Croatian language Baba means grandmother. My family is Croatian.
Hence....hahaha....here is the story of Baba Yaga.
Baba-Yaga and Vasilisa the Fair
It may seem strange that anyone would look for Baba Yaga or enter her hut. However, she is wise
and is all knowing, all seeing and tells the whole truth to those who are brave enough to ask.
She rules over the elements (fire, air, earth and water). Her faithful servants are the White
Horseman, the Red Horseman and the Black Horseman. She calls them, 'My Bright Dawn, my
Red Sun and my Dark Midnight' because they control daybreak, sunrise, and nightfall. Some of
her other servants are her soul friends (three bodiless pairs of hands, which suddenly appear to
carry out her wishes) and her herdsman, the sorcerer Koshchey the Deathless.
Often a hero or heroine enters her hut looking for wisdom, knowledge, truth or help, like Vasilisa.
Baba Yaga aids the heroes and heroines, by giving advice, finding weapons and making tasks
easier. Baba Yaga helps Vasilisa by giving her a light; because she faces her fear and listens to her
intuition (the doll), Vasilisa gets a better life.
The doll stands for both Vasilisa's intuition and her mother's blessing. It acts as a life guide as
Vasilisa grows from childhood to adulthood. Like many myths and folk tales, the story also has a
moral: if you are good and wise, listen to your elders and use your intuition, you will be rewarded
but if you are cruel and unkind, like the wicked stepmother and her daughters, you may be burnt
to a crisp.
Somewhere in the Eastern part of Europe, where it gets bitterly cold in winter, there is a dark
forest. If you are ever brave, foolish or ignorant enough to go wondering through that forest, there
is a good chance that you might come across a peculiar house. It’s a wooden hut, but it’s like no
other that you have ever seen, for it stands on giant chicken legs – and quite often it walks about,
just like a monstrous farm-yard bird. This hut is the home of Baba Yaga. I don’t advise that you
knock on the door of Baba Yaga’s hut, no matter how much you have lost your way through the
forest. For Baba Yaga is a witch.
On the edge of Baba Yaga’s forest, there is a little village, and everyone who lives there knows
about the strange hut and the lady who lives inside it. They know her, and they fear her, for it has
long been rumored that she likes to eat children.
A long time ago, a man lived in this village with his beautiful daughter, who was called Vasilisa.
The girl’s mother had sadly died some years before the start of this story. But before she died, she
gave Vasilisa a wonderful gift. It was a little rag doll that did not look so different from any other.
The girl’s mother told Vasilisa that she should take special care of the doll. Every night she must
feed it a little milk and a little biscuit, and so long as she did so, the doll would always be ready to
help her – no matter how much trouble she found herself in. Vasilisa did just as her mother bid
her. And every night the little rag doll sat up and drank a little milk, and ate a little biscuit before
smiling at Vasilissa and then going back to sleep.
As time went by, the girl’s father decided to marry again. His second wife had two daughters of
her own, neither of whom could touch Vasilisa for beauty or sweetness of character. In fact, they
were jealous of Vasilissa and they hated her terribly. So long as Vasilisa’s father remained at
home, the stepmother and step-sisters had to pretend that they liked her, but every now and then
one of the sisters would whisper in Vasilisa’s ear:
“Just you wait until your dear papa leaves us alone with you. Then you’ll see !”
When Vasilisa had recently passed her sixteenth birthday, her father said that he had to go away
on a journey that would last at least a month. Vasilisa begged him to take her with him, but he just
laughed and said he was traveling on business, and the girl would find the journey tiresome and
The first night after the father had left, the step-mother gathered the three girls together in the
parlor and spoke like this:
“Now my dears, I have a little task for each of you. Tanya” – that was the oldest – "go in my room
please my dear and sew a button on my red dress. Katya ” – that was the youngest – "go to the
kitchen table and roll some pastry so that it’s nice and flat. And Vasilisa dear, go to Baba Yaga’s
hut in the forest and ask her to lend us some lights. Now run along sweetheart. Don’t waste any
time. We don’t want you to get caught in the dark now do we.”
The stepmother shooed Vasilisa out of the house so fast that she had hardly time to put on her
hat and gloves. She walked forlornly to the corner of the street and took the little doll out of her
coat pocket where it had been sleeping.
“Oh Little doll,” she said. “My mother told me that if I fed and looked after you, you would be
ready to help me if I was ever in trouble. Well I have fed and looked after you. And now I’m in
terrible trouble. I must go to Baba Yaga. And every one knows that she is a dreadfully wicked
witch. So please tell me – what am I to do?”
And the little doll looked up at Vasilisa and said:
“Be as brave as you are beautiful. Go to Baba Yaga’s hut and no harm will come to you.”
And so Vasilisa mustered all her courage and walked down the path that led through the woods to
the hut of Baba Yaga.
After a while, the young girl heard the sound of galloping hooves coming up behind her, and she
stepped off the road to let a horse ridden by a rider in a blazing red cloak shoot past her.
“I wonder who that was?” thought Vasilisa before setting off on a her way once more.
A little further on, she once again heard the sound of galloping hooves, and this time a rider in a
cloak of dazzling white sped past her and down the road that led to Baba Yaga’s hut.
And some time later, a third horse shot by. Its rider wore a cloak that was as black as night.
After about an hour of walking Vasilisa came to a clearing on the forest. Although it was now
getting quite dark, she had no trouble seeing, for this neck of the woods was lit by skulls with
The skulls were mounted on top of a high fence. And beyond the fence, she saw the strange hut
that stood on chicken legs. It turned round to face her, and it seemed to Vasilisa that the hut was
looking at her.
Then the chicken legs began to kneel and the hut lowered to the ground. The door creaked open.
Baba Yaga’s nose was so long and bony that it appeared through the door before the rest of her. A
moment or two later the nose was followed by a tall skinny old woman holding a broom stick.
Vasilissa was so frightened that her legs would not obey her when she told them to run. The old
lady came towards her – but she did not walk – her feet flew just a few inches above the ground.
“Well child,” she said,”Did the cat get your tongue? Or are you just badly brought-up? Speak
Child ! Spit out your name and your business here ! I haven’t got all night to hover around while you
tremble and gibber like an idiot !”
For a few moments Vasilisa’s lips quivered so much that no proper words would come out of her
mouth, just a kind of “ah, ah ah,” but she then remembered the doll’s words that no harm would
come to her, and eventually she found courage to speak clearly.
“Good Ma’am,” she said. “It is only me, little Vasilisa. My step-mother sent me to the forest to
borrow a light from Baba Yaga.”
“Did she now?” said Baba Yaga thoughtfully. “Well I am Baba Yaga, but you may call me
Vasilisa brightened a little at this, for Babushka is a kindly name that means “Grandma”. Baba
Yaga went on:
“Now come with me into my hut. I will give you some simple tasks to do. If you are not lazy and
you complete your work like a good girl, then I will give you the light that you ask for and let you
go free. But if you do not manage these simple tasks then I shall cook you in my oven and eat you
for my dinner ! Ha Ha Ha ! How do you like that for an offer?”
To tell you the truth, Vasilisa did not like it at all, but she had faith that all would be well, that
she would complete the tasks, and return with the light, and so she curtsied and said:
“I like it well, dear Babushka”, and she followed the old lady as she floated back to the door of her
hut and called out: “Locks ! Unlock!”
