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!

Zouravliov-Baba_YagaBaba Yaga – Vania Zouravliov

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.

babayaga

 

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.
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Pysch Test or “Oh, The Bear!”

One of my students is taking a psych class. Tonight she decided to try one of her classes’ psychological tests on us, to somewhat hilarious results.

Proving perhaps that when you ask witches these type of questions, our inner mythology comes to the forefront and can’t be ignored.

The Test

You are walking in the woods:

1.Who are you walking with?

My answer – By myself.

My partner’s answer – With a bear… and Lauren (me).

2. You come to a clearing in the woods and there is an animal. What animal do you see?

My answer – A deer.

My partner’s answer – An elk.

3. How do you interact with that animal?

My answer – I observe and nothing else.

My partner’s answer – Lauren and I watch with glee as the bear eats the elk.

4. You see a dream house in front of you, how big is the house?

My answer – A witches’ cottage

My partner’s answer – A one story house made of candy

5. What do you see around the house? Is there a fence?

My answer – The house is on chicken legs and there is a fence of flaming skulls.

My partner’s answer – There are candy canes and a fence of ginger bread men

linnunjalka-talo6. You walk inside the house and you see a dining table. What’s on the table?

My answer – Nothing

My partner’s answer – Pie

7. You walk outside, there is a cup on the ground. What is the cup made of?

My answer – A golden, jeweled chalice

My partner’s answer – Wood

8. What do you do with the cup?

My answer – I leave it alone.

My partner’s answer – Give it to the bear.

9. You walk further away from the house and you come to a body of water. What body of water do you see?

My answer – A clogged (with vegetation) pond

My partner’s answer – The Western Ocean

10. How do you get across the body of water to get to the other side.

My answer – A rowboat

My partner’s answer – A magical, white horse

The explanation for all of these are:

The answer to question number 1 is the most important person in your life. The size of the animal is representative of the size of your problems. How aggressively you interact with the animal is how you deal with your problems. How large the house is, is how big your ambition is to solve your problems. How enclosed your house is shows how protective of yourself you are and how welcoming you are of others. The amount of things on the table is proportionate to how happy you are. The durability of the material that makes up the cup you see is your perceived durability of your relationship with the person from question number 1. Who you give the cup to is how you treat the person from question number 1. The size of the body of water shows how passionate your desires are and how wet you get while you cross the body of water shows how engulfed you are in those desires.

So for a normal person, my answers would reflect that I am the most important person in my life (selfish bitch that I am!), my problems are normal sized and I have no desire to solve them. According to the size of my house, I have few problems, but am super protective of myself. The clear table symbolizes that I am not happy and with the cup, I am very invested in the durability of myself and obviously care only for myself. My body of water is a clogged pond (my student is now very worried about my clogged pond!) means that I am not passionate and I didn’t get wet, so obviously I am not engulfed in any desires. In normal society, I am a weird, unkind, freak of nature, devoid of desire.

My partner on the other hand loves the bear more than he loves me (though he did include me and while we can get into who I think the bear represents, I will leave that to your imagination). His problems are a little larger than mine, but he attacks them viciously with another person (again, that bear!). His candy cottage is one story, so again, fewer problems (HAHAHA) and his table has a pie on it, showing that he is welcoming and willing to share his bounty. My partner’s cup was made of wood, a natural and organic material that is warm and inviting. He gave his cup to the bear, showing that he cares for the bear’s role in his life (oh that bear!). He approached an ocean, showing that he is vastly passionate, though he didn’t get wet either, riding his magical horse across the waves, so obviously, from the normal perspective, is not engulfed in those desires.

But for me, these questions were more of a walk through my astral temple. The same for my partner. We are both active, practicing, witches.

As soon as you tell me that I am walking through a forest, I enter a ritual mindset. This is immediately no random mental exercise.

My astral temple is a forest path, I walk that path alone until I meet deity (in my case, usually my patron god who appears to me as a deer). The house is obviously the house of the witch and when I think about the witches’ house in the woods, I am always happy when I think of Baba Yaga’s house on chicken legs. And if the house belongs to Baba Yaga, obviously there is a fence of flaming skulls around it! The table is clear, because the witch doesn’t want to scare away her visitors and you are never sure what you might find there. Obviously the cup, just left carelessly outside of the witches’ house is magical in nature and should be left alone. A clogged pond is something that you might find in the forest and  is the type of pond I grew up in (full of turtles and muskrats and other small creatures). Rowboats are again, something I grew up with.

