Jacobean Witchcraft Drama in Three Library Classification Schemes: BISAC, DDC and LCC

My professional work often coincides with my scholarly work, which is of course influenced by my personal interests. Here is an example of the examination of witchcraft in a very specific sense in Library Cataloging. (You may or may not find this interesting, but I was pleased with how it came out).

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Introduction:

Witchcraft is a topic that can be studied and approached in a variety of ways: it is a religion, an important presence in folkloric, anthropological and sociological studies, and has great relevance in historical contexts. But witchcraft has an important place in Jacobean drama that is separate from these larger topics. In looking at the witch in early modern drama and literature, the witch becomes an important symbol of danger, power and influence. Jacobean audiences were terrified of the witch present in their midst, but had also began to see the witch as a metaphor for many of the things that were wrong in their society. The witch’s power came not from her magic, but from her words and her ability to influence events (DeVoe, 2015). Because of this, the witch as a part of the larger scheme of Jacobean drama is significant and needs to be categorized as an import subject in its own right. This paper will look at how the witch in Jacobean drama is treated in three library classification schemes: Library of Congress Classification (LCC), Dewey Decimal Classification (DCC), and Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) classification.  Given the nature of the topic, the discussion will focus on the relevance and effectiveness of these classification schemes for use in the academic library.

Background and History:

The idea of a woman’s unruly tongue is an important idea in Jacobean and early modern drama. Penny Gay says in her discussion of the unruly woman that: “Any occurrence of evil is seen as disrupting, or rather disobeying, these persuasive rhythms, and a scapegoat figure will usually, in the course of the play’s plot be expelled from the community represented on stage so that at the end we may join in, via our proxies the actors, the dance or feast which signals the communities confidence in its self-ordering” (Gay, 2002, pg. 2). Women and their ability to speak became a major focus of the writing and performance of this era. Women could disrupt the entire community and influence major events that should have been well outside their control. The eponymous three witches in Macbeth are iconic. We are told that they are witches and throughout the play they do very scary, witch-like things, but in the end, the worst thing they do is foretell Macbeth’s destiny. Without their vocalization of the possibilities of his future, would Macbeth ever have attempted to become king? We are led to believe that he would not have done so without the influence of women’s words in his ear. This is a theme that is repeated constantly throughout the drama of the period.

Through these works, the construction of gender relations and social behavior of women in this time period began to show distinct demarcations between “normal” female behavior and the practice of witchcraft. Women who operated outside of society’s strict boundaries became dangerous. Stephanie Irene Spoto points out that “It seems easy to believe that witches were simply the unfortunate victims of a misogynist woman-hunt or of an oppressive patriarchal religion, but to ignore the subcurrents of evidence pointing towards the possibility of witchcraft constructed as an empowering aspiration during the witch-hunts is to ignore the possibility that things stand not in the perfect dichotomy of victim /aggressor or good-guy /bad-guy” (Spoto, 2010, pg. 53). Suddenly, women were not simply creatures that functioned solely as instruments of the men around them. They became both complicated individuals, and threats to social order. When a woman spoke independently, her words had to be defended and proved to be normative and not witchlike (Gay, 2002). This sudden change in the potential of the female heavily influenced many major works of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Law itself was affected by the idea of the witch. Many treatises were written concerning witchcraft, and significant effort was put into writings on how a witch could be identified and then legally dealt with. Numerous pamphlets appeared with news of witches and their interrogations. Much of the reported dialogue of actual interrogations began to appear in drama, lifted for the purpose of commenting on the hierarchy and ruling class of Jacobean society. James I himself was terrified of witches, believing that they had tried to kill him on his passage across the channel. His Demonology was a poor replication of the infamous Malleus Malificarum. Elizabeth I had been a beloved ruler who openly embraced the occult: with James I’s ascension to the throne, his overt fear and hysteria of witchcraft began the first open criticism of the witch trials, which were seen as an analogy for the senseless fear and bloodshed that had been occurring in English society (DeVoe, 2015). By showing the witch to be a creature worthy of empathy with and pity, writers began to turn this dangerous language back on those who were victimizing both the witch and the lower classes of England.

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What is a Witch

In the course of my job, I came across the book “What is a Witch” by Pam Grossman and Tin Can Forest. I highly recommend spending the $20 for this book. I wanted to share a few of the beautiful pages here because I think that all of the collaborators for this work really got it.