The doors creaked open, and then shut again behind Vasilisa as she stepped inside. The hut was
surprisingly roomy, but a large part of it was taken up by a huge oven. Then Vasilisa had to hold
in a scream, because the house started to rise up on its chicken legs and move about. She realised
that there would be no escape unless Baba Yaga let her go.
The witch sat down at the table and gestured to the larder. “Fetch me my supper, dear,” she said.
“Yes, Babushka,” replied Vasilisa, and she brought over some bread and cheese for the old lady.
“Ah well,” said Baba Yaga, “Soon I shall be enjoying a nice plate of roast meat, thinly sliced and
pink in the middle.” and with those words she pinched Vasilisa’s arm.
“Now tomorrow my dear, you must complete my little task. When I am away from the hut, you
must tidy the yard, clean the hut, and cook pumpkin soup for my supper. Can you manage that?”
“Why yes, Babushka, I can.” said Vasilisa, who was relieved that the task did not sound by any
means beyond her ability.
“That is good,” said Baba Yaga, “And when you have finished doing that you can sort all the black and white peas.
Baba Yaga ate her bread and cheese and drank a tankard of frothy brown ale before falling asleep
on top of a thick fur which was strewn above the stove, the warmest place in the hut.
The hut continued to move around and Vasilisa felt queasy. She certainly had no appetite herself,
but before she lay down for the night, she did not forget to feed her doll a few crumbs of bread and
some drops of milk. When the rag doll had finished her supper, Vasilisa asked her:
“Oh dear what have I to do? How shall I ever get out of here?”
And the doll replied. “Have courage and keep faith and all will be well, for Baba Yaga is unable to
tell a lie and she is bound to keep her promise.”
The next morning, Baba Yaga arose from her bed on top of the stove, and drank another tankard of
ale before flying up the chimney and onto the roof. Vasilisa looked out of the window and saw the
witch flying away above the trees, but this time she was riding what looked like a giant
mortar. A mortar, by the way, is like a strong wooden bowl, and you can use it for cooking. You
put some herbs or spices in there and crush and grind them with a stick called a pestle. This is
what the witch was flying in – only it was much bigger than a usual mortar. And a giant pestle
was what the old lady was holding in her hand, and using as a rudder to guide her flight.
Vasilisa gazed at the witch until she was out of sight, and then she started to clean and to cook. She
managed to get everything spic an' span, and get the soup on the cooker by mid day, but now she
faced an impossible task. How could she possibly pick the black peas out of a sack of white ones?
Why, there must have been thousands, if not millions of peas in the sack!
She heard a noise outside the hut.
“Oh, Baba Yaga must be back early. Now I’m done for!” she exclaimed – but when she looked out
of the window she saw not Baba Yaga, but the white horseman who had over taken her on her way
to the hut. He galloped round the fence of the compound and then was off again into the woods.
Vasilisa sighed and wished that he would only come and rescue her, whoever he might be. Then
when she turned round from the window she saw that all the peas had been sorted into two piles –
one black and one white. Her task was done.
That evening, after Baba Yaga flew back home from whatever business she had been on, the old
witch could not hide her surprise at all that her guest had managed to achieve in one day.
“I see that you are a good little worker my dear,” she said. “Well in that case, tomorrow you can
make pea soup and fetch water from the stream to fill up the tank. Here, use this bucket”
But what she handed to Vasilisa was not a bucket, but a sieve, and the poor girl wondered how she
would ever manage to use it to fetch water. Still that night, when the little rag doll urged her not
to feel despair, she knew in her heart that something wonderful might happen to help her.
And it did. For as she stood by the stream holding the sieve in her hand, the red horseman rode by,
took it from her and swept over to the hut where he hurled it through the open window.
When Vasilisa returned she found that the tank was filled with fresh water.
That evening Baba Yaga dipped her bony finger in the tank, and tasted a drop of the fresh water.
“Indeed you are a hard working girl. Let’s see if you are clever too. Tonight you can stay up and
count the number of stars in the sky. If you tell me the right number in the morning, you can take
your light and go free, but if your answer is wrong, even if you tell me one star too many or too
few, then I shall have you for my breakfast.”
That night Vasilisa gazed out of the window at the sky and tried to count the stars – 1,2,3,4,5.. but
by the time she reached 100 stars she was no longer sure whether or not she was counting the
same ones again, and she had to start all over again. It did not help that the hut kept moving
around so that the view kept on changing.
Eventually, Vasilisa began to sob quietly. She took out her doll and said: “Oh dear little doll, who
will come to the aid of poor little Vasilisa this time? I cannot guess the number of stars in the sky,
and in the morning the witch shall surely eat me.”
“Do not worry said the doll. Have courage, and keep faith, and all will be well.”
And it was. For at the mid night hour, the black horseman came riding up to the window where
Vasilisa was sitting and he whispered a number to her as if in a dream. It was a very big number, but
I cannot tell you what it was, for it is a secret. But it was the exact number of stars in the sky that
he told her, and in the morning, when Baba Yaga stepped with her bony legs onto the floor,
“Good morning Babushka, shall I tell you the number of stars now?”
And Baba Yaga yawned and said:
“Go on child. Tell me. But you had better not be wrong, for if you are, I shall eat you.”
And Vasilisa told the number to Baba Yaga. And Baba Yaga let out a terrible cry like
And her eyes blazed like those of the skulls on the fence surrounding her hut.
“Who told you that?” she demanded so fiercely that Vasilisa shrank back. Baba Yaga picked up a
plate and threw it across the room so that it smashed against the wall. Then she picked up a knife
and Vasillisa was sure she meant to kill her:
“But Babushka,” she said, “You promised that if I told you the number correctly I could take a
light and go free.”
And then Baba Yaga froze for a moment, and the fierce glare of her eyes lessened somewhat.
“Ah yes,” she said more calmly “So I did. And I suppose it was morning and day that helped you
with the other tasks I set you?”
And Vasilisa nodded, for she now understood that the three horsemen were morning day and
“Then you are a good girl,” said Baba Yaga, “For if Morning Day and Night chose to help you,
that means that your spirit is in harmony with the universe. I will do you no harm. Wait here
while I go on my business. I have no tasks for you today. And tonight you shall return home with a
And that evening, after Baba Yaga flew home on her mortar, she took Vasilisa out into the
courtyard and gave her one of the skulls with blazing eyes.
“Take this,” she said, “And it will light up your step-mother and your two step-sisters very well.”
Vasilisa took the skull and returned back down the path to her village. She expected that her
step-mother would have found a light by now, but in fact the house was not lit. Instead her
relatives were sitting in complete darkness.
She stepped into the house. The skull lit up the inside as bright as day.
“I’m home,” called out Vasilissa.
But she received no reply, for as soon as the light fell on her step-mother and sisters, they turned
And Vasilisa went to live with a kindly old lady in the village until her father returned from his
business. When he came back, he thought that his wife and step-daughters must have run away.
He did not miss them much. He lived happily with his beautiful daughter, Vasilisa, until one day a
prince came riding by and caught sight of her. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen,
and he had no hesitation in asking her to marry him, which she did, and they lived happily ever
Of Russian origin: Baba Yaga
Russian Fairy Tales: Baba Yaga's Domain by Helen Pilinovsky
One of the most well known figures from Russian folklore, Baba Yaga's name can be roughly
translated as "Granny Yaga." In Russian Myths, Elizabeth Warner notes that Baba Yaga brings
many of the dominant themes of Russian fairy tales together: she travels on the wind, occupies the
domain of the leshii, the forest spirits, is associated with death, and is an acceptable surrogate for
the generic ved'ma, or witch. Also known as "Baba Yaga Kostinaya Noga," or "Baba Yaga Bony
Leg" she possesses gnashing steel teeth, and penetrating eyes, and, in short, is quite enough to
intimidate even the most courageous (or foolhardy, depending on the tale) hero or heroine.
