This was an opportunity for me to curate over five years of work with the archetype of The Wise Woman; sometimes and always the midwife, hag, witch, fox bride and saintly red woman. Some of her names are Baba Yaga, The Magdelene, Red Cap, and The Guardian on the Threshold. I realised I’d been having a conversation with this aspect of folktale and story in tandem with my journey through depression and out the other side, into motherhood. These characters had been appearing in my life for conversations and lessions during a time of deep and rich change, but also times of terror and total darkness.
My early encounters with Baba Yaga as the devouring yet helpful midwife helped to create lino-cuts and prints that show her all teeth-and-claws, raging and dangerous, misunderstood and full of secrets. She was holding onto aspects of an animal-self I had not wanted to acknowledge, often with wolf-paws, fangs and fox-feet. She often carried a burning lantern or stood in doorways, hidden by a hooded cape the colour of blood. The lining of the cape was often unseen, but made of pure gold.
Sometimes she was the Fox Bride, a woman not yet come to terms with her wild nature, trying to wear a human costume but wanting to run, feral, back into the forest. More hiding, more sniffing the earthy roots and moon-bathing. Blood and blood and blood. Other days, she bacame a girl in a red cape, velvet and warm, not sure which path was the one home. And where was home anyway? And what about my animal friends? And what about my other home in the woods?
Triple-headed black dogs, huge and rabid, chased me through my dreams, until I found two swords and dispatched them. A hooded figure, called Death, kept stopping in for tea, walking with me through my days and explaining Their true nature (for Death, too, is an Angel).
And sometime after these encounters, I started to find gold within all the black-redness, little golden seeds within the mud, and other women who had endured throughout time started to find me; saints who had embodied their wild pagan selves, their animal wisdom, and had decided to participate in the world in a way that kept them safe. Beneath their gilded hands was soil under finger nails, under their haloes braided hair was hardly tamed, and robes of silk barely covered their naked glory. Meeting them was always a surprise, for these women have a definite knowing twinkle in their eyes, wry smiles and penetrating gazes. They already know what you are thinking, they have seen it all before, and they have wild stories of love, sex and passion to tell. They will reveal their fire-spells and fish tails, their sacred gardens that bloom by moonlight. They have not forgotten their time as apprentice to Baba Yaga, and invite us all to walk that path and recognise each other in the end.