Sea: Welcome to Saga craft. Myths, fairytales, legends. Stories comfort us, inspire us, and heal us. Please join us as we share stories both old and new. More than anything, we are open to the story and it’s unfolding. At times it may be one story told by one person, at times it’s the same story told through three different voices. In the end, we go where the story takes us, and we invite you to follow.
I’m Sea, a writer, artist, and storyteller.
Betsy: I’m Betsy, a medium and teacher of mystery traditions.
Gabriela: I’m Gabriella, an artist and practitioner of folk magic.
Saga Kraft: We are magical fairy godmothers in training.
Gabriela: Tonight, we will be honoring the wolf mother, and mother wolf, and the liminal spaces that bring her into being, into our lives. We ask for her blessing, for connection to her, and we ask for the blessing of Saga as well.
Betsy: Do you want me to go first? Okay. My story, Wolf Mother, takes place in what’s now Britain, a long time ago.
Struggling to keep her horse moving forward through the densely falling snow. Wenna tried to remember the story that her two days old husband had told her on their wedding day. She kept one arm wrapped around the limp figure of his sister, one ear cocked to the rising howl of the wind, listening for another sound. The light was fading and all landmarks were disappearing in the snow. She had a good sense of direction and kept her horse moving northward, as instructed.
She thought back to their wedding day, with its haste, and the story that her husband Bran had shared with her in their nuptial privacy. He’d spent his precious few hours of leave from the battlefront impressing upon her the importance of his clan’s story, and delaying the inevitable bedding ceremony. It was a time of war and her young husband a battle hardened commander. Marrying for convenience and the getting of an heir on a royal woman meant that meeting, contracting, and marrying all happened in one long confusing day.
Listening intently to the story he was telling, while nervously anticipating the intimacy to follow, had caused Bran to clasp her forearm and say “Focus please, Wenna” to her, much as he would to a raw recruit. He continued telling her the story of the king wolf and the elder queen wolf, stressing that he and his sister Alene were children of the old queen.
Clan stories were sacred, and while some parts of them were known by the general public, others were kept secret by the initiated descendants. She knew the horse stories inside and out, and the importance, so she had pushed her worries back and focused on the story and how it fit together. Bran’s voice, low and steady, the calm look in his eyes as he shared the story, and the words themselves had soon woven their magic. The complex story of rival wolf clans, kept secret in this level of detail, revealed the deeper origins of the war that had been going on for a decade.
Bran was asking her, as his wife and now clan partner, to keep his sister safe, for her importance to the clan of the wolf queen.
“It’s through her, that our clan will prosper and her child could be the next queen of the land.”
Well, she could say the same thing. She was also a daughter from a royal lineage. Kings were not determined by the male line, but by the female line. The wolf king wanted to change all that by either taking Aline as his wife, or killing her. Bran wanted Wenna to protect Aline and herself at all costs.
When asked if she had any questions, she pondered for a moment, and then I asked evenly “Haven’t you just endangered me now, as well as your sister, by linking us together? The wolf king could kill us both, or take us both and become that much closer to the Throne of Arn.”
Bran hesitated and said “There is a prophecy of the wolf and the horse uniting. It’s ambiguous, and yet precise. Through marriage do the two queens of the land hold back the grip of the king wolf, and draw him into their snare to face his death. Under the wolf moon in the shoe of the great horse, the daughters stand for the land and wolves decide by the death right. I will provide the snare, and his death to follow.”
“And are we the bait? Are you so sure? And why me as a wife, because I’m a daughter of Epona the horse?”
“You and Aline both are the agents of the wolf king’s demise. I’ll help with that. You play a vital role in keeping the land secure from him and his ravages. And Wenna, I desired marriage with you because of your reputation for cleverness, competency, and courage, all in the guise of a quiet and thoughtful young woman. I saw at once that what is said of your character is true. You have strength and loyalty in every fiber of your being. And you’re said to be skilled in arms. Remember, I’ll help with this. The Wolf is three months away. Keep training, keep quiet because we do not know who spies may be, and keep close to Aline.”
“Does she know all of this?”
Yes, she’s ready for her part. I wish I could say that I’m sorry to draw you into this, but your fate was determined long before. What I can do is care for you as a wife, my wife, and lend you my strength. When I saw you I knew that my heart could be yours. Let me show you that, come, wife.”
He departed the next dawn and that was the last she had seen of him. Word came from time to time accompanied by small gifts, all of these gifts she had on her person, sewn into her clothing as talismans.
She heard the sound she’d been dreading. The long eerie howl, followed by yips and more howling. The wolves were on her trail, but were they the right wolves? She knew she had a difficult journey ahead in the snow before she reached the Horseshoe Canyon, where the horse clan rights were held. She breathed in deeply and called out to her horse grandmothers, seeing Epona in her mind and asking for strength for her and her horse Cloud, and Aline.
Aline stirred in her arms and said “I’ve been dreaming, and now I see the mother is coming. She’s great in her power under this moon. And she’s coming.”
Wenna felt additional chills at these words.” Is that a good thing or a bad thing, Aline?”
