Ask Baba Yaga by Taisia Kitaiskaia

Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles
Taisia Kitaiskaia
Andrews McMeel, 2017

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Review by Katessa S. Harkey.

Author Taisia Kitaiskaia traces her connection with the spirit of this gnarled fairytale witch to her childhood on the borderlands of a deep Russian woodland. Kitaiskaia served as mediator to the voice of Baba Yaga to querents on the website The Hairpin. This is a “best of” collection of these inquiries and the channeled responses received by the author.

The style is poetic, yet chthonic and earthy, as befits such a wild entity. The questions reveal an unusual depth of vulnerability, which strengthens the emotional investment for readers. While the poetry can be somewhat cryptic at times, seldom does one expect an old witch to give a straight answer; and thus the twisty answers only add to the mystique.

In example, to the question “How do I feel my feelings?” we get:

“Your feelings look to you like bison in the distance — stormy, powerful, & ready to charge. But feelings are not anything solid, to be killed or butchered and carried home. Walk toward yr bison; when you reach them, you will walk through them, as they aren’t bison at all, but clouds. You will feel the hue & mist of them, & then you will be on the other side.” (p. 69)

Presuming that the issue of this question that the querent is afraid to fully embrace their feelings, carrying through the visualization exercise contained in the response would act, in effect, as a powerful palliative spell. Anyone in the same boat has recourse to it by simply allowing the poetry to do its work upon the imaginal faculties.

This diminutive volume can be read in an afternoon, but it is better savored, as one would a fine wine, over many days. The book is peppered throughout with bold, tricolor artwork and design elements (black, white, and red) in traditional Russian motifs. Ask Baba Yaga is a rare opportunity to explore the traditional Russian mindset and worldview in very practical modern application.

There are other uses for the work besides as a “straight through” reader. An index of “summary questions” allows for searching topically for reference to one’s own life issues. Of course such matters are purely personal, but I have tested the work on three natural occasions for its use as a bibliomancy tool. I felt I got a “hit” two out of the three occasions. It would also be an ideal study for anyone preparing to embody Baba Yaga in ritual.

Finally, the greatest treasure of the work is the potent echo of the archetypal Crone Goddess’s voice. So much of our view of the Goddess is restricted to the beautiful Ladies of love and youth and even homely motherhood. Age has faced the world and no longer fears its phantasms.

To the question, “What’s the point?” Baba Yaga replies:

“Plow-horses carry out the duty given to them by some Master. For some-such reason, you have decided there is some other being —some Master — telling you what is to be done. & if so valiant, on whose behalf have you gone crusading?” (p. 105.)

On whose behalf, indeed, dear reader?

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Gwyn Ap Nudd by Danu Forest

Pagan Portals: Gwyn Ap Nudd — Wild God of Faerie, Guardian of Annwn
Danu Forest
Moon Books, 2017

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Review by Anthony Rella.

A contribution to Moon Books’ Pagan Portals series, Danu Forest’s Gwyn Ap Nudd is a slender book that provides an accessible and welcoming path to Celtic mythology, Welsh divinities, and a nature-centered practice. At only 94 pages, one still has the foundational material to begin a rich journey into nature worship, connection to the Fae, and devotional practice with this powerful god of the old Britons.

Through each section, Forest provides overviews and discussion of various myths associated with Gwyn Ap Nudd — as guardian of the underworld, as king of the fae, as leader of the Wild Hunt, and as one who lives in the glass castle of Glastonbury Tor. With each facet of this complex and intriguing figure, Forest offers suggestive insights into how a modern-day connection with wildness, the forest, and the dark spaces provides a rich and revivifying journey of transformation.

Forest also provides guided pathworkings to help practitioners make contact with and build their own connections to the figures described therein. Along with these pathworkings, she utilizes prayers and images from Celtic tradition to offer readers foundational tools for space clearing, purification, and personal initiatory experiences with the gods. Along with herthoughtful and researched discussions of the material, Forest offers suggestive hints or questions that could lead the curious practitioner into their own explorations of practice and research to root more deeply into the mythology.

For those interested in Celtic history and practice, this book would serve as an excellent addition to one’s research shelf. For those who are brand new to the tradition or — like myself — struggle to fully understand the mythology and its language, this book provides a gentle introduction that helps one to begin to understand the core concepts that arise so often in these practices.

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Journey to the Dark Goddess by Jane Meredith

Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul
Jane Meredith
Moon Books, 2012

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Review by Pegi Eyers.

She is the one who makes and unmakes us. She is the one resting deep inside us when we think we have nothing left.” — Jane Meredith

The Dark Goddess as we know her is Kali the Destroyer, Hecate the Nightwalker, Morgana the Villainess, the Wicked Stepmother, Persephone Descending, and the Crone. She is also the necessary shadow side of life, the terrifying or womb-like darkness we all encounter. Sudden change, illness, accidents, grieving or sea changes of the soul — all these things can bring us face-to-face with the terrain of the Dark Goddess. Meet Her we must, but as Jane Meredith tells us, better to get to know Her ahead of time, and become familiar with the intricacies of change, healing and renewal. Journey to the Dark Goddess is a wise and wonderful guidebook for our journey into the transformational darkness and back again.

Using powerful symbols in the myths of Persephone, Inanna and Psyche, Jane traces the many stages of our visit to the Underworld, offering stories, rituals and guideposts to prepare for our Descent, our time in the Underworld, coming back, and continuing the cycle of life.

The myths and fairy tales of heroines who have lost everything, who are stripped to the bone and still come back reborn, have deep fascination and meaning for us. Similar to the many personal narratives found in the book, during my own experience with serious illness, I spent many months firmly in Her dark embrace. Feeling safe and protected at all times, I arose from the ashes and gained powerful life lessons. The Dark Mother grabbed me, held me, loved me and let me go. I learned that once you surrender and embrace Her in her full glory, powerful insights are waiting to be found.

Meredith is a superb guide to uncovering the meaning and metaphor in ancient mythologies as maps that we can apply to our lives today, and she fully grounds us in the self-inquiry and soul-expression tools such as journaling, dreaming, dancing, creating mandalas, altars, art and poetry. She offers powerful and meaningful rituals that connect us to Diety and the Earth, bringing clarity and integration to our own unique journey.

Instead of resisting, or being dragged kicking and screaming, Jane suggests that we deliberately seek out the means and methods to face the Dark Goddess. As much as the dominant society denies it, the fertility and blessings of the darkness are a natural part of nature’s cycles, such as the waxing and waning of the moon and the growth and passing away of the seasons. “Living eternally in the dark is no more a natural existence than staying eternally in the light.” Jane urges us to taste the pomegranate, open Pandora’s box and willingly step into the unknown to bring much-needed balance to our lives and the Earth.

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