I won’t take you through my partner’s magical thinking, it might make your head hurt. (But Oh the Bear…!)

The Bear Wife by my partner...Oh the Bear!

The Bear Wife by my partner, acrylic on canvas…Oh the Bear! (Once again a painting based on Sami folklore. In the mythology of the Sami and other members of their language group, such as the Mansi and Khanty peoples of Russia, there is a creation myth of a human woman who marries a bear. The bear is usually a cosmic creature, or is born of the Goddess Mielikki as the earth is created. This union of human and cosmic bear creates a specific tribe, or in some tellings, all people. )

For those of us who have been in Circle and who have done astral temple work, the answers to these become very different. To many “normal” people, the forest is a scary place. For me, as a witch, the forest is liminal space where initiation and other magical moments happen. The witch lives in the cottage in the woods and mythology comes alive. When I walk through the forest and interact with animals and objects, fairy tales and the lessons they teach take precedence. I don’t think tests like these are meant for people like me. I view the world very differently.

Being a witch is more than simply cackling and potions and spells…it is a completely different world view from everyone around you. There is an old Witch saying: “Witches may live among people, but they are never one of them.”

Personally I’ll take my weird, twisted world view. My clogged pond is very comforting and not representative of my desires and passions. I have immense passion and I dearly love both my partner and other people in my life (including, perhaps, the bear). I have huge problems, but I will always take a practical approach and won’t let them overwhelm me. The witch lurks in the woods and she might eat you, but she might also invite you in and help you. The gods walk with me and I commune with them. The woods are the Underworld and I feel comfortable there. In my astral temple, things appear with purpose and sometimes need to be left alone. I know my lore and mythology and, unlike many others, I know better than to touch and taste.

And while you contemplate these heavy issues, eat some delicious Cuban White Chili (which my student made for us!)

Cuban White Chili

Ingredients:

1 package, boneless, skinless chicken breasts

few pinches of salt

olive oil

2 onions

4 cloves of garlic

2 pablano peppers

3-4 tomatillos

3 cans Northern White Beans

Chicken Stock

1 Jalapeno

lots of cilantro

2 cans Rotel tomatoes and green chiles

cumin (enough)

1 lime

1 avocado

1 Bag of Shredded Mild Cheddar

Sour Cream

Recipe:

Dice garlic finely and dust lightly with salt. Dice onions. Add onions and salted garlic to skillet with 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Brown onions and garlic.

While onions and garlic are cooking, cube chicken and brown in a large pot, also in olive oil.

To onions and garlic, add all cans of rotel. Dice tomatillos and jalapenos, add to onion and rotel mixture.

To chicken, add chicken stock (as much as you like, though definitely enough for it to be a soup).

Once onion mixture is bubbling, add to chicken. Add all cans of beans to pot. Toast pablano peppers directly on flame of stove and then peel (to properly roast and peel pablanos, see this video). Dice, add to pot. Add handful of cilantro and enough cumin to taste, simmer for 30 minutes. Add another handful of cilantro and add more cumin if desired.

Simmer for at least another hour, serve on top of shredded cheese, with sour cream, uncooked cilantro, sliced avocado and lime juice as desired.

Enjoy!

Peppers roasting merrily on my stove top!

Peppers roasting merrily on my stove top!

Samhain Swine

This was originally posted on Witches and Pagans on October 28th, 2013. I know we’re slightly out of season, but I’ve been working on some research that relates to this topic. Plus, I really like mythological pigs. They make me happy. Enjoy:

 

Samhain: During this time of year, some people celebrate the Lady’s return to the Underworld. Others remember their ancestors and give thanks and blessings to those who have come before us. Still others celebrate the end of the Harvest. Samhain is a time of diverse celebrations and remembrances.

I, however, think about pigs.

Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time, a king was hunting in the forest. As he was mustering his own pack of dogs, he heard a strange pack of dogs baying. As he and his dogs came to a clearing in the woods, he finally caught sight of the other pack of dogs. These dogs were white with red ears and they were chasing a white stag. (This should have been his first hint that this was no ordinary pack of dogs).