Sometimes you come across a piece of artwork or a book or some creative work that really touches the very heart of you. This book did that for me and I think it definitely deserves a place on the bookshelf of the modern witch.

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Listen

My grandmother took me aside as a small child and said, “Our family sees things, you will too. We don’t talk about it, ever.”

My father’s family is a fairly typical Appalachian family: they worked hard, had little money, went to church every Sunday, said their prayers at night and looked the other way when they saw things no one else did.

My father, staunch Methodist that he is, emails me regularly about everything under the Sun. This morning I received the email below. I thought I would share it here, because it’s so rare that I hear my older Christian relatives talk about and actually address the things my grandmother told me to never talk about.

And he wonders where I get it from?

Sometimes they are very much in the back ground. You almost have to be expecting to hear them. It is as if they are having a conversation between themselves. Then they seem to come forward if you want to talk to them. Other times they just say things in the clear that they want you to hear. You may look around expecting to see people but real people are not there. They can warn. They share joy. Always pay attention to warnings. E would say they warned her many a time. L knew F S’s time was coming soon. They told her indirectly through him. He told her he sat down while walking from out on the ridge. He heard voices talking of death but he didn’t know whose.

When I was laying in bed dying when my appendix burst, the Sheppard was there at my head all night long. I knew he was there guarding me or just being with me. When I heard the dead stick rattle up and down the rafters of the front porch, he let me know the devil was waiting and I still don’t know why it was the devil and what at that point in my life I had done wrong.

When they had to put the hose down my nose, I had to go to x-ray every few hours. When they were loading me on the elevator for the last time, I knew all I had to do was to let go of the parallel bars I was holding onto. All was black around those bars. I knew not to let go because I would be in the wrong place as a result. I don’t know how I knew unless it was the Sheppard protecting me. The Sheppard never spoke. He had no face I could see. Perhaps it was the Valley of Death of which much is spoken. Since then the voice calls me in the middle of the night. It isn’t the one from the garden. At night it is sharp and piercing by my name. The garden doesn’t call me by name, it is the friend.

Perhaps you will not be the carrier of this curse. It is something to bear. It is definitely another dimension of which Uncle R seems to believe. Your Aunt D doesn’t hear the voices. I am not sure why I do unless L chose me. She use to teach me about them. She always said “You can’t run. You can’t hide!” perhaps she was telling me I would never be free of hearing them. I always thought she was speaking of death alone. Maybe both. You may see patches of light and dark pass you by out of the corner of your eye. I believe there are good and evil forces among them. They are always about their business.

Know this I have had some side effects of the knee surgery. I intend to ride this horse to the finish, as I would rather die than quit walking. The peace was there today as I walked at Dawes with the dog. That is twice now. I have not known it for so long I had forgotten it. It is within you, if it comes to you. It is this serenity like no other. Nothing in this world can hurt you ever again when it is with you. There are forces unseen which do exist. I just happen to be a conduit for some of them. E plays for me on a regular basis now. I would guess by your rule of threes you should always be on the plus side of that count.

It was the last lesson your Grandfather taught me. Die proud and never on your knees, he said. Be proud and never give the bastards an inch. Take it all standing full on. Fear not you will be standing by the shadows of the past.

~ April 3rd, 2016

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The road that goes down over the ridge where my family has lived for generations.

The first time I ever experienced what my dad is talking about was the night before my grandmother died. She had had Alzheimer’s for eighteen years. I was 21.

She was down to about 80 pounds and had mostly quit eating, so we knew that her passing would be soon.

I went to bed that night as usual and unlike other nights, I dreamed one long dream all night. I woke in the dream sitting in the old, ugly plaid chair in my grandmother’s front room. And across from me, on the love seat, was my grandfather.

I had never met my grandfather, he died when my father was a boy.

We both knew who the other was, but couldn’t seem to actually speak to each other.

We sat there, all night, together, without saying a word, keeping vigil together. Right before I woke up, he stood up and suddenly had a bouquet of flowers in his hand.

Not long after I woke, my dad called me to tell me that my grandmother had passed.

I like the image of my grandmother passing and finding him waiting there for her with a bouquet of flowers. He was the only one she ever loved and they were separated for forty some years.

