June 19, 2013

Yuki Onna: The Japanese Snow Maiden

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things at 9:23 pm by Babs

To those lost in blizzards, struggling futilely against the cold, she came, soothing them, singing to lull them to sleep, then breathing a deathly cold breathe on them.  The “snow maiden” was the spirit of death by freezing; a calm, pale woman, who appeared to the dying, making their death quiet and painless.

Also known as The Lady of the Snow, The Snow Queen, Snow Whore, Snow Demon, Winter Ghost, Goddess of: Death, Cold, Winter and/or Snow.  She is represented as a beautiful woman with moon pale skin and long black hair wearing a white kimono.

Appearances in mythology sometimes has Yuki Onna as a beautiful earthly woman, marries and has children.  Other times she kills those she meets and forbids survivors to tell of their encounters (under punishment of death) before disappearing in a cloud of white mist.

In a village of Musashi Province, there lived two woodcutters: Mosaku and Minokichi.  At the time of which I am speaking, Mosaku was an old man; and Minokichi, his apprentice, was a lad of eighteen years.  Every day they went together to a forest situated about five miles from their village.  On the way to that forest there is a wide river to cross; and there is a ferry boat.  Several times a bridge was built where the ferry is; but the bridge was each time carried away by flood.  No common bridge can resist the current there when the river rises.

Mosaku and Minokichi were on their way home, one very cold evening, when a great snowstorm overtook them.  They reached the ferry; and they found that the boatman had gone away, leaving his boat on the other side of the river.  It was no day for swimming; and the woodcutters took shelter in the ferryman’s hut thinking themselves lucky to find any shelter at all.  There was no brazier in the hut, nor any place in which to make a fire.  It was only a two-mat hut, with a single door  but no window.  Mosaku and Minokichi fastened the door, and lay down to rest, with their straw rain-coats over them.  At first they did not feel very cold and they thought that the storm would soon be over.  The old man almost immediately fell asleep but the boy, Minokichi, lay awake a long time, listening to the awful wind, and the continual slashing of the snow against the door.

The river was roaring and the hut swayed and creaked like a junk at sea.  It was a terrible storm and the air was every moment becoming colder.  Minokichi shivered under his raincoat.  But at last, in spire of the cold, he too fell asleep.

He was awakened by the showering of snow in his face.  The door of the hut had been forced open and by the snow-light (yuki-akari), he saw a woman in the room – a woman all in white.  She was bending above Mosaku and blowing her breath upon him and her breath was like a bright white smoke.  Almost in the same moment she turned to Minokichi and stooped over him.  He tried to cry out, but found that he could not utter any sound.  The white woman bent down over him, lower and lower, until her face almost touched him, and he saw that she was very beautiful; though her eyes made him afraid.  For a little time she continued to look at him then she smiled and whispered:

“I intended to treat you like the other man.  But I cannot help feeling some pity for you – because you are so young.  You are a pretty boy, Minokichi and I will not hurt you now.  But, if you ever tell anybody, even your own mother about what you have seen this night, I shall know it and then I will kill you.  Remember what I say!”

With these words, she turned from him, and passed through the doorway.  Then he found himself able to move and he sprang up and looked out.  But the woman was nowhere to be seen and the snow was driving furiously into the hut.  Minokichi closed the door, and secured it by fixing several billets of wood against it.  He wondered if the wind had blown it open.  He thought that he might have been only dreaming, and might have mistaken the gleam of the snow-light in the doorway for the figure of a white woman; but he could not be sure.  He called to Mosaku and was frightened because the old man did not answer.  He put out his hand in the dark and touched Mosaku’s face and found that it was ice!  Mosaku was stark and dead.

By dawn the storm was over, and when the ferryman returned to his station, a little after sunrise, he found Minokichi lying senseless beside the frozen body of Mosaku.  Minokichi was promptly cared for and soon came to himself but he remained a long time ill from the effects of the cold of that terrible night.  He had been greatly frightened also by the old man’s death but he said nothing about the vision of the woman in white.  As soon as he got well again he returned to his calling, going alone every morning to the forest and coming back at nightfall with his bundles of wood which his mother helped him to sell.