The strange pack of dogs brought down the stag and the King, whose name was Pwyll, had his dogs drive them off so that he could claim the prize of the stag for his own pack.

b2ap3_thumbnail_799px-Pwyll_helaGuest

As his dogs fed, another Huntsman appeared in the clearing.

Pwyll, King of Dyfed, greeted the stranger, but the stranger refused to introduce himself because of a great discourtesy Pwyll had done him. When Pwyll asked what discourtesy he had given, the Stranger answered.

‘I’ve never seen a greater discourtesy by a man than driving off a pack which has killed a stag, and [then] feeding your own dogs on it.

Art by Alan Lee for an illustrated version of the Mabinogion

Art by Alan Lee for an illustrated version of the Mabinogion

That’ said he ‘was the discourtesy, and though I won’t be revenging myself on you, between me and God, I will be claiming dishonour from you to the value of a hundred stags.’

‘Chieftain, if I’ve committed an offence, I will redeem your friendship.’

‘In what form will you redeem it?’

‘As appropriate to your rank – I don’t know who you are…’

‘A crowned king am I in the land I am from.’

‘Lord,’ said Pwyll ‘good day to you. Which land is it that you are from?’

‘From Annwvyn. Arawn king of Annwfn am I.’

It’s never wise to upset the God of the Underworld, and Pwyll realizes too late who he has offended. Arawn asks Pwyll for a service to restore his honor. Pwyll happily does the service asked of him, and this begins a great friendship between the Kingdom of Dyfed and the Kingdom of Annwn. Pwyll himself received many gifts from Arawn, the most important of which is Pwyll’ s wife, the goddess Rhiannon, which is another story entirely. (If you want to read the whole story, you can find it here). But the greatest gift the Kings of Dyfed receive from Arawn is a herd of swine.

This story comes to us from the first Branch of the Mabinogion. Throughout the Mabinogion, the ownership of the pigs is an important issue. Whoever owns the pigs has a close and friendly relationship with the Underworld, which brings them both prosperity and happiness.

Also from Welsh folklore, we hear about Henwen, the White Sow (another Underworld creature), who brought abundance to England by birthing litters of bees, wheat and barley. She also birthed eagles, ferocious cats and wolves. Henwen is a goddess of prophecy and would use sticks and runes to spell out someone’s future for them

b2ap3_thumbnail_top_pig_origins

We see sacred pigs in many stories throughout European mythology.

The pig was sacred to Demeter, a goddess that is an important part of the Greek Underworld story of Persephone and Hades. This spilled over onto the Roman goddess Ceres as well. Sacred pigs were herded into caves for the goddesses in both lands. While most people agree that Zeus was suckled by a goat, some say he was suckled by a sow.

Circe turned Odysseus’s men into swine on his journey returning from Troy.

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The great goddess Cerridwen was known as “The Old White Sow” and the Irish god of the sea, Manannan had a magical herd of pigs.

The Russian witch/goddess Baba Yaga is also often thought by some to ride a Sow through the forest instead of the flying mortar.

In Norse mythology, the boar is a symbol of Odin, and the Valkyries serve the warriors who feast in Valhalla from the boar Saehrimnir.

Pigs still tie us to the Underworld, which is why I always “sacrifice” a pig on Samhain. This is a reminder to me and to the Gods of the relationship that we have with the Underworld. While most of us can’t actually sacrifice a pig, I make a delicious pork dishes and leave them out as offerings to stand in as a replacement for a living swine.

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My “pig” sacrifice for the year, made with pork roast and bbq sauce

So while you’re enjoying your Samhain festivities this year, whatever they may be, remember the pigs! They may sound like an odd creature to appreciate, but they are an important tie to the Underworld that can bring your home health, wealth and prosperity.

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*I wrote a children’s Henwen ritual for Samhain over at The Pagan Household. If you’re interested, you can find it here!

Book Cover!

We have gotten the book cover for Fairy Tale Magic! I’m so excited! It’s everything I had hoped it would be.

Vasilissa the Beautiful is on the cover, carrying the fiery skull that she won from Baba Yaga.

We were lucky and the same artist, Esao Andrews who has done the last two covers for Kenny’s  other books, was willing to do this one as well. I think it turned out absolutely stunning!

I hope you love it as much as I do!