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Baba Yaga in the Sacred Landscape--a Witch Approaches Another Earth Day
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Article ID: 12497
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Author: H. Byron Ballard
Posted: April 20th. 2008
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I think of this as my annual Earth Day rant--the avenue by which I let off steam from the frustrations of a Pagan community that rarely steps up, even at Earth Day. So many people thank me for my words and assumed courage, which makes it worse somehow--as though I have power that others don’t. Step up, step out, live a Pagan life. That doesn’t seem much to ask.
My email Inbox is the frequent recipient of outraged and sorrowing emails about the state of Stonehenge in England and the Hill of Tara in Ireland. Both places have been important cultural markers in my personal spiritual journey and I have been awed and privileged to spend time at each monument. Both are endangered, say the emails from friends and colleagues, by the coming of new development. A new road is being cut through the valley near Tara and the historically important plains around The Great Henge will soon host a giant Tesco warehouse. It feels to many people as though it is a desecration of the sacred landscape that is vital to the cultural identity of these two places and to the spiritual identity of modern Pagans all over the world.
I’ve been thinking about the landscape lately--how could I not? Every time I turn around, someone is stripping the trees off a section of fragile hillside and planting a cluster of goofy-looking structures on it. As much as I love Tara and Wiltshire, my sacred landscape is here in the mountains that hold my Ancestors’ bones and ashes. I’ve watched the changes of the last decades and some of them fit the pattern of change in the area. I feel sure every generation that witnesses and pays for the change gripes and grumbles. There were “White Only” bathrooms underground in the town square in the 1970‘s--losing those was a vast improvement. But the multi-story cracker box buildings? The big-box stores and faux-Victorian McMansions? That is a matter of opinion, of taste, of history in the landscape.
Natives talk about where our granddads bought horse feed and our aunties picked strawberries. We’re insufferable that way--what must the newcomers think, those people who have no roots and don’t care to have any? My roots make my head spin sometimes, make my back ache with the loss and the turmoil. The new developments that creep down the slopes are the least of my worries. There are whole blocks and opera houses and grand hotels that have been lost in this place. In every place, as change comes from the outside, bringing coveted jobs and arrogant in-comers.
Lately, I’ve taken to blaming it all on the Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga comes out of the Russian folk tradition and she flies through the air in a mortar, using the pestle as a rudder. In fairy tales, she is a Hag who is mostly avoided but occasionally sought out for her expert advice. She is opinionated and inscrutable, as all older women are, and she can’t be relied upon to behave as she should. Just ask the Obama campaign about independent older women, and that goes double for the Baba Yaga.
It is somewhat bad form for one Witch to blame another, but I’ve noticed that her houses have sprung up in my community and that is a sure sign she is in residence. As more and more people move to this area, looking for Nirvana, there is no more flat land upon which to build. The shoulders of the mountains themselves must now bear the burden of the nouveau-riche looking for vacation mountain homes. The new houses perch on steel posts, jutting out from the bare and rolling slopes.
Out-of-town developers are growing a line of Baba Yaga houses, silhouetted against the evening sky, and they strike terror into the heart of anyone who sees them. They are perched on their chicken legs, high on the bank. Houses that defy gravity, the wind whistling around their steel supports--how do you insulate such a place? Who lives in a Baba Yaga house on chicken legs and how much have they paid? How much do we pay for the systematic destruction of our sacred landscape and once we have lost that ineffable spirit, we can’t regain it or return to it. Once lost, it will take more than the powerful magic of the Baba Yaga to bring back the feeling of home and place that is easy to sense but hard to define.
We don’t talk about much about the spiritual dimensions of our communities, unless we are talking about specifically spiritual communities. In tribal times, all of Earth was spirited, peopled with spirits indigenous to a place or a spring or an outcropping of stone. That spiritual energy seems confined now to “places of worship”, which may be one of the results of the monotheists that conquered most of the known world. They strove to contain the powers of the unseen inside designated structures--we are fortunate indeed that those powers can’t be managed or contained for long.
There are still some places in the world where the country folk will talk about how a certain area is peopled by ghosts or little people, but the larger culture has mostly lost the notion of a place having a soul. With the re-emergence of Earth-religions, however, we are seeing the intentional re-sacralizing of the landscape.
As Earth Day again approaches and we creep forward into this time of inflation and recession, I wonder if the faltering economy will slow the development and destruction of my personal sacred landscape. I also ponder my own role and that of my fellow citizens in retaining some sense of cultural identity in this place and one question always comes back to me: what sort of Witch allows her personal sacred landscape to be destroyed without a fight?
I have resolved to take it up with that Wise Woman of the Woods, the Baba Yaga, and to remember that one only approaches her if the need is great. The approach must be carefully planned, one’s intention pure and it’s always good to practice unfailing good manners.
Just like you’d approach your grandma.
H. Byron Ballard
Location: Asheville, North Carolina
Bio: Byron Ballard is a writer, urban farmer and Witch who writes about traditional Appalachian witching and modern Earth religions in her blog "The Village Witch" in the Asheville Citizen-Times: http://blogs.citizen-times.com/blogs/index.php?blog=18
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