Baba Yaga – Russia’s wicked witch of the east (but not all the time!)
Russian folklore is awash with stories of Baba Yaga, the fearsome witch with iron teeth. And because there are so many stories, over the years, Baba Yaga has acquired countless traits and peculiarities – some good, but most of them bad!
Here are just a few of them…
- Baba Yaga lives in a hut deep in the forest.
- Her hut can move about on large chicken legs. Usually, it’s either spinning around as it moves through the forest or stands at rest with its back to any visitor who happens to come calling.
- The hut is sometimes surrounded by a fence made of bones, which helps to keep out intruders! The fence is topped with skulls whose blazing eye sockets illuminate the darkness. Often, one pole is lacking its skull, leaving space for another victim…
- In some stories, Baba Yaga has two older sisters, who are also called Baba Yaga, just to confuse you!
- Her nose is so long that it rattles against the ceiling of her hut when she snores.
- She travels perched in a large mortar, propelling herself across the forest floor or through the air with a pestle.
- It has long been rumoured that she likes to eat children.
- Whenever she appears, a wild wind begins to blow, the trees around creaking and groaning as leaves whirl through the air. A host of spirits accompany her on her way, shrieking and wailing.
- She sweeps away all traces of her passing with a broom made of silver birch.
- Baba Yaga rules over the elements. Her faithful servants are the White Horseman, the Red Horseman and the Black Horseman. Fortunately, she appears to have no power over the pure of heart.
- Although she is mostly portrayed as a terrifying old witch, Baba Yaga can also play the role of helper and wise woman. In this guise, she sometimes gives advice and magical gifts to heroes and the pure of heart. She is all-knowing, all-seeing and all-revealing to those who dare to ask.
- She is also said to be a guardian spirit of the fountain of the Waters of Life and Death.
- Baba Yaga is a favourite subject of Russian films and cartoons. The film Vasilissa Prekrasnaya (Vasilissa the Beautiful) by Aleksandr Rou, featuring Baba Yaga, was the first feature with fantasy elements in the Soviet Union. Georgy Milliar, a male actor, portrayed Baba Yaga in numerous movies from the 1930s to the 1960s.