“I don’t know, just that she’s coming and it will all unfold.”
“Is your brother there in the canyon, do you think? He will have had to be guided by my clan to get there.”
“They guide him because of you.” Aline said simply.
Wenna’s horse moved steadily through the snow storm. She guided it by feel an inner knowledge of the canyon’s presence drawing her. An increasing sense of disorientation was happening. She began to hear snatches of words and sentences, some threatening, some encouraging, and shrill laughter. She heard the wolves again, closer now, and pushed her horse forward.
She knew this trail by heart but was so confused by the shapes from the snow, by the disturbing voices and even more disturbing howls of the stalking wolves, that she found it impossible to gauge exactly where they were.Alene was effected in her own way. Seeing, rather than hearing ,the pursuers in her mind’s eye, she kept a running commentary going that Wenna could barely hear, but did not find encouraging. She shivered continually.
Wenna was looking from side to side as she brushed accumulated snow off of their cloaks and the shoulders and head of her horse. It’s dapple gray markings caused it to disappear in the luminous half flight of the snowstorm, leaving the girls to look like apparitions floating through the snow. She shook off that thought and redoubled her attention.
“Focus.” she could hear Bran saying
“Oh, please be there, Bran..” she prayed.
She did not let her mind worry about whether this was the right thing, or even sane thing, to do. She was well past that, and there was nothing to do now except keep moving forward.
She was surprised when Aline clutched her arm and said “She’s there. Ahead of us.”
Something with wide spaced blue eyes was on the path ahead. The figure, untouched by the snow, wavered between that of the tall white haired woman and enormous silver white wolf.
Satisfied that it had the attention of both girls, in wolf form. It turned from the main trail and veered off, turning back once to look at them and then moving on.
“We should follow her” said Aline
“We could get very lost.” said Wenna
“I think we’ve been found, and it’s likely this isn’t the horse canyon anymore.”
“What do you mean?” Wenna said sharply poised at the wolf’s trail.
” I think we’re in the other world now. We must follow her. She leads us to where we need to be.”
Over the months they’d spent together, waiting for the wolf moon, Aline had proved to be resourceful, practical, and kind, with strong gifts of seeing which she tried to hide. Much of that seeing came in dreams, but sometimes in waking visions. She was surprisingly stubborn as well, for all her dreamy ways.
“Keep us moving, Wenna, we can’t lose her now.”
” Oh goddess Epona, oh, grandmother, show me, help me with what is right.”
She turned the horse, picking her way among the snow shrouded vegetation. The wolf hadn’t left footsteps, but there was a sort of shine that marked the passage of the wolf. If she didn’t think about it much, she could see the path or a few meters ahead.
The howling came closer and the wind picked up the added intensity had them both hunched over Cloud. Her praying intensified, wordless now, just entreaty from her soul. Not for her own safety, but for success in bearing out what she had to do.
A little further on, she heard the sound of horse’s hooves flanking them on the right,and now the wolves sounded a little further away. A big mountain face loomed ahead. Wenna knew they must be in the other world because no such space existed in the terrain of the horse. She looked ahead and tried to see definition in the swirling snow and half light. It looked even more like an actual face with a mouth gaping open.
Aline, pointing to the mouth said “Head there. It’s a cave.”
As they approached the mouth, Wenna saw that they would need to dismount to enter the cave. She glimpsed eerie white figures, indistinct but tall, around her. All of them bowed slightly to the snow covered trio. Despite the wind pulling and pushing simultaneously at them with it’s skirling wail, Wenna felt that they were moving towards a place of calmness. Sliding off the horse and keeping a distance from the indistinct figures, Wenna and Aline entered the cave, leading cloud behind. It was quiet in here and large enough to allow the horse to shelter from the storm. Another opening was apparent at the back of this chamber.
Taking moments of precious time, for the sense of moving towards her fate was growing stronger by the minute, Wenna hesitated to pull off Cloud’s saddles, but contended herself in giving some oats to the horse from her pocket and rubbing the inch or two of snow from the bulk of the horse.
“I’ll be back.” she wispered
“Ready?” said Aline
Together they entered the second cavern through the tall narrow passageway. This cave was dimly lit by glowing mushrooms scattered along the sidewalls. Ochre and black paintings were on the walls, depicting wolves, and partial wolf and humans, and humans.
Aline clutched her again. “We’re in the cave of the mother. I’ve dreamt this.”
“What happens next?”
“We meet her.”
They could smell wood smoke and something herbal in the air. It was a fresh, not stale, odor. They moved towards the second doorway, this one lower and wider. Stepping through required hunching over, but they emerged into a more or less circular room with a fire burning in the center. At the fire was the white haired woman, dressed in gray with necklaces of wool’s teeth and amber, wrapped in fur, watching them with eerie blue eyes. Wenna noticed another smell, that of wet dogs. No, wet wolves. She could see two wolves flanking this woman, but laying on their sides near the fire.
“Come closer.” said the woman, her light eyes compelling them.
Alene moved forward and gracefully bowed a full courtly gesture.
“Daughter,” said the woman “sit here.”
She indicated a place by one of the wolves,who seemed to be dreaming.
