Russian Fairy Tales (RUSS 047/LITR 047R) -- Spring 2008 -- Swarthmore College

Lecture notes for April 2, 2008

Sibelan Forrester


Please see Josh’s presentation on taboos on line - a useful review of what we’ll discuss today. Bring any questions for Friday. Any questions about other presentations that are now up on Blackboard?

Marie-Luise von Franz on Taboos: comments or questions on this chapter? She was a Jungian therapist, her dates are 1915-1998, worked with Karl Gustav Jung (she met him in 1933 – his dates are 1875-1961), wrote over 20 books on analytic psychology, and especially on fairy tales as they relate to Archetypal or Depth Psychology. Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious: “While Freud did not distinguish between an "individual psychology" and a "collective psychology", Jung distinguished the collective unconscious from the personal unconscious particular to each human being. The collective unconscious is also known as "a reservoir of the experiences of our species."

This piece looks at “Vasilisa the Beautiful” and “The Maiden Tsar.” Von Franz sees the roots of many taboos in hunting culture (remember, Baba Yaga lives in the forest, she’s sort of in leshii territory). …Discussion of evil and the nature of evil: “What we call evil on this level [in the realm of folklore] differs from theological ideas, for it belongs to the realm of purely natural phenomena” (p. 191) – so it’s like the sins Cashdan discusses, or the rampages of an unrestrained id. “Evil on a psychological level.” P. 197: Baba Yaga is “the great Mother Nature.” Importance of respecting her secrets, not prying into the most secret things or airing dirty linens… p. 199: “We can conclude from this story that the Baba Yaga is not totally evil; she is ambiguous, she is light and dark, good and evil, though here the evil aspect is stressed.” p. 201, lying as a gesture of reverence – taboos have that religious element to them.

Shadow; anima and animus. Syncretic nature of a lot of Jungian writing – he brings in yoga, Buddhism, astrology, tarot cards, all that sort of thing, in the same ways von Franz is looking at fairy tales.

Critique of Jungian treatments of fairy tales or other works: just as here von Franz connects the hunting taboos to ecological sensibility, a Jungian can keep making associations until they’ve gotten both very far afield and very fuzzy. (No doubt doing so is more helpful in therapy than in scholarship.)

“Maria Morevna,” pp. 553-562 – there's the taboo against looking in the closet (to find and then release Koshchei), but what else resonates with the idea of taboos? Ivan did violate the taboo, versus Vasilisa, who didn’t (stopped asking questions before Baba Yaga got irritated). Victory over Koshchei by strength (mace and horse’s hoof), versus the subtlety (finding his death in a matryoshka-like series of nested objects/animals) of the usual Koshchei demise.

“Vasilisa the Beautiful,” pp. 439-447 – this one also shows up in Clarissa Pinkola Estés (Women Who Run with the Wolves – which is in Tripod if you’re curious). How much you can ask (and when you need to), how much you shouldn’t. von Franz stresses having patience and extreme sensitivity to the other person’s comfort level and stage of readiness. Small point: pp. 205-6, she notes that Vasilisa buries the skull and leaves it – also, the idea of a proper Christian burial for any dead person: it’s one thing for Baba Yaga to keep skulls and bones around, but an ordinary person has to keep death a taboo, out of sight, protected and prophylactically kept in its place with rituals. And – the difference between fairy tale morality and religious morality; you don’t confess everything (the doll) to baba Yaga!, just tell her part of the truth, but still the truth (“my mother’s blessing,” blagoslovenie – good-words).

But also: does Vasilisa’s stepmother’s bad treatment teach her when to hold her tongue? does keeping her doll secret from the bad relatives show her how to negotiate the truth in the best possible way?

Tales that suggest (one way or another) that the truth, the whole or partial truth, and when/how/to whom it’s told are really important issues.

Doll’s eyes glow “like two candles” (p. 441) – is it from the same species as the skull at the end of the first move? (von Franz omits the part with the linen and the king, because it doesn’t involve evil and taboos)

“The Maiden Tsar,” pp. 229-34 – von Franz opines, it's another way to deal with Baba Yaga: one for the young vulnerable girl, another for a man who is at least becoming an adult (has his relationship with his stepmother taught him something about how to treat older/more powerful women? – noted before that the old women become more and more helpful as he progresses). But: the version von Franz is citing differs from the one in our edition (embroidered? Or is ours somewhat censored?).

Return to the class syllabus

Proceed to the lecture notes for Friday, April 4, 2008.