Facing the Baba Yaga

Once upon a time, a beautiful young maiden named Vasilisa was sent by her wicked step-mother into the dark forest to borrow fire from the witch, Baba Yaga. The step-mother knew that most who entered the witch’s hut never returned. Knowing this too, the girl steeled herself, and obediently set about her task, knowing that she might well not survive. But sometimes the dark forest yields the unexpected...
 

While the witch does demand Vasilisa stay as her servant to pay for the fire, she neither kills nor eats her. Rather because of her cleverness and bravery, Vasilisa’s time with the crone changes her life beyond her wildest dreams bringing into it magic, riches and happiness she never dared imagine possible. And do you know why she was able to do this? It was because that magic doll she possesses teaches her to trust her own wisdom and intuition. This same magic resides inside all of us. It's just that we sometimes forget to listen. Lucky for us, there are stories and tools like meditation and journey work to remind and help us cultivate that gift.

You know, one of the things that I love about fairy tales is that these stories connect us to the ancestors and the breath of the eternal. It is always amazing to me to think that these stories survived by being passed down through generation upon generation through the oral storytelling tradition.

Some of the tales we work with in my programs have roots as far back as the Bronze Age and archetypes that hearken back to ancient goddesses. And Baba Yaga is no exception. In fact, she is has roots going back to pre-Christian times and, like other witch figures in these stories, is a proxy for our fears and blocks. If we can overcome them, the rewards are huge, just as they were for Vasilisa.

Stories like that of Vasilisa and Baba Yaga teach us to overcome our fears. Our stories are a way of explaining the world and fairy tales teach us that we can face the witches and big bad wolves that live in the dark forest of the subconscious and we can emerge victorious. And these stories are OLD. They are containers for teaching lessons and knowledge about our world, the world of spirit and the nature of life itself. And that is why they are such powerful healers.

You can listen to a beautiful retelling of Vasilisa and Baba Yaga here

Saving Ourselves

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On the surface, fairy tales don’t always look very feminist. Many of the most famous ones boast happy endings that come about only when the princess is saved by a prince. But we have to remember that these stories are a product of a different time when the options for women were a lot more limited than they are today. In that spirit, I think it is useful to look at their endings not so much as a validation that happiness only comes through someone else saving us, but as a metaphor for finding our happiness, whatever that means to us. Because the truth is that no matter how beautiful true love is, no matter how handsome the prince, no one else can complete or save us. It is our job to save ourselves and to create our own happiness.

Stories are powerful and one of the reasons I started the Into the Wild Woods and its programs was to create a support system that uses them as containers for feminine wisdom that empower women to create meaningful, fulfilling lives that they love. We do this through knowing ourselves through finding the confidence to show up in the world as we are. And that takes a lot of courage. But you know what? It’s worth it.

When we are happy and fulfilled, that joy ripples out into creating more kindness in the world. Maybe it sounds idealistic, maybe it sounds naive, but when I look around at some of the things going on in the world, I think we all could use a little more kindness, a little more understanding, a little more light.  

I want to live in a world where we lift each other up, a world where there is enough room for everyone. Because the truth is that there is enough for everyone. I am tired of operating out of a paradigm of lack, where we all have to race and push each other out of the way to grab the prize. I am tired of competition. I am tired of ladders. I want to create circles - loving, nurturing, empowering circles. And if we can use that empowerment to heal our voices and show up in the world as our truest and best selves, imagine the difference we can make! Are you with me?

Scheherezade, the Power of Story & the Creative Mind

Do you know the tale of Scheherezade, the famous queen and storyteller o fOne Thousand and One Nights? The thing that I love about her is that unlike so many fairy tale heroines she is as brilliant as she is beautiful.

As the story goes, the king Shahryar’s wife was unfaithful to him. Upon learning of her infidelity Shahryar is so upset that he vows never to be betrayed again and marries a new bride each day and killing her the next, so she never has the chance. At his command this horrible fate befalls a thousand women...but not Scheherezade.