“Mother of my granddaughter.” She said to Wenna
Wenna put her hands to her womb in surprise, a gesture that revealed its truth.
“Sit here.” She pointed to the open place by the other wolf. “A battle happens now and we must guide it. Take off your wet cloaks and wrap these around you.”
She handed them huge furs, which surely must be those of the near mythical dire wolves.
“We’ll be here for a long while. Drink this.” She handed them earthen mugs of some herbal drink.
Wenna found herself drinking without comment. What they were doing seemed like the only thing that could be done. And in a dreamlike compliance, she wrapped the rug around herself, seeing that there was enough of it to cover the dreaming wolf as well.
” Close your eyes and link with us.” said the woman
She found herself in an eerie landscape. Alike, but different from the snowy place she and Alene had been traveling in. Here, the sound of the wind was gone. The snow continued to fall and four women stood waiting for her to get her bearings. One being Aline, and the other the wolf mother. They moved quickly through the landscape, followed by the ghostly figures of wolves, with all their many colors. Doomed.
They were back on the trail, moving fast, leading to the Horseshoe Canyon. They could see many footprints in the trampled snow, of horse, men and wolves. Next they saw blood on the snow, which glowed with shocking vibrancy in the dim landscape.
“Call your people.” the wolf mother commanded
Wenna opened her arms to the sky and wind filled her lungs and she trumpeted like a mare in battle.
Behind her she could feel the pressure of the turn of the fast moving herd of spirit horses, changing directions and trumpeting back to her. The horses began to circle around. The dark wolves ringed around, and harrying, the men and women in those shield formation who had been backed up against the Horseshoe Canyon wall from deeper in the Canyon. The actual horses came, led by an old and feral mare with one remaining eye and a huge star blaze over her heart.
“Mother!” cried Wenna
The mare gave her a transmission of so much emotion and information that Wenna nearly fell under the weight of it, then as the power and strength of the transmission took hold, Wenna felt and saw what the mare did. That this battle, now raging between dark wolves and horse, white spirit wolves and foreign men, and foreign men and her people, was happening in more realms than merely mortal, and it would be a defining battle for the outcome of humans and the other world. She also saw two radiant spirit roads, white horse and white Wolf, converging into a node of power.
She saw Bran at the center of the battle and focused all of her strength to him, for making its way to him was a figure that flashed from wolf to man and back, and who was huge in both aspects. Bran was well aware of him and also somehow of her, for his center, a shaft of love and steadiness that shone like a god ray and reached to her heart.
“I carry your wolf.” she told him.
This struck him like lightning, and he seemed to double in size. As he moved forwards to face the dark wolf, he moved fast, blades flashing, clearing a path to him, the wolf, and keeping him always in his line of view. He fought with two swords, which she prayed would be enough against the teeth and sword of the wolf shifter. He fought with a fury that she knew was exaltation and not battle haze.
Aline’s power merged with hers, and they merged with the mare and with the white wolf mother. The spirit wolves were held by the two other wolf women who kept the dark pack at bay, not letting them join their master.
That was the last clear image that went ahead before she found herself coming to a reluctant consciousness in the cave. The last impression that she had had was of a blood covered Bran slicing off the head of the shape-shifting wolf. The head itself was a Wolf when separating from the body, but landed as that of a man with a snarl still on his face. Her last memory was the stench of battle.
She woke in the cave, smelling herbs, fur and smoke. Awakened by the inadvertent kick of the near wolf as it rolled to get up from under the dire wolf pelt. It nudged her with it’s nose and whined. She got up muzzily and saw the fire needed tending. The wolf let her know through mind images that heating up a different tea would be restorative for them all.
When it was made she awakened the wolf mother, who first clasped her in her arms with a blessing, and then took the offered cup. Alene simply put out her arms for help into a sitting position and wept softly into her tea. The two wolves drank thirstily from a big earthen bowl .
Aline pointed to the wall behind Wenna. Gazing slowly around the cave, Wenna saw that the entire battle was freshly depicted on the walls. Wenna turned and saw the white one eyed mare inscribed on the wall behind her, with her heart blazing, fighting side by side with the Wolf mother.
Gabriela: “Thank you, Betsy. That was incrediblly beautiful.
Sea: Thank you. I just love your descriptors. I was so lost in the snow and in the beauty of the surrounding, and the warmth of the fire. It was very real for me and i’m very grateful.
Betsy: Thank you.
Gabriela: And I felt like it wasn’t only the descriptors. It was the, the layers that were being peeled to reveal the truth of the story as it’s happening. Now, I really felt that even though it was a long, long time ago, that time is somehow irrelevant. By the bridging of the clans and the ancient beasts that roam the worlds of the living and the dead and beyond. Worlds, we may not even know, yet seems so familiar and so important. I feel like with each word and with each description, very much like that painting that was appearing on the cave, I was seeing it in full radius. It was amazing. Very powerful. Thank you.