Like the witches of other cultures, her preferred method of transportation is an implement commonly
used for household labor, though unlike the witches of the West, rather than traveling upon a
broom, she chooses to ride in a mortar, rowing with a pestle, and using a broom to sweep away
the tracks that she leaves. Her home is a mobile hut perched upon chicken legs, which folklorist
Vladimir Propp hypothesized might be related to the zoomorphic izbushkii, or initiation huts,
where neophytes were symbolically "consumed" by the monster, only to emerge later as adults.
In his book "An Introduction to the Russian Folktale," Jack Haney points out that Baba Yaga's hut
"has much in common with the village bathhouse … the place where many ritual ceremonies
occurred, including the initiatory rituals." This corresponds to the role that her domicile plays in
the fairy tales of Russia: though the nature of the initiation differs from story to story, dependent
upon the circumstances of the protagonist, Baba Yaga's presence invariably serves as a signifier of
change. Baba Yaga's domain is the forest, widely acknowledged as a traditional symbol of change
and a place of peril, where she acts as either a challenger or a helper to those innocents who
venture into her realm. In Western tales, these two roles are typically polarized, split into
different characters stereotyped as either "witch" or "fairy godmother." Baba Yaga, however, is a
complex individual: depending on the circumstances of the specific story, she may choose to use
her powers for good or ill.
One of the aspects of Baba Yaga that makes her fairly threatening even when she plays the helper
role is that, like the witch of "Hansel and Gretel," her culinary habits leave something to be
desired. She is a cannibal: children who fail to observe proper etiquette in her home find
themselves serving as examples to the audience, and served to the witch as meals. Theorists
connect these tales to a Russian ritual of healing referred to as perepekanie (rebaking) in which
newly born or ill children were placed in a warm oven with the incantation: "Just as the dough
rises, so let the body of this child rise, too." Jack Haney notes that this "rite finds its analogue in
those tales in which a witch, the Baba Yaga, captures a small boy, Ivanushka, and prepares to eat
him… She tells him to lie down on the oven panel. He lies down, hands and feet straight up, and
therefore does not fit into the oven. He asks her to show him how to lie on the oven panel
correctly. She lies down, and he pops her into the oven and roasts her."
Haney's use of "the" in reference to Baba Yaga indicates her definitive positioning in the hierarchy
of Russian myth. Unlike other villains, who may be defeated once, never to be heard from again,
Baba Yaga is not permanently conquerable, for Baba Yaga is far more than just another witch. In
such stories, typically, the protagonists fall into Baba Yaga's hands by breaking some rule of the
forest, or abusing her hospitality, and are assisted or advised by woodland creatures whom they
have met and befriended along the way. Vladimir Propp compared Baba Yaga's role as mistress of
the forest and its denizens to a parallel figure from the Indic Rig Veda: "it is likely that Baba Yaga
is an amalgam of numerous archetypes, incorporating elements of rulers of the forest and
underworld mistresses into a single entity." Scholars of Slavic mythology have also linked her to the
ancient Indo-European goddess of death. The forest of Baba Yaga symbolizes more than the forest;
it is also the otherworld, the "land of the living dead," also known as "the thrice-nine kingdom."
The land of "the truly dead," also known as the "thrice-ten kingdom," is separate from her realm.
Frequently, the boundary between the two lands is symbolized by a river of fire which she cannot
cross — though the hero or heroine often must — and in those cases, Baba Yaga traverses the
same bridge as the hero or heroine, only to have it break: she hurtles, not to her death, because she
appears in other stories, but certainly out of the present story. When she does return, she is
unchanged, indicating one of the fundamental tenets of the Russian fairy tale: while humanity
may enact changes for the better, there will always be forces working against them.
Baba Yaga's role as a "witch" in the stereotypical sense is clear in her accoutrements, her
personal habits, and in her participation in the Russian variant of "Hansel and Gretel." However,
despite the literal translation of ved'ma (witch), her behavior is far more benevolent, if not
entirely benign, in other stories. In modern retellings, Baba Yaga's semi-schizophrenic
presentation in the original folklore has caused some difficulties for contemporary authors: it is
difficult to write of her without emphasizing one aspect over another. The choices that are made,
and the stories that they are set in provide for fascinating comparisons that indicate as much
about today's culture as the older versions did of theirs.
Let's look at three treatments of Baba Yaga which correspond to the three aspects from traditional
lore that we have already examined:
Baba Yaga as cannibal, Baba Yaga as helper, and Baba Yaga as figure of malevolence — in
~ Neil Gaiman's graphic story "The Land of Summer's Twilight" (from Books of Magic),
~ Gene Wolfe's short story "The Death of Koshchei the Deathless (a tale of old Russia)"
(from Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears), and
~ Orson Scott Card's novel Enchantment.
Neil Gaiman sets his version of Baba Yaga and her realm deep within the forests of Fairyland, and
we encounter them along the course of a quest undertaken by his hero, Timothy Hunter. Prior to
embarking upon his journey, Timothy is acquainted with the basic rules of Fairy - to abandon
Cold Iron, to ask no questions or favors and accept no gifts, to mind his manners, and, most
importantly of all, to never stray from the path.
The first stop on the journey, fittingly enough, is the Goblin Market. From its inception in fantastic
literature with Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" as a place where mortals could interact freely
with the denizens of Fairy, the Goblin Market has been a liminal space where rules and boundaries
must be more strictly enforced, rather than less, so as to maintain the balance required for the
existence of such a place.
It is thus the perfect setting for our hero to learn that actions in Fairy have consequences, as he
discovers when a goblin named Snout attempts to plant an article of jewelry upon him, hoping to
procure the boy's services as a personal servant as a penalty for "theft." In restitution, Timothy and
his companions — his guide, Dr. Occult of comics fame in our dimension, known as Rose in Fairy,
and his owl — are entitled to choose one item apiece from Snout's possessions. They pick an
enameled pocket-mirror, a bejeweled chain, and an oblong sphere of crystal — named to Timothy
by the Warden of the Market, Glory, with some appreciation, as a Mundane Egg — before
continuing on their journey.
Along the way, Rose further acquaints Timothy with some of the rules of Fairy: to avoid the
ingestion of Fairy's substances, for example, and thus, their unpredictable side-effect; reminds
Timothy of the most basic rule: to stay on the path. Eventually, however, the companions are
separated … in a wood containing a hut just off the path, a hut surrounded by posts surmounted
with skulls whose eyes glare flame…
Following a fine long tradition of heroes incapable of following directions, Timothy steps off the
path, in the mistaken belief that his companions have done so also … only to encounter Baba
Yaga. As he reaches up to touch the shoulder of the figure he believes to be his guide, Timothy
plaintively asks, "What is it? What's wrong?" That question is answered soon enough, both in the
leering visage of Baba Yaga (beautifully depicted by the eloquent pen of artist Charles Vess), and
in her mocking words: "What's wrong? Why, you've stepped off the path, boychik … That's
what's wrong. Hee hee hee." By leaving the path, regardless of the provocation, Timothy Hunter
has made himself fair prey for Yaga by the rules of etiquette.
