The Labours of Hercules

The goddess Hera, determined to make trouble for Hercules, made him lose his mind. In a confused and angry state, he killed his own wife and children.

When he awakened from his "temporary insanity," Hercules was shocked and upset by what he'd done. He prayed to the god Apollo for guidance, and the god's oracle told him he would have to serve Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns and Mycenae, for twelve years, in punishment for the murders.

As part of his sentence, Hercules had to perform twelve Labors, feats so difficult that they seemed impossible. Fortunately, Hercules had the help of Hermes and Athena, sympathetic deities who showed up when he really needed help. By the end of these Labors, Hercules was, without a doubt, Greece's greatest hero.

His struggles made Hercules the perfect embodiment of an idea the Greeks called pathos, the experience of virtuous struggle and suffering which would lead to fame and, in Hercules' case, immortality.

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Week 21

In the House of the Crone, Baba Yaga

Myths and fairy tales are often very powerful teaching aids. They frequently describe a journey of discovery about the nature of the world or the nature of the self, and some are initiatory stories of young people going through rites of passage which take them from childhood to adulthood.

Baba Yaga (properly pronounced Baba Ye-gar, with the emphasis on the second syllable) is a character who appears in hundreds of Russian and Eastern European stories and fairy tales. She is known as 'old bony legs', and is notorious for eating children. She lives in a clearing in the wood in a hut that twirls around on bright yellow chicken legs. Its bolts and shutters are made of human bones. There is a fence around it made of human skulls.

Her method of transport is a huge mortar and pestle (she uses the pestle to punt the mortar to make it fly) and she uses a broom to erase the marks of where she has been.

Baba Yaga is an old woman. She has a nose that bends down, a chin that curves up, and warts from handling toads. She has long greasy hair and a goatee beard. Her bosom hangs down to her knees. Her nails are brown, ridged and long, so that she cannot make a fist. She has iron teeth. In short, she presents an unpleasant, frightening appearance.

Baba Yaga has a short temper. She is impatient and irritable. She can be deceitful and tricky, although sometimes she is honourable and keeps her word once it is given. In some stories, she has a kind (or at least helpful) side and in at least one, it is shown that she can be lonely and in need of love and company. She sometimes appears with a male character - Kochey Bessmyertney, who is a sort of Grim Reaper-like figure.

She expects respect, and gives grudging respect to people who respect her and are willing to stand up to her and carry out her tasks.

Baba Yaga has three horsemen - a white rider on a white horse, a red rider on a red horse and a black rider on a black horse. She is fond of these horsemen, who represent day, sunrise and night, respectively. She is also a keeper of fire, and the skulls around her home have an eerie fire in each of them. Some of the stories say that the fire is green.

Read about the origins of Vasilisa and Baba and read the story of Vasilisa the Wise to gain a sense of what Baba Yaga will be expecting of you while you are in her house

Seven Labours of Baba Yaga

Society has conspired to extinguish the individual’s creative fire. Heroines, who need to light the darkness for themselves and others, who need to feel the fire of creative passion, go to the forest, to Baba Yaga, the keeper of the creative fire, to beg for fire for their hearths.

Baba is not happy that so many of us have let the fire go out and she demands to know why she should give some fire from her fire stick to those who have been so careless with the precious flame.

She will not give you the flame until you have worked for her and completed seven labours. And even after you have laboured she still may hold out, or worse, have you for dinner and chew on your bones.

Baba Yaga said that Vasilisa must perform tasks to earn the fire, or she would eat her. For the first task, she must clean the house and yard, cook supper, and pick out black grains and wild peas from a quarter measure of wheat. The next morning the white rider and the red rider rode through the house. Baba Yaga left, and the doll did all the work except cooking the supper. When the black rider rode through the house, Baba Yaga returned and could complain of nothing. She had three pairs of hands seize the grain to grind it, and set Vasilissa the same tasks for the next day, with the addition of cleaning poppy seeds that had been mixed with dirt. Again, the doll did all except cooking the meal. Baba Yaga set the three pairs of hands to press the oil from the poppy seeds.

In collaboration with Baba devise a worksheet of chores to complete this week.

Pilgrims Work With Baba

A Collection of Labours from 2005
Life Drawing with Baba by Aletta Mes
Baba's Biographer by Heather Blakey
Impress Baba by Stephanie Hansen
Road to Baba Yaga's by Wendy Olson
Second Day at Baba's by Wendy Olson
Third and Fourth Day at Baba's by Wendy Olson