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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Spell for a New School Year

This was a column I wrote for The Pagan Household last year on August 12th, 2013. I found myself plagued with back to school anxiety dreams last night and thought I would post it here for anyone else in the same boat. Good luck with the new school year!

 

This morning on my way to work, I saw lots of parents anxiously ushering kids onto buses or waiting for the streetcar. (I love that many kids in New Orleans ride the streetcar to school).

I too will be going back to school this year. And even though it’s for my Master’s degree, I find that I am suffused with the same excitement that I remember from grade school. I’ve been disappointed all weekend that I have to wait another two weeks to start myself!

(Remind me of this conversation in a few months when I’m drowning in graduate English papers).

I’ve been carefully picking out my new school supplies and searching for a new backpack. Things like this make it easier to start the new school year off on the right foot.  But just because you have the right supplies, that doesn’t mean that your student isn’t still anxious about starting a new school year.

What if your teacher is mean? Or the work is too hard? Or you have problems getting to school?! We aren’t the only ones to worry about these things; students throughout the ages and all over the world have worried about the same problems.

In one story, there is even a magical element to getting to school! This very old English ballad tells a story of a little boy that meets a stranger on the road and he has to outwit the stranger before he can get to school safely.

“Oh, where are you going?” says the false knight on the road.

“I’m going to me school,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“What is on your back?” says the false knight on the road.

“Me bundles and me books,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“I came a-walking by your door,” says the false knight on the road.

“That lay in your way,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“Flung your dog a stone,” says the false knight on the road.

“I wish it was a bone,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Oh, what sheep and cattle’s that?” says the false knight on the road.

“They’re mine and me father’s,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“And how many shall be mine?” says the false knight on the road.

“The ones that have the blue tail,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Oh, can I get a share o’ them?” says the false knight on the road.

“You cannot get a share of them,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“And why the stick all in your hand?” says the false knight on the road.

“To keep me from all cold and harm,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Oh, I wish you were in yonder tree,” says the false knight on the road.

“A ladder under me,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“The ladder it’ll break,” says the false knight on the road.

“And you will surely fall,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“I wish you were in yonder sea,” says the false knight on the road.

“A good boat under me,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“The boat will surely sink,” says the false knight on the road.

“And you will surely drown,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

 

“Has your mother more than you?” says the false knight on the road.

“Oh, none of them for you,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

“I think I hear a bell,” says the false knight on the road.

“It’s ringing you to hell,” says the wee boy and still he stood.

~ Steeleye Span sing False Knight on the Road, Traditional English Folk Ballad

(You can listen to it here or you can hear The Fleet Foxes version here…)

 

Hopefully your student won’t experience anything like that, but what can you do to sooth fear and anxiety about a new teacher, a new classroom, harder work and new friends?

I love baking and I love bottle spells, and this is an excellent opportunity to combine both!

This is a variation on the honey jar spell, which you can do to “sweeten people up” for any sort of new endeavor.

 

What you need:

Your favorite cookie recipe and all the ingredients to make the cookies.

An apple

A candle

A tin with a lid (make sure that the tin is big enough to hold the apple).

A piece of paper and a pencil

 

Directions:

Do this the night before school.

First, core your apple and set it inside the tin.

Next, bake your cookies. Do this with whoever is going to school. For each ingredient, as you measure it out into your cookie dough, talk about what you want out of the school year.

For example: While adding your sugar you could say “I hope I have a teacher that loves to teach me new things and who is kind to the students!” or for vanilla you could say, “I hope this year that learning will go more smoothly!”  For salt you could ask for protection from bullies and safety in traveling to and from school. As you discuss each ingredient, toss a pinch of the ingredient into your apple core in the tin.

After you mixed all your ingredients and put your cookies in the oven, take your piece of paper and write the name of your student on it. Have your student cup it in their hands and make a wish for a great school year! Then put it in the apple core with everything else and put the lid on the tin.

Next, set your candle on top of the lid. (You can either melt the wax onto the tin lid or use a candle holder). I would place the spell on my altar, or you could also put it next to the bed of your student. Light you candle and let it burn down completely. (Wherever you place the spell, make sure that there aren’t any fire hazards and that the candle can burn safely).

As the candle burns, it will take all your students anxious energy and concentrate it down into the spell for a better school experience.

After the candle has burned down the next morning, you can bury your apple in the garden or in a potted plant to continue feeding the spell and then you can fill your tin with cookies to send to school with your student to share.

Happy start of school all!

apple-book

*For those of you who need a cookie recipe, try that old classic, Nestle’s Chocolate Chip Cookies!