Gaiman's approach to Baba Yaga utilizes the same basic tenets of her personality made manifest in
many traditional Russian stories: her hunger, her cunning, and her malevolence. When confronted
with Tim's assurance that his protector will find them, Baba Yaga's reply is simply that "Baba
Yaga's little house is in the heart of the wild forest. And it will not be found in the same place two
days running …" Her emphasis upon "heart" serves well to underscore the ravenous nature of the
running monologue concerning what it is that she's found — "What's Baba Yaga found for
herself? Is it a stew? Is it a roast? Is it blood pudding? Oh yes. All of them. Juicy and meaty and
tender and sweet." When she speaks, in the traditional manner, of her anticipated feast, saying
"Ohh. Such feasting I will make. The grease will run down my chin, and I will crack your bones
with my iron teeth to suck the marrow from within …," the combined effect of text and
illustration flawlessly demonstrates the distinctive appeal of the genre, culminating in a
presentation of Baba Yaga that manages to convey her threat as few other works have done.
When Baba Yaga leaves her home to obtain the correct spices, ordering her house to wander to a
safer location in her absence, Timothy makes the acquaintance of the rest of her larder: a
long-eared hare and a hedge-hog (well, hedge-piggie, to use the preferred term). These animals
are Tim's natural allies for two reasons. The first? Tradition. Animal helpers frequently appear in
Baba Yaga stories. The second reason is that of nationality … for while Baba Yaga's Russian
origins come through quite clearly in her colloquialisms, so too do theirs, and these are not the
anthropomorphic beasts of Russia, but rather closer kin to the characters of The Wind in the
Willows, and to Timothy himself.
One of Gaiman's gifts in world-building is his ability to effortlessly find points of Otherworldly
commonality (a gift exploited to good use here as well as in Stardust and American Gods,
two other works which occasionally make use of Russian lore). Through a blend of cooperation
(and the realization that Timothy's owl's bejeweled chain from the Market is actually Empusa's
Infinitely Extendable), the group manages to entangle the legs of the hut and crash it, both allowing
for a fortuitous escape, and, less fortunately, rousing the wrath of Baba Yaga.
Interestingly enough, Gaiman does not choose to have Timothy Hunter himself defeat Baba Yaga,
pointing either to a remnant of the Comics Code (as most means of dispensing with Baba Yaga
are, of necessity, rather brutal) or, more likely, to an ongoing immaturity in the character,
requiring a longer story arc to rectify properly (a supposition supported by Tim's ongoing
adventures, which include the unwise acceptance of a present from Titania, the Queen of Fairy, of
all people). The method that he does choose to force her to surrender her claim bears interesting
repercussions however: his Rose threatens Baba Yaga with the vocalization of her true name, a
technique efficacious in other cultures, but not one used with any frequency in Russian lore. It
implies a cross-cultural set of rules at play within this Otherworldly melting pot which is well
worth considering. That inference is supported by the precise wording of the threat: Rose asks
Baba Yaga, "Do you wish me to shout it now, so that all of the animals of the forest, all of the
birds of the air, every passing nixie and boggart will know it?" Despite the fact that the nixes and
boggarts come from entirely different mythic systems, it is apparent that Baba Yaga does not: she
surrenders her claim.
Despite the complexity of characterization, this is the most straight-forward of the modern
retellings to be examined here, in its faithfulness to the preceding lore attached to Baba Yaga. By
comparison, Gene Wolfe and Orson Scott Card both adapt the character considerably, focusing
specifically upon Baba Yaga's affinity with women, and the fact of her woman-hood itself, while
achieving entirely different results.
The introduction to Wolfe's story "The Death of Koshchei the Deathless" states that "in reading
the original [fairy tale], Wolfe was struck by the things left out or implied, presumably to protect
young ears … and decided to fill in the blanks for adults." Wolfe fills in quite a number of things,
including historical etiology and a clear reason for his hero's maturation — the direct guidance of
Baba Yaga. The story is narrated to an unseen audience of one, whose identity is revealed late in
In the original fairy tale of the same title, a prince named Ivan (a name as ubiquitous in Russian
tales as Jack is in English ones) is bid by his dying parents to make good marriages for his sisters.
He weds them to three sorcerous birds — a falcon, an eagle, and a raven — before realizing that in
their absence, his life is devoid of meaning. Going forth on a pilgrimage to find them, he instead
encounters a mighty warrior queen, Marya Morevna, at the site of her most recent victory, and the
two are swiftly wed. (It is worth noting here that Marya is also the name of one of Ivan's sisters.)
All goes well until the queen sets out on her next military campaign, enjoining Ivan to avoid a
certain closet in her chambers. Ivan (reprising the role of Bluebeard's wife) is unable to resist such
a temptation, and unwittingly frees one of the great figures of notoriety in Russian myth, the
sorceror Koshchei the Deathless. Koshchei promptly kidnaps Marya for his own, leaving Ivan to
try to reclaim her. After three failed rescue attempts, with the sorceror catching up each time,
Koshchei loses patience and dismembers Ivan, flinging his remains into the Baltic Sea.
Ivan is recovered by his avian in-laws, resurrected by his clever sisters, and sets off after Marya
once more. This time she informs him that the reason they cannot flee fast enough to escape
Koshchei is because he rides a stallion that was a gift from Baba Yaga, and Ivan resolves to
acquire a stallion from Baba Yaga himself. He travels to Baba Yaga's realm and offers to watch
her herds for three days. If he manages to keep her herds intact, he will then then be gifted with
a steed. Baba Yaga attempts to circumvent the terms of their agreement through trickery, but in
the end a colt from her stable (along with skills of cunning that Ivan has learned through her
unwitting tutelage) allows the prince to finally rescue Marya and defeat Koshchei the Deathless.
Prince Ivan the Bold, in Gene Wolfe's story, like his predecessor in the fairy tale, experiences the
loss of his parents and the ensuing responsibility for his siblings. He, too, must marry them off,
though in this tongue-in-cheek retelling, the falcon, eagle, and raven of the original story are
transfigured into the Graf von Falkonstein, the King of Poland (with an eagle for his crest), and a
"raven" who is only identified as being from Hungary, all of whom come armed to the teeth to
demand their respective brides. Afterwards, left on his own, Ivan pines for his sisters' company
and eventually decides that he must go forth to seek them out. When he comes across a battlefield
and the fierce warrior responsible for it, it is not Marya Morevna whom he meets, but rather
Marya, the newly widowed Countess Von Falkonstein … his sister. Unfortunately, this fact does
not come to light until the morning after Ivan spends the night in Marya's tent.
Wolfe's adjustments to the traditional fairy tale highlight some of the confusing and contradictory
elements of the story. The addition of incest, while discomfiting, serves to poke gentle fun at the
potential misunderstandings in a tale possessing two characters bearing the same name. It serves,
as well, to reference a longstanding element of such behavior in Russian tales, and to explain the
otherwise incomprehensible reasoning behind the original Ivan's encounter with Marya Morevna,
their brief sojourn and their hasty marriage. In Wolfe's story, it quickly becomes clear that the
marriage stems from convenience as much as anything else: neither party is willing to reveal the
occurrence of the taboo to the world, and the resulting birth of a child (also named Ivan, soon to be
known as the Ivan the Simple) negates the possibility of ignoring it entirely.