It took me a long time to reconcile my choices with family expectations and traditions. I know many of my living relatives are disapproving. But someone told me once that death makes us all equal and that they don’t care about things like religion or sexual orientation on the other side. That they claim us no matter what. It took me a long time to realize that my grandfather’s visit was as much an acceptance of me as a vigil for my grandmother.

I think the reason I write about Wicca and Paganism is exactly because my grandmother told me not to talk about it. It took me so long to figure things out. How different would things have been if I had known things at a younger age?

We need to share our stories and listen for the voices. They are all around us, all the time and when they speak, its necessary that we listen. I don’t see it as a curse, but as a blessing. I am a witch. I stand at the gateway between life and death and I am able to speak for those who have no mouths to do so and I can go places that most of the living cannot.

I am proud to walk in the shadow of those who came before me. I come from a long line of hardworking farmers. It’s not a glamorous legacy, but it’s certainly a strong one.

And I too will ride that horse until the bitter end. I have nothing to fear. I will not budge. My roots sink far into the past and will hold me in the midst of the worst storms. Try, try to move me all you like. It won’t work. I am not just anchored in this world, but in the next as well.

 

Charon Ritual Response – Guest Blog

After posting my last blog, I sent it to my own students. We have been talking about ritual and the creation of magical works. We have been talking about the appropriate way to create magical workings while utilizing our ritual and the resources that can help you do so. I asked them to read my friend E’s ritual and discuss a few things:

Did you agree with what E did? Why or why not.

Would you change anything? If so, why?

What would you have done differently?

If you needed to create a ritual to end a cycle and get yourself out of a bad spot, how would you do it?

One of my brilliant initiates wrote me this response. I think it highlights the differences between eclecticism and formal Wicca, while giving a well thought out response to my questions. It also demonstrates the differences between someone who is new to this practice and one who is in dedicated service to this particular pantheon. E has never approached a working like this before, while C is a trained initiate.

I thought you would enjoy it as well. So without further ado, my lovely initiate C responds to my friend E! Posted with C’s permission…

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Perspehone by seaspell

Charon Ritual Response

First, I want to say thank you to you and E for sharing this. I think E’s thoughtfully crafted offering to Charon was a beautiful response to her current situation, and I suspect that many can relate to this predicament/ feeling of being trapped in hell. Props to her for taking real and significant steps (mentally, spiritually and legally) to achieve life again instead of trying to make a defeated existence in hell as comfortable as possible (the lazy choice made by most people).

My perspective on this ritual is based on my own experience, knowledge, and relationship with these gods. However, I recognize E’s intuition and intent, as a magical practitioner, as the correct guide for her own rituals and spell-work and believe that her sincere practice is right for her and will hopefully open the gates to a new life.

That being said, here are my thoughts on this ritual and the changes that I would make for myself:

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Pay the Ferryman by WalterODim

The most significant change I would make to this ritual would be including Persephone and Hades. I find it interesting that she focused on Charon. In this same situation of finding myself in the underworld, I would focus on Persephone and Hades, for it is their favor that is needed when trying to leave the underworld.

Phase 1: apology and belated payment for initial journey into the underworld

From my perspective, her lack of initial payment to Charon on her journey into hell makes her return possible. Coins were put in the mouth of the deceased as payment in order to secure their passage into the underworld and prevent their soul from returning. It was believed that without a proper burial and payment, the deceased would be denied entry by Charon. However, this did occasionally happen, like in the case of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, who had been ordered to report to the underworld as punishment for tricking and imprisoning Hades, cleverly instructed his wife not to bury his body or provide a coin for payment before he died. When he arrived in the underworld he was able to plead with Persephone to let him return on these grounds, arguing that he should not have been granted entry into the underworld in the first place without proper payment. Persephone agreed and allowed him to return so that he could secure a proper passage into the underworld.

With this in mind, having mistakenly ended up in hell without proper passage and payment, I would address my appeal to Persephone with the promise that proper payment be made upon my death and ultimate descent. In this phase of E’s ritual she provided the coin as payment for her initial journey. I would not have done this in fear that I would be trapping myself in the underworld by doing so.

I agree that the new moon would be an appropriate time for this ritual for two reasons: 1) As the conclusion of a previous lunar cycle, this phase is symbolic of death and is a good time to communicate with underworld gods and to discard any negative/undesirable behaviors/thoughts/attitudes and to communicate with underworld gods. 2) It is also the beginning of a new cycle, and the imminent illumination of the waxing moon will serve as a symbolic representation and reminder of the ascent to renewed life.

