At first glance, isn’t she terrifying? If your answer to the question, “Do you want to meet her?” is with an undeniable “NO!” that may be a very, very, very good and wise choice. However, as you read on, you might change your mind.
The Baba Yaga may have appeared in your dreams or nightmares a few hundred times and you didn’t know it. Can you imagine? “Nooooooooooo,” you might say. “Impossible! Not mine.” Hard to believe, but true, that there is an unconscious realm that we can be beholden to or prisoner of by the power of primordial spells that keep us encased in glass caskets like Snow White or held in a tower without doors like Rapunzel. It may or may not help to know that this is only one of her infinite forms that speaks to us, in a very real way, about where we are…. in the hidden, and what she is telling us we need to do to move forward.
This figurative Slavic, mythical, supernatural figure lives in a house that moves on chicken legs symbolizing constant flux and birthing. When she lies down, spread out, her limbs touch every corner of her home and her nose touches the ceiling! As I enter this description I am having an experiential recall of dreams of early childhood, of images expanding and shrinking, expanding and shrinking. This is actually a common nightmare of children crossing thresholds, thrusting them into the arms of parents in the middle of the dark of night for reassurance. When asked, the terror is unexplainable, the contents are all so benign. The terror is MOVEMENT itself into the unknown, commonly known as “night terrors” that trip at predictable ages and milestones when more brain areas are coming on line!
Returning to the image, as I gather myself to learn what the image foretells, I turn to the fertility of the chicken whose legs MOVE her house around, from dreamer to dreamer. “Birthing,” at first glance is a MOVEMENT, admittedly painful but profoundly beautiful …. yet the image challenges me to move further into and dwell longer in the fertility symbolism. After acknowledging the PAIN AND TERROR of MOVING through the birth canal, which we know is all good, I ask “Well, does she birth what IS good or does she birth what IS evil?” From the image I’m leaning toward the latter. Wouldn’t you?! The stories, however, say something different, building the tension of dissonance, a loss of harmony and balance assuring of positive outcome or at least of our control. Uncertainty, characteristic of the paradox of wisdom and humility, now arrives in my awareness, experientially.
More hints or alarms are in the image. They are so loud and strong that it is hard to call them “hints.” Surrounding her home is a fence with skulls atop their posts, most of them with hair, a symbol of intellect, suggesting it had no power against their demise. A kind of ferociousness is communicated, alluding to battle or many battles past. Fences or fortresses protect and skulls lying on them tend to represent warnings of terror and certain death. And so I ask into the subject of her ferociousness, I ask about the object of her battle. I ask:
“What is she a protectress of? What does she devour? Protectress and devourer? Protectress and devourer? Of what? what? what? what? I need to know this to know if she is good or if she is bad, if she is benevolent or if she is evil. So I ask: “Is she a ferocious protectress or a ferocious devourer of life? of good” or “Is she a ferocious protectress or ferocious devourer of death? of evil?” Is it safer to go in or safer to stay out?! Does the fence keep bad or good or all people from going in…or going out?
She is clutching a limp child by her hand. “Is she a protectress or devourer of the innocent, the grieving, the weak, the children, the poor, the down-trodden?” Looking at the figure of the boy, we might easily conclude that she is a devourer of the children, the weak, after all. We might even be certain! God forbid. But, based on the tales of old, the answer to all these questions would be….yes. Such an answer amplifies the dissonance, the cacophony to new heights!
So lets suspend the image so that I may take another route to see if I am getting colder or hotter in my estimations. As the image communicates clues so does the name. What it doesn’t clarify it may affirm or disconfirm impressions already made. Embedded in her name… Baba … are the roots of pejorative attitudes widespread across cultures (Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, and Sorbian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, and Slovene) who have explicitly found her in their fairytales, suggesting she is a characterless bald man or a foolish old woman, perhaps even a sweet cake, a snake, a mushroom, and even a pear. The part of her name, Yaga, has its origins in meaning of shudder, witch, horror, and anger. In sum, her name has a particular design that releases the energetics of “Wake up or else!” It has that quality of chaos where anything goes if you don’t understand. These energetics are sent on the waves of the words into our collective psychic ears to palpate the heart into territories we do not want to tread with compulsion or fantasy or….God forbid, isolation.
If we must enter with compulsion or fantasy, which inevitably we all must do because that is all we can do at most every crossroad into new life life that really counts, may we have the courage and character strength to know what we do not know or to know that we may not know anything at all before we step forward or pause before we jump in! This is the beginning of all real transformation, after all, where we are of true beginner’s mind, cleared out and naked of identity, affiliation, and agenda that serve as blindspots for spiritual engagements. Failure and ignorance (the unknowing of our hearts desire, motivation, weakness) are the fertile ground of humility and transformation.
The Baba Yaga thus may be viewed as a figure, a symbol, that points to our character strengths and weaknesses, daring us to not only know them but to speak honestly about what she shows us, knowing that when we do we may be releasing treasured goals and loves into the endless chasm between reverie and reality, fantasy and Truth. This sort of heartbreak is real and we are never prepared, using the phrase of Rabbi Lew.
May we hear the constant echo resounding through the airwaves from the beginning of time, softly whispering: “Speak to the unknowing of your heart and its’ motivations with sincerity, with courage, with a most reverent attitude.” This may be the basic, most essential, and hardest practice, hardest MOVEMENT to acquire and sustain in the effort (not the achievement). When we do, we become bound to the container and power of the secret Mysteries that stand by us and for us in our danger when faced with the towering, hideous, irate Baba Yaga.
In the stories, the ones who are not chilled to the bone by Truth and Sorrow and Injustice are the ones who she eats or who have been eaten already by Power, Greed, and Injustice. It is their skulls that lie atop her bordering fence, whose essence can no longer take claim of the young vulnerable boy finding himself now in the Baba Yaga’s clutches, limp of all that no longer can sustain him and so gorgeously full of all that will return him, again and again. So, if you have met the Baba Yaga you know, she is initiating him into what is real, into sacred belonging and eternal life. She is not the villian, she is the teacher, the midwife who births light.
Things aren’t always what they appear to be, at first glance. What a tragedy, indeed, if you have not met the Baba Yaga in your dreams, while awake or asleep in the dark of night . Is it not?