The Gift of the Baba Yaga

Vasalisa’s mother (see previous post), gives her daughter a doll that holds the great gift of the motherline: intuition.

Though it was lost to me, buried deep, forgotten in my life until I was well into my adult years, I have learned that inner guidance, woman’s great inherited gift, can be refound. Then a woman need only take time to ask that hidden knowing, Which way now? and way will be shown to her, or, as my Quaker friends like to say, Way Will Open. When a woman is about to ask the wrong question or say more than can safely be said, she will feel a movement within her, not unlike a tiny doll dancing, warning, No. Sometimes the guidance will take the form of a suggestion or even clearly-understood words.

But the mother’s advice to Vasalisa to keep the doll hidden, not to tell of this gift, is wise. In a culture that not only fails to honour, but frequently derides and devalues intuition, the experience of being ridiculed, laughed at, can lead a young girl, who does not yet fully value or trust her own intuition, to bury the gift. Then, as happened with me, it may take many years for her to recover and reclaim the gift.

Have you also had such an experience?

The Baba Yaga is revealed as a great power, one who is in command of dawn, of sunrise, of night, an aspect of the ancient goddess. Yet when I first heard this story I was amazed that she was so very fierce, so cruel and unkind.

Now I do not think her so. Fierce, certainly. Demanding. But notice how Vasalisa becomes stronger in her time in the house of the Baba Yaga. She asks for what she needs. She stands before the power of the Crone and does not flinch. She questions the old one and understands that some mysteries are not yet hers to know.Though she roughly sends Vasalisa on her way, the Baba Yaga gives her the one gift the girl asked of her: a burning coal of fire. This gift proves to be far more than Vasalisa requested.

Did you wonder why the doll persuaded her not to fear the fiery skull, but rather to trust it?

What Vasalisa carried home with her was the gift of deep seeing. When she reached her home, the eyes in the skull pierced through the deceit and the pretence of the three false ones who greeted her.Even had they lived, their power over Vasalisa was diminished. Never again would the girl be able to persuade herself that, at heart, they really did care for her, and wished her no harm.

Vasalisa received from the Baba Yaga an initiation that many women never gain, or else come to only far later in life. We all carry dark mothers and cruel step-sisters within us. The tale warns us that being kind and accommodating, listening politely to their attacks when their voices rise from deep inside us, enduring, accepting, even believing the deceits of these inner critics, is not the way to peace. We need to turn the fierce light that is the crone’s gift upon all that seeks to diminish our lives, our birthright of love and strength. Whether these abuses come from persons in our outer lives or from inner voices we have somehow absorbed into our being, we must focus the flame of the burning coal within the skull. “Leave me and never return”, we say, as we turn our deep-seeing crone’s eyes on them. Watch them burn to cinders.

Have you ever seen a woman, submissive all her days to others, suddenly fiercely refuse to bow to oppression? This is the wisdom of the crone, not a comforting wisdom to achieve, for one must endure seeing truths that make life harder to bear. The crone knows it all, sees it all, and is beyond fooling herself with the tissue of half-truths and bare-faced lies, the fabrications that ooze from political promise, and assurances of economists that we’ll soon recover prosperity, that the collapse of capitalism is merely a temporary slowdown, that the impending death of much of our way of life is merely an afternoon nap.

The crone has no time for fools, for those who insist there is no imminent danger in the myriad of threats to life on our planet, that climate change is myth and the hourly extinction of species just a natural process, that things will right themselves in no time at all. The crone recognizes that in our own living rooms, weapons of mass distraction dominate our lives, luring us and lulling us. Their stories, no less than their commercials, promise us that beauty, health, and eternal youth are commodities that can be bought with a plastic card.

At whatever age she achieves her wisdom, the crone knows that the cycle of life is threefold, a never-ending spiral dance of life, death and rebirth. There is no pausing forever in life, no need to despair that death is ultimate. The rhythm of life is unstoppable. The crone knows and accepts the life/death/life cycle. This knowing sets her free for the fulness of joy, and frees her as well from the deception of those who traffic in false comfort.

When you are held in the embrace of the cailleach’s tough mother love, you may look deeply into the darkness in yourself, and in your culture. You are ready to ask the questions that need to be asked, to face the destruction that results when masculine energy runs rampant without the wise restraints of the feminine. You can begin to imagine the new life that will come when a mature masculine energy works in harmony with the cailleach’s power of renewal. The crone offers you the burning coal within the skull that will lead you towards transformation for yourself, for the planet. Seize it, not pausing for words.

Begin the journey into wholeness.

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