In a ritual focused on death and new life, I would find it crucial to acknowledge Persephone and Hades. Persephone in particular, as a goddess of renewal and changing seasons (and the more likely to be sympathetic to heartache… and being trapped in the underworld via marriage…) should be honored.

Other than the coin, I think that E’s offering of olives, wine and cakes was appropriate and generous, and mine would be very similar if I were to do this ritual. In addition, I might include some fresh (springtime) flowers and honey for Persephone.

Phase 2: payment to get out of hell

I found E’s approach to this fascinating. I like the idea of looking for modern analogies in a ritual context. I would never think of doing something like this, but after reading this I will definitely experiment this concept in my own magical workings (so thank you E for inspiring me to think outside of my box).

While E used a money offering to motivate Charon to deliver her from hell (very insightfully I might add), I would probably use a different approach based on my own resources.

E acknowledged the sacrifice aspect of her payment when deciding how much to give. I think this is particularly relevant in this case. I believe that the ascension out of hell is a daunting task that will require active participation, discipline and sacrifice on the part of the traveler.

Drawing from other myths about this journey, I would do two things to motivate and fuel my journey.

First, with music being a big part of my own practice, I would either learn a hymn or write

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Lyre of Orpheus by TALONABRAXAS

something to perform for Persephone and Charon. While my music obviously could never compare to the heavenly melodies played by Orpheus that enchanted Charon and tamed Cerberus, it is a thoughtful and active offering that is personal to me. The amount of emotion, power and breath that I give in my playing would serve as an expression of my sincerity and determination. This would also serve as a reminder to me that if I indulge myself by looking back (let past thoughts, attitudes, resentments etc. creep back in), I will be trapped in hell. A new life can not be possible as long as you remain stuck in the past.

I would also add a physical element in this phase of the ritual to offer Charon assistance with paddling. There are several instances of Charon asking/ordering travelers to do this. Ideally, I would do some type of aquatic exercise like rowing or swimming. However, because my environment does not lend itself to this type of activity, I would probably run instead.

At sunrise, the morning after my offerings on the new moon, I would commit myself to running 3 miles. I think 3 is an appropriate number to seal the work done the night before. Also, it should be noted that I am a horrible runner with horrible stamina and 3 miles would be a very difficult feat for me. This number she be adjusted depending on the physical ability of the individual to be adequately difficult. This struggle and sacrifice through physical exertion is 1) to make Charon’s job easier and 2) to demonstrate my active role in making it out of hell and acknowledging that though it will difficult and exhausting, it can be accomplished if I stay focused and keep looking forward.

My last thought on this ritual, as an initiate, would be to call upon (name of patroness) and (name of patron) who witnessed my initiation as they have already seen me through a journey of death and rebirth.

 

An Offering to Charon – Guest Blog

My dear friend E is a rather eclectically minded kitchen-witch. She’s been struggling with huge life changes recently and has been going back and forth with me about offerings and ritual ideas to help her move forward. I love how she thinks and I thought you might be interested as well. Her thought processes, rational and creativity in how she approaches her work always puts things in a new perspective for my own work and inspires me further. I asked her to write a guest blog about this particular experience for multiple reasons, but I love Charon and think that he doesn’t get a lot of love these days. I also think that the mid/post divorce period is often ignored. I love her approach and hope for what she wants to accomplish here. Enjoy! ~Lauren

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Charon by Vikkki

An Offering to Charon

Charon the Ferryman is a figure from Classical (i.e., Greco-Roman) mythology. He brings the souls of the dead across the rivers Archeron and Styx and into the underworld, provided, of course, that the soul was buried with a coin to pay for the ferry ride. Charon is hardly the first or only such mythical figure, since cultures prior to the ancient Greeks also buried the dead with coins to ensure passage to the other side, but he is the one that was passed down to us via the Hellenic writings.

He transitioned more or less intact into modern Christian culture thanks to Dante. In Dante’s construct of Hell, Charon presides over passage across the River Archeron (the River Styx is an internal river that separates inner and outer Hell rather than the division between Earth and Hell) with essentially the same function and fee structure as in the Hellenic myths.

