Baba Yaga’s Thanksgiving Tips for Big Hips and a Healthy Appetite

Something I wrote that seemed timely to share during this holiday season. A little wisdom from the Bone Goddess:

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Baba Yaga’s Thanksgiving Tips for Big Hips and a Healthy Appetite

Well-known for her iconic hut perched atop chicken feet and her flying mortar and pestle, Baba Yaga is the quintessential Slavic witch of the woods. Familiar throughout Eastern Europe as the frightening witch who entraps children and young women, she is older and more complex than a mere cannibal bone collector. Baba Yaga is also the wise woman and earth-mother who protects the forest, the animals, and the wisdom of ancient traditions in danger of being forgotten in a modern world. She is the opposite of what is glorified in our society: Baba Yaga is old, powerful, alone, and perpetually hungry, and her wisdom comes from that ineffable appetite.

It’s time to celebrate the harvest, when your ancestors would stack their tables full of food to celebrate the fruits of the growing season and fatten up for winter. As you face the feast ahead, I offer one simple piece of advice:

Reclaim your hunger.

Hunger is powerful. That’s why people are afraid of it. Hunger reminds us that we are alive and fragile. It casts a light on our mortality. If we eat, we have a chance at life. If we do not, we will eventually die. It may take the average person between 30-40 days to die without food, but die they will.

Hunger teaches us things. When we listen to our bodies, we learn important lessons: our bodies will signal when we are full; they will usually give us clues when we are lacking something. When we pay attention to hunger, we start to discover what we need to change about ourselves and the world around us. Hunger is transformative.

Hunger is holy; it is the emptiness waiting to be filled. Hunger is what tempted people to venture into my deep, dark woods. Hunger is what brought them to my door, and hunger is why I let them in.   So why have people stopped knocking on my door? They have learned to ignore their hunger.

And women have it worst of all when it comes to appetites. Taught to go without, so much language around nutrition and diet is full of words like “combat hunger” “fight cravings.” When did the table become a battleground and food the enemy?

Warm bread slathered in fresh melting butter, soup filled with hunks of potato, juicy meat falling off bones, salt to enhance flavor and combat boredom, honey to sweeten a hard life. The smell of savory stews makes our mouths water. The color of cooked beets is red like flushed cheeks, they feel smooth on the tongue, their taste is sweet, they stain the fingers. Eating is sensual. It fills our mouths with flavors and textures. Why did we stop delighting in this thing we must do every day?

When people could take food for granted, they stopped listening to hunger. They found other reasons to eat or not eat. Restraint replaced relish, and hunger became…monstrous.

Somewhere between vanity and morality, young women became removed from their appetites. Old women became frightening or invisible. And an old woman with unapologetic appetites was the worst of all.

Today, we are rarely shown old women in print or online. (Yes, I do have internet in my hut. If I can make my house turn around to face the stars, it’s not hard to boost a signal and tap into the global network.) But if we see an old woman with food of any sort, she is usually cooking or baking in her spotless kitchen. Or she may be serving a meal, her apron clean and her tray in hand. Do we see her eating? Do we see any women eating with gusto like famished farmers after a day of hard labor? Not usually. Not unless their perfectly lipsticked lips are wrapped around some kind of suggestive sexual substitute.

Food can be sexy, but women do not always eat to tease or please their lovers. Sometimes women savor their meals because there is pleasure in eating, and hunger is the foreplay of the feast. (Because the exquisite wanting makes it so much more delicious.)

Of course, finding our way back to our appetites will take more than fairy tale trails of breadcrumbs, unless maybe they are tossed with bacon fat and onions, seasoned with salt and pepper, and served alongside some succulent spiced meat and cheesy potatoes.

This holiday season, love the food you eat, and eat the food you love. Fill your plate with savory delights and you’ll be on your way to becoming a person of good taste. After that, I invite you to come to my hut, just look for the chicken feet. They’re hard to miss.

Hut of Baba Yaga by Gil Rimmer

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Poetry Thursday!

Want to listen to a little poetry this Thursday afternoon?

You can hear poems from the Strange Horizons Fund Drive, including my reading of “Boys on Bikes.” Included on the podcast are:

Strange Horizons Fund Drive 2017 Bonus Poetry Podcast

Thank you!

My new short story: “Lament” in Gargoyle 66!

EPSON MFP image

An excerpt from my new short story, “Lament” published in the 40th Anniversary Issue of Gargoyle (66):

Lament

The Steppes, 1550

I sing their souls into heaven without seeing their faces, without knowing their names. In many ways, we are invisible on the battlefield: the blind and the dead.

