Yesterday, while I swept the kitchen floor, I remembered an old story I studied in college. Sometime during my junior year, a friend whom I had gotten to know through an alternative healing class and our mutual interest in yoga gifted me his copy of Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ book Women Who Run With the Wolves, a collection of “myths and stories of the wild woman archetype.” I mentioned the title to my professor who was teaching myths and legends at the time, and I can still remember her face light up as though I had come into possession of something very special and important. She knew the collection well, and encouraged me to study the book on my own. I soon discovered a story which I would later present on in class, and it is this same story that came back to me the other afternoon while cleaning in the kitchen. In short, it is the Russian and Baltic folktale of Vasalisa, a young girl whose journey takes her into the woods and brings her face to face with the old hag, Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga gives the girl a series of impossible tasks at the stake of her life. Vasalisa, with the help of a doll in her pocket (fashioned after the girl herself), is able to complete each task and return home all the wiser for having discovered her intuition. Estés writes that this tale “is about infusing human women with Wild Woman’s primary instinctual power, intuition.” Well, while I was sweeping I thought about young Vasalisa, and how Baba Yaga set her to wash her clothes, sweep her yard, prepare her food and separate the spoiled corn from the good corn. She also orders Vasalisa to separate a mound of dirt and poppy seeds into two separate mounds, one of dirt and one of seeds. Sometimes when I’m cleaning it begins to feel like an exercise in discernment. I’m not sure how to explain why. Maybe in sweeping away the dirt on the floor, I give myself over to clearing a path to see deeper within myself.
Perhaps Estés says it best:
“To sweep the premises means not only to begin to value the non-superficial life but to care for its orderliness. Sometimes women become confused about soulful work, and leave its architecture all in a mess till it is taken back by the forest. Gradually it becomes overgrown and finally becomes a hidden archeologic ruin in the psyche. The cyclical sweeping will prevent this from occurring. When women have clear space, the wild nature can better thrive.”
Well, the story is only a few pages long but the symbolism and underlying themes warrant careful consideration. I’ve only just touched on a few bits that resonate with me now, but if you’re at all interested I encourage you to read the story for yourself. Also, who can resist a good spook this time of year, especially with October just around the corner? If houses that sit atop scaly chicken legs that sometimes twirl around ecstatically are your thing, or if you’re just plain curious about a fearsome creature that flies around in a cauldron shaped like a mortar and rows with an oar shaped like a pestle, all the while sweeping away her tracks with a broom made of hair, this one is for you. (Smirk)