Sea: I was intrigued by the liminal crossovers too. I felt like we kept crossing and I kept trying to get my bearings, which is unusual. Usually I don’t try to get my bearings. I just go with things, and so it was really interesting to me to know that I was wanting to locate myself in liminal space, if that’s even a possible thing. I think what I was wanting to know is if we had left liminal space, that’s what it was. Because I feel far more secure in the liminal space. Am I safe here?
Betsy: I think the snow really supported those easy transitions too. As the story was coming through, for me, it felt as though the snow is so important, this couldn’t have happened… so, the wolf month is in January in many calendars, and so it’s the bitter winter in that climate. And so the snow is the ally also.
Gabriela: What was it like to bring the story through for you? It just seems like such a truth.
Betsy: That’s how it came through. It just came through image by image, and as a person who is not so much aligned with the wolves, I wasn’t really clear or sure what was going to happen in meeting the Wolf mother. But in truly inviting her to show herself to me, I felt so honored that she would show me this story. And also I love the horse and the white horse too, so I felt as though it was a gift to me to feel as though there was an interweaving of that magic and that power. And as a person who’s practiced shamanism, western shamanism, for a long time, it was incredibly compelling to be able to be with Wenna and Alene and their incredible connection and devotion to their clans and to the animal beings, if we want to call them that, because there’s so much more than that. For me that was extremely powerful, and wishing that we had those clan alliances like that much more strongly, I think. But, thank you.
Gabriela: Thank you so much. I’ll gladly share my story next, which is possibly about a wolf mother, and it takes place a long time ago in Belarus.
The girl waited outside of the small village chapel on Sunday, just as the mass was ending. It was a dreary and cold day. By mid-afternoon the skies where a dark blue, and cold sharp wind predicted a freezing winter night soon to come. She stood under the low hanging branches of the cedar trees, half hidden by the thick trunk.
She did not want the people walking out to see her. She held on tightly to the bundle, wrapped in red wool at her breast, protecting it from the chilling wind and approaching voices, complaining about the weather among other things.
” Werewolf weather.” she heard someone say
“Nah, witches whether.” Somebody else called out.
“All the same to me. All kinds of dangerous creatures roam in weather, like this. Time to head home and get a start on supper before the blizzard hits!” another person exclaimed loudly.
The villagers were storming out of the chapel and heading toward the path that led most of them to their homes. Steadily they faced the cold as they buttoned their coats and adjusted their fur hats. Babies clung to their mothers for warmth, some of the older children walking ahead with their fathers to start fires at home before the rest of the family would get there.
Jadwiga, or Yaga as she was lovingly called by her late husband, was the last one out. She walked slowly, gathering herself in the process of descending down the steps. Adjusting her cloak around her and gripping firmly onto her walking stick, she took a long look at the ominous sky, as if to make a request of its most swirly and fast moving clouds.
” Don’t even think about it.” she whispered under her breath “Wait until I’m safely home and have started a fire. Then you can snow all you want.”
The old woman waited a little longer until the rest of the voices of the departing villagers got further and further away. She did not want to listen to their gossipy chatter or notice the sideway glances, or worse, an attempt at awkward conversation with her because “it was the right thing to do, for she was just a strange lonely woman, that’s all”. She preferred quiet and solitude on her way back home, where the only sounds that accompanied her would be the crows talking in the trees and soft the thuds of her sheepskin boots on the snow. The air was so beautifully crisp at this time of year, almost like a knife that could cut through your face if it wasn’t covered fully. Delightfully sharp. And the smell of fires from the village nearby, the true spice of winter.
The main road from the chapel forked at the forest edge. To the right was the town where everyone lived and to the left was a path that led deeper into the woods, crooked and mischievous, but also promising of great mystery and adventure. Yaga’s house was to the left of the forked path, of course. Her home was deep in the heart of the woods. It was a lovely walk. Most days, even in the dark, she was able to manage it just fine. The crooked road, familiar to her and her walking stick. She knew every bend, twist, and knot. The sounds of crackling branches and the echoing of her steps in the snow. A most comforting song during her travels.
She stopped for a moment to catch her breath, since she’d walked a little faster than usual against the coming wind and likely approaching snow storm. She leaned heavily on her walking stick and knocked some of the snow of her boots, which was adding some unnecessary weight to her feet.
” Almost home,” she thought “just a little longer.”
She realized in that moment that the crackling of leaves she was hearing around her had suddenly stopped and the forest was eerily quiet. She waited for her breath to slow down and her heart to still a little so she could listen. The only time the forest gets this quiet is when there is a predator or something unfamiliar nearby, which certainly wasn’t her. She was as much part of the landscape as every tree, rock, and leaf.
She listened, picking up a strong sense of something or someone that didn’t belong to this part of her wood. Not entirely human, that entirely beast either. Strange. And the howling wind picking up, swirling the small patches of snow. There it was, again, that smell. Fresh and sweet, slightly dangerous.
Whatever it was, she decided to keep walking. There were few things she feared at her old age. And besides, fear, if she was being stalked indeed, would only make this moment more difficult. Better to remain calm and steady. Easily done. And, if she were to become supper, she had some pity for whatever wolf for hound that it stalked her, for she was skin and bones, well seasoned with time and stubbornness, a tough swallow that’s for sure. She chuckled into her cloak and kept walking, aware of some activity behind her, but much further back. And maybe there was nothing at all. Just the wind moving through the trees, encouraging her to get home before it really picked up.