You see, Scheherezade convinces the king to allow her to say goodbye to her sister, whom she has secretly told beforehand to request she tell a story.Scheherezade begins to weave riveting a tale for her sister and the king, who listens with rapt attention. He is so disappointed when it remains unfinished as the dawn breaks that he spares Scheherezade, so she can finish the story the next night.  
 
The next evening, she finishes it and begins an even more fantastic tale only to leave it unfinished as the dawn breaks. Again, the king spares her, so she can finish the story the next night. This continues for 1001 nights and 1000 stories and the king realizes he has fallen in love with Scheherezade and makes her his queen. And talk about the power of story!

Telling her stories literally saves Scheherezade’s life.

And what a beautiful metaphor that is for creating, sharing our stories and expressing ourselves. When our voices are silenced, a part of us slowly dies. For those of us who write or paint or dance or sing or create heart-led businesses and other beautiful things, expressing that creativity is a kind of lifeline. Even if we don’t think of ourselves as creative (and, believe me, we allare creative beings!), we all need some kind of outlet in our lives to express ourselves. But, even more importantly, as human beings we need to be heard. We are by nature expressive and we need creative play, but often we don’t gives ourselves the time to explore the right half of our brains.

And this is sad, because the truth is that beautiful things start to happenwhen we use our voices and when we give in to our creative impulses. Einstein described creativity as "seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought." And it's true. Using our creative mind shifts our perspective. Through creative endeavors, we often find ourselves processingideas and sometimes even deep feelings that have been with us for a long time in new ways and we start to flourish. And that's why storytelling is not just Scheherezade’s art, but her lifeline. Have you found yours?

Creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.

~ Ann Lamotte

Finding Purpose

Hold your hand over your heart for a moment. Do you feel it? It is a miracle, just like you are. THAT beating is the rhythm of your purpose. Your heartbeat is a reminder of the unique life, experiences and gifts that were given to you when you arrived on this earth. Think of the expressions we use: what makes your heart sing, the call of your heart, heart-centered, what makes your heart soar. We use these expressions, because following the song of our heart is as essential to our happiness and quality of life as our own magical heartbeat is to sustaining our physical life. And somewhere deep inside, you know this too.

For the past three months, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with a wonderful online community of women around reclaiming the purpose and joy in their lives in my Hänsel & Gretel program, then Overcoming Fear with Red Riding Hood, and, finally, Manifesting Magic with Cinderella. It has been such a rewarding experience to see these women go from feeling stuck and uninspired to gaining fresh clarity and, in some cases, even a new direction in life and relationships.

I will tell you from my experience in my own life and in working with private clients that the main reason most of us stay stuck is fear – fear that we are not enough, fear of the unknown, fear that we don’t deserve better, fear of failure, fear of disappointing the people in our lives. And I get it. I’ve been there. I stayed for so long in a job and a life that I'd outgrown, becasue I was afraid I would fail if I tried something else. But I’ve also been on the other side and I can tell you with a certainty that goes deep down into my bones that when you get past the fear, the world opens up and everything changes.

It saddens me when I see someone put away her dreams out of fear, because I know how how it feels. This is one of the reasons I am so drawn to doing the work that I do. I don't want other women to feel that way. I don't want YOU to feel that way. Part of the miracle of who we are is that we all have a unique voice and gifts that are meant to be shared. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we have a responsibility to share them, especially if doing so will enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. So, what are you going to do, miracle? Where can you reclaim a bit of your life's purpose? What sweet song is your heart singing to you?

Fairy Tale Self-Care

One of the great beauties of fairy tale is that while the dark forest sometimes feels scary and unfamiliar, no one ever dies there. It is a world where we can face our blocks and fears and come out the other side stronger and empowered with the knowledge that we are enough to overcome them.

And that is what I’ve been working on with a group of women for the past couple of weeks – clearing blocks in preparation for the work of manifesting some big goals and big dreams! You know, I really believe that we are here to heal ourselves and the world around us and that we are best equipped to do that when we ourselves are happy, healthy, fulfilled, and content.

I talk to so many women who act as a kind of mean step-sister toward their own internal Cinderella. They feel like they are being “selfish,” if they don’t put others first. And so, they put their own dreams on the back burner, always putting the needs of others before their own. Does this sound like you? I know that it has often been me.

