Some have argued that the “wicked witch” stereotype of fairy tales is a construct of patriarchal cultures efforts to oppress women, specifically older women who were the wisdom-holders in the past. I’ve been thinking about this with regard to Baba Yaga. Is she a vilified wise-woman? Or is she an evil old woman to be feared?
I think there is a little bit of truth in both versions. Once upon a time, those who survived into old age were honored. They had contributed their part to society, and they had experiences that younger men and women could turn to for advice.
Now our society no longer holds the same regard for the wisdom that only age can bring. We despise the loss of beauty and virility; we become angry that we have to take care of those who were once able to care for themselves; we shut the old away where we don’t have to see them or think about them except on the rare occasions that we go to visit them. (Please do not take this personally; I am speaking in generalities about our society).
Baba Yaga’s nasty reputation precedes our modern abhorrence to old age, however. Her stories were told to little children as moral guidance and to scare them away from the deep woods, or into following instructions.
During the Inquisition, many women and men were accused of witchcraft for knowing the healing properties of herbs, or being midwifes, or looking at the wrong person the wrong way. I definitely think that this was an effort to suppress women of knowledge. And yet, how does this affect Baba Yaga.
I mentioned in my last post that she has been elusive. Boldly seeking her to ask her wisdom was not the right way to approach her. So I tried again, with awe and reverence, and yes, even a bit of fear. How do I KNOW she is not going to eat me?
She told me that if I want to be honored as a wise woman when I am older, I need to remember and honor and care for the wise women in my own life. I need to seek them out with awe and reverence, and yes, even a bit of fear. For they may react in anger at first, for being so long ignored, and I may be in danger of being eaten up by their hunger to share their wisdom and experiences.
It is time once again to honor the transitions women go through. To celebrate each one: the passage into life, from maiden to mother, from mother to crone, from crone into death, and from death back into life. It is here, at the end of the cycle that Baba Yaga dwells. She has long been the crone, passing the wise and the foolish into death so that they may be reborn once again.
Our culture is starting to remember to honor ourselves as we age. As the population grows ever older, we are no longer satisfied to be put aside in the golden years. Many women, like Marianne Williamson Jean Shinoda Bolen, are starting to write about reclaiming the power of growing older, the power of the Crone.
Though I am still quite young, I honor the wise woman. I intend to grow gray gracefully, and claim the wisdom and power that only comes with experience. And I look to those women ahead of me in age that surround me and I see bright examples of how I want to be when I grow up.