Teachings of the Baba Yaga
I once read a Slavic fable about the Baba Yaga and a beautiful young woman named Vasilisa.
The essence of the story is this:
A long time ago, there lived a humble merchant, his ailing wife and their daughter, Vasilisa.
On her death bed, the mother gifted Vasilisa with a simple doll, instructing her to feed it a bit of bread each day.
In return, the doll would provide her with guidance.
She tucked the doll away in her apron pocket as her mother passed over into death.
Some time passed and the merchant married a widow.
Both she and her two daughters were fiercely envious of Vasilisa.
While her father was away, they banished her from the home, forcing her to work hard labor on the land, in hopes that her face would turn ugly from the wind and sun.
She did her work, all the while, keeping her doll hidden away.
One winter’s day, the stepmother and her two daughters plotted against Vasilisa, hoping for her demise.
They intentionally extinguished the hearth fire, requiring that she journey into the dark forest in search of the Baba Yaga.
Upon finding her, she was to request fire for the long, cold, winter nights ahead.
The Baba Yaga was a deadly witch who lived in a magical hut.
A structure that stood atop two chicken legs, its perimeter surrounded by the bones of the dead.
Feared throughout the land, she was known best as one who would devour any human who crossed her path.
The stepmother was sure that once Vasilisa found her, the Baba Yaga would eat her up.
And so Vasilisa journeyed out into the foreboding forest.
She fed her doll a bit of bread and in return, it directed her safely through the perils that lay before her.
She walked all day, until at last, she came to the hut of Baba Yaga.
As the sky began to darken, the skulls that sat upon the fence made of bone, began to glow.
Their light illuminating the forest.
The young girl was terribly afraid, but her doll reassured her and encouraged her to enter the magical home.
She knocked on the door and the fearsome Baba Yaga appeared before her.
Vasilisa bravely asked the witch for light for her family’s hearth fire; in which the Yaga replied that she knew of her stepmother.
If the girl stayed and worked well, she would give her fire.
If not, she would eat her for supper.
Inside the hut, the Baba Yaga ordered Vasilisa to complete several impossible tasks.
She must separate seed by seed, a mountain of mildewed corn kernels from dried ones.
She must sift through an immense pile of poppy seeds, separating the seeds from dirt.
She must prepare the Yaga supper, and clean her magical hut.
After instruction, the witch left the girl to do her work.
Vasilisa fed her doll a crust of bread and asked it for guidance.
The doll told her to lay down and rest after her long journey through the forest.
Upon daybreak, when the girl awoke, all tasks had been completed by her doll, aside from the preparation of supper, which she completed before the Baba Yaga’s return that evening.
When the witch arrived back at the hut that night, she was amazed to find that all of the tasks had been finished.
She asked the girl how she managed, in which Vasilisa replied that she had received a blessing from her mother.
Taken aback, the witch exclaimed that she did not want any blessings in her hut!
Keeping true to her word, she handed Vasilisa a skull with a flame burning bright inside and sent her away.
She turned and ran through the forest, following the twists and turns in the trail.
The sun hung heavy and low in the sky and soon, the trees began to thin.
She had made it out of the dangerous forest.
As she approached her home, the skull began to burn brighter and brighter.
Flames flickering out of the eyes, nose and open mouth.
The stepmother and sisters saw the light coming closer from the wood and as soon as they realized it was Vasilisa, they ordered her to put the flame into the hearth fire.
That night, as the envious women stared into the flame, it burned them up and by morning they were reduced to mere ashes.
This fable is about many things, but what I want to focus on, is the importance of reclaiming your own personal power.
The symbol of that power in the story, being the hearth fire.
Vasilisa is put into a position where she has her power stripped from her by her stepmother and sisters.
She is removed from her home, her sanctuary and her fire is doused by those who would do her harm.
Ultimately she’s required to go through difficult and harrowing experiences, at the hand of another.
This is something that I see again and again, in my line of work and also something that I have experienced myself.