But I’d like for you to think about something.

Have you ever noticed when you’re on an airplane how the emergency instructions always say to put on your own air mask before attending to anyone else? There’s a reason for this and it’s not that they are encouraging you to be selfish. The truth is that we cannot heal, be of service to or take care of others if we don’t first heal, serve and take care of ourselves. No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to get water from an empty well.

But moreover, it’s not selfish to want a piece of happiness, a piece of something good for yourself. It is okay to want to go to the ball too. Really, it is.

And, so, since tomorrow is the night of the new moon and new moons are the traditional time for setting intentions, I’d like for you to join me in setting the intention of sometime in the next month doing something that is gloriously, maybe even selfishly JUST FOR YOU.

Do it because you need to. Do it because you want to. Or do it for no reason other than that it would make you happy.

It's never too late

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Today I would like to tell you a different kind of story – a true story.

When I was 19 years old, I met the most wonderful women. Her name was Hilda and she was a first year German student at the community college where I worked part-time as a German tutor. While there is nothing so unusual about being a first year German student, Hilda was unusual, exceptional even.

You see, Hilda was almost 80 years old and as she came into my office hours for help with her homework, we became friends and I learned a little about her story. By the time I had met her, she had already lived a long and interesting life that included a real life fairy tale romance with her husband of almost 60 years.

From the stories Hilda told me, I could tell she had had a good life – she had traveled, she had explored exotic places and she had been lucky enough to do so with the love of her life. But then one day, her husband died and she was left alone. After losing him, it would have been easy for her to say “I am old and alone and there is nothing left for me,” but that is not what Hilda did. Instead, she took stock of her life and set out to do the one thing she had always wanted to do, but had never gotten around to. And so, in her late 70’s Hilda Kemp enrolled in college. When I met her, she was working on a degree in Mathematics.

Over twenty years later, I still think about Hilda Kemp sometimes, particularly when I am feeling “too old” or too paralyzed by fear to heed the call of my heart. Hilda taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned:

It is never too late to live your dream.

It was not too late for her and it’s not too late for you, so next time a dream comes up, entertain it. Follow Hilda’s example and see where it leads you.

Do you believe in fairies?

Do you remember that part of Peter Pan where Tinkerbell has been poisoned by Captain Hook and is dying? In the story, the only way for her to get well again, is for children all over the world to clap, if they believe in fairies. Peter cries out to all the children, dreaming in Neverland:

Do you believe?

And many of the children clap. Some don’t, but enough do and Tink is saved.

Our dreams are a lot like fairies. Some of us don’t listen to them. We ignore them, stop believing in them, and slowly a piece of our hearts withers and dies. As we grow older, we develop a lot of reasons for why we are too busy for them, why we don’t deserve to have them, why they are not possible, why we’re selfish for even wanting them. I know, I’ve done it myself.

For a long time, I wasn’t much of a clapper. I was working 60+ hour weeks, trying to take care of a household – my mom who has Alzheimer’s disease, my family, my little pack of stray dogs. I was exhausted as it was. I didn’t have time for clapping!

But here’s the thing:

You can’t get water from an empty well.

We need our dreams. We need fulfillment. We need happiness. It is only when we have those things that we can show up in the world as our best selves and do the work that we were put here to do. That might be raising strong, kind, healthy children. The might be being CEO of an innovative company. That might be nursing the sick or feeding the poor. That might be creating beauty in the world through our art.  It might be a job, it might be a few hours of your day or simply how you choose to live.

The truth is that it doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that it fills you up, that you have some corner of your busy life that fills you up.

The thing is that you have to believe.

You have to believe there is time for you too.

You have to believe you deserve it.

You have to believe you can do it.

You have to believe that you (yes YOU!) are entitled to happiness

So, what do you say? Are you going to be one of the ones who claps?

I hope so. You know you want to…

 “You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it is better to listen to what it has to say.”

Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist

Claiming Our Voices

Over the past months I have been blessed with the experience of working with many women to reclaim the sacred power of our true voices. I feel like it is an honor to be entrusted to hold that space and hear truths that have sometimes never been expressed outside of internal monologue. We work through some pretty heavy issues together and it's truly amazing to be a witness to that transformation. It always leaves me thinking about when I was younger and struggling to find my voice and my place.

Many years ago when I was a student, I was so shy that I barely spoke in class without prompting. You would never have believed back then that I would one day be leading groups through anything, let alone deep discussions about purpose and truth. I’d have ideas, and then when I went to raise my hand, my heart would start thumping and my throat would close up. Somehow, despite having had to meet the same requirements to get in as they did, I was convinced that my peers were all smarter, more insightful and more deserving of being there than I was. They all seemed so confident and I foolishly thought everyone but me had it all together. And that's a feeling that dogged me into adulthood.

But, boy, did I ever have it wrong! It took me a few decades to learn it, but one of the world’s best kept secrets is that everyone feels insecure sometimes. Everyone. Some are just better than hiding it than others. But I didn’t know that then and I was so afraid of not being enough that it often paralyzed me.
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Luckily, college me had a professor who would watch closely, then gleefully pounce saying things like, “Martina’s got an idea! I see it in her eyes!” The first few times he did this to me, I was so flustered that I think I must have looked like the love child of a beet and a deer caught in the headlights, but eventually, I started to speak up on my own. And you know what? No one thought I was stupid, didn’t deserve to be there or any of the other nonsense that I feared they would think. And you know what? I'd be willing to bet that other people aren't as hard on you as you are on yourself either.

As uncomfortable as his attention sometimes was at the time, I will be eternally grateful to that professor, because he took the time to see the depth beneath my youthful shyness and insecurity and it changed me. Sometimes we all just need a little encouragement to get the ball rolling. 

And that is the thing about using our voices and sharing our gifts - the more we do it, the easier it gets. Sometimes we just have to feel the fear and do it anyway. 

And here's why:

The truth is that we are all here for a reason. We ALL have unique perspectives, gifts and insights and you are no exception.

The world needs you (yes, YOU!) and it needs your voice, so please share it! Trust me, everything opens up when you do!

“Who the hell do you think you are?” your darkest interior voices will demand.
It’s funny you should ask,” you can reply. “I’ll tell you who I am: I am a child of God, just like anyone else. I am a constituent of the universe. I have invisible spirit benefactors who believe in me, and who labor alongside me. The fact that I am here at all is evidence that I have the right to be here. I have a right to my own voice and a right to my own vision.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

The Star Coins (or Claiming Our Gifts)

One of my favorite little known fairy tales is the very short German story, Die Sterntaler (The Star Coins). The story is about an orphaned girl, who has only the clothes on her back and a small crust of bread some kind soul had given her.

Thinking she has nothing, the girl sets out into the countryside to seek her fortune. On the way meets a hungry man to whom she gives her bread and three freezing children to whom she gives her cap, her jacket and her dress. After they walk away, she looks up at the heavens to see thousands of stars falling from the sky as they turn to glittering coins that land at her feet. As a reward for her kindness, she lives out her days in abundance and happiness.

As short and simple as it is, this story contains big lessons about many things, not least among them kindness and how we view abundance. But it also contains an important lesson about the gifts we have to give.  

As little as this girl had, she actually possessed some pretty significant gifts. She was kind. She was compassionate. It would have been easy for her to stay small and say, "I have nothing, what can I do?” but she was willing to share what gifts she had to help others. And even more than that, she made the world better by sharing them and you can do the same thing with your gifts.

Sometimes we wonder, “What could I possibly have to give?” But we ALL have gifts. Sometimes we have even more of them than we realize. And I’m not just talking about the clothes on our backs, but important gifts like our kindness, our compassion, our talents, our skills. So often these are the same things that make our hearts sing. And why wouldn’t you want to claim some of that joy for yourself?

The author Leo Buscalia once wrote: “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is God’s gift to the universe.”

So I ask you, what are your gifts and how can you share them? Are you a great organizer? A good listener? A mathematical genius? An amazing musician? Cook? Friend? Daughter? Mother? Whatever it is, the truth is that our gifts are meant to be shared and our world needs your light more than ever.

