I just love how the right story comes into your life at the right time…or at least, my life. This summer I'm teaching at California Witch Camp for the first time and the story is Baba Yaga and Vassalisa the Brave! And already it's writing marks on me. It's engraving me. I remember being terrified of Baba Yaga when I was little girl. I don't remember the story that produced the terror, but the feeling itself, of being alone in the dark woods, and there is no light save maybe stars and those only through a web of dark branches and there are sounds, sticks breaking just beyond the bluish light that seeps along the path. Hungry sounds and the feeling that Baba Yaga cares only for what is fierce, sharp, strong, and some – but not all – of those who would become so.
This story is a story of initiation, with all the courage and tests and darkness and fire that entails. I’m teaching this story and I’m living it too, for the next six months at least. That’s how stories work, when we let them in. The story of Vassalisa the Brave is becoming part of my initiation. I think that's what I'm going through for reasons that I hope will become clear. I haven't formally entered initiation as a reclaiming witch, though I'm thinking about initiators – – you want the right combination of wise, tough, nurturing… Vassalisa’s initiator is Baba Yaga, only instead of nurturing She’s more of the "pass this test or I”ll eat you” school.
The story has a Cinderella sort of a start: Vassalisa’s mother dies, and on her deathbed, gives Vassalisa a magic doll. But her dad eventually remarries, as they will, and her new stepmother is a douchebag. Ditto the stepsisters. Her dad is oblivious, and the more Vassalisa tries to get along by being nice, the more she gets fucked with.
This is a familiar theme to anyone who has tried that strategy.
Vassalisa’s journey begins when she leaves her father’s house. She is sent out into the dark woods, to get fire from the very scary Baba Yaga.
I left my father’s house when I decided to get a divorce. At least, that’s what it felt like.
At this point I'm going to forget all of my communications training, and just go ahead and say the word "patriarchy". Divorce is so-so-dark-woods scary because it is leaving the patriarchy. Edith says I’ll lose you because this word shows that I am shrill and humorless. But maybe not. Maybe there is an appetite to talk about this, as long as we also talk about sex, and love, and wild animals, and what it’s really like to work and mother and fuck and have friends today. Caitlin Moran, author of “How to be a woman,” thinks so. She says that by her count we are on the fifth wave of feminism and that maybe “it’s around the fifth wave that you stop referring to individual waves and start to refer, simply, to an incoming tide.”
Anyway, I'm pretty sure I’m in the woods now, on the path of initiation with the help of Baba Yaga and Vassalisa the brave, as well as my more permanent cast of divine and animal (both human and non) characters. I vow, while on this path, to tell truth as best I can about this journey, which may involve the messy business of being a woman and a witch and a human trying to be powerful and weird and eat and do laundry and mother a kit in this time in this place. (Baby foxes are called kits. My son’s middle name is Fox. Just in case you were wondering.)
And I think we’ll start the next entry with more about Baba Yaga. Unless something messy happens.