The Wisdom in the Tale of Vasalisa

Guided by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves, we journey deeper into the tale of Vasalisa the Wise:

“Intuition is the treasure of a woman’s psyche.  It is like a… crystal through which one can see with uncanny interior vision.  It is like a wise old woman who is with you always, who tells you exactly what the matter is, tells you exactly whether you need to go left or right. It is a form of The One Who Knows, the Wild Woman.” (74)

 “(A)ll aspects of the story belong to a single psyche undergoing an initiatory process.  Initiation is enacted by completing certain tasks.  In this tale there are nine tasks for the psyche to complete.  They focus on learning the ways of the Wild Old Mother.” (80-1)

The First Task — Allowing the Too-Good Mother to Die

“Accepting that the ever-watchful, ever-hovering, protective psychic mother is not adequate as a central guide for one’s future instinctual life (the too-good mother dies).

Taking on the task of being on one’s own, developing one’s own consciousness about danger, intrigue, politic. Becoming alert by oneself, for oneself. Letting die what must die.

“As the too-good mother dies, the new woman is born.” (81)

The Second Task — Exposing the Cruel Shadow

“Learning even more mindfully to let go of the overly positive mother.  Finding that being good, being sweet, being nice will not cause life to sing. (Vasalisa becomes a slave, but it does not help.)  Experiencing directly one’s own shadow nature, particularly the exclusionary, jealous, and exploitative aspects of self (the stepmother and stepsisters ).  Owning these.  Making the best relationship one can with the worst parts of oneself. Letting the pressure build between who one is taught to be and who one really is.

“Ultimately working toward letting the old self die and the new intuitive self be born.” (85)

The Third Task — Navigating in the Dark

“Consenting to enter into the locus of deep initiation (entering the forest), and beginning to experience the new and dangerous-feeling numen of being in one’s intuitive power. Learning to develop sensitivity as regards direction to the mysterious unconscious and relying solely on one’s inner senses.  Learning the way back home to the Wild Mother (heeding the doll’s directions). Learning to feed intuition ( feeding the doll).  Letting the frail, know-nothing maiden die even more. Shifting power to the doll, i.e., intuition.” (88 )

The Fourth Task — Facing the Wild Hag

“Being able to stand the face of the fearsome Wild Goddess without wavering (meeting up with the Baba Yaga). Familiarizing oneself with the arcane, the odd, the “otherness” of the wild (residing at Baba Yaga’s house for a while). Taking some of her values into our lives, thereby becoming ourselves a little odd (eating her food). Learning to face great power – in others, and subsequently one’s own power. Letting the frail and too-sweet  child die back even further.” (91)

The Fifth Task — Serving the Non-Rational

“Staying with the Hag Goddess; acclimating to the great wildish powers of the feminine psyche.  Coming to recognize her (your) power and the powers of inner purification; unsoiling, sorting, nourishing, building energy and ideas (washing the Baba Yaga’s clothes, cooking for her, cleaning her house, and sorting out the elements).” (94)

The Sixth Task — Separating This from That

“Learning fine discrimination, separating one thing from the other with finest discernment, learning to make fine distinctions in judgment (sorting the mildewed corn from the good corn, and sorting the poppy seeds from a pile of dirt). Observing the power of the unconscious and how it works even when the ego is not aware (the pairs of hands which appear in the air).

“More learning about life (corn) and death (poppy seeds).” (99)

The Seventh Task — Asking the Mysteries

“Questioning and trying to learn more about the Life/Death/Life nature and how it functions

 (Vasalisa asks about the horsemen).  Learning the truth about being able to understand all the elements of the wild nature (to know too much can make one old too soon).” (101)    

The Eighth Task — Standing on All Fours

“Taking on immense power to see and affect others (receiving the skull).  Looking at one’s life situations in this new light (finding the way back to the old step- family). (104)

The Ninth Task — Recasting the Shadow

“Using one’s acute vision (fiery eyes) to recognize and react to the negative shadow of one’s own psyche and/or negative aspects of persons or events in the outer world. Recasting the negative shadows in one’s psyche with hag-fire (the wicked stepfamily which formerly tortured Vasalisa is turned to cinders).” (107)

“Baba Yaga is the same as Mother Nyx, the mother of the world, another Life/Death/Life Goddess. She makes, fashions, breathes life into, she is there to receive the soul when the breath has run out. Following her footprints, we endeavor to learn to let be born what must be born, whether all the right people are there or not. Nature does not ask permission. Blossom and birth whenever you feel like it. As adults we need little permission but rather more engendering, much more encouraging of the wild cycles….

“By the light of the fiery skull, we know.”  (114)


As you ponder these nine tasks, where do you find yourself in your own story? 

What tasks have you completed?  Which still await you? 

How do you see your own intuition and power strengthening? 

What new life do you long to engender, encourage, in your own story?

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