Several Greek and Roman heroes use Charon’s services to cross in and out of the underworld while living. The instance I am most familiar with comes from “Cupid and Psyche.” Psyche is given specific instructions on how to deal with Charon when she is sent to the underworld to retrieve a package from Persephone on behalf of Aphrodite: carry a barley honey cake in each hand to distract Cerberus (the three-headed dog) on the way in and on the way out, and carry two coins in her mouth to pay Charon for passage each way. According to Wikipedia, Charon gives all the male heroes grief about crossing while alive, as he does in Dante’s narrative; Psyche having no trouble could be read as the old seaman having a soft spot for beautiful young women, or as him not wanting to stand in the way of another god’s quest.

The instructions for crossing on Charon’s ferry are always essentially the same, namely, pay him his coin and don’t dawdle. Those rules make for a simple translation into modern ritual: pay Charon his fee when it’s time to make your crossing.

The only questions are how much to pay and how to offer it up to the ferryman?

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Passage by eilidh

I will come back to both questions in a minute. First, some context for what I need to do and why.

I am on the brink of divorce, after 5 years of marriage and seven months of separation. I have been saying since we separated and I learned this fundamentalist state requires a long waiting period between filing and granting of divorce, that I was in Limbo. When I started really working through the failings in my relationship, I realized I had been in a Hell peculiar to my own needs and wants and nightmares. The idea, then, of paying Charon to ferry me back across the River Archeron (I am using Dante’s construction of Hell, where Limbo is the first circle) was fairly obvious. I would do it the night before my court date, so there would be no impediment or delay in getting me back to the land of the living.

But then I realized: if I had been in Hell, I got there somehow in the first place – and I never specifically payed Charon for that journey. So I owed him a separate fare and an apology, which would need to be presented before making my simple payment for the ferry ride out of Hell.

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Psyche by ryanjpedersen

The (chronological) second fare, the one that I am paying right before court, was an easier one to work out. I tend to look for modern analogies to ancient figures when seeking a ritual structure. Lacking true ferrymen (yes, I know we have ferries here, but they are run by golems of the state, and I know from experience that there is no paying them anything but your exact fare and only your fare), I decided taxi drivers are the closest modern equivalent. After all, they take people from one place to another for a fee, and the verb “ferry” has been expanded to include being driven in any type of vehicle. Taxi drivers are also individual businessmen and often self-employed; they can exercise discretion in their payments in a way a government officer cannot. My analogical thinking went like this: if I need to pay Charon his fare, then I would need to pay a taxi driver for a ride I won’t take. I can’t just give a driver a big tip – that’s not a fare. To me the obvious solution is to give a driver a second payment and ask that he put it toward his next passenger. Obviously I can’t control whether he pockets the money or puts it on his meter, and even if he does put it on his meter in the real world someone is taking that trip. But not ME. Symbolically, metaphysically, I am paying fare for the journey I will metaphysically be making in the courtroom rather than a taxi ride.

As to how much – I decided $20 was a good number. Low enough that most people would be able to afford to bury a loved one with it to ensure passage, but high enough that it is substantive and represents a sacrifice. The only discussion I have seen about Charon’s fee structure in a modern pagan sense can be found here, and one of the interpretations supports the number. I am a mostly intuitive ritual-caster, and my instinct here is that $20 is the right number, so while I was happy to see an argument for that, ultimately what decided me was my own sense of rightness. For me I think the rightness is deriving from the sacrificial aspect. Yes, $20 is an affordable sacrifice, but it still represents something substantive that I will have to forgo off of that paycheck in order to offer it to the god.

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Styx by dalisacg

The apology ritual required a little more thought. I didn’t want to just do the taxi thing twice; it seems lazy, first of all, and second of all, it’s not much of an apology, is it, to simply perform the ritual I should have in the first place. No. Lauren mentioned that she intended to make a new moon offering at the river, with a quick-and-dirty explanation that new moon offerings represent changes and things that are building, and that making offerings at the river is basically mainlining them to a god’s ear. The new moon occurs a couple weeks before my court date and therefore well before the night I would be making my fare-pay offering, and it coincides with the date on which I got married – which seemed a fortuitous alignment for my work!