So, what are you waiting for?

How can you be of service? What gift are YOU going to share with the universe?

Say YES!

Do you remember your first school dance when you were a girl? Mine must have been in middle school and it was decidedly NOT magical. The day it was announced, we were all herded to the gym to learn a basic box step to practice in preparation for the gala event. Every kid there was nervous and awkward. The boys lingered on one side of the room, girls on the other side until the teacher forced us to pair up.

I remember nothing so much as being terrified that no one would ask me to dance. In fact, I was so terrified that when the real dance came I stayed home. The whole experience was an early introduction to the pressure society puts on us to couple up and the complicated relationships so many of us women have with dating, partnering and feeling desirable, but back then I still didn't know about all that. Looking back, I can't believe I created such pressure for myself around something that was supposed to be fun. 

It makes me think about all of the times we don’t do what we really want to, because we are afraid. And I'm not just talking about dancing and relationships, I’m talking about all the times we ignore the call of our hearts and deny ourselves the opportunity to follow our dreams, leave that job we hate or even start a new chapter in life. The reasons are endless. We don’t think it’s our place or we fear that are not good enough or that we won’t measure up to someone else. I know I have done this and I bet you have too.

But can you imagine what a completely sad and uncompelling story it would have been if Cinderella had turned away the magical gifts that guided her to her happily ever after by going back to her sweeping and saying, “I’m JUST a scullery maid. I don’t deserve to wear sparkly glass slippers or to go to a ball and dance with a prince?”

The truth is that she deserved to go, so do I and SO DO YOU! You deserve to wake up looking forward to the day and to feel excited about what's ahead.

So, here is my invitation to you: 

Say yes!

Pick that thing that lights your heart up and say yes!

Say yes to growth. Say yes to new experiences. Say yes to the magic of pumpkin coaches and sparkling glass slippers. Say yes to the dance.

Make this the year to be the belle of your own ball. And don't wait for some prince (or princess) to save you. YOU get to decide.

Say yes to you!

Making yes your inner mantra allows you to extend yes outside of yourself and attract more of yes into your own personal intending. Yes is the breath of Creation. Think of a drop of rain merging with a river at the moment it becomes the river. Think of the river merging with the ocean at the moment it becomes the ocean. You can almost hear the sound of yes being whispered in those moments.

~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

Welcome to the Wildwood!

Hello! And WELCOME to Into the Wild Woods of the Soul. I am Martina Rutledge and I create programs that use the deep wisdom and magic of fairy tale and folklore to illuminate a path for women who are seeking a sense of connection, passion and purpose in their lives. You can think of me as your fairy tale guide.

Although I studied fairy tales and a lot of women's studies when I was studying German Literature in graduate school, fairy tales have been in my life for as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl, my German Oma used to tell me the fairy tales her grandmother had told her when she was a child growing up in a small village in the Kingdom of West Prussia.

She’d beckon me to her lap, calling me Schneewittchen (Snow White) and weave magical tales of princesses, mermaids and witches without ever opening a book. And that was how I learned the stories and songs that were passed down to her from her mother and her mother before her. And so it was from the earliest age that I learned to loves these stories as little bits of magic filled with lessons and wild wood adventure. 

And because of the way I learned them orally, I really do think of them as being imbued with the breath and wisdom of a long line of female ancestors and that makes me approach them with a certain reverence. Our stories hold our history and bind us together. They tell us what it is to be human. It's why our ancient forebears created the stories we call "myth" to explain the world around them and it's even why we are so enamored with television and movies today. Stories are containers for encoding and passing wisdom and fairy tales are no exception.

And here is why I love working with them so much: fairy tales are soul stories. When they take us deep into the forest, they are not just taking us into the woods, but into liminal spaces and into the wild woods of the subconscious. As echoes of oral folkloric tradition, they hearken back to our past and contain universal archetypes and lessons that we can use as a lens for finding clarity and facilitating growth in our own lives, so we can show up in the world as our best selves. In working with fairy tales, we can learn about ourselves, confront and overcome our fears, illuminate our dreams and bring them into being!