The Story of
Have you ever heard the story of
Vasilisa the Brave...
It's a Russian Folktale...
The story is about a young girl...
what's so cool is that she carries this secret Doll in her pocket
given to her by her true mother-
And this Doll guides her and helps her...
There's also a real smart no-nonsense witch in the story-
the famous witch known as Baba Yaga-
(Images from the Internet)
You may have heard of the famous witch, Baba Yaga;
she who darkens fairy-tale skies riding about in a mortar,
using a pestle and/or broomstick for navigational purposes...
...She who lives in a house made of bones located across the gloomy woods
from Vasilisa and her Cinderella-style evil stepmother and stepsisters...
So this unfortunate young girl, Vasilisa, was stuck with a wretched stepmother
and bratty stepsisters for the usual reason- parents deceased.
But just before she died, Vasilisa's mother gave her a Doll.
In the story the Doll wears a simple scarf around her head and an apron-
she is plain, but charged with the power of the mother's love.
Vasilisa keeps the Doll safe and talks to the Doll
and the Doll talks back to her and is her only friend.
And she is about to really need a magical friend, because the stepmother
is hatching an evil plot as she watches the girls reach marriageable age,
and the beautiful and sweet-tempered Vasilisa's very presence
seems to make the other girls appear even more homely and dull-witted...
Some versions of this tale say that the stepmother, herself, was a witch,
and that she, herself, cast a spell one night on her own house...
so that all the lights (candles, fireplace...) go out and cannot be lit again.
Vasilisa is ordered to go at once to the fearsome Baba Yaga's house
all the way at the other end of the forest to ask her for a light.
So, it's like midnight, and she takes off into the forest,
bravely and forthrightly, shivering and clutching her magical Doll
who speaks comforting words to her and guides her
down the scary moonlit path to the dreaded witch's house.
She travels all night and all the next day, and just when it's getting dark again,
she comes upon the witch's house. She pretty much knows it's the witch's house
right off, since it is the only house surrounded by a circle of enchanted glowing
pumpkin heads- each skewered atop a boney fencepost-
The kind of place where you get the feeling that everything you see
and everything you don't see- is watching you.
The witch doesn't appear to be at home, but then, Vasilisa hears a strange rustling....
it's Baba Yaga swishing toward her abode through the dark wood,
gliding between the trees, riding high in her worn wooden mortar,
using a broom for a rudder and the pestle for a mast, she emerges like a sea-hag
slithering silently through twining strands of black kelp.
Clutching her Doll, Vasilisa steps out into the open, bowing respectfully
and keeping her eyes focused on the ground,
she says, "It is I, Vasilisa.
My stepmother has sent me to ask if we may borrow a light."
Baba Yaga replies, "Ah, is that so? I know of your stepmother-
and your step-sisters too. You might have wished for better relations, my dear.
But never mind- you shall have your light and you may even live to use it-
we'll see- but first, you must live here and work for me."
Although the witch is skinny as a rail, she has a voracious appetite,
so it's a good thing Vasilisa knows how to cook sumptuous meals fine enough for a Tsar,
and it's a good thing the little Doll is there to help her
to complete Baba Yaga's imaginative (impossible) tasks.
After three days the witch is actually quite satisfied with Vasilisa's work.
It helps greatly that Vasilisa is a terrific cook,
but it's notable that the respectful WAY Vasilisa interacts with the fearsome witch
seems to make a favorable impression.
So, on the third night Baba Yaga comes home to find the assigned tasks completed,
and after devouring a third excessively sumptuous meal,
Baba Yaga engages Vasilisa in conversation. She asks Vasilisa,
"How did you manage to complete all the (impossible) tasks I set for you?"
Unwilling to reveal the presence of the Doll, yet, not wanting to lie to a witch,
Vasilisa answers, "By my mother's love."
So Baba Yaga starts squirming, wanting nothing to do with love,
and decides right then that it's time for the girl to go home.
She shoos Vasilisa out of the enchanted gate,
handing her a lit pumpkin on a bone fencepost.
"Be sure to give this light to your stepmother and stepsisters- don't forget, now."
Once again, Vasilisa has to travel in the dark, but the pumpkin head lights the way,
fading in daylight and beaming up again at nightfall.
She arrives home on the second night to find her old house still in darkness.
Apparently the stepmother wasn't a very handy witch, since she couldn't undo her own
spell and couldn't get matches to light the whole time Vasilisa was gone.
So it looked like everybody was asleep, but the pumpkin told her they were awake
in there and reminded her that she had promised the witch
that she would give them the light.
Well, you probably figured out that Baba Yaga was up to something,
and upon the pumpkin's insistence, Vasilisa opened the door and there they were,
the step-mother and two step-sisters, all huddled together in the dark and cold.
Some versions say that the pumpkin flew at each of them one by one and burned them
up, and some say that the pumpkin just blew the whole house up,
but either way, the enchanted pumpkin kicked some stepmother and stepdaughter butt.
The story doesn't end there, though.
Vasilisa, either way the story is told, flees from that house
and goes to live with an elderly woman in town.
She learns to spin the finest cloth which she gives to the old woman,
who tries to sell it, but the cloth is so fine
that finally it ends up being given to the Tsar
and nobody will cut the cloth because they don't feel worthy so they send for Vasilisa
to cut the fabric and the moment His Majesty the Tsar sets eyes on her,
he falls in love with her and they marry,
and so Vasilisa has a great life and in the last illustration she and her little magical Doll
are both wearing lacy dresses, and chatting by themselves,
and she never puts the Doll away,
but they still hang out together and sometimes wonder
what's shakin with the terrible Baba Yaga on the other side of the wood.
My favorite version of this story is told by Marianna Mayer,
and beautifully illustrated by K.Y. Kraft.
I highly recommend reading her version.
The Doll, in the story, represents "a Mother's Love".
However, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who wrote Women Who Run with the Wolves,
sees Vasilisa's Doll as Vasilisa's own Intuition, so that is interesting too.
I also recommend Women Who Run with the Wolves
for an intelligent commentary on this old folk-tale.
Kandra Niagra, Dollmaker
PO Box 326
Smithville, Texas 78957
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