January; short, dark days dragging on. Hard to go out – outwards – when the instinct is to curl up like an ammonite and wait for the light. One smoky morning in the park, it’s as if the sky has descended. Black-headed gulls, disturbed by dogs, rise from the grass and drift away, spectres of the mist.
There is a Welsh folktale called The Daughters of the Sea set in Cardigan Bay in which Dylan, the sea god calls up a fierce storm to steal three sisters away to his kingdom under the sea. When he comes to regret his action, he is unable to return the sisters as they were. So he turns them into seagulls, able to move between land and sea. When their old father walks along the beach and calls their names, three white gulls fly to him from over the waves.
In one of the decorated wooden huts in Old Town Square, I watch a woman roll out a sheet of dough and wrap it expertly around a metal stick rotating over a fire. The trdelnik, sprinkled with cinnamon and caramelized sugar as they grill, smell divine. Tourists linger near huge vats of halušky, children watch an animation of the nativity on a loop. Tomorrow I will go to the Lennon wall, and watch a couple dance to a street musician’s guitar.
Outside of the baroque church, an old man in a dusty suit restores, for a few moments, one’s faith in heaven. To pause, drawn by the plaintive wail of his saxophone, the rawness of his voice, is to forget the cold and the fact that you are in Prague alone at Christmas. You must live in your lantern, the old man seems to say. And you see, from the twinkle in his eye that he knows.
For the last week of this five week cycle of storytelling and art from around the world, we travelled to Russia to hear about the enigmatic Baba Yaga. She is a many-faceted figure, variously seen as a Moon, Death, Winter, Earth Goddess, totemic matriarchal ancestress, female initiator, or archetypal image.
After discussing some of Baba Yaga’s traits: iron teeth, lives in a house that walks around on chicken legs, sails through the sky in a mortar yielding a pestle, the children listened to one of the many tales involving Baba Yaga: Vasilisa the Brave. It exhibits Baba Yaga’s ambiguous nature – scary, yet wise, and the choices of a girl who triumphs through courage and perseverance.
Below is a selection of the wonderful illustrations of Baba Yaga by children on the course. I’m always amazed at the detail, personality and energy of these drawings that the children do without hesitating as they listen to the stories.
Vasilisa’s magic doll by Lily.
Children’s Storytelling and Art Course, Week four. The children were interested in the concept of having two heads after hearing the Indian folktale about a bird with two heads that can’t agree. They drew pictures of themselves with the head of something or someone they would or would not like to be attached to and we discussed story ideas around what it would be like to sleep/go to school/get dressed etc.
Some responses to the story of the birth of Ganesha, and how he got his elephant head.
Some other Gods, Goddesses, and a demon created using an inverted stencil as a starting point.