In this story, too, Ivan the Bold frees Koshchei from captivity, but in a far less fancifully
embroidered manner than found in the fairy tale. Ivan comes across a certain door in the dungeons
of his sister's castle and opens it entirely out of idle curiousity. There he discovers Koshchei,
condemned to starvation by the Countess. The prince frees him, feeds him, and then the two
negotiate a treaty of peace to resolve the issues that had been the source of conflict between
Koshchei and Marya. But when they set out to inform her of this happy news, Koshchei falls
helplessly in love with her, and stages a revolt in order to carry Marya away with him.
Her absence disturbs Prince Ivan not at all — his brotherly fondness having faded under the
pressures of their new relationship — until he learns that the familial estate will revert back to the
Holy Roman Empire unless he can furnish proof of Marya's continued existence. Valuing his comfort,
Ivan attempts to verify his sister's residence among the living, in the course of which Marya
convinces him to help her escape from Koshchei. They escape and flee, they're caught again, and
the cycle repeats the requisite three times before Koshchei decides that "even the most deeply felt
gratitude has limits." He kills Ivan in the prescribed manner and throws his remains into the
The story goes on. Ivan, son of Ivan, grows to maturity in peace, his life disturbed only by the
issue which had so troubled his father: the threatened loss of the familial homestead unless the
Countess Von Falkonstein appears at court to verify his parentage. Ivan sets out alone to find her,
earning his reputation as "the Simple." Attempting to reach Koshchei's court, Ivan (hereditary
tendencies intact) loses his way, and finds himself in the realm of Baba Yaga. "Not the witch they
talk of to frighten children, " explains Ivan the younger, revealled as the narrator of Wolfe's story.
"All that is purest superstition, though we call it now by the polite name of folklore. By 'Baba
Yaga' I intend the Grand Duchess, that terrible old woman."
Baba Yaga is presented here as a mundane noblewoman, an interesting re-interpretation of the
power wielded by that worthy character, which has traditionally been natural in origin rather than
societal. But like the fairy tale Baba Yaga, the Grand Duchess possesses a special aptitude for
understanding of the hearts of men — or, rather more specifically in this tale, the hearts of
women. The Grand Duchess welcomes Ivan to her estates "with old-fashioned boyar courtesy —
turning out her serfs to cheer, and all the rest of it," before marking his resemblance to his father.
This point leads Ivan to the matter of his quest, to which the duchess suggests a solution: that he
feign Ivan the Bold's resurrection, thus using the element of surprise to achieve his goal of
defeating Koshchei and retrieving his mother. Ivan the Simple stays on the Grand Duchess's
estates for a period of some months, receiving tattoos that will allow him the pretense of actually
being his father in the flesh — the tattoos placed at the joins of each limb to mark the spots of his
Wolfe's Baba Yaga also provides assistance in another form that falls within the figure's traditional
purview: she gives Ivan the skills and cunning to understand human motivations. As Wolfe tells us,
in Ivan's voice, "She lectured me about women, too. I think that was really much more important;
and so must she have, because she kept me there for months, getting tattooed and getting sick from
it and recovering, while she recounted long stories from her past and asked, when she had finished
each of them, how the woman at the center would act."
Ivan notes that "No one, I think, has ever looked deeper into the human heart — into women's
hearts, particularly, for men's hearts are simple things, by comparison — than old Baba Yaga."
This understanding extends to other feminine beings as well, for in this version of the story it is
Baba Yaga who convinces the hero to spare the lives of wild things of the forest (a ryabchik and
her nestlings, wild bees, and a wolf, all of them female), and his "reward" is a deepening
understanding of the natural world around him. Eventually, Ivan and Baba Yaga are admitted to
Koshchei's palace on the strength of his impersonation of his father and the puzzlement it causes.
Ivan succeeds against Koshchei and liberates his mother not through force of arms, but by
fomenting revolt amongst the women of Koshchei's kingdom, whose hearts Ivan has come to
comprehend through Yaga's tutelage.
In the end, Wolfe's tale remains ambiguous. As Ivan says about the Grand Duchess, "We never
call her Baba Yaga to her face, to be sure. And yet… " That last note of doubt encapsulates the
mood of Wolfe's story as a whole. Everything appears to be entirely aboveboard, non-magical,
clearly explicable. And yet …Those two words mark a space left waiting, to be filled with a
clever amalgation of folklore and fictional elements. Only in the addition of nobility does the
author depart from Baba Yaga's traditional characteristics. Her potential for generosity and
assistance, and her insights into human nature, were not invented by Wolfe, but rather, redirected.
His character's instinctive desire to help the hero, without set tasks or tests to accomplish first,
and her special comprehension of human nature (specifically of the female mind), make
controversial use of Russian folk material, but still arguably fall within the Baba Yaga folk
In his novel Enchantment, Orson Scott Card works with some similar aspects of the archetype of
Baba Yaga, taking them, however, in a direction entirely different from Wolfe's. Enchantment is a
time-travel fantasy that centers around the etiology of fairy tales — the story of a Russian Jewish
émigré, Ivan Petrovitch Smetski, who returns to his homeland to conduct doctoral research
involving Vladimir Propp's theories on fairy tales. Ivan is the child of a linguistic scholar and a
witch, and he has, in fact, a second reason for the trip, for he's haunted by the childhood memory
of a beautiful woman he once found sleeping an enchanted sleep in a Russian forest. That woman,
as it turns out, is Katerina, the princess of a 9th century Slavic kingdom, cast into a cataplectic
trance by Baba Yaga so that Yaga can steal her kingdom.
Like Wolfe, Card transmutes Baba Yaga's magical abilities into social power by making her a
member of the Russian nobility. The secularization of her power in modern literature (as opposed
to her divinely based, natural power in early folklore) indicates an interesting societal
restructuring, a new means of perceiving and portraying Baba Yaga's strength and resources.
Card's Baba Yaga derives a great deal of her magic from the immortal being who is her unwilling
husband (Bear, the anthropormophic protector of Russia), but it is made clear that this source of
strength is acquired through coercion. She possesses enough magic to manipulate natural forces,
but not to control them; her main ability appears to be the beguiling of unwary minds — to "turn"
them — though her power is limited by the fact that she "can only use the desires already in a
Card provides his Baba Yaga with a background that serves to explain her traditional malice.
Married off at the age of twelve to a brutish king, this Baba Yaga was once an innocent. With each
act of self-defense, the girl's identity as Yaga built slowly over time, until acts of self-protection
altered into acts of vengefulness and sadism. We read, "How she hated that nickname! And yet the
name had stuck, until now it was the name she used for herself. Her late husband King Brat had
given her the name when he brought her to Kiev as his twelve-year-old bride. That was the pet
name he murmured to her tenderly as he raped her immature body, and again as she pretended to
weep over the grave of the first baby he sired on her. His dear Yaga, his sweet pet Yaga, Yaga the
loving mother who pressed the face of his greedy slurping spawn into her breast long after it
stopped struggling for breath and then, wailing, laid his first-born son in the very lap that had
forced it on her. It was a message, though Brat never understood it, dense heavy-armed warrior
that he was, a message that people understood now, with him deposed from his throne and then
dead of a withering disease, and his widow married to a husband who at last looked like what
every human husband was, a hairy stinking drooling beast. A simple message: If you make Yaga
do what she doesn't want to do, you won't like the result."
