Witches in books and popular fiction have been portrayed as evil looking, with crooked noses, long claws, flying around on brooms.

Baba Yaga, the witch in Slavik folklore is all this and more! So, why is she such a recurring character in folk tales from Slavic nations and from Russia?

A sculpture of Baba Yaga (Source: Public Domain)

There’s a fascination with the morbid that draws us to such characters. Evil is needed to set off the good in the stories. Sometimes the evil characters are grey, sometimes bad and sometimes good.

Let’s get a picture of Baba Yaga. Scrawny, long crooked nose (in some stories, the nose touches the ceiling as she lays to sleep), a good appetite for humans, especially little children (possibly to scare the little listeners of these bed time tales). She does not have an ordinary broom to take her around, rather she travels in a mortar with a pestle by her side. (Phallic imagery again, as in case of brooms but that’s another subject, another day).

Baba Yaga, flying in her Mortar

What I loved best about her stories was her house. It was almost always in a deep jungle, a house on chicken legs (!) that could move around and even turn it’s back on people coming to seek her out. There’s a rooster’s head on top, and (gasp) a fence made of human bones!

She is the one who sets people to tasks. Her criteria for eating someone depends on whether that person is able to complete exaggeratedly difficult things she asks them to do. Like emptying a river with a bucket, combing a grassland to find a small object etc. You get it done efficiently and she rewards you! Travelers seek her out and she replies to their questions if she is in the mood.

To triple up the pleasure of encountering a witch in a story, sometimes Baba Yaga appears as a trio of sisters, all bearing the same name.

As an avid reader of Russian literature for children (ah, those days of Indo-Soviet friendship and cultural exchanges), I found Baba Yaga as one of the most fascinating characters in folk tales. Add to it the beautiful illustrations that can set off a child’s imagination wonderfully.

This post is written as part of the A2Z challenge.

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