationship to the horsemen? What is she not telling us about what she knows of trials, tribulations, and impossible tasks? 

Wednesday’s Goddess Meditation gave me the opportunity to connect more fully with Baba Yaga. The timing was not lost on me. Having had a moment of lovely Spring, followed immediately by  another shot of Winter’s blast and the final tentative foray back into Spring’s warmth, it felt that the dance between Baba Yaga and Vasilisa as Winter Hag and Spring Maiden was certainly happening in Nature around us. But I also recognized the dance within and that led to interesting places indeed.

Connecting with Baba Yaga brought up a sense of other stern, transformative, crone Goddesses. Hekate and Ceridwen hovered at the edges of my meditation. Interestingly, my own mother, who has been these past 9 years in the Otherworld, was also by Their side, creating Their own triumvirate of observing Crones. Though Baba Yaga held the distinct sense of being particularly harsh, bordering even on cruel, with these other energies close by, a different image of Her began to emerge.

The Crone Goddess Baba Yaga, riding in Her mortar and living in Her chicken-legged hut, began to feel like the blunt tool of life’s experience that holds the sacred purpose of bringing us into direct relationship with our own Inner Light. This is no small task. And it is not for the weak of heart. Life is going to challenge us. Life, indeed, IS challenging us. We can be crushed beneath these experiences. Or, like the oyster that creates a pearl in response to constant, grating aggravation, we can craft a precious jewel. I began to see my own life from the perspective of all the times I lay in the bottom of Baba Yaga’s mortar having the edges ground off of me. I felt that I have been Vasilisa so many times in my life and that recognition brought the question of what or how do I experience my own “wooden doll”. What is that which brings comfort, continued strength, resilience and fortitude? It is significant to note that, at no point in the story is there the option to “opt out” except through death (read: depression, despair, numbing out, perhaps even getting lost in addiction). And so, in the personal reflection, though there have been times of feeling the task just cannot be accomplished, what has stepped in as support or aid?

All this is not extraordinary in a meditative experience of Baba Yaga. These awarenesses are hard-wired into the story, which is, of course, what gives mythology its timeless relevance. What I did not expect, as I continued to meditate and dialogue with Baba Yaga, was that I also became Her. I rose out of the mortar and grasped the pestle. I was both the grinder and the ground. The experiencer and the experience itself. I saw myself as Baba Yaga every time I set a boundary as a parent. I saw myself as Baba Yaga every time I held myself back from “rescuing, caretaking or fixing”. I saw myself as Baba Yaga every time I sat in my therapist’s chair as a client sobbed, knowing that I likely appeared heartless and distanced, but in fact sat there deeply connected and empathetic, knowing the importance of holding space for emotion to flow unabated until naturally ebbing off occurs.

In the recognition of the Baba Yaga within, I came to appreciate a beautiful fearlessness. She is not afraid of that which is hard. She is not afraid of that which is dark. She is not afraid of that which is painful. She is not afraid of the forest. In fact, I would go so far as to say She has intimate understanding of just how richly beautiful the forest is and She knows its cycles, secrets, and inhabitants. When you come across Baba Yaga, if you can quell the quaking when She shows up and if you can access that aid that is ever by your side, you will be abundantly rewarded. As we are starting to see in Nature all around us, if you can hunker in and survive the Winter Hag’s icy blasts, Spring will bless you with Her exquisite flowering.

 

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Tiffany Lazic (BAA, RIHR, RP) is a Registered Psychotherapist and founder of The Hive and Grove Centre for Holistic Wellness. She has developed numerous courses in the psychological application of intuitive tools and is author of The Great Work: Self-Knowledge and Healing Through the Wheel of the Year (Llewellyn, May 2015). "Be both of the Earth and of the Stars."

Comments

  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert Monday, 24 April 2017

    I have always enjoyed reading about Baba Yaga ever since I first encountered her as a young child in my Jack and Jill magazine. In those days I had no idea what a crone goddess was or even what Baba Yaga was except that she fascinated me with her chicken legged home and her mortar and pestle conveyance. Thanks for your nice rendition of her. Fun to see her again. Warmest wishes from a new blogger on this site.

  • Tiffany Lazic
    Tiffany Lazic Monday, 24 April 2017

    Warm greetings, new blogger :-) I share a fascination with Baba Yaga and her chicken-legged home! Glad you enjoyed the piece. I saw your pieces on Spring and enjoyed them as well. We are certainly feeling the shifts all over. Welcomed warmth and colour for sure.

  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert Monday, 24 April 2017

    How nice of you to respond. I look forward to more posting and more reading on this site. What fun!

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