Baba Yaga Speaks

One of my favorite birthday cards contained a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail".

The ancient urge to leave a trail stays with us today. Ask the artist who calls himself Momo. He left an eight mile long orange mark along the streets of Manhattan. It spelled his name, if anyone could follow the clue. But in the cacophony of Gotham's blares and blasts he found a way to be seen, to exist in a realm outside of his own body sphere. It took an act of civil disobedience to make this mark: it is against the law to paint on the Big Apple and therefore he is technically a criminal. "The drip that flows" is how his line is known.

The itch to be seen and known flows majestically in sites like Facebook. One twenty-six-year-old showed five hundred million of us how to scratch and today he is one of the world's richest men. As we scratch away furiously, he is devising ways to entice us further, to spend real money to buy fantasy chits on games and knick knacks. Mortgage be damned: I just gotta buy that gizmo on Farmland. He knows us well.

Scratching a human itch is not exclusive to the United States. Russians for centuries have endowed inanimate objects with personhood. In a tradition rich with implications, Russians have embraced animism, the idea that things, be they rocks, streets, trees, machines, whatever, all have their own personalities and their unique sense of being. This deeply entrenched belief is embodied in the story of Baba Yaga, the witch whose hut could run around on its chicken legs at will. Baba Yaga has deep ancestral roots: she represents rebirth, the cycle of life and death. She lives in a birch forest, since birches are said to be the trees of endings and beginnings. She echoes our need to matter, to be part of something larger than ourselves.

But not an anonymous part. A grand and glorious universe is only fine if it sees us and acknowledges our presence. No wonder we revere the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo understood the itch. God's finger reaches out to give life to Adam. Adam is naked, vulnerable. God's finger will empower him. (Michelangelo was also a realist: those fingers do not quite touch.)

Another Adam, my four-year-old grandson, sat quietly at a restaurant recently while the adults around him chattered away. But in fact he wasn't really quiet: his finger was raised, as he had been taught to, impatiently waiting for his Mother to acknowledge him. "Do you think she can see my finger?", he asked anxiously (two Adams with a shared longing.) "I'm sure she can", I reassured him. But my heart understood his loneliness, one little acorn in a forest of noisy oaks. The writers of Grey's Anatomy on T.V. understood also. Do you remember Meredith's plaintive cry several seasons ago? "Pick ME. Choose ME. Love ME".

Omar Khayyam expressed our plight with bitter sweet words:

"The moving finger writes, and having writ

Moves on; nor all your piety nor wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,

Nor all your tears blot out a word of it."

I think I prefer the words of another birthday card, this one by artist Jacquie Lawson, who left me with this thought: "To the world you might just be one person, but to one person you might just be the world".

c. Corinne Whitaker 2010

Notes: You can read the story of Momo here.

Jacquie Lawson's animated ecards are quite charming.

At a site called "Folk Tales from the Russian", you can read one of the legends of Baba Yaga.