I heard this wonderful tale of Vasilia the Beautiful from my own dear wife. When I learned that this story was considered an example of the Hero’s Journey from the female perspective, I asked her to share it for you, dear readers, as well.
After you listen to her storytelling and read my explanation here, please visit her storytelling blog at Cimmy’s Stories.
Now of course, Baba Yaga here is an example of the crone archetype. There is much interpretation about this Wise Woman figure, and why Baba Yaga is described as she is– helpful to the worthy, but terrible to the foolish. This explanation at Myths and Legends by E2BN is one I like, more or less saying that changing attitudes towards magic and the role of the Wise Woman. may explain this dual regard.
Vasilisa is the maiden, of course, and her tale is one telling of the Heroine’s Journey, even as a cultural telling of the passage into womanhood, just as examples of the Hero’s Journey represent cultural tellings of the path to manhood. (Robert Bly and the men’s movement went more into this, which I may touch on later.)
As is fairly typical of other tales of the Woman’s Journey (including Cinderella and Snow White), the Known world is a domestic prison of sorts, with the Guide also serving as Captor; Vasilia’s stepmother forces her to do menial labor. The stepmother is actually a reworked role: it actually represents jealousy and conflict from the birth mother. Cimmorene tells me that older stories show a shift in that same mother from love to envy, instead of her death and replacement by another mother figure. Bly in particular says that stepmother is effectively a codeword.
The Call to Adventure comes with Vasilisa’s stepmother compelling her to go to Baba Yaga’s house to fetch a candle. As Baba Yaga is a known bogey[wo]man who will eat foolish children with her iron teeth, she hopes that Vasilisa will be summarily devoured.
The Supernatural Aid at the Threshold comes from the doll given to her by her mother, that is, it is a talisman. As Vasilisa feeds it a bit of food, the doll comforts her and promises to help her on the journey.
In the Woman Hero’s Journey, Crossing the Threshold is sometimes known as “The Fortunate Fall” (that is, it is a release from the Captor), and the special or Unknown World is known as the “Green World”. For Vasilisa, it is the path through the woods to Baba Yaga’s house, where she sees three horsemen, one red, one white, and one black, each representing in turn dawn, daybreak, and nightfall.
The road of trials, or “Imprisonment in Domestic Enclosures” comes when Vasilisa finally meets Baba Yaga, and the old crone gives her impossible chores, or tasks, to complete. Vasilisa despairs but once again, as she feeds her mother’s doll, it says that it will help her, and it does. This continues until Baba Yaga challenges her to ask a question, and Vasilisa asks about the horsemen. Baba Yaga is thrilled to answer, since she hates answering questions about herself.
But Baba Yaga asks how Vasilisa completed her tasks. The maiden’s answer of “by my mother’s love” is an expression of “Discovery of Mother”. The implication is that a woman is her own mother, or that the power of mother is within her.
The mention of love disgusts Baba Yaga, so she dismisses her to fetch her light and return home. She fetches a glowing skull that burns her stepmother (and her stepsisters) to ashes. The Temptation to Regressive Return is conquered, and she is free to leave her home on her own.
Discovery of Female Tradition/Community is the next step, and Vasilisa finds this in an old woman in the next town who takes her in as her own daughter and teaches her to spin and weave. The final stage, the Release of Creativity, and The Ascension of the New Mother comes in the wonderous fabric that so impresses the tsar and brings her marriage to him. The end, of course, is “World Transformed”, which is a New Family or Community of One; as a Princess especially, she has authority and leadership as such.
I leave the interpretation to you, dear readers. This tale has been interpreted many times, by many different scholars, including those of folklore, anthropology, and feminism.
What does the Female Hero’s Journey, and the tale of Vasilisa, the Beautiful, the Brave, and the Wise say to you?