The sky was completely dark by the time Yaga arrived at her small cottage. She opened the heavy door, which groaned and squeaked as she pulled it shut again against the howling wind outside. She lit a candle right away and carried it towards the fireplace, where the coal still burned from the morning.
She moved the coals around making room for thin branches of wood that would feed the fire. She took off her gloves and began to warm her hands above the small flame. The fire illuminated her dwelling with a golden glow that showed everything in its place, the table and two chairs, the pots and bowls hanging by the small window, the bed in the corner of the room, and the simple well-polished icons on the eastern wall of the room.
It wasn’t much, but she didn’t need anything else. She had some potatoes and carrots that she had chopped before she left, and a small rabbit she found earlier that day that got strangled in the roots of a tree, the poor creature. Meat was a rare treat for Yaga, for she didn’t believe in hunting for herself. Unless she found a rabbit or bird in the woods that died of another cause, she lived on what mushrooms she could forage and whatever else grew in her garden, even though her body did so much better with a little fat and flesh. The rabbit stew would make a very nice Sunday supper that would warm her belly just before bed on such a cold night.
With the room warming up and her hands less achy, she was determined to get started with getting the stew ready. She knew if she didn’t do it now, she would lose the urge for cooking and would crawl into bed. Something she has been doing too often these days.
A soft scratching sound at the front door reminded her that another member of her household must have snuck out again. She opened the door just to crack and a large striped Tabby darted inside quickly. Yaga shook her head, smiling, and glanced at the blizzard outside. Just as she was about to close the door for the night, something caught her eye. It was odd how she could have noticed anything in the snow whirlwind and in the darkness, but the red color and the movement of it against the wind was most striking, like blood dancing on the snow.
She kept looking and was able to make out a human-like shape, which now began to move towards her slowly, stopping a few feet away from the door, but not moving any closer until Yaga could take a closer look. Almost as if, whatever it was, it made a point for Yaga got to see it, letting her know it was truly there, and that it was no illusion or ghost, no illusion or ghost or worse.
The face was mostly obscured by the cloak and the snow, but the form was petite, slight at the bottom. Under her cloak, the hem of a dress covered in a thin layer of frozen snow, like icing on a loaf of sweet spice bread,
“Grandmother, I have lost my way. I come seeking shelter for the night.” the visitor said.
Her voice strained against the wind, which carried that strange sharp scent again, the same one that Yaga smelled on her way home. Without hesitation, you got opened the door wider. The girl looked into the small home, viewing it, her eyes settling on the icon with the wall and the Virgin Mary displayed in the corner.
“You are a woman of faith, and yet you would let me in on a night like this?” she asked carefully.
” If I’m a woman of faith indeed, I would never deny shelter to those seeking it. Come inside, child, before you catch your death.” Yaga said
The girl, after a moment of hesitation, carefully stepped over the threshold into the small warm room, shrouded in a thick black cloak anda red wool blanket around her shoulders that bundled into something small that she held against her chest. The bundle moved.
“A babe!” Yaga exclaimed “Quickly, child, quickly, get near the fire to warm yourself and the little one.”
“Thank you, grandmother. I am in your debt.” the young woman said as she approached the fire and knelt down at the hearth, looking longingly at the pot hanging over the flames, it’s thick contents bubbling softly.
“It’s almost ready, and there is enough for us both” Yaga said as she cut some bread and poured hot tea into clay cups which she sat at the table. Such an odd feeling to set a table for two, she thought, it’s been many, many years.
She approached the hearth and grabbed the pot off the hook carefully through her thick apron.
“Come sit at the table when you have gotten yourself and the babe warmed up.” she said, glancing at the girl, trying to get a closer look at her and the child, which was still pretty tightly covered.
Yaga set the stew on the table to cool and took a sip of her tea. The visitor slowly gathered herself and her bundle and approached the table, taking a seat set for her across from the old woman. Yaga ladled some stew into a bowl and passed it to the girl, who stared at the food for a long time.
“Go on child, eat. Best while it’s hot.”
“I’m sorry, grandmother, I’m just not used to this.”
” What? Rabbit stew?” Yaga asked, puzzled.
“Hospitality.” the girl said quietly, and then grabbed a wooden spoon with one hand. With the other she held onto the small stirring bundle. “I am in your debt.” she said again as she proceeded to eat.
The two sat and ate in silence. Yaga looked at her strange companion. What she could see of her face, white like snow, hair black as night, with long thin fingers wrapped around the bundle. So odd that the little one didn’t cry at all, Yaga thought, it must be tired from the long journey from wherever they came.
She wanted to see the child. It would warm her old heart to see a little one, maybe hold it even. But the girl seemed protective over the babe. And surely she had her reasons, who knows what she had been through to be out in the cold in this weather, or creatures.
“It’s late. You’re welcome to my bed for the night. I will sleep just fine in the chair by the fire.” Yaga said in a tone which clearly didn’t allow for negotiation, and the girl didn’t argue.
