Art & Poetry

Dance of Baubo  

Original painting by
J.G. Bertrand

Poetry by
Becca Tzigany


by Becca Tzigany

Come gather ‘round, Sisters

I’ve something to say

No more biting my tongue

No more cause for delay.

For eons and eons

We’ve been stirring the stew

And cleaning up messes

When everyone was through

Are we dumb as a dishrag?

Is that what they thought?

Well, who changed their diapers

And scrubbed off their snot?

Now these overgrown children

In their contest of pissing

Hoard all their marbles

While we’re just subsisting.

Throwing lines on a round world

Dividing it to the last nth

Spreading rods, sticks, and missiles

And sharpening their flints

They’ve used up their sandbox

It is time to come home

We can unruffle them

And soothe their cockscomb

Give them a chance to recall

That they came through the Mother

So together we can straighten out

Their warmongering clutter

We have a secret weapon

For the planetary agenda:

Let’s lift up our skirts

And celebrate our pudenda!

Let the heart beat the rhythm

To swivel our hips

And hear the womb wisdom

That comes through our lips

Shimmy like an earthquake

Squat like a toad

Croon the inner ardor

‘Till we’re oo’ed, ah’ed, and oh’ed!

From the juice of our yonis

And the sweat off our tits

Flows a salve of creation

That can heal the Earth’s splits

Since the music is rising

 – This is our chance –

Our bodies are channeling

Baubo’s (w)hoary dance.

Artists’ Notes


Photo: Bertrand

James:   Because of our move to Europe, I hadn’t painted in a year.  So this was going to be a practice piece.  The original photo shows Becca actually lying down on a bed;  it was beautiful, but not a piece for the book.  Right!  It just so happened I was contemplating yoniwisdom and humor while reading The Metamorphosis of Baubo by Winifred Milius Lubell at the time.  With a little change here and there on the original image (putting her skirt in her hand, making her appear to be moving), themes merged, and voilà!

This turned into one of the favorite images of our audiences, and we hear that many a print of it hang in people’s bedrooms.

Becca: Rarely in these works do I accentuate how Man in his supremacy has “screwed up the world”, but Dance of Baubo gave me the opportunity to expound upon it in the only way that makes sense at this stage of the game: with humor. The poem presumes a setting of a coffee klatch gone raunchy, where women speak to women from their minds, hearts, and vulvas. Instead of a stag party lubricated by alcohol, this women’s council is loosened by bawdy words and belly laughs, so that they jump up on the table and dance their declarations. “Dice entre las piernas” is an old saying (“She speaks from between her legs”) that Clarissa Pinkola Estés invokes in Women Who Run With the Wolves to introduce her re-telling of the Baubo myth. Winifred Milius Lubell, in her book The Metamorphosis of Baubo, says that Baubo’s power “was that of her body”. Her laughter was used “in sacred and joyful ritual to ease a stressful situation, to set painful matters in perspective, and to restore balance.” My poem looks at the tragedy of our modern world in just this light.

Her stern yet humorous detachment from the worldly disaster bespeaks the wisdom of a grandmother. She loves her grandchildren yet knows the importance of setting boundaries and upholding certain moral standards. Baubo is a crone, a wise old woman, who has earned the right not only to criticize the human situation, but to see to it that justice and harmony prevail.

The poem lends itself to be sung, with the listeners stamping out the dactylic meter with their feet.  The voice of the dancer speaks for every patient mother who has dealt with “stirring” the cooking pot, changing “diapers”, cleaning with “dishrags”, and comforting her “snot”-nosed kids.  The time has come, the Universal Mother proclaims, for bratty boys to stop wrecking the Earth.  The return of feminine wisdom directed toward universal care, can aright the disequilibrium of our society.  Women respond by reviving the “hoary” (ancient) / “whorey” (promiscuous) dance of Baubo.


Excerpted from The Pillow Book of Venus and Her Lover – Reinventing the Mythby Becca Tzigany and James Bertrand
© 2004 Copyrighted material

Mythology Notes


(Iambe, Bau)Greek

Demeter (Ceres), Earth Goddess of Grain and the Harvest, has one child, a daughter named Persephone (Proserpine). One day while gathering flowers, Persephone is abducted by the God of the Underworld, Hades (Pluto), and carried below the earth to be his bride. Zeus (Jupiter) had given his tacit consent to their union. Upon discovering her absence, Demeter searches and searches for her beloved daughter, without success. Hecate (Goddess of Death and the Moon) and Helios (the Sun) reveal the abduction. Angry and distraught, Demeter neglects mortals, whose fields wither and yield no harvests.

In her wanderings, the pall of grief disguising her goddess nature, Demeter comes to Eleusis, where she sits down to rest at the well. There an old nurse, Baubo, approaches her. Entering into a woman-to-woman conversation with the sad newcomer, the old lady cracks jokes and begins to dance. Gradually Demeter raises her eyes to see that this is no ordinary dance, for Baubo is flashing her skirt, revealing her nakedness. And most amazing of all, her yoni seems to be communicating through the dance! What with her frolicking and obscene gestures, Baubo causes the great Goddess to smile, chuckle, and then have a wholehearted laugh. Feeling caught up in one big feminine inside joke, Demeter laughs until she cries.

This fresh perspective sets Demeter on the road to restoring her grace to agriculture, discovering the whereabouts of her daughter, and making a deal to have Persephone dwell on Earth two thirds of the year.  The time of Persephone’s absence, as well as Demeter’s mourning, was an ancient explanation for winter.

( (( )) )

It is recorded that mystical ritual and trance dance were celebrated every year at Demeter’s temple at Eleusis. Through the themes of grain and the Earth’s fertility, initiates purportedly learned the secrets of life and death. Details of these Baubo-style dances and initiation ceremonies are scant, as participants upheld a code of secrecy. The Eleusinian Mysteries remain, to this day, a mystery.

Although the story of Baubo comes to us from ancient Greece, the skirt-raising gesture of Baubo has been found in many ancient cultures (such as the Sumerian Goddess Bau) all the way back to Paleolithic times. Sheilah-na-gig is a female figure carved in stone, shown in a squatting position, knees apart, with her hands either indicating her vulva or parting the labia. Oddly enough, these stylized though graphic carvings were found primarily in Irish churches dating from the 12th-16th centuries. Most of the Sheilas were defaced or destroyed during the Victorian Era.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, in her best-selling book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, brought the Baubo myth to a modern audience with her re-telling of it. Pinkola Estés states:

It became clear to me that the importance of these old Goddesses of obscenity was in their ability to loosen what was too tight, to lift gloom, to bring the body into a kind of humor that belongs not to the intellect but to the body itself, to keep these passages clear.

        [Women Who Run with the Wolves, p. 336]


§§ To read another example of the mythological motif of the Wise Woman who dances, lifting her skirts, see also:  AMATERATSU


Appears in: Dance of Baubo




Excerpted from The Pillow Book of Venus and Her Lover – Reinventing the Mythby Becca Tzigany and James Bertrand
© 2004 Copyrighted material

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