Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Hag of a Muse

Vasilisa  finds herself face to face with Baba Yaga

I lived in the woods myself, once, when I was writing a book about two Polish brothers separated during the Second World War (Malinski)  I lived in a wooden house, at the bottom of an exquisite garden of vegetables and flowers, owned by friends of the family, who lived at the top of the garden in a wooden house on stilts.  I had known them since I was one year old.  I had a stove,  which blew smoke into the cabin when the winds were strong.  A long winter, with watery eyes. It's no wonder then, that I had a dream about an old woman in the woods, just beside this cabin. She was in a part of the woods that nobody knew about. She lived in a hut. She had fled a devastating war. She painted  large canvases, all day long. She smoked a pipe. She had a hundred cats. And when I woke up, and the visitation was over, I realized who she was. Baba Yaga. In new clothes.  A refugee from the war, hiding out in the woods. A post-war Baba Yaga. Right beside me. Watching over me. Calling me to write a book about her, when I was in the thick of Poland and the war.  A book was born.

So my muse is a hag. The hag from Russia, who has turned up as far away as  Jamaica, I have heard.  She's all over Eastern Europe of course- Romania, Yugolsavia, Poland and the Baltic countries. Pinkola Estes says the stories of Vasilissa the Beautiful (in which the little girl goes into the dark forest and finds Baba Yaga, who puts her through the ringer with tasks until she is 'initiated'), go back to the old horse-Goddess cults predating classical Greek culture. It's about initiation to intuition. An induction into wisdom. "It is like a diving instrument and like a crystal through which one can see with uncanny interior vision. It is like a wise old woman who is with you always, who tells you exactly what the matter is, tells you exactly whether you need to go left or right. It is a form of The One Who Knows, old La Que Sabe, the Wild Woman. " (Women who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes).

I must have picked her up during my time in Poland. Eating pierogi and szarlotka. Consorting with the old wizard, Piotr Skrzynecki. Drinking miod in the long white winters. And zybrowka with apple juice in the summers. Thinking about the war, and all the terrible things that had happened to the old people I saw on the streets, in the trams, on the trains, in the Milk Bars, in the grocery stores. Somewhere along the way,  I found Baba Yaga. Or she found me.  At the time, I wasn't interested in my own Gods. All I wanted to do was run away from Ireland, forever. To be lost in that compelling little city, Krakow. I didn't know then that she, Baba Yaga, was surely a friend of the Cailleach, our own hag of the hills, who must be some cousin of Kali.

So, what did I do, when I found myself visited by Baba Yaga, in that log cabin, all those years ago? I told her to wait. I had to finish Malinski, first. I had to go to India, where among the foothills of the Himalayas, surrounded by Tibetan exiles, I came across Kali in the Hindu temples. And then I came back, and I lived in Norway, in yet another wooden house, on the outskirts of Oslo, in Ski, surrounded again by tides of snow, with no running water and a Polish boyfriend on the run from, I won't say what. I landed a job teaching English to members of the Norwegian Conservative Party, but job never happened, because the paperwork was too complicated, and I was suspended between the Employment office and the Police HQ for months, carrying various pieces of paper that eventually came to no good result. In linear time, at least. In snakey other -time though, I got my muse. She reappeared, when I was all alone in that Log Cabin, while my Polish boyfriend was off painting walls in Oslo. I began to write the story, in the attic of the cabin. You couldn't stand up in it, the ceiling was so low. I began to write on a cushion, in front of a tiny window that looked out over the Scots Pine trees.

 My Vasilissa was Finella, who came from a long line of Dreamers.  Finella the Dreamer. Her mentor was Baba Yaga, who  after she met her in the forest,  things were never the same.  As they never have been for me, since I met Baba Yaga in my dream. So, this is the story of how Baba Yaga and the Dreamers came into being. Muses  are  strange and tricky if you don't obey them !



Ciara Brehony said...

Fantastic post, Síofra! I just love to read what you write, I can hear your voice in my head and it's so soothing like someone telling me a story.
Great stuff! I look forward to reading more! C x

Norman Darlington said...

Great! But now you have to keep it up - two posts a day minimum!!

Béatrice said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Béatrice said...

I love this story Síofra! It's wonderful to read about your muze(s) and how they came to you in unexpected ways. Very inspiring and motivating to tune into my own. So exciting! Béatrice.