Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Wise and Beautiful - Vasilisa

Taking care of two blogs is not easy, especially when they differ from each other so much. My Sunny Indian Days is indeed bright and colourful, while Witchcraft and More is dark and has more of tints of black. However I don't really distinguish them, as they both reflect my so various interests which I simply couldn't include in the same blog. I chose to divide, and you see what I got in the end. The topic of Witchcraft was waiting for its next manifestation in here - I'm  letting it happen.
I found out that one of my very first posts "Witch - good and bad? Russian Baba-Yaga" got few back links over the Internet, and the picture I used for it also brings me more and more views per day. So I thought I'd continue with witchcraft in folklore, finding new facts and new pictures. 
As mentioned in the same post, Baba-Yaga is the most popular witch of the Russian fairy tales. She is old, ugly, can be very dangerous nevertheless helpful. I might make a separate post about her, as she deserves proper attention. These are one of the modern visions of Baba-Yaga:                                                     
                             Baba-Yaga by AppleSin

Quite scary, isn't it? In some of the blogs I saw that she is even called "Goddess" hence might be worshipped by some Wiccans. But If I talk about the Russian fairy tales, Baba-Yaga is not the only witch or sorcerer. There are also few female characters which have such adjectives in their names like the Wise and the Beautiful.  They either charm with their appearance or/and wit, or they actually are turned to some animal and they do a little bit of magic... Isn't it something obviously witchy in here? ;) I suppose it is, let's see what interesting is in the store of folklore.
Vasilisa the Wise is the character of the fairy tale "The Frog-Princess". Once the arrow sent from  the bow of the prince is caught by a frog - a custom to choose a would-be-wife. Prince Ivan, obeying the tradition, has to marry a frog, and he takes her home. His brothers make fun of him, because of course, he is marrying a..well..frog! Little they knew that this small animal is actually a beautiful girl, a princess Vasilisa the Wise who was bewitched to stay in a guise of a reptile until... some young man (a prince) finds and marries her in spite of her looks. 
The king, a father of the prince, announces different tasks one by one for the wives of his sons. The tasks are such as weave a carpet, bake white bread (called Karavai in Russian) - all in one night, and what is worst, come to the king's feast! The prince feels sad as his wife is just a frog and won't be able to do any of the tasks. She says him to got to bed. When the prince fall asleep, she turns to a princess, leaving her frog skin aside and starts doing magic... The frog-princess successfully performs two first tasks by weaving a wonderful carpet, which embroidery shimmers; she bakes the cake which the king likes the most out of three. 
The Frog-Princess, N.Petrov                                Russian Beauty, Konstantin Makovsky
This article pours some light on the meaning of these difficult jobs given to the princess. The author Irina Haustova says that they symbolize the "magic of vital circle", in which, for example, weaving, bread baking are accomplished in one go, from the beginning till end in short period of time, which otherwise couldn't be possible without magic and what was reflected in the fairy tale. If explain the same from religious (pagan) point of view "In those ancient times people believed that the closed life cycle has special properties, special force [...]The committed actions in this magic are frequently weaving, spinning, winding - all symbolically linked with the fate and with the ordering of the world, the creation of the cosmos" (b).
Visit of the feast is the last task, where the Frog Princess reveals her true nature. She appears now in a guise of a beautiful girl, in shining attire and a crown (just like in the pictures above). She astounds all the guests, but more, her husband. The Frog Princess collects some wine and some bones in her sleeves while feasting. Strange. Next, she dances for those present, but in a different way: she throws the wine out of her sleeve, and it becomes a lake; she throws the bones out of another, and they become swans swimming in the lake.
Vasnetsov, the Frog Princess
I found out that this dance has a deep symbolical meaning, coming, once again, from the Russia's pagan past. The author of this essay explains that the Frog Princess's dance represents the pagan ritual activities that occur in the spring of the annual cycle. The throwing of wine and the bones symbolize the revival of nature after the winter.The Frog Princess herself is also linked to the archetype of Women's Self, nature, live, the Earth and the erotic, aspects of which are the Princess and Priestess. I was studying folklore in the university, and we used to review many fairy tales, but not particularly this one, which has so much to tell about.   
Now let's refer to one more typical character of the Russian fairy tales.
Vasilisa the Beautiful shares the same name with the previous princess, however her story is quiet different. Vasilisa's life becomes miserable after her mother's death. Her father marries a widow with two daughters, who try to exhaust Vasilisa, make her ill by giving her loads of house work. However Vasilisa in opposite is becoming more and more beautiful day by day, while step mother and her daughters lose their looks. The thing which keeps Vasilisa healthy and strong is a small doll left by her late mother. And it is a quiet magical attribute. The doll can speak, eat, she does house work, gives advises, spares Vasilisa... just like the mother would and that's what this doll stands for - Vasilisa's mother, who even after her death helps the daughter.
                                                       Vasilisa the Beautiful and her Doll (Kinuko Y.)
One night Vasilisa is sent by her stepmother to fetch the light for a candle from Baba Yaga. She carries a doll with her. Baba Yaga agrees to give her fire only when she accomplishes few tasks (some are as same difficult as in "The Frog Princess"). The doll helps her to do so, of course. The picture below illustrates the moment Vasilisa is carrying a skull with the light home. However her step mother and step sisters are burned to the ground by the eye hole's light, as a punishment for treating Vasilisa so bad. Don't mess with a girl with a doll... The doll, obviously, has a symbolic meaning as well. You can read about it as well as about overall meaning of this folk tale which is analyzed from psychological point of view in this nice article.
 A female character of the Russian fairy tales inherited a rich system of pagan believes. Vasilisa is not the only wise and beautiful, there are also Elena, Mariya and other young woman who are bestowed with unique abilities. One of them even called Baba-Yaga's daughter. I'd like to continue telling about the world of Russian folklore in the next posts. Hope you are with me and can give suggestions on what else I can speak about in Witchcraft and More. There is so much MORE!
Literature/on line sources used:
4. Clarissa Estes, Vasilisa the Wise and the Doll
Yours sincerely,
Witchcraft and Literature


  1. Oh i loved this post. SO informative and interesting. Vasilisa in greek means queen by the way.
    Have a wonderful week!

  2. Thanks, Greekwitch!Yes, I know that the name Vasilisa is of a Greek origin:)Have a blessed week as well!

  3. Thank you for sharing these tales! They are indeed thought-provoking and I love the name, Vasilisa. The Goatmother has Polish/Russian heritage and found these stories wonderful! Bright blessings to you!

  4. Thanks, Goatmother, I am very pleased to know that somehow we are linked:) Blessings to you too!