From Baba Yaga’s Bag
by Susun Weed
Review by Jan Calloway-Baxter
mentor at the Wise Woman University
CD From Baba Yaga's Bag
also available in MP3 for immediate download
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The first doll I ever made, in my adult life at least, was a Vasalisa doll I put together as part of a group of women at a Unitarian Church taking the course “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven.” While we were mainly studying goddesses, as I recall we also read the chapter about the Baba Yaga story in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ (then) recently published book Women Who Run With The Wolves.
The mentor of the course gave us all a clothes pin of the old-fashioned type and access to a box of goodies including ribbons, scraps of lace and cloth, pipe cleaners, markers, string and other treasures with which to make our doll.
I came across that doll recently. She looked terrible, the face drawn with a marker much too large for the job, a black skirt that had unraveled, and lace wrapped around the top in a vague approximation of Vasalisa’s embroidered blouse, skinny pipe cleaner arms sticking out every which way. But still, she held the power of the story, the intent behind my making her, and the feeling I had after first hearing Vasalisa’s story.
If you have never heard the story of Baba Yaga and Vasalisa, you must immediately purchase this two CD set, recorded at the Eighth International Herb Symposium held at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts in 2007. I can think of no better introduction to this fabulous Russian folk tale which resonates with meaning for women.
And if you are familiar with this story, you will be delighted to listen to Susun’s rich retelling of it, her bright voice interpreting the witchy cackle of Baba Yaga—with emphasis on the second syllable of each word, not the first.
I was lucky enough to hear Susun tell this story in person at last fall’s Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference at beautiful Black Mountain, North Carolina. (For information about this year’s conference, go to http://www.sewisewomen.com/.) Listening to this CD brought that experience vividly back to life for me. After all, Baba Yaga is clearly an herbalist; she rides, not a broom, but a flying mortar that she steers with her pestle.
The CD begins with song, as Susun’s talks so often do. The drumming and meditation that follows the introductory song takes each listener to her own, secret, magical, healing garden where she can relax and comfortably take in the stories that follow. While taking us to this place, Susun reminds us that “Every breath we take is a gift to us from the plants,” and that we are always in a dance of give and take with them, breathing in and exhaling out.
The version of the folk tale told by Susun is a traditional one, the white, red, and black riders rushing by, the hut on chicken legs twirling like a Sufi dancer, the fence of bone and skulls glowing fiercely. I will not retell the story here, hoping that those of you who do not know it will take advantage of the opportunity to let Susun’s voice be the first telling that you hear. Such folk tales are so much better heard than read.
Vasalisa’s doll, given to her by her dying mother, serves as her intuition, her advisor, and her helper, a role that all of us who have played with dolls (whether a stuffed Teddy, a G.I. Joe, Barbie or Raggedy Ann) can easily understand. Hearing the story will remind you to trust your intuition, the inner knowing that women are blessed with.
The story of Old Man and Old Woman is a bonus on this CD and leads Susun into a discussion of herbs. I cannot tell you the first herb she visits, because that would ruin the story! I don’t think I’ll ever forget her description of the creation of the Witch Hazel by cherubs, given the lowly job by the higher-ranking angels. Luckily, witch hazel is one of the herbs we all have easy access to at any drug store. It is good for so many things.
Envisioning a witch’s pointy hat as a DNA spiral is very telling, and not difficult either, even without seeing what Susun is drawing as she talks.
This CD set will also provide you with information about the psychoactive plant, hops. Growing it was once punishable by death, and even now one must have a license. Have you ever heard of a fruit salad tree? You can learn about them as well. Chickweed, Motherwort, and Cronewort also put in an appearance, and the story of how Cronewort told Susun her name is not to be missed.
So while the CD is worth its price for the story-telling alone, it is chock-full of herbal lore and a discussion of the genetic manipulation of plants—something women have done for approximately 40,000 years. It will entertain and educate you.
I’ve made many dolls since my first Vasilissa doll, including goddess dolls given to girls to help them remember that the feminine is sacred. My crone dolls are my favorites. I am currently working on a Baba Yaga doll now, hoping to manage to instill in her some of the magic and the wisdom of this ancient Russian tale.
c 2010 Jan Calloway Baxter
From Baba Yaga's Bag - 2 CD Set
Susun S Weed - 8th International Herb Symposium 2007
(Length - 1 Hour/35 Minutes) - $22.50
The Russian witch Baba Yaga has brown-stained fingernails and a house that dances ecstatically; she rides about in a mortar, which she rows with a pestle. Sounds like an herbalist to me! Come, learn more about Baba Yaga and enjoy her stories about sassafras and witch hazel, cronewort and motherwort. There will songs and special surprises in Baba Yaga’s Bag, too.
Price: $22.50 plus shipping
ORDER From Baba Yaga's Bag in our Bookshop
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Read other reviews by Jan Baxter
Optimum Nutrition - Review by Jan Calloway-Baxter
Herbal Healing for Women - Review by Jan Calloway-Baxter
Magical Plants - Review by Jan Calloway-Baxter
Elements of Herbalism: Harvesting - Review by Jan Calloway-Baxter
The Visionary Art of Martina Hoffmann - Review by Jan Calloway-Baxter
Online Courses by Jan Calloway-Baxter
at the Wise Woman University
~ Creating Altars ~
~ Goddess Dolls ~
~ Dream Journals ~
~ Moon Writing ~
~ Creative Writing ~
About the Mentor:
Jan has taught writing, literature and humanities in universities, colleges and high schools for many years, including developing online composition courses. Jan is delighted to be a mentor at the Wise Woman University.
Find out more & REGISTER HERE
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