I decided that an offering closer to the original style would make for a better apology/back-payment. A coin, I thought, would be a good choice as a physical representation of his fee rather than the modern monetary value. And since I like to go for symbolism where it’s available, I decided one of the coins left from our honeymoon trip would serve very nicely as metaphysical reference to the actions previously taken. So that took care of payment. For an apology, I personally tend to offer food, so I procured some oil-cured olives and Italian red wine. Then, for ritual representation of Psyche’s successful (and unchallenged) crossing, I decided to bring cakes for Cerberus. Barley-cakes are what she brought, barley being the ubiquitous flour of the time and place. Here in Louisiana, cornbread is the go-to quick-bread, and I would rather acknowledge the time and place where I am than waste time hunting down barley flour and testing recipes. Thus, one tray of fresh-baked cornbread mini-muffins later, I had everything ready to go (my mini-muffin tray makes 6 cakes…Cerberus has 3 heads, one cake per head per ride…).

When it comes to words in my offerings/rituals, I generally prefer to speak extemporaneously in order to be sure it’s from the heart – that intuitiveness again – with at most an outline of what I need to say in mind going in.

My words to Charon needed to essentially be that five years ago I had snuck into Hell behind his back, and I was sorry for not paying him honestly up front, and would he please accept my payment now, along with my apology. Basically I just wanted to square up my account with him, monetarily and morally, so that I could offer payment at the appropriate time for my trip across the river to get out and have a reasonable assurance it would be accepted.

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Sunset on the River Styx by Dustin Panzino

We’ve all had moments where we wandered into Hell without realizing it. This struck me as an amazing way to end this cycle, make sure due has been paid and that one can bring themselves back to life. Charon is not unsympathetic to those who make the journey with him across the river and he knows that the living can’t stay in the land of the dead forever. But your must have your coin and you must acknowledge his role in this journey and when you’ve found yourself on the wrong side of the river, who else can bring you back?

A Ritual for Baba Yaga

A friend of mine posted an article that made me laugh last night: Russian Witch Baba Yaga’s Guide To Feminism:

“Free women from the shackles of domesticity by abducting their children. You can then indoctrinate these children in the ways of feminism and/or use them as free labour. Or just eat them. Whatever. It’s hard to find good sources of protein deep in the Siberian forest.”

The article pokes fun at this mythological figure, but it really isn’t all that far off with nailing this scary witch’s essence.

While we were discussing psychological tests the other week (see blog here), my student didn’t get my reference to the witch’s house on chicken legs. She had never heard of Baba Yaga!

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Baba Yaga has always been one of my favorite witches. She’s a terrifying figure that lurks just outside the boundaries of civilization. But I think the thing I like about her the most is that she’s willing to help you if you’re willing to help yourself. She recognizes that death is sometimes the only option and her cruel nature might just be saving you from something much worse. (Would you rather have a clean death over a horrible, tortured, messy one?)

Baba Yaga might eat you, but she also might save you. You just have to prove yourself first: “As ambiguous as she is hideous, Baba Yaga has been described by scholars as an anomaly, both a maternal, mother-nature figure and an evil villain who enjoys eating those who fail to complete her tasks” (Stone 2015). In the story of Vasilissa the Beautiful, she helps Vasilissa not once, but twice! The first time she aids Vasilissa by giving her the burning skull, which kills Vasilissa’s cruel stepmother and stepsisters. The second time, Baba Yaga appears as the kindly old grandmother who has the knowledge every young woman needs to get the boy!

Baba Yaga embodies the wild woman archetype. The feral, crone figure who does not finesse her lessons to make them easier for you to bear: “She is thought by some to be a dark goddess who symbolizes the death of the ego which is needed to achieve wisdom and, through this death, rebirth to a new life” (Chambers 2007). Her demesne is the forest far beyond mortal boundaries, an Underworld figure who lurks in the darkest part of ourselves. Of course, as the witch in the woods, her true role is as initiator and priestess. She is able to judge character instantly and has no patience for those who don’t deserve aid. She shows us how our darkest nature can be helpful in our fight against our greatest obstacles. Her aid won’t be pretty, it will change you forever, but it will also empower you and allow you to triumph and ensure your rightful place. Her power is our gut instinct and first impressions. She is that thing in us that lashes out at those that would hurt us. She is our most basic, primal response to dire threat.

