Vasilisa and The Fiery Skull

Vasalisa and The Fiery Skull is a heroine in Russian Folklore.

A merchant and his first wife had a single daughter, who was known as Vasalisa the Beautiful. Vasilisa’s mother died when Vasilisa turned eight years old. Her mother on her deathbed, gave Vasalisa a small, wooden doll with instructions to give it a bit to eat and a bit to drink if she were in need, and then it would help her.

When her mother died, Vasalisa gave it a bit to drink and a bit to eat, and it comforted her. Over time, her father remarried; his second wife was a woman with two daughters. Vasilisa’s stepmother was mean and vicious towards her, with her doll’s aid, she was able to perform all the tasks forced upon her. When young males came courting, the stepmother dismissed them all because it was not proper for the younger to marry before the older, and none of the suitors wished to marry Vasilisa’s stepsisters.

The merchant one day, had to set out on a journey. His wife sold the house and moved them all to a dreary hut by the forest. One time she gave each of the girls a task and extinguished all the fires except a single candle. Her older daughter then extinguished the candle, whereupon they sent Vasalisa to fetch fire from Baba Yaga’s hut.

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Above Illustration: Baba Yaga in her mortar, by Ivan Bilibin. (Public domain)

The doll advised her to go, and she went. While she was sauntering down a dark path, a mysterious man rode by her in the hours before dawn, dressed in white, riding a white horse whose equipment was all white; then a similar rider in red.She came to a house that stood on chicken legs and was walled by a fence made of skeleton bones. A black rider, like the white and red riders, galloped past her, and night fell, whereupon the eye sockets of the skulls began to glow. Vasilisa was too frightened to run away, and so Baba Yaga found her when she arrived in her mortar. Baba Yaga said that Vasilisa must perform tasks successfully, in order to earn the fire, or be killed. Her list of chores consisted of cleaning the house and yard, wash Baba Yaga’s laundry, and cook her a meal.

Vasilisa’s other tasks were to separate grains of rotten corn from sound corn, and separate poppy seeds from grains of soil. Baba Yaga left, and Vasilisa’s heart grew heavy, as she worked herself into exhaustion. When all hope of completing the tasks seemed lost, the doll whispered that she would complete the tasks for Vasilisa, and that the girl should sleep.

At dawn, the white rider passed; at or before noon, the red. As the black rider rode past, Baba Yaga returned and could complain of nothing. She bade three pairs of disembodied hands seize the corn to squeeze the oil from it, then asked Vasilisa if she had any questions. Vasilisa asked about the rider’s identities and was told that the white one was Day, the red one the Sun, and the black one Night.

When Vasilisa thought of asking about the disembodied hands, the doll quivered in her pocket. Vasilisa realized she should not ask, and told Baba Yaga she had no further questions. In return, Baba Yaga inquired as to the cause of Vasilisa’s success. On hearing the answer “by my mother’s blessing,” Baba Yaga, who wanted nobody with any kind of blessing in her presence, threw Vasilisa out of her house, and sent her home with a skull-lantern full of burning coals, to provide light for her step-family. Upon her return, Vasilisa found that, since sending her out on her task, her step-family had been unable to light any candles or fire in their home. Even lamps and candles that might be brought in from outside were useless for the purpose, as all were snuffed out the second they were carried over the threshold. The coals brought in the skull-lantern burned Vasilisa’s stepmother and stepsisters to ashes, and Vasilisa buried the skull according to its instructions, so no person would ever be harmed by it.

Later, Vasilisa became an assistant to a maker of cloth in Russia’s capital city, where she became so skilled at her work that the Tsar himself noticed her skill; he later married Vasilisa.

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Above Illustration: Vasilisa at the Hut of Baba Yaga, by Ivan Bilibin (Public Domain)

Sources:

Satran, Paula Redmond, and Rosenkrantz, Linda (2007). Baby Name Bible. St. Martin’s Griffin. ISBN 978-0-312-35220-2

Tatar, Maria (2002). The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales. W.W. Norton and Company.

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Mictēcacihuātl, Aztec Heroine of The Dead

Mexicans observe their traditional Day of the Dead ancestral festival on November 1st.

Here is an Ancient Aztec goddess that is revered on this Day of the Dead.

Mictēcacihuātl, Lady of The Dead. According to Aztec legends, Mictēcacihuātl means “Lady of the Dead” she is Queen of Mictlan which is the underworld, Mictēcacihuātl governs over the dead with her deity husband, Mictlantecuhtli.

Mictēcacihuātl main job is to over see the deceased’s dead and direct the ancient festivals of the dead.

These ancient festivals emerged from Aztec traditions into the present Day of the Dead after blending with Spanish traditions. Mictēcacihuātl also, watches over the modern festival. Her claim to fame, as the “Lady of the Dead”, was that she was born, then sacrificed as a baby. Mictecacihuatl was displayed with a decayed body and with her jaw wide- opened, to gobble the stars in daytime.

Sources & References:

Fernández, Adela (1992, 1996). Dioses Prehispánicos de México (in Spanish). Mexico City: Panorama Editorial. ISBN 968-38-0306-7. OCLC 28801551

(1993). An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27928-4.

The Brave Vanir Witch Gullveig/Heiðr

The Witch Gullveig in Norse lore is a favorite Vanir Goddess of mine, she appears as a dauntless champion deemed evil by opposing deities called the Aesir. According to Norse mythology there was a violent war that exploded between the Vanir and the Aesir gods and goddesses, recorded in the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá composed in the thirteenth century by Snorri Sturluson 1178 – 1241.

The Völuspá mentions a very brave witch named Gullveig, a völva, Vanir sorceress goddess. The wizardly, Vanir resided in Vanaheim the sixth of the Norse nine worlds, the Aesir lived in Asgard where Odin reigned. Gullveig was a very skilled witch in the art of the seidr, a strange kind of magic that could change one’s fate in an instant. She was a shaman, that made magical wands from sacred trees and could cast spells to help or hinder depending upon the request. She was also known to temper wolves.

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Above Illustration: The Nine worlds of Yggdrasil, of Norse Mythology Public Domain

The Aesir were captivated by her skills, seeking her expertise and craved her magic of alchemy. The Aesir behaved as hypocrites and accused Gullveig of being covetous instead of examining their own selfish intentions. The lust for gold subdued the Aesir and they turned against each other. The Aesir’s hunger for gold triggered a war, first by Odin throwing his spear into the center of the Aesir crowd congregated in his hall.

It’s funny how gold has that effect on mere mortals and even more ironic how it effects the Aesir in this lore. Once the Aesir became conscious of their fervor for gold flamed and their itch for power, they became hostile towards Gullveig. She was bound, impaled and torched alive, one could smell her barbecued flesh throughout Odin’s Hall. Gullveig was forced to endure this fiery horror not just once but three times! Talk about a bad day! Each time they tortured this heroic witch, she would arise from the sizzling flames like the blazing Phoenix bird of Greek mythology.

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Above Illustration: A phoenix depicted in a book of legendary creatures by FJ Bertuch (1747–1822)  Public Domain

After their futile attempts of torture to rid themselves of this powerful witch, the Aesir were impressed by Gullveig and respected her, granting her a new name Heiðr, the gleaming one.

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Above Illustration: The Æsir lift Gullveig on spears over fire by Lorenz Frølich (1895)

 

 

Source & Reference:

  • Bellows, Henry Adams (1923). The Poetic Edda. American-Scandinavian Foundation.

 

  • Lindow, John (2002). Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515382-0