Card makes it clear that Yaga was originally "Olga, a hopeful young princess in a lovely kingdom
on the south shore of the Baltic Sea." It is the metamorphosis from innocent to victim to
self-protector that Yaga remembers with bitter resentment, and it was that same progression that,
over time, changed the form of her message. Card writes, "Maybe the message had changed over
the years, and now it was more along the lines of: If you try to stop Yaga from doing what she
wants to do, you and everyone you ever liked will be destroyed. But in spirit, in origin, it was
really the same message. If she had to leave the gloriously beautiful coastland of her childhood
and then the bustling traders town of Kiev to live in this crude woodland, at least she would
control all of the kingdoms around her and run things her way."
Baba Yaga's way includes a great deal of petty cruelty — casting curses, tormenting unfortunate
visitors and then dismembering them, both for the "magical" properties of their various body parts
and for the sheer pleasure of the activity. She is not a cannibal, though she does occasionally feed
her victims to Bear, her husband; her atrocities stem from hunger for power rather than Baba
Yaga's traditional hunger for flesh. Her desire to win Katrina's kingdom of Taina stems from her
hunger for domination. However, though she resents the fact that the "only drawback was that she
would always have to have some husband with the title of king or no one would take her
seriously," she inadvertently sets the same condition onto the princess Katerina.
Baba Yaga places a fatal curse on Katerina — but the curse is allayed by the princess's three aunts,
Tetka Retiva, Tetka Moika, and Tetka Tila, who transform it into one of eternal sleep unless the
princess is rescued by the strongest knight, the wisest man, and the purest love. Instead of being
devoured by Bear, as Baba Yaga had hoped, Katerina is chased to an inaccessible woodland grove,
and condemned to enchanted sleep unless her true love should find her.
Card plays with the details of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin here, consciously drawing also upon the
many stories of Bear as god and as an anthropomorphic figure in Russian myth. He also,
obviously, utilizes the classic motifs of the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty." Interestingly enough,
"Sleeping Beauty" is not a tale-type native to Russia, as Katerina's father-in-law, Ivan's
role-model, folklorist Piotr Smetski points out, saying "Sleeping Beauty, I thought that it was a
French fairy tale…" Though the French version of the story by Charles Perrault is the one most
widely known today, the earliest extant version is actually from 15th century Italy. At some point
in history, the tale was transmitted to Russia, though it was modified along the way. The most
commonly known variant in Russia more closely resembles the tale that we know as "Snow
White," and served as the basis for Disney's cinematic adaptation.
Unlike modern versions of "Sleeping Beauty," the Italian tale (and Perrault's later version)
continues on after the princess awakes, depicting the dangers she and her offspring face from a
cannabilistic mother-in-law. In Card's version, too, the union of Ivan and Katerina does not secure
a happy ending; there must be an heir for the kingdom in order to protect it fully from Baba Yaga,
and this, specifically, provides one of Card's most interesting additions to the Baba Yaga oeuvre.
After spending time together in Taina, Katerina and Ivan realize that they are not yet safe from the
witch, and so they travel to the 20th century, to Ivan's home in America. There, they learn magic
from Ivan's mother, Esther (Esther having learned it from the tantalizingly named Baba Tila,
double of Katerina's Tetka Tila, and old enemy of Baba Yaga, now Granny rather than Aunt) and
conceive a child. When strategizing the impending confrontation with Baba Yaga, Katerina says
to Ivan, "if we've made a baby, if I have a child inside me when I face her, then I have a power
she's never had. Well, she's conceived babies, the people say, but the children were always born
monsters who died at once…if we've made a child … there will be magic in it. Power."
Katerina's pregnancy does in fact allow her additional energies to direct against their enemy. Card
is careful to point out that the child's conception is more than a ploy against Baba Yaga; it is an
act of love, and a manifestation of all that Ivan and Katrina struggle to protect. Though Baba Yaga
has born a child successfully (as we've been informed earlier in the text), she was also quite
willing to sacrifice him for her own gains. It is not the physical inability to give birth, but Baba
Yaga's lack of empathy and of altruism that deprives her gaining additional power through
motherhood — a factor that Baba Yaga is incapable of comprehending, or fighting against.
In this tale, Card highlights Baba Yaga's antagonism towards children (the weakest members of
society) and women (her potential competitors), while also removing the challenge that she
traditionally poses for young men moving through the process of maturation. This bleak and
rather one-dimensional picture of Baba Yaga is rectified by the individualization of the character,
the humor of Card's language, and the wonderfully inventive explanations he provides to account
for the development of Baba Yaga's characteristics in Russian folklore from the 9th century
onward, subsequent to her battle with Ivan and Katrina. (For example, her hut on chicken legs is
attributed to a form of transportation that she encounters in the future, a 747, which she manages
Baba Yaga ends the story defeated, but not conquered. She says, "let [Katerina] have the kingdom.
What good was a kingdom anyway? Whining people to govern, rents and taxes to collect, which
everyone tried to steal from her at every step in the process. What good had it done her? She'd
played at it, but the game wasn't worth the cost. She was still Baba Yaga, though, wasn't she? Her
books might be buried and soon burned, her spells might have been broken, but she could still do
magic. The house that flies, for instance. She could make another one like it … with legs on it,
like those chicken legs, which would pick up and move where she wanted it to go. That was so no
one would ever be certain where she was … Inside her, the flame of malice burned as bright as
ever. As bright, but smaller. Her reach was smaller too. But so were her needs. She was retiring
from public life… "
As we know, that is not to be the case, for Baba Yaga always returns…. but it is the end of Card's
contribution to her story. Enchantment concludes with the martial, and marital triumph of Ivan
and Katerina — the continuation of their lineage in a brood of children to rule in Taina or succeed
in the modern world. The story also ends with the contribution of new insights into fairy tales
from the time-traveling folklorist — both in the form of uncontaminated, original tales gathered
in the 9th century, and in the form of Ivan and Katrina's own story, which has now become folk
history. At one point in the tale, Ivan thinks "I have already changed the future … There will be
different folktales now."
That process of alteration is one that is visible in every folktale, every retelling, and every new
patch of information added onto the fabric of pre-existing stories or characters. Every fairy tale
figure, Baba Yaga being a prime example, becomes a conglomerate entity: While it is impossible
for a single tale to contain every element of her identity, each use of her persona alludes to, and
adds to, a rich history and established tradition.
Baba Yaga brings together many of the dominant themes of Russian myth and legend; fitting all
these themes into a single tale would be difficult, and might result in a somewhat schizophrenic
character. (Some traditional tales addressed this issue by making her into a triune entity of sorts, with characters visiting three walking huts for advice from three witches, all named Baba Yaga.) Thus,
as each of the older folktales tends to emphasize certain elements of her personality, so too do new
ones, whether they be those of observing social norms, of assistance, or of malevolence.
The character of Baba Yaga remains today, as she has always been, confusing, mesmerizing,
and terrifying, regardless of whether she manifests as a witch in the forest, a noblewoman on her
estate, or a terrorist in the modern world. Our continuing fascination with her indicates that her
position in society — as threat, as probationer, as helper — is as vital as it has ever been, in Russia
and in the rest of the world.
Orson Scott Card notes in Enchantment, "Russian fairy tales were the only ones he'd read that
were so grim, even the princess sometimes died." This ties in neatly to one of the traditional
Russian fairy tale endings, used in lieu of the more optimistic, "…and they all lived happily after
…" In Russia, tales conclude with the sentiment that "they all lived as happily as they could, until
they died." In a world with Baba Yaga in it, it seems an apt enough attitude to take.
