The Myths and Legends of Baba Yaga – The Wise Witch from Slavic Folklore

Baba Yaga mythology

Baba Yaga is a very famous witch from Slavic folklore. She has appeared in many popular children's fairy tales and also in one of the most retold stories in Russian tradition. The actual origin of the character is a bit of a mystery which may well have aided her appeal. The first written evidence of her is is 1755, when she is listed in a book of Russian Grammar. It implies that the legends and myths of Baba Yaga began in pagan times. It was then that people believed their fates were in the hands of others, particularly other world deities and people were very superstitious.

What does the name mean?

There are actually a number of different meanings, depending on where the myths or legends come from. Translations of the word Baba include old woman, grandmother or hag. Yaga on the other hand has no specific translation of the word but means different things in different countries. In Serbia, for example, it means horror and shudder. While in Slovenia it means anger, in modern Czech it means wicked wood nymph, in Poland it means witch and fury and means snake or serpent in Sanskrit.

Her physical appearance is a little scary

Baba Yaga is not the most attractive of characters. Russian tales describe her as a deformed, scraggly old woman who has bony legs as well as a long crooked nose, cold eyes that are very piercing and iron teeth. She has a powerful persona that can be rather unpredictable. Her goal is to strike fear in all she meets and instill a certain amount of guarded respect in those she encounters.

She lives in a house that sits on chicken legs

Her home is even more bizarre than she looks. It is located deep in the forest and is no more than a hut which sits on giant chicken legs. The legs mean she is able to move her home around, making it very difficult for anyone to find her. The windows are eyes through which she watches the world around her and the fence is made out of human bones topped with skulls. Her hut is also able to spin, causing it to make a screeching noise. And when it comes to rest it groans and creaks.

What is her story?

There are a number of different myths and legends. Some say she is just one witch, while others say she of one of a trio of witches, all with the same name. As she moves around the forest she rides a giant mortar and uses it, together with a pestle, to grind up the bones of those she eats. The pestle is also used as a rudder to steer and is held in her right hand. She holds a broom in her left hand and this wipes away the trail she has made.

Those who meet her can either be helped or harmed. Many look for her help because she is wise, truthful and knowledge. But anyone who wants her help first has to complete some tasks. Those who complete the tasks will receive her help. But those who fail will have to escape or be cooked and eaten.