She nodded her head and crawled into bed in the corner, the child in her arms, her eyes gleaming from a distance, looking at the old woman, maybe to scared to close her eyes.
“It’s alright child, you are safe here. You and the babe. You can both rest.”
Yaga huddled under a sheepskin and nestled into her rocking chair and tended the fire, keeping guard while gazing into the flames. And after some time fell into a deep sleep, and unlike most nights, when she dreamed of her past and things long gone and lost, this time her slumber took her to a different layer of memory where the seen and unseen worlds connected and hushed voices blended with the wind to sing a new story, or an old one from down below.
She dreamed of her home, but it was more than her home. It was the whole forest and its heart was her fireplace. She also dreamed of nursing an infant at her breast. She never saw its face. But could feel the delicate fingers that held onto her own a small hand that was covered in soft white fur, which didn’t seem unusual to her at all to her. The baby was precious and it was hers to love and protect. She was so happy in this dream, so content, so nourished. She did not want the dream to end. She noticed the walls of her home were like a womb. Living, breathing. She and the baby were safe within as, the wild wind howled outside.
Yaga must’ve woken up for a moment, probably from the howling wind, when she saw the girl rise from bed and approached the rocking chair she sat in, only the girl was not a girl, but an old woman, as big as the whole room covered in wolf skin. Or maybe she was a wolf. Her eyes the lightest of blue, like a snowy sky.
She growled into Yaga’s ear, her breath hot against her face, warming her from inside out, making her so very tired, so very sleepy. Yaga must have started to dream again, and she heard the wolf mother speak.
“Daughter, I am in your debt, for you saved me.”
The words drifted away. The wolf fur all around, blending into the colors of the hearth fire and swallowing Yaga altogether, orso she dreamed.
In the morning the girl was gone, but not the child. Yaga was awakened by the soft cries coming from the bed. She moved quickly across the room, surprised by how her knees didn’t crack when she got up like they normally would, especially in the morning. Curiously. She approached the bed where the child was. It was a baby girl, and she was perfect with white skin, rosy cheeks, and eyes like Amber buttons.
She cooed and smiled when she saw Yaga’s face leaned over her. The tears forgotten immediately. So odd since she was looking at a complete stranger. Yaga reached out for the child. Surely the mother would come back soon. Maybe this was her only chance to hold the little one, and since the girl didn’t seem to be afraid of her she might as well. What a treat!
Her eyes melted as she looked into the baby’s eyes. She wiped the remaining tears from the sweet face and noticed how smooth and fair her own hand was against the child’s face. This was not her hand. This was not her hand! She looked down at her body, visible through the thin gown. Young round form, smooth and firm skin. How could this be?
Yaga began to panic. She must still be dreaming. She must be. Her head swam with confusion as some of the sensations and memories of last night came over her. The growling sounds, the howling wind, the fire, the womb, and the words “You saved me from the cold. You shall always have shelter. You fed me graciously. You will never be hungry. You welcomed me with kindness. You will never be alone.” The words like a spell, spinning and swirling, her head feeling heavy and making her fall into a deep sleep again.
When she woke up, her daughter was nursing peacefully at her breast. The morning sun a little higher now in the sky, peering through the window radiantly. She remembered the old woman who found herself alone and lost in the woods last night and asked for shelter. She must have left at first light, comforted by a hot meal and a warm place to sleep. She was a lovely woman. That was a little strange, but Yaga was not one who would deny a traveling stranger food and shelter on a cold winter night.
Betsy: I loved your story. It was absolutely beautiful.
Gabriela: Thank you, thank you.
Sea: I loved it as well. I love the reversal. And yeah, in both I love the weather and I have to say, you had me going with the baby. I thought, what is it? It’s not a baby. I was ready for it.
Betsy: But there was definitely the sense that something was going to happen. So would it be for the baby? Would it be for the old woman? And those magical words, I’m in your debt. Those are powerful words. And to be repeated, do you think that that led to such a powerful gift then?
Gabriela: I do. I think there are so many possibilities here and I’m not quite sure that I want to really share them all because I really want people to sort of take in some of the pieces and make their own story around it, because we really don’t know. The one thing that I will say is that hospitality is a game changer, and an initiatory gesture in Slavic culture. Even if you’re a person who believes, you know, who goes to church though, though in Yaga’s case, she probably didn’t want to, but felt like it was something she needed to do just to contain or connect in some way to the community, but you did not turn people away at your door no matter who they were. And certain types of weather certainly brought out more dangerous beings. So there’s this interesting phenomena that could occur in the snow and blizzard and wind. All kinds of things could happen. And this is also winter time, which is one of the most magical times. Where the worlds can come together in a way that’s really auspicious. But yes, the words “I am in your debt”, it was about the giving. The gift was still a mystery, I think is still a mystery.
Betsy: Yeah. I mean, it also strikes me that as Yaga was walking back towards her home and was even contemplating that it could be something dangerous following her, that she in her own way gave over to that fate too. That felt like it was part of it already. Before the Wolf had even come to the door, so to speak.
Gabriela: Yes, you’re absolutely right. She was already talking to herself, most importantly, and whoever else was listening, about that. She was fine with death.