One evening, in the winter of the following year, as he was on his way home, he overtook a girl who happened to be traveling by the same road.  She was a tall, slim girl, very good-looking and she answered Minokichi’s greeting in a voice as pleasant to the ear as the voice of a song-bird.  Then he walked beside her and they began to talk.  The girl said that her name was O-Yuki, that she had lately lost both of her parents and that she was going to Yedo, where she happened to have some poor relations, who might help her to find a situation as servant.  Minokichi soon felt charmed by this strange girl and the more that he looked at her, the handsomer she appeared to be.  He asked her whether she was yet betrothed and she answered, laughingly, that she was free.  Then, in her turn, she asked Minokichi whether he was married, or pledged to marry; and he told her that, although he had only a widowed mother to support, the question of an “honorable daughter-in-law” had not yet been considered, as he was very young… After these confidences, they walked on for a long while without speaking; but, as the proverb declares, Ki ga areba, me mo kuchi hodo ni mono wo iu: “When the wish is there, the eyes can say as much as the mouth.”  But the time they reached the village, they had become very much pleased with each other and then Minokichi asked O-Yuki to rest awhile at his house.  After some shy hesitation, she went there with him; and his mother made her welcome, and prepared a warm meal for her.  O-Yuki behaved so nicely that Minokichi’s mother took a sudden fancy to her, and persuaded her to delay her journey to Yedo.  And the natural end of the matter was that Yuki never went to Yedo at all.  She remained in the house, as an “honorable daughter-in-law.”

O-Yuki proved a very good daughter-in-law.  When Minokichi’s mother came to die, some five years later, her last words were words of affection and praise for the wife of her son.  And O-Yuki bore Minokichi ten children, boys and girls, handsome children all of them, and very fair of skin.  The country folk thought O-Yuki is a wonderful person, by nature different from themselves.  Most of the peasant-woman age early; but O-Yuki, even after shaving become the mother of ten children, looked as young and fresh as on the day when she had first come to the village.

One night, after the children had gone to sleep, O-Yuki was sewing by the light of a paper lamp and Minokichi, watching her, said “To see you sewing there, with the light on your face, makes me think of a strange thing that happened when I was a lad of eighteen.  I then saw somebody as beautiful and white as you are now – indeed, she was very like you.”

Without lifting her eyes from her work, O-Yuki responded, “Tell me about here… where did you see her?”

Then Minokichi told her about the terrible night in the ferryman’s hut, and about the White Woman that had stooped abouve him, smiling and whispering, and about the silent death of old Mosaku.  And he said, “Asleep or awake, that was the only time that I saw a being as beautiful as you.  Of course, she was not a human being and I was afraid of her, very much afraid, but she was so white I … indeed, I have never been sure whether it was a dream that I saw, or the Woman of the Snow.”

O-Yuki flung down her sewing and arose and bowed above Minokichi where he sat, and shrieked into his face, “It was I – I – I!  Yuki it was!  And I told you then that I would kill you if you ever said one word about it!   …But for those children asleep there, I would kill you this moment!  And now you had better take very, very good care of them for if ever they have reason to complain of you, I will treat you as you deserve!”

Even as she screamed, her voice became thin, like a crying of wind, then she melted into a bright white mist and spired to the roof-beams, and shuddered away through the smoke-hole… never again was she seen.  The story above has a few variations but in this adaptation the Yuki-Onna takes on a much sweeter disposition.

Baba Yaga: The Slavic Goddess of Death

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , , , at 7:44 pm by Babs

It is only through examination of our dark side that we can hope to be reborn.  It is in crossing the comfort zones and visiting our shadowed selves that we can empower ourselves spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and physically.

The ancient Slavic Goddess Baba Yaga is the wild old crone guardian of the Water of Life and Death.  She is the Goddess of Death and Birth associated with autumn, who sings while sprinkling corpses with the Water of Life to let them be reborn.  Although she is fearsome to look upon, like all forces of nature that are often wild and untamed, she can also be kind.

Often depicted living in the deep center of the earth, or in a hut built of human bones, complete with bone fence with inset skulls whose eye sockets light up in the dark.  And it’s a mobile home; it runs around supported on gigantic chicken legs.  She represents the power of old age, of which, and of the life cycle that is birth, death, and rebirth.  She is therefore also associated with birch forests (birch being the tree of beginnings and endings).  Another image is that of “White Lady” or Death Crone, as she is stiff and white and carved of bone (she can also be referred to as Goddess of Old Bones).

