Pilgrims on the Pathways of Learning

Guest Post by Karin Vanhinsberg, Retreat Attendee/Mentor & Circle Member

Picking up again to read some favourite passages from Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes; I return to the story of “Vasalisa”.   This story has very long roots and is told to us almost intact; carrying “ages-old psychic mapping’ about the “retrieval of Intuition as Initiation”. The story asks us to listen with all 3 pathways of our hearing: ’one to hear the mundane conversations of the world, the second to learn; and, the third so that the soul itself might hear guidance and gain knowledge while here on Earth.’

The story begins “with one of the oldest storytelling devices known, “Once there was and once there was not…” This paradoxical phrase is meant to alert the soul of the listener that this story takes place in the world between worlds where nothing is as it first seems.”

Vasalisa’s journey begins with her mother dying. On her deathbed, she gives Vasalisa a doll that resembles Vasalisa. She must feed it and keep it secret; and, when she loses her way or is in need of help- she need only ask the doll what to do. After her mother’s death, the well-known Cinderella thread of the story becomes apparent with Vasalisa becoming a despised servant after her father remarries. One day, the hearth-fire is purposely put out by her step-sisters, her step-mother angrily sends Vasalisa out into the danger of the dark woods to find the witch Baba Yaga and ask for a coal to start their fire again.  Vasalisa follows the directions she hears from her doll, going this way and turning that and soon comes upon the formidable Baba Yaga  hovering in her Mortar and waiving her Pestle over her house. Baba Yaga’s house is surrounded by skulls, the windows have human bones as hinges and latches and the house has scaly chicken feet on which the house dances and twirls at will. Baba Yaga asks Vasalisa what she wants and Vasalisa asks for a coal for the family fire. Baba Yaga asks why she should give it to her and Vasalisa is given the right answer by her doll: “because I ask”. Before she can have her request granted, she has to endure and navigate her way through 9 Tasks -the depths of which are not mentioned here but include cleaning the house and laundering the clothes, discerning poppy seeds from a mound of dirt, separating mildewed corn from good corn…. Tasks that must be completed or she will be eaten by the Yaga. The doll tells her not to worry and to rest, the doll completes the separating of the corn and the poppy seeds; she warns Vasalisa when to ask a question and when to be silent by jumping up and down in her pocket. When it seems Vasalisa has learned to discern, to ask and to be silent; she is granted a lighted coal and a skull to carry it home in. Returning home she has learned to follow and trust her Intuition (symbolized by the doll), through her Tasks she has been fully initiated; she faces her step-family with the fiery skull in hand and they no longer have power over her.

In this much annotated version of the story, I hear these gems: there is more than one pathway that begs to be trod in the art of listening, if I were a Pilgrim on this Path of Listening, after hearing this powerful story I would want my pocket full of discernment, questions and thoughtful silence. I hear too that Intuition is vastly more than a gut feeling or the tingle of ‘spidy senses’, it is the Ally that brings us fully home to our wholeness.

A  journey that I feel reflects these gem-strands: I saw myself flowing down a River, I asked Spirit what it would be like when a question arose (what to do, which way to go?) if I could see myself continuing to Flow with the River. I saw myself not in any conveyance like a boat or a raft, but rather the smooth continued movement of seeing the next stone arise just enough for my next footfall, traversing the Water-way. In this journey it felt like the life questions, as they arose in my mind were answered by the emerging of the next stepping stone. In the poem Santiago from his book Pilgrim, David Whyte writes: “The road seen, then not seen, the hillside hiding then revealing the way you should take, the road dropping away from you as if leaving you to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up when you thought you would fall,” I imagine that this is what it would feel like to be completely listening to the voices of my Intuition and my Trust in the Flow.

I have possibly 3 Muses that my mind, understanding and soul bend their ear to:  Clarissa Pinkola Estes, David Whyte, and the band Elephant Revival -whose songs always seem to tie in to what I am learning. I leave you on the bank of this river with the song: Home in Your Heart:  ‘go down to the soul of the river… now don’t push that river let the river move you along…home in your heart, heart in your home..”

In Unity,


LISTEN TO SONG: Home in Your Heart by Elephant Revival

Home practice

What would it feel like to walk the stepping stones with the flow of the river?

What would it look like, feel like, sound like to be a Pilgrim on the Path of Listening?

What does each pathway have to share with us about our pocket full of discernment, questions and silence?

Is there a ceremony or Task our Intuition is asking us to do to bring us wholly home to ourselves?

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