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Who is Baba Yaga?

Who is Baba Yaga?

Baba Yaga is an ancient grotesque-looking witch that comes from Russian and Slavic folklore. She is so old that her story was first documented in woodblock prints in the late 17th century. The first narrative account appears in 1780, in a collection of Russian Fairy Tales collected and published by Alexander Afanasyev. He depicts Baba Yaga as a terrifying creature with tusks and bear-like claws.

Usually, she is described as an evil witch, but that wasn’t always her story. Once, she was more like a deity than a witch. She reigned over many domains, such as time, death, and the primordial elements. She was associated with the underworld as she straddles between life and death. Over time, she began to be identified as a deformed old woman who has great power over animals, uses dark magic, and manipulates time. She was even accused of cannibalism.

In most tales, Baba Yaga looks like a very tall woman, very skinny, having a bony leg, an extremely long nose that could reach the ceiling of her house and some say she is blind. Because of this, she uses her nose to identify her visitors and decide whether to let them live or kill them. If you have an honorable heart you could escape her wrath.

Her house is quite peculiar. She lives in a deep, dark forest, in a hut surrounded by a fence made from human bones. The gate has human skulls attached to it and it is made of the teeth of a human jaw. The hut is constantly spinning and it is supported by two gigantic chicken legs. It is said that, if you want to get inside you have to stop it from spinning by saying this:

Little house, little house

turn your back to the forest

and your front to me.

But who would want to visit such a place?! Can you imagine yourself getting lost in the forest, seeing her house, thinking, Hmm, this looks like a friendly place. Let’s ask for direction!

Even if she is called a witch, she doesn’t use regular witch items. She doesn’t fly with a broom. she doesn’t use a cauldron or anything like that. Instead, she travels on a magical flying mortar, using a pestle to urge it on, sweeping away the path with a broom. She has enchanted mirrors that can turn into lakes, handkerchiefs that can become rivers, combs that can transform into forests, a flying carpet, and fire-breathing horses.

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She is a complex character. She can be altruistic, giving good advice to the travelers, she can be a domestic instructor, showing the young women what moving to a new household means and the tasks they have to master. She tests her visitors, who are mostly women, and forces them to do household chores. She is terrifying, but even in the scariest stories, the protagonist always escapes, and, despite being associated with cannibalism, no one gets eaten.

One response »

  1. Pingback: A witch? A deity? Who is Baba Yaga? – Writing, Reading, Living, but mostly Hiding

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