I stand above this one, the toe of my boot pressing against his thigh. I hear his horse exhale, stamping its hooves into the ground beside his fallen rider. I reach out to touch the animal, feel my fingertips graze its mane. The horse is hot and smells like mud, blood, and excrement.

“Your master is dead,” I whisper in Ukrainian. “I am here to attend to him, just as you have done in life.” I pat his neck. “You have served him well.”

Horses are loyal, more loyal than men. Unless wounded, most horses will remain beside their riders. The animal calms a little under my hand. I kneel and touch the dead man’s shirt to feel around for the absence of his heartbeat. There is a distant wailing from warriors still dying or mourning. The celebration of victory will come later, after the dead have been addressed.

In the darkness, grasses rustle and trees drop their leaves to shroud the fallen. They crackle on the wind, land atop corpses, stick in puddles of blood. I was eight-years-old when stricken with the smallpox that led to my blindness, but I can recall the way Fall colors would blaze, like lighting a fire before everything burns to ash.

I was considered odd even when sighted, and my parents seemed relieved when blindness gave them permission to send me away. I travelled far enough away to escape, embracing the mask of blind minstrel as excuse enough for being an outsider, for being alone, for keeping the best part of myself hidden—except from the dead.

A cold wind blows in my ear, and I hear wings flapping. The vultures circle, and soon hungry things will come crawling through the shadows. I pull my hat down to better cover my head. Northern winds are blowing, and soon there will be snow.

I hold out my hands, and my young guide, Slavko, hands me the wooden bowl we carry. It fits in my palm, because that is the way I whittled it into existence. Slavko has filled it with water we collected from a stream we passed on our way to the battlefield. When I heard the rusalky, the tragic water nymphs who were once drowned women, crying from beneath the ripples, I knew that we would find many dead.

I place the bowl onto the chest of the dead kozak. His soul will use the water to wash and prepare for its journey to the afterlife. My hands shake, betraying my age, and I pause to rub my fingers. When the ache and trembling subside, I touch the dead man’s face—his skin firm, his cheeks bare.

I have performed these secret rites for longer than this man was alive. The rituals are second nature, and death is a familiar companion on my journey; but I know Slavko is getting impatient. I can hear his thighs brushing against one another in a nervous rhythm as he paces beside me. He is nearly a child, disfigured but sighted, and not accustomed to this work. The smell of death alone is disconcerting, but he is right to rush me along. Spirits hide in the darkness, hungry things wait to steal breath, secrets, and dreams.

Something pokes against my shoulder—my instrument being pushed toward me, and I reach over to take the bandura from Slavko, carefully closing my fingers around the neck and strings.

“Patience,” I whisper.

“But there are s-s-so many,” he stutters. “S-so many dead to attend to.”

They will be patient,” I say, smiling. “They are still realizing that they are dead, and when I sing for them, they will know we are here to help their souls to cross over. The dead only get restless if they are ignored or forgotten.”

Slavko resumes his nervous shuffling, and I turn back to the fallen kozak whose head is resting by my knee. I feel blood wetting my leg. By dawn, I will be covered in much more.

No doubt Slavko had hoped his apprenticeship as a kobzar’s assistant would bring him to church festivals and warm seats by the hearth. Those too are a part of the minstrel’s life, and I have a large repertoire of songs for all manner of joyful occasions. However, I have found that my own gifts are better suited to the dead. The dead are far less judgmental and make for better listeners.

Though I am blind, I always shut my eyes at this point in the ritual. The act of closing them helps me to focus, to feel as if I have control, to set the stage for what comes next.

My fingers fall into their familiar places and strum a few notes on the bandura. I sing a quiet lament—a duma—whose purpose is to honor the warrior’s death. The duma will free his soul from the shackles of its body.

“May God accept your prayers and deeds,

You who have sacrificed your life on this field.

You who have fought with dignity—“

As the soul stirs from the dead body below, I feel the familiar tingling in my hands, the fluttering around my heart. It is happening. Our souls connect.

“Why me? Why now?” asks the dead man, his voice breaking and full of sorrow.

Some souls are silent, but most cry out. The first words by the dead are always questions.

I say nothing. My duty is to sing, to perform the rite of passage so that this kozak who fell in battle will not join the ranks of Unquiet Dead; so that instead he can rest quietly in his grave and transition into the next world.

“Brother, your prayers will not sink to the sea

nor fly away into the clouds.

They will become like a ladder,

leading you up and away

from the shackles of this earthly body—“

 

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To read the rest and the other wonderful stories published in the 40th Anniversary Issue, you can purchase Gargoyle 66 on their website:

http://www.gargoylemagazine.com/gargoyle/Issues/Issue66.php