• Sorting and Sifting: The Apothecary of the Heart
  • AlchemyApothecaryBaba YagaFairytalesFolkloreHerbal MedicineHerbalismJounralVasalisa the Wise

Sorting and Sifting: The Apothecary of the Heart

In the story of Vasalissa the Wise, as told by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, the fierce hag Baba Yaga gives Vasilissa the impossible task of separating mildewed corn from the good corn; and sifting the dirt out of poppy-seeds. To her assistance, a pair of invisible hands come to her help, as well as her own intuition - the doll given to her by her dying mother.

Estés' interpretation of this part of the story truly resonates with me at the moment. Not only because this time of year (fall) is a time for sorting, sifting and preparing for the long winter. But mostly because the symbolism and meaning of these particular tasks: Estés reminds us the medicinal properties of mildewed corn, fermented to form ethanol (grain alcohol). Corn-smut is a hallucinogenic, also true for poppy seeds. The medicinal properties alludes to the woman-healer role of foraging, collecting, sorting and preparing herbal remedies.

"This is one of the loveliest phrasings in the story. The fresh corn, mildewed corn, poppyseed, and dirt are all remnants of an ancient healing apothecary. These substances are used as balms, salves, infusions, and poultices to hold other medicines on the body. As metaphor, they are also medicines for the mind; some nourish, other put to rest, some cause languor, others, stimulation. They are facets of the Life/Death/Life cycles" (Clarissa Pinkola Estés, "Women Who Run With The Wolves", p. 96).
In this apothecary of the heart, we gravitate towards our soul's remedy. Find the correct medicine - literally self-regulating our emotional state; or figuratively speaking in our spiritual path of healing:
"Baba Yaga is not only asking Vasalisa to separate this from that, to determine the difference between things of like kind - such as real love from false love, or nourishing life from spoiled life - but she is also asking her to distinguish one medicine from another".
(Clarissa Pinkola Estés, "Women Who Run With The Wolves", p. 96).

Like an artist or a healer, a large part of a perfumer's work is hidden from your eyes. Much of the creative process, as well as the physical aspects of producing perfume is pure alchemy. Some of the process is so subtle it is at times hidden from me, unaware I'm undergoing a process until I've arrived at the "other side" of the tunnel I've been crawling through and struggling with for months. As I reach the end of that tunnel, I'm re-born - not a newborn, obviously; but a new person in many regards. 

The seemingly aimless search for meaning turns out to be another jar of medicine in my heart's apothecary. As I distill, extract and concoct the stories of my own internal process - it's own remedy is prepared and recorded in the lab's ledger. As I do so, wounds close and heal, maladies melt away, becoming nostalgic chapters in a book that I'll never finish writing.
  • AlchemyApothecaryBaba YagaFairytalesFolkloreHerbal MedicineHerbalismJounralVasalisa the Wise
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