People who have faced unimaginable things.
Things that have left us feeling broken and traumatized.
That have dismantled who we are at the core of our very being.
Experiences that have syphoned our power away from us, leaving us feeling unstable and vulnerable.
But it’s through the journey into the darkness that Vasilisa reclaims her power by facing the fearsome witch.
There are pieces of golden knowledge that we can take from this fable.
That we can apply to our lives in order to reclaim our own power.
The first teaching: Self-Respect.
When Vasilisa confronts the Baba Yaga, a witch of great power, she asks her for light for her hearth fire.
She makes this request with deep respect and when the Yaga tells her that she will provide her with the fire, but only after she has earned it…she respectfully agrees.
Embodying respect in the face of great power is critical because, at some point, a part of that power will become ours.
In this story, the Baba Yaga represents our own raw and wild nature. She is that part within us that cannot be tamed or domesticated.
It’s this wild segment of our core that is able to re-light the flame of our own power.
But only if we are brave enough to journey inward to find it.
When we do find our own wild nature, and have the ability to look directly at it without fear, that is when things begin to transform.
That is when we begin to have the ability to see clearly the lessons that can be learned from the situations that we face.
Something miraculous will then begin to happen.
The very same energy that had oppressed us in the past, begins to change from something that held us back, into something that will propel us forward at staggering rates.
As that power transforms, the fire within our belly becomes lit.
The second teaching: Acceptance and Forgiveness.
Once this fire has been lit within us, we have the power to see past the bad actions of others and into the underlying goodness that resides within all things.
It’s like the old saying, “misery loves company” or “people who are hurting, hurt others”.
But somewhere inside that shell of torment and pain, there is goodness.
The light of our power gives us the ability to see through the misery of our oppressors, to the spirit underneath.
As we perceive the truth of the situation, we begin to understand.
Our hearts begin to soften and we allow forgiveness to grow.
Forgiveness of our oppressors, of the situation and also of ourselves.
At any point in Vasilisa’s journey, she could have allowed her heart to grow heavy with anger and bitterness.
But that would have blinded her from the guidance of her own intuition.
And instead, she nurtures that knowledgeable piece of herself, a part which is played in the story by her doll.
In return for nurturing her intuition, she is gifted with the knowledge to know how to navigate each hardship.
She listens and knows how to find the wild part of herself.
She hears her intuition when it tells her to be unafraid of the power before her.
She allows her intuition to work through the difficult tasks required; her own inner healing.
And while she is away, doing her inner work, the things that had oppressed her in the past, have power over her no longer.
She is finally able to see the bare bones of her situation, her reality.
The third teaching: Self-Love.
As soon as the step-mother had extinguished the hearth fire in the home, so did her own power over Vasilisa.
She only needed to see it and realize that she held the power within her all along. It was never something that would be found outside of herself.
All she had to do, was to nurture her own power.
In the story, this is when Vasilisa cooks the final meal for the Yaga.
She prepared and served the nourishing dinner with great care, as if her life depended upon it…because it did.
Providing this kind of nourishment, is a great act of self-love.
When the Yaga inquires of her ability to complete the tedious inner work, Vasilisa replies that she was gifted with the blessing of her intuition.
The great witch then presents her with the flame inside of the skull, and Vasilisa hurries back home.
As she gets closer to her oppressors, the intensity of her power increases until ultimately, they are reduced to nothing but ashes.
As we complete our inner work and return to the external world, our power will burn so bright that it will consume anything left trying to hold us down.
From this place, we have the power to create healthy boundaries that will nurture us.
This is the ultimate act of self-love.
When we are faced with hardships, either by the hand of another or simply by circumstance…it’s through this inner journey that we can find ourselves again.
Follow the twisting, winding trail within your soul.
Find your wild nature and look it in the face without fear.
Do the inner work required of you.
As you journey back out, into the world, you will be armed with self-respect, understanding and self-love.
You will have reclaimed your power.