And unlike other dark figures, Baba Yaga is trustworthy: “Though it appears she never goes after anyone unprovoked—that is to say, without the person at least coming to the door of her hut—she appears to follow little or few morals.  Nevertheless, whatever promise she makes to the hero after his completion of her tasks, she keeps” (Stone 2015). She doesn’t try to trick you. She tells you what she needs you to do and if you accomplish the task she sets, she will aid you. She is not a trickster at all.

Baba Yaga proves to us that just because terrible things happen to us, we are not without agency. Baba Yaga gives us aid in our darkest moments. She may not have nice, pretty, happy solutions, but she will clear the path for you and at least bring you bloody satisfaction. She proves that we are only victims if we let ourselves be and that there is always a way out: “The truths She tells are often bitter; Her healing can be as painful as the illness it cures. But we disregard what She has to teach us at our peril: if we are not strong enough to look without flinching at the truth She shows us, we face passing up Her many gifts of wisdom and healing as well” (Vassy 2000). Baba Yaga is the old grandmother that gets things done and doesn’t flinch at the terrible things that life hands us. She has seen it all, done it all, and she’s not afraid of the blood and yuck that we wade through constantly in our battle with life.

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A ritual to call upon Baba Yaga for Self Healing:

(Do not do this ritual if you don’t want sudden and possibly drastic results).

To prepare –

This can be done inside or outside as one prefers, though preferably during the new moon.

Be prepared to spend time on this ritual. Don’t rush through this.

Set an altar in the center of your space with:

A single unlit candle in the middle of your altar – make sure to have a taper candle sitting there as well.

A lit candle in the east.

A jar of 3 kinds of mixed, dried beans set in the south and 3 sorting bowls

A mortar and pestle set in the west with some dirt in it.

A bottle of vodka, an empty glass, and a steak that has been cooked rare on a dinner plate with a fork and knife. (Its better to take the time to cook the steak yourself before hand). Set these items like you’re setting a table on the northern side of the altar.

A freshly baked loaf of bread (also better if you’ve baked it yourself. Here is a Russian black bread recipe if you need one!).

Its better to do this on the new moon. Start by working in a room with no lights except for one lit candle in the east.

The Ritual –

To begin, carry in the fresh loaf of bread and lay it in the east, by the lit candle, chant: “Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I come to thee of my own free will! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I ask for your hospitality and bear no charms or blessings! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I am willing to work for you and share my energy with you for your aid!

Cast your circle by sweeping with a traditional besom.

To call the Quarters:

Start in the East, say: “White Rider, I beseech thee to bring me the light of the dawn!”

Move to the South, say: “Red Rider, I beseech thee to bring me the light of the noon-tide sun!”

Move to the West, say: “Black Rider, I beseech thee to bless me with the light of the night-time Moon!”

Move to the North, say: “Baba Yaga, Mother of Death, allow me access to the Underworld!”

Return to the East and say: “Turn your front! Turn your back! Round to me! I enter the hut of Baba Yaga willingly!”

Turn toward the center of your altar and state your purpose for asking Baba Yaga’s aid – “Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I ask that you help to bring the light back into my life! To make me strong so that I can overcome the obstacles and people that stand in my way. Baba Yaga! I ask that you remove the obstacles that hinder me from having control over my own life!”

Move to the southern part of the altar with the jar of mixed beans. Hold the jar and think of all the things that are causing you mental pain. Think of all the bad things you want to get rid of from your life. Meditate on the visceral emotions these things cause. Focus it all on the jar and into the beans. When you’ve carefully poured out all your hurt and anguish, slowly pour the jar of mixed beans across the southern portion of the altar. Say: “Baba Yaga! As you asked the maiden Vasilisa, I will sort these kernals to aid you in righting the wrongs of your own enemies.” Carefully sort each of the beans into the separate bowls, by their type, meditating the whole time on driving the problems you previously focused on from your life. When the 3 different kinds of beans have been separated and sorted. Line the three bowls up in the South and say: “Baba Yaga, thank you for this honest, hard work that helps me repay your hospitality.”

Move to the Western side of the altar. Pick up the mortar and pestle and start grinding the dirt. Say: “Baba Yaga, just as I grind this dirt in the mortar with the pestle, do you grind the bones of the dead. The dead have no need for their bones and for those of us still living, our bones are constantly pounded and ground into the earth by the world around us. My body has taken a beating from the living world! Please put me through your mortar and pestle to heal me of my sorrows!” Continue to grind the dirt until your hands and arms are weak. Set the mortar and pestle down and say: “Baba Yaga! An honest days toiling in the dirt cleanses me of my sorrow and helps you keep your house in order!”