Sea: I like the way that fits with identity, like, who am I and where do I end? I also loved her scolding the weather.
Gabriela: She’s definitely one used to having negotiations with the weather. She would have to be, living by herself in the woods and having such a long way home on her own.
Betsy: I also loved that she knew every step of the way and so she could really tell when something different was happening. It’s so interesting, I think for us now, it’s not so easy to… for us to be present in that way. To be aware of, of the path, you know? And everything on it. So a beautiful reminder to be present to what’s occurring and really amazing things can happen sometimes. And I did notice the snow and the liminal space and the blue eyes and all of those in our stories kind of weaving together, too. The wolf mother mother, showing herself clearly in these guises.
Gabriela: Yes, I thought of that too, and it made me very happy. I loved experiencing her in her young form and then in her enormous form and in my story in her old form. All her forms. Yeah. That’s what I really love about the wolf, is that it’s not always what it seems. And who are we when we meet them? When we meet the Wolf, who are we? It says a lot about us and how we meet the other, the traveler, someone who might be dangerous, but we have no proof. So we still have to open our doors to them because that’s how we were taught. You never knew what gifts the stranger carried, what blessings, and to turn them away, what curses.And it’s interesting that, you know, we’re talking about wolves, it’s really, we’re talking about community. How much comes up around community when the wolf is in the mix.
Betsy: It seems to me sometimes with wolf power, that there’s an ability to know where people fit. And it seemed like Yaga’s interaction with the wolf mother was like that, with the wolf mother finding her and following her.It was very beautiful. Beautifully put together.
Sea: It was beautifully put together. I really appreciated it.
Gabriela: Thank you very much for letting me share it with you. Thank you. And, for our final story of the evening, Sea?
Sea: I just want to get back to the Lake to get a drink. I’d had a hard day. Like so many others: too much work, no downtime. You know how it goes in this wild, wild world.
Anyway, I’m making my way to the lake for a little R and R, when I see two babies laying face down in the woods. So I kicked one. Not hard, just sort of a nudge to see if it would respond. It rolls a bit, then writhes like an overturned turtle. For a moment, just a moment, my day looks a little brighter.
I leaned down to investigate, but the little monster grabs my hair and coos. It is deeply humiliating. What is wrong with these creatures? It’s flailing and it punches the other one, and that one starts to cry. This is the most horrible sound I have ever heard. I had no idea what that species does to survive, but then I thought about the pups I lost last month and, suddenly, I have to shut the damn thing up.
I lay down against them. They did not hesitate. They latched onto me like leeches on the prairie girls, and I have to admit, it was pleasant. I hadn’t even noticed I was over full and achy until they sidled up and relieved me. No wonder it was such a bad day. I always forget to check for pain when I’m grumpy.
I can still use a drink though, so when they finally finished slurping down every drop I can muster, they start making weird squeaky sounds. I’ve never heard anything like it. Kind of like a mouse coughing in midstream. One of them has a bubble coming out of its nose.
So, I try asking it it’s name. Nothing. It just stares at me writhing again, clearly it can not roll over, much less get up. And they think we’re inferior. I have never seen anything so dumb. What good is a creature that can’t control its limbs? The damn things can’t possibly survive. I think I should just have a nice snack, but that suckling was such a relief. Maybe I can just slowly wean them, I think, then have them as a snack later. That seems only fair. I’ll feed them awhile. Then they can feed me.
So I lean in to scruff one of them and take it back to my den, but there’s a problem. No Scruff. How did their parents carry them? It’s like everything about those things as a design flaw. Eventually I just roll it over to the cave. Anyone sane would be terrified, but they were delighted.
I still need that drink. I know they might become someone else’s snack while I’m gone, but whatever. I didn’t have them twenty five minutes ago, it would be no great loss. I go get a nice long drink, then head back to the den for a nap. When I get there, there’s a fox. A fox! Like, who’s the major canine in the forest? Me! Not this stupid little red thing. They are my future snack, not his. So I scare the little freak away and go lay down. They suckle up to me again, and I nap a while. It feels so good not to have aching teats. Ugh, I forgot.
They learn slowly. It’s like there’s something terribly wrong with their tiny brains, but I have to admit I’m still enjoying the nursing. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it when I lost the pups. I thought it was a relief. Who wants a bunch of yapping strangers around? But these things don’t yap! They mostly just stare into space.
It’s been a full season and they can hardly move about. They flail and squirm, just enough to be entertaining. And they are entertaining. They move like snakes. Who knew they went through a snake phase? I’m starting to think. I shouldn’t eat them since clearly they’re not okay.
It has been two seasons now and they can barely scoot along like my little Orestes. Okay, in truth, they cannot move as well as my little Orestes did on the day he was born, but they can move. I had no idea how they worked properly after imitating snakes and before imitating trees. They are still nursing. Who knew one could go this long, but you know, I’m getting used to it, and it was nice to come home to little things that are too stupid to do anything but snuggle.