Baba Yaga's Hut: Initiatory Entrance the Underworld by Laura Strong, PhD
One of the best known characters in the Slavic genre of folklore and fairytales is the deadly
guardian of the Underworld, Baba Yaga. Usually found in the deepest darkest corner of the forest,
she is commonly portrayed as a hideous old hag with razor sharp teeth who cannibalistically
devours those who naively stumble upon her domain. She dwells in a magical hut that is
surrounded by a fence made from the leftover bleached-white bones of her victims, which is
illuminated by their glowing skulls. This fence is a clear signal to anyone who would dare to pass
through its gate that they must be prepared for an initiatory underworld experience, an experience
that could end in sudden death or life-altering enlightenment, depending upon the wits and
attitude of the initiate.
Throughout the Slavic region, the term baba connotes an "old woman," which when combined
with the Russian term yaga, for "hag," equals the name of this well-respected elder. In Poland (the
land of my ancestors) Baba Yaga is referred to as Ienzababa or Jezda and the Czechs know her as
Jazi Baba. In addition to her official name, she is also referred to as the Guardian of the Underworld,
the Mistress of the Forest, the Goddess of Death and Regeneration, the Wolf-Goddess, the Bone
Mother, the Mistress of the Animals, and the Guardian of the Water of Life and Death. These powerful descriptions demonstrate the depth of this ancient figure, who is far more than the simple "witch"
she became when Christianity entered the region and her stories began to migrate to neighboring lands.
The complexity of this character can also bee seen in her choice of personal transportation. In The
Bones of Baba Yaga, a young brother and sister, who have been wandering the woods, suddenly
come across Baba Yaga's hut and are overcome with fear. Yet, before they even have the chance to
run, a strange noise comes from the woods to catch their attention. As the sound swiftly rises to a
roar, the wind lashes at the tree-tops, and the ground trembles below their feet as Baga Yaga
makes her unusual entrance. "Hurtling through the air towards them came what seemed to be a
flying kitchen bowl, ringed with flames. As it came closer they saw it was a sturdy grinding
mortar, paddled along by a hideous old hag with a giant pestle" (Phillips 103). As she whizzes by,
she carefully conceals any trace of her trail with a birch broom, specifically designed for the
An examination of this setup reveals the great depth of its meaning. The womb-like vessel in
combination with the phallic pestle are representative of her dualistic feminine and masculine
nature. Yet, this mortar and pestle are also symbolic of the destructive (to grind) and nurturing (to
prepare) qualities of this ancient Earth Mother. Robert Bly sees the deadly yet regenerating nature
of Baba Yaga's mortar and pestle as "the thorough way Nature grinds up and reuses her children.
Nothing is lost, it is all recycled" (43). This all powerful and terrifying Great Mother can give life
as well as take it away. The combination of destructive, nurturing, and regenerative aspects also
represent the three phases of human existence, birth, life and death. Therefore some also see Baba
Yaga as a Triple Goddess figure, a theme that is further developed by her shape-shifting ability to
transform herself into an archetypal maiden, mother, or crone.
These many manifestations are seen by few, because she is very careful to conceal any evidence of
her passing through human territories. To hide her tracks she uses a birch broom, which "may be
regarded as further evidence of her all-pervading influence, as a symbol of the inverted Tree of Life"
(Dixon-Kennedy 26). The fact that she goes out of her way to avoid being seen by humans means it
isn't just anyone who stumbles upon her home. Most fairytale figures find Baba Yaga's domain
either by accident, while wandering in the depths of the forest on a quest, or because they have
been sent there by a not-so-well-wishing relative.
Baba Yaga's hut is anything but your typical peasant's cottage and those who discover it are often
overcome with fright. It is generally made of human bones, though some stories say it is made
from food. It is surrounded by a fence made of bleached bones, which designates it as a liminal
place–where the land of the living and the land of the dead meet. Yet, the strangest thing of all is
the fact that it does not rest upon the ground, but sits perched on chicken legs, balancing on a
spindle, or some other similar situation.
Stories tell of a hut, which sits on four sets of hen's legs, one at each corner, and revolves
either freely in the wind or when some unheard word is spoken. Some versions of the legend say
that the cottage was not fixed to the ground and could run around on its hen's legs. Others say that
the hen's legs were simply supports for the four corners and that the center of the house was fixed
on the spindle of a spinning-wheel, indicating that Baba-Yaga also spins the thread of life from the
bones and entrails of the dead. (Dixon-Kennedy 25)
This unique support system allows the hut to continuously spin around and change its direction,
even though it may seem to remain in the same position. There are numerous explanations for this
strange phenomena, including: "When the moon is full the opening points to the west, and the
charnel hut is accessible to the living. The Yaga who sits in the house is like the full moon,
pregnant and healthy. But when the night skies show a crescent like the horns of a headless
sacrificed bull, Yaga no longer lives in the hut. It is empty as her barren belly" (Hubbs 44-45).
Other stories focus on the fact that while the hut is continuously turning, the door is always open
"away from the village" or "towards the darkest part of the forest."
According to Robert Bly, that irrational detail becomes clear when we understand that we
are now in the underworld, and everything in the Underworld is a mirror opposite of things
in our world. In our world, doors face the light, but doors in the Underworld face the darkest
part of the forest. Houses on earth stand still; but here the houses turn, for we are dizzy now;
we are not in 'our right mind,' we are spinning as certain shamans spin in trance when they visit
the other worlds, or certain dervishes whirl when they want to see what can't be seen. (44)
We have entered Baba Yaga's world, where she reigns in all her terrifying glory as the guardian of
the initiatory feminine mysteries of the Underworld. "Baba Yaga's hut is the place where
transmutation occurs; it is the dark heart of the Underworld, the dwelling place of the dead
ancestors who are symbolized by the grinning skulls around her house" (Johnson 94).
From such bones, she also brews new life and her home is a great source of abundance.
"The center of Baba Yaga's hut is the pech' (a Russian stove connected to the outside world
by a stovepipe called a "snake"). All who come to her house ask to be fed or are sacrificed
to it. When the pech' is not in use, it becomes the bed for Baba yaga, which fills the whole house
with her body." This is significant in Slavic culture, where "the stove is the repository of dead souls,
the ancestors" (Hubbs 46). But one can not just simply show up at her doorstep expecting a meal,
since she is also the protective wolf goddess who will quickly devour anyone who enters her den.
So how do we safely enter Baba Yaga's domain? According to Marion Woodman, "There are laws
of civility in dealing with these sacred energies. They expect companionship (taking bread with), a
sharing of energy that becomes forever a part of whoever partakes." (185) But before bread can be
broken, one must first know to ask for it, for such food is not freely given to strangers.
Another way to survive a visit with Baba Yaga is to approach her with great humility.
Vasilisa the Wise proves that she has this quality, when she does all the chores that Baba Yaga asks
of her without a single complaint. In return, she is given the fire that she came for in the form of a
burning skull, which then destroys the evil stepmother and stepsisters who sent her there. A third
way to survive is to intelligently answer a typical question such as "Did you come here of your own
free will, or did someone send you?" "The difficulty lies in how to say the truth about complicated things,
which is essential if you plan to survive in the world" (Bly 54). An overly simplistic yes or no
means certain death from this Bone Mother.