Move to the North. Pour a glass of vodka from your bottle. Take the bread from the east and slice it, laying a piece by the plate. Present the steak and say: “Baba Yaga, I made this meal for you! Through my hard work and pure intentions, I ask that you eat this food that I have made you and partake of my energy to aid and restore your work!” Stand and give her time to “eat.” Understand that you have built up energy throughout the ritual and that this is part of what you’re offering her. When you feel drained again, move back to the east.

In the East, say: “Baba Yaga! I have sorted your grains, I have toiled in the earth for thee, I have baked you a fine dinner. Please give me your fire to carry back into the world of the living!” Pick up the taper candle and light it from your Eastern candle. Light the center candle. Gently blow out your taper. Say: “Baba Yaga, I know when to stop asking. I do not have to understand all of your ways. Please send me back to he land of the living!” Pick up the center candle and walk out of your circle.

When you’re well away from your circle (if I was doing this indoors, I would walk outside), hold your candle up and say “Baba Yaga! Thank you for the fire and your blessings! I am prepared for what they will bring to my life!” Blow out your candle.

Leave your circle and altar set until dawn breaks. Let the East candle burn through the night. In the morning, go back and say thank you to the three riders for their light and wish them well on their constant journey. Take the meal you prepared and leave it outside somewhere for Baba Yaga to do with it what she will. Scatter the dried beans in the forest. Take the earth in the mortar and pestle and gently work it into your garden or house plant. Remember that you carry Baba Yaga’s fire in you now and that anything can happen.

Baba_Yaga's_Hut

References:

“Baba Yaga”. 2007. In Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained, edited by Una McGovern. London: Chambers Harrap. https://libproxy.tulane.edu/login?url=http://literati.credoreference.com/content/entry/chambun/baba_yaga/0
Ryan Stone. “Baba Yaga, The Confounding Crone of Slavic Folklore,” Ancient Origins, March 29, 2015, accessed November 19, 2015, http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/baba-yaga-confounding-crone-slavic-folklore-002836.
Rebecca Vassy. (2000). “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues Or My Adventures with Baba Yaga.” Sagewoman, Oct 31, 11. http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.tulane.edu:2048/docview/221846152?accountid=14437.

A Friday the 13th Playlist

Bansidhe says…

B“Happy Friday the 13th!”

And what better day to listen to some witchy music from the more mainstream media…

First up, that old Sinatra classic, “Witchcraft”:

One of my all time favorites by The Incredible String Band:

Their invocation is pretty haunting as well…

And if we’re doing The Incredible Band, we have to add in a little Fairport as well:

I’ve talked about Martin Carthy’s “Willie’s Lady” before, but I love it so much:

Allison Gross is also always a classic:

Or Steeleye’s “King Henry”:

Or their “Two Magicians”

Steeleye Span just has so many…

Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Calvary Cross”

Crosby, Stills and Nash – “Guinevere”

The Witch of the Westmoreland:

Creedence Clearwater’s “Walk on the Water” –

That old classic…”I Put a Spell on You” –

“Spooky” –

A little Bow Wow Wow (who knew they did more than “I Want Candy”?)…”Prince of Darkness” –

And while we’re on about the devil…the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” can’t be forgotten:

And a little Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads:

(A kind hearted woman is a bruja or a Voodoo woman…)

Muddy Waters:

Maybe a little less witchy, but I’m always about the fairy tales…

Some Beatles for you…

Or The Who…

Tarantula…

Some “Black Magic Woman”…

Can’t forget old Marie…

Witchy Woman:

Or Abacadrabra…

Everyone know’s Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” but what about “The Enchanted Gypsy”?:

Can’t forget The Grateful Dead:

And now for some slightly modern fare…

Roger Clyne and the Peacemaker’s “Persephone”:

Or a modern retelling of Eurydice by Sleepthief:

The Moulettes “Devil of Mine”:

Rasputina has a plethora of witchy songs…but we’ll stick with “Gingerbread Coffin” for now:

Loreena McKennitt has so many as well…

One of my all time favorites…Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting”:

And who could forget Siouxsie…

I think I’ll go ahead and end it there, but I would love to hear what your favorites are!

May your Friday the 13th be luckier than mine!