It’s been a full year and my two little imbeciles have completely failed their hunting lesson. Instead they have begun imitating trees. They cling tightly to my fur as they struggled to move. I understand now that their mother had to leave them due to their severe developmental disabilities, yet I have come to appreciate my pets. I have not bothered to name them as I can’t imagine a world in which they could learn those names.
Snuggling is less appealing in these warm months, but their entertainment value has soared. Every attempted movement resembles a practical joke as they teeter to and fro with wild abandon, occasionally face planting when their huge heads become too heavy and overbalanced them. They haven’t figured out how to eat berries. They open up their mouths too wide and ingest significant amounts of foliage as well. Who knew this would turn into so much fun?
Two years have passed now, and I can no longer even dream of devouring my boys. You cannot imagine my surprise when they named each other a year or so ago, Romulus and Remus. I have no idea where they got those ridiculous names, but it just adds to their fun factor. After a lull, the screeching has returned, but now it seemed joyful instead of like an assault. I guess that’s what love does, make one slightly more willing to be audibly abused.
I’m glad I’m single, but I’m also glad I share my den with my wonderful pets. It’s funny how they just grow into members of the household. My own pups, born two months or so ago, have surpassed these two in every way, yet the eight of them love frolicking and pile snuggling. I have to admit that I like it too.
It’s been eight years since I took in the twins. Well, they were slow starters, but they really have taken off. Not only do they know their names, they name everything they see shortly before trying to catalog it. They have learned to talk, and not just learn to talk, you can’t stop them from talking. They are strong and healthy. Sometimes I think that’s a shame that their parents didn’t stick with them long enough to realize there was hope. It’s amazing that I did. I guess we’re just lucky that I lost that litter of pups. Otherwise I would have just eaten them the day I found them.
I never imagined how much love pets can give. They stroke me and snuggle me and love the way their bellies feel when they make that strange broken screeching sound they liked so much. It usually happens right after something ridiculous. Sometimes I find myself imitating it too, just to bond. It’s good to join in. They’ve become my pack.
My boys left me six months ago. A man was wandering through the woods and came upon them. I called them into the cave, but they did not come. He gave them strange things and they ate them. They seemed happy. He lured them away with his savage treats. I followed from a safe distance hiding among the trees. I could tell that he was also strange. He lives with sheep.
I waited outside his strange den for two days before I saw my boys. They came out with odd things all over their bodies and holding sticks. They stood near the sheep, but I ran toward them. The man saw and charged at me. I took off back into the woods.
I waited until the next day. Romulus gave me some of his food, then he called to Remus and we snuggled for a few minutes. When the man came out, they pretended to chase me back into the words.
We always spend some time playing together. Now I visit them every few days. They are not morons anymore. I miss them so much. I run up and they chase me, yelling my name. If their real mother knew what they’d grow into, she probably wouldn’t have abandoned them. Lucky for me, she didn’t.
Betsy: I was wondering if it was going to be Romulus and Remus!
Gabriela: I’m so happy you did that, because it’s just perfect. if we’re talking about the wolf mother, we have to talk about them. So that was beautifully done and just delightful and so heartfelt.
Sea: I enjoyed doing it, and it was really shocking to me how sad I got when they left, just reading it. I was really surprised.
Gabriela: It made me sad too. It had made me sad that they had to pretend that they were no longer a family.
Betsy: But I found myself happy that they were willing to pretend in such a way. That they could continue having connection with her too. So they’re very smart little wolflings. What was it like to be with her?
Sea: She was very fun.
Gabriela: We had suckling, we had suckling and feeding in our wolf stories. So here we are overlapping again.
Wolf teats. Well, and it’s, you know, it’s the mother’s milk. It’s almost beyond the wolf. It’s the nourishment of the mother. It’s like moon milk. And that instinct to protect those, even if they are not of our own, because they are unable to care for themselves.
Betsy: Yeah. And I also liked her “and.. We’ll see how this goes… This is enjoyable. I’ll do it again.
Gabriela: True. That’s true. That’s very clearly in the story and I, and I, I, I just dismissed it as, Oh, she would never do that. No, she might’ve, but she didn’t. She didn’t. It was not in the stars.
Betsy: Really it took some time for her to see them as part of her pack.
Sea: Yes. Yeah, mostly I think at the beginning she saw them as a warm, fuzzy breast pump
Betsy: And pets. Her own pets.
Gabriela: Well, it seems like she really thought that through the end and probably always will.
Betsy: And for listeners who aren’t maybe sure about who Romulus and Remus are, it means that this Wolf mother was the mother of the Roman empire. So that’s a wolf mother with a long legacy.
Gabriela: And a lot of power. I really loved the story, Sea. Thank you so much.
Sea: Thank you. I’d liked our divergence.
Betsy: I think I would just like to end by saying that, from not being sure what it was going to be like to meet the wolf mother, I’m glad I’ve met all these three versions of her. And I hope that the listeners have a chance to meet their own wolf mothers on a cold night, and to think about it during January, during the month that hosts the wolf moon. A good month for howling.
Gabriela: Wolf moon blessings.
Betsy: Thank you for listening.
Sea: And special thanks to the fantastic Zoe Magik for her phenomenal editing skills.