Baba Yaga’s own eyes turn humans to stone,  and her mighty mouth has knives for teeth.  She can also pole herself around in a giant pestle and mortar which she also uses to grind up and un-petrify her victims.

Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin

In Russian folklore there are many stories of Baba Yaga, the fearsome witch with iron teeth.  She is also known as Baba Yaga Boney Legs, because, in spite of a ferocious appetite, she is as thin as a skeleton.  In Russian that’s: “Baba Yaga Kostianaya Noga”.  In some stories she has two older sisters, who are also called Baba Yaga, just to confuse you!

Her nose is so long that it rattles against the ceiling of her hut when she snores, stretched out in all directions upon her ancient brick oven.  Not being a boringly conventional witch, she does not wear a hat, and has never been seen on a broomstick.  She travels perched in a large mortar with her knees almost touching her chin, and pushes herself across the forest floor with a pestle.

Whenever she appears on the scene, a wild wind begins to blow, the trees around creak and groan and leaves whirl through the air.  Shrieking and wailing, a host of spirits often accompany her on her way.

Being a somewhat secretive lady, in spite of the din she makes, she sweeps away all traces of herself with a broom made of silver birch.  What are brooms for anyway?  She can also fly through the air in the same manner.

Baba Yaga lives in a hut deep in the forest.  Her hut seems to have a personality of its own and can move about on its extra-large chicken legs.  Usually the hut is either spinning around as it moves through the forest or stands at rest with its back to the visitor.  The windows of the hut seem to serve as eyes.  All the while it is spinning around; it emits blood-curdling screeches and will only come to a halt, amid much creaking and groaning, when a secret incantation is said.  When it stops, it turns to face the visitor and lowers itself down on its chicken legs, throwing open the door with a loud crash.  The hut is sometimes surrounded by a fence made of bones, which helps to keep out intruders.  The fence is topped with skulls whose blazing eye sockets illuminate the darkness.

When a visitor enters her hut, Baba Yaga asks them whether they came of their own free will, or whether they were sent.  One answer is the right one!  Thankfully, she appears to have no power over the pure of heart, such as Vasilisa and those of use who are ‘blessed’ meaning they are protected by the power of love, virtue, or a mother’s blessing.

Baba Yaga rules over the elements.  Her faithful servants are the White Horeseman, the Red Horseman and the Black Horseman.  When Vasilissa asks her who these mysterious horsemen are, she replies, “My Bright Dawn, my Red Sun, and my Dark Midnight”.  Amongst her other servants, are three bodiless and somewhat menacing pairs of hands, which appear aout of thin air to do her bidding.  She calls them “my soul friends” or “friends of my bosom” and she is more than a little reticent about discussing them with Vasilisa.

Another strange character who served as a herdsman for Baba Yaga is the sorcerer Koshchey the Deathless.  And here’s a mystery for you: While she is giving instructions to Vasilisa, Baba Yaga mentions that ‘someone spiteful’ had mixed earth in with her poppy-seeds.  What could she have meant?  Could Baba Yaga possibly have an enemy?  Would anyone dare to risk incurring her wrath?

Although she is mostly portrayed as a terrifying old crone, Baba Yaga can also play the role of a helper and wise woman.  The Earth Mother, like all forces of nature, though often wild and untamed, can also be kind.  In her guise as wise hag, she sometimes gives advice and magical gifts to heroes and the pure of heart.  The hero or heroine of the story often enters toe crone’s domain searching for wisdom, knowledge and truth.  She is all knowing, all-seeing and all-revealing to those who would dare to ask.  She is said to be a guardian spirit of the fountain of the Waters of Life and of Death.  Baba Yaga is the Arch-Crone, the Goddess of Wisdom and Death, the Bone Mother.  Wild and untamable, she is a nature spirit bringing wisdom and death of ego, and through death, rebirth.

Suggested Mantra: Rebirth

Suggested Affirmations:

  • I am revitalized
  • My insecurity is replaced with wisdom
  • At my center there is an incandescent fire
  • I release myself from harmful judgements
  • My new life path reveals itself to me
  • I say goodbye to destructive influences

Gemstones:

  • Garnet
  • Bloodstone
  • Tourmaline
  • Smoky Quartz
  • Red Stones
  • Scapolite
  • Amazonite
  • Chiastolite

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