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Vasilisa- A Russian Fairy Tale

South American storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estés who wrote Women who run with the Wolves says that there is a river under the river of life, and that through our creativity/spirituality we have to create space for the river to come up like a mountain spring. It is like a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Some years ago when I was teaching at a Girls’ School I used to read some great stories to the girls, stories which I hoped they would never forget and might, later in life, spring up like a well inside them. For example I took delight in reading Ted Hughes’ Iron Man, and also the story I am about to read you from Women who run with the Wolves, the story of Vasilisa. While I read the story I invited them to draw the characters in the story, after which we talked about the meaning of the story.

The other day I found the sketches that they did, which I love. I would like to share the sketches and the story with you. They never put their names to the story. I share their pages with you in the same way they shared them with me, adding nothing to them.

When you have heard the story and seen their drawings, perhaps you may want to share your understanding of the story with me.

Vasilisa was a little girl who lived in the forests in Russia. When she was about 12 years old her mother died. But before she died she blessed her child and gave her a small doll. Her mother said to her, “Whenever you are in danger or trouble speak to your doll and ask her to direct you. And remember to feed her little bits of food”.

Within a few months her father took another wife, who had two older daughters. The stepmother and her daughters were very nasty to Vasilisa. When her father was away at work they scolded her, told her that she was ugly and not good enough. What is more, they made her do all the lowly jobs about the house. They made her fetch wood and keep the fire going. They tried to make life very miserable for Vasilisa.

One day they decided to get rid of Vasilisa completely. Her stepmother sent her into the forest to fetch firewood from the Baba Yaga, the wild woman that lived in a house deep in the forest.

Vasilisa was very afraid, but she took her sack and went in search of the Baba Yaga. Soon it became dark and she did not know which way to go, but she asked her doll. And the doll directed her, “go left, go right, go straight ahead”.

As she walked along in the dead of night she saw a horseman dressed in white riding on a white horse. Later she saw a horseman dressed in red riding on a red horse along the path, and still later she saw a horseman dressed in black riding on a black horse coming out of the Baba Yaga’s house.

Now the Baba Yaga’s house was unlike anything she had ever seen before. The house was moving all the time and on chicken legs! The Baba Yaga had a huge nose that curved down to a goatee beard. The house was surrounded by poles with skulls on them that flamed with a fierce fire. The Baba Yaga moved around, at great speed sometimes, in a mortar with a pestle as an oar.
Vasilisa was very afraid, but she clutched her doll who whispered to her to be brave.

“Why have you come,” said the wild woman angrily “Have you come because someone has sent you or have you come of your own accord?”
Vasilisa thought about the question, and answered softly:
“I have come because I have been sent and also because I wanted to come.”
“You have answered well,” said the Baba Yaga.

“Oh, I can see what kind of girl you are”, said the Baba Yaga. “If I give you the firewood you must first do a number of chores for me, and if you fail to do them, I shall eat you up”.
So each night she tested Vasilisa with her chores.
She had to cook a meal.
She had to clean the house.
She had to separate the corn from the chaff.
Each time the task seemed so overwhelming, but the doll whispered to her,
“Don’t worry, I shall help you, Vasilisa”, and each time Vasilisa fed the doll with little bits of food.
Once, Vasilisa fell fast asleep trying to separate the corn. But four hands appeared and started the work. In the morning she found that the corn had been beautifully piled up and separated.
The Baba Yaga was very impressed with her work.

Vasilisa was very intrigued about her experience so she asked many questions:
“What is the meaning of the White horse?”
“That is my day,” said the Baba Yaga .
“What is the meaning of the Red Horse?”
“That is my sun,” said the Baba Yaga.
“What is the meaning of the Black horse?”
“That is my night, and you ask too many questions. No more questions from you little girl!”
“Please give me your blessing ,” pleaded Vasilisa.
“Blessing! No, no, no blessing! And she was very upset.
“Go now. Off with you. Take this.”
The Baba Yaga took one of the skulls with blazing eyes, gave it to Vasilisa and sent her on her way into the dark forest.
“Go, go you naughty girl. Never ask me for a blessing!”

Vasilisa ran off into the dark night. The blazing light of the skull was very scary but she held on to it tightly because it gave her light. And the doll rocked in her pocket to encourage her to persist with her journey and find her way home.

Eventually she arrived home.

Her stepmother and her family were terrified to see her holding the blazing skull.

The skull’s eyes stared fixedly at them until they vanished into thin air.

Vasilisa had found her way back to her true home.

Background music to the narration with thanks to:
I Walk With Ghosts by Scott Buckley |
Music promoted by
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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