As terrifying as it may be to face Baba Yaga, to survive is to be forever transformed. She would
much rather kill our ignorance than ourselves "by forcing us to examine ourselves in the dark
mirror of the Underworld, and then to resurrect us, pour forth the Water of Life upon us, and
grant us the deep wisdom that only a close acquaintance with the Underworld may bring" Johnson
Yet, in the dualistic Slavic culture, where life and death are still closely connected, this
answer is far too simple since most folktales require two waters instead of just one for renewal.
Unlike most cultures who have just one "Water of Life," Baba Yaga guards the "Waters of Life
and Death." Sometimes the "Water of Death" is indeed used for killing "by stopping the breath or
freezing the lifeblood of whoever drinks it," but more often it is part of a healing process.
In many Slavic folktales, "the first, the 'water of death,' heals the wounds of a corpse or knots
together a body that has been chopped up. The second, the 'Water of Life,' restores life"
(Phillips 49). In either case, it is often the wise old Baba Yaga or her serpent who looks after these
all important waters.
Restoration, renewal, nourishment, and enlightenment can all be found by surviving a journey to
Baba Yaga's underworld. It is a difficult journey, which in the past may have been acted out
through initiatory rituals. In ancient times when Baba Yaga was seen as a divine bird or horse
mistress to hunters and warriors, she was believed to be a "guide and initiator of the male into the
mysteries of the female world" (Hubbs 43). Yet tales such as Vasilisa the Wise make it obvious
that she was part of feminine initiations as well.
Such ancient ceremonies may no longer be acted out in Slavic countries, yet the essence of their
knowledge still survives. It has been passed down through generations in the form of folktales
to those who still gather round a mother's pech' to nourish their body and their soul. Anyone who
takes the time to listen to the tale of Baba Yaga will receive more than just the gift of a story.
Whether they realize it or not, they may find they have become a little more prepared for
their own symbolic visit to Baba Yaga's hut, that day when they will be dragged on a journey
toward the spinning vortex of the Underworld.
Baba Yaga, the Scary Russian Witch
Deep in the forests of Siberia, at least according to myth, there is a house that stands on chicken
legs. It has a fence made from bones and skulls with flaming eyes. The door points away from
visitors, and if you want to go in, you have to say a special incantation. Then the house slowly
turns around, emitting hideous shrieks all the while.
This is the home of the witch Baba Yaga, and entering is not a great idea, since she has a habit of
eating her guests. She’s a horribly ugly old woman with a huge warty nose and iron teeth. No
matter how many visitors she gobbles, she stays as thin as a skeleton. She wears grimy rags and
has never been known to bathe.
Baba Yaga is a powerful witch who can command spirits, and even controls the dawn, midday,
and midnight. She calls these her White Horseman, Red Horseman, and Black Horseman. When
she wants to travel, she flies through the sky in a magic mortar and pestle.
If you do have to go see Baba Yaga, maybe to read the meter, she might ask you if you came on
your own or were sent. Be sure to say you were sent. This takes a lot of power away from her,
since you’re not consenting to your own destruction. It’s the same idea as the vampire; the
vampire can only harm you if you yourself invite him in.
One Baba Yaga story is about a little girl named Vasilisa. Her evil stepmother sends her to Baba
Yaga to get a candle lit. (Of course the idea is really to get rid of Vasilisa). Baba Yaga gives
Vasilisa a series of impossible tasks, which she has to complete to avoid getting eaten. But
Vasilisa has a magic doll given to her by her own deceased mother, which comes to life and helps
her finish the tasks. Baba Yaga asks where she got the doll, and Vasilisa tells her she got it along
with her mother’s blessing. Baba Yaga shrieks, "I don’t want blessed children here!" and throws
Vasilisa out; she returns home safely.
In another story, a boy and a girl are sent to Baba Yaga, also by a wicked stepmother. (Second
wives would only inherit the husband’s estate if his children died, that’s why there are so many
evil stepmothers in stories). When the children arrive at Baba Yaga’s they see that her dog and cat
are starving, so they give the creatures their food. The grateful dog and cat then help them by
giving them a magic towel and a magic comb. When Baba Yaga sees the children, she starts to
chase them. As the children run, they toss the towel and comb behind them; the towel turns into a
river and the comb turns into a forest. The children gain so much ground on Baba Yaga that
they’re able to escape.
These two stories are somewhat like "Hansel and Gretel," since the children end up in the clutches
of a witch because of wicked stepmothers. And when someone approaches her house, Baba Yaga
sometimes says, “Foo! Foo! I smell a Russian spirit!” This sounds like “Fee fi fo fum! I smell the
blood of an Englishman!” in “Jack and the Beanstalk." It’s thought that all these stories originally
came from India, and passed into both eastern and western culture through Indo-European
Life was and still is pretty daunting sometimes, and folk stories like the ones about Baba Yaga
helped people deal with fears in a safe, entertaining way. And of course we still enjoy scary stories
Real Baba Jaga -Baba Yaga- is True story about babayaga children
Baba Yaga is just witch in old Slavic folklore. The name Baba Yaga is synonymous with the
Russian term ved’ma what means witch. Baba Yaga is a kind of a genius loci (protective spirit)
for the values and associations that attach themselves to the archetype of “the witch in the forest”
in lavic tradition. However, she is more than a natural substitute or enhancement of any one
witch. Baba Yaga is referred to as the aunt or mistress of all witches, demonstrating the degree to
which she holds sway in the Russian imagination.
In this regard, Marie-Louise von Franz has compared her to Hecate. In many ways, she is some
kind of a synecdoche of the archetypes of Russian folklore, she is one of the oldest and most
common character in Russian lore. In some stories Baba Yaga is linked to the dragons, to which
she is sometimes referred as a mother, to the spirits of the forest in which she resides, and to the
border between life and death, over which she reigns. Baba Yaga is marked as very ugly by her
long nose, steel teeth, and bony physique. She is also known by her voracious cannibalistic
appetite and by her unusual domicile. She can have a temperamental nature: in tales, she can be a
helper or an adversary.
If we translate her name we get an honorific diminutive, meaning roughly “Granny Yaga.”
However, the best translation of her status in English is neither “granny” nor any of the equivalent
forms of address that convey a respect for age and status alone. The best translation of Baba Yaga’s
name and position is a word with more blended origins: “crone.” Although “baba” is a diminution
of the respectful “babushka” or “grandmother,” it is also a referent that can be used as either a
respectful term of address or a fierce curse.
Although she is sometimes connected to children, usually she try to teach kids fear and
respect elder, and not of a beloved nurturer. Baba Yaga is also called “Baba Yaga Kostinaya
Noga” (Baba Yaga Bony Leg), which kids alternately associate either with her affiliation with the
underworld or simply with its rhythmic Russian rhyming pattern.
Like all other witches, Baba Yaga’s preferred method of transportation is a commonly used
household implement. However, unlike western witches, rather than traveling upon a broom, she
chooses to ride in a mortar, rowing with a pestle and using a broom to sweep away the tracks it
leaves. Baba Yaga's home is a mobile hut perched upon chicken legs.
Vladimir Propp posited the belief that the hut might serve as a cultural memory of rituals
of initiation, reflecting her history as a chthonic goddess. Baba Yaga’s hut is located not only in
the forest but, more specifically, in the land of the “thrice-nine kingdom,” the home of the living
dead, the realm that lies between the world of the living and the “thrice-ten kingdom,” the land of
the truly dead. Baba Yaga’s first extant appearances in art and literature date to the eighteenth