Here's what I know so far about Baba Yaga: She is featured in Russian folk tales, though considering what I am learning about the history of Goddess worship in old Europe, I doubt you could ever say something as simple as "She's Russian."
She is the old one who lives in the forest, alone... who makes Her way by means of Her senses, Her wild and fearless nature, Her sharp perceptions and Her dangerous allies. Her nose and chin curve so that they touch each other. She is said to have warts and to fly through the night, not on a broomstick, but in a mortar, rowing her way through the stars with her pestle. (In case you're wondering, a mortar and pestle are the cup and fat, flat ended stick you use for grinding herbs. I think that this shows that she is powered by the deep wisdom of the wild, the healing and killing secrets of plants that only come when you grind them to their essence.)
She lives in a house that walks on chicken legs. Sometimes the house dances, “ecstatically.” This is a good sign for camp, where we will have ecstatic rituals, with singing and dancing and what I hear are epic bonfires.
Speaking of fires, when Vassalisa approaches Baba Yaga’s hut,
“The fence made of skulls and bones surrounding the hut began to blaze with an inner light so the clearing there in the forest glowed...”
So says Clarissa Pinkola Estés, pH.D, in Women Who Run with the Wolves. (If you’d like to follow along, that’s the version of Vassalisa’s story that we are using for camp, and the basic roadmap for this journey.)
But there are many versions of this initiation story. In some, Vassalisa ends with the simple pure blaze of her true self emerging. And in some versions, she marries the prince.
When I mentioned this ending about the prince to my awesome therapist Susan, she said "Of course. Otherwise, she might end up like Baba Yaga! An old woman, living on her own and in synch with the wild? We can't have that."
I’m not at the end of my journey, but at this time, I would like to say that I am interested in a story that ends with love and power. This Vassalisa wants the blaze and the family.
One of the teachers on the CAWC team is John Brazaitis. He is the kind of storyteller that makes you close your eyes and melt into another time and place – and he can do this over the phone. He’s been studying Russian folklore for a long time. He said Baba Yaga is called “Grandmother Time” and that she likes an offering of salt – and vodka if you have it. I put some salt in a dish and placed it with my mortar and pestle on my altar. The mortar and pestle are made of some wood that is a swirl of light and dark. It has a deep, deep cup. It is ready for this job, for the whole of my life.
My son Forest is six. He likes stories and he also likes salt – I think he would eat it like pudding if he were allowed. When he first saw the dish on my altar, I told him he could have one pinch and he must say “thank you” first.
A couple weeks ago when he came back from his dad’s house, he ran into the kitchen while I was making dinner.
“What's the name of the Lady of the Salt?” he said.
“You mean Baba Yaga?” I said.
“Yes!” He said and scampered back to say “thank you,” and then taste the keen edge of Earth and Time.