Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga ( _ru. Ба́ба-Яга́, _sr. Баба Рога, _bg. Баба Яга, _mk. Баба Рога, Polish, Czech, _sk. Baba Jaga, _hr. Baba Roga) is, in Slavic folklore, a witch-like character who flies around on a giant mortar, kidnaps (and presumably eats) small children, and lives in a house on chicken feet. In most Slavic folk tales, she is portrayed as an antagonist; however, some characters in other mythological folk stories have been known to seek her out for her wisdom, and she has been known on occasion to offer guidance to lost souls, although this is seen as rare.


The name differs within the various Slavic languages. It is spelled "Baba Jaga" in Czech and Slovak (though Czech and Slovak also use "Ježibaba"). In Slovene, the words are reversed, producing "Jaga Baba". In Russian, Bulgarian and Ukrainian it is "Баба Яга" transliterated as "Baba Yaga" (or "Baba Yaha" in Ukrainian).

In South Slavic languages and traditions, there is a similar old witch, written "Baba Roga" in Croatian and Bosnian, and "Баба Рога" in Serbian and Macedonian.

The name of Baba Yaga is composed of two elements. "Baba" means "grandmother" or "old woman" in most Slavic languages."Yaga" is probably a diminutive of the feminine name Jadwiga (with variant forms Jagusia/Jadzia, etc.). Jadwiga, in turn, is simply a Slavicized form of the Germanic Hedwig, and thus has no particular meaning in the Slavic languages. However, some etymologists have conjectured other origins for "Yaga"; for example, Vasmer mentions the Proto-Slavic "ęgа".Fact|date=August 2008


In Russian tales, Baba Yaga is portrayed as a hag who flies through the air in a mortar, using the pestle as a rudder and sweeping away the tracks behind her with a broom made out of silver birch. She lives in a log cabin that moves around on a pair of dancing chicken legs, and/or surrounded by a palisade with a skull on each pole. The keyhole to her front door is a mouth filled with sharp teeth; the fence outside is made with human bones with skulls on top, often with one pole lacking its skull, leaving space for the hero or heroes. In another legend, the house does not reveal the door until it is told a magical phrase: "Turn your back to the forest, your front to me".

In some tales, the house is connected with three riders: one in white, riding a white horse with white harness, who is Day; a red rider, who is the Sun; and one in black, who is Night. Baba Yaga is served by invisible servants inside the house. She will explain the riders if asked, but may kill a visitor who inquires about the servants.

Baba Yaga is sometimes shown as an antagonist, and sometimes as a source of guidance; there are stories where she helps people with their quests, and stories in which she kidnaps children and threatens to eat them. Seeking out her aid is usually portrayed as a dangerous act. An emphasis is placed on the need for proper preparation and purity of spirit, as well as basic politeness.

In the folk tale Vasilissa the Beautiful, recorded by Alexander Afanasyev ("Narodnye russkie skazki", vol 4, 1862), the young girl of the title is given three impossible tasks that she solves using a magic doll given to her by her mother.

In the Christianised version of the story, Vasilissa is sent to visit Baba Yaga on an errand and is enslaved by her, but the hag's servants — a cat, a dog, a gate, and a tree — help Vasilissa to escape because she has been kind to them. In the end, Baba Yaga is turned into a crow. Similarly, Prince Ivan in The Death of Koschei the Deathless is aided against her by animals whom he has spared.

Baba Yaga in Polish folklore differs in details. For example, the Polish Baba Jaga's house has only one chicken leg. Monstrous witches living in gingerbread houses are also commonly named Baba Jaga. Baba Jaga, flying on a mop, wearing black and red striped folk cloth of Świętokrzyskie Mountains is an unofficial symbol of Kielce region (it is connected with legendary witches sabbaths on Łysa Góra mountain).

In some fairy tales, such as "The Feather of Finist the Falcon", the hero meets not with one but three Baba Yagas. Such figures are usually benevolent, giving the hero advice or magical presents, or both. [W. R. S. Ralston "Songs of the Russian People" [ Section III.--Storyland Beings] ]

Other recorded Russian fairy tales that feature Baba Yaga are "Teryoshecka", "The Enchanted Princess", and "The Silver Saucer and the Red Apple" [Bonnie Marshall (2004) "The Snow Maiden and Other Russian Tales",ISBN 1563089998, [,M1 Preface, p. 19] ]

Cabin on chicken legs

According to Russian folklore, Baba Yaga dwells, in the words of Alexander Pushkin's "Lukomorye" (a preface to his fantasy poem "Ruslan and Lyudmila"), in a "cabin on chicken legs... with no windows and no doors". Baba Yaga herself usually uses the chimney to fly in and out on her mortar. Sometimes the door appears at the other side of the hut; to see it, a hero should pronounce "Hut, o hut, turn your back to the woods, your front to me" and thus force the cabin to turn around and discover the door.

This may be an interpretationFact|date=March 2008 of an ordinary construction popular among hunter-nomadic peoples of Siberia of Uralic (Finno-Ugric) and Tungusic families, invented to preserve supplies against animals during long periods of absence. A doorless and windowless log cabin is built upon supports made from the stumps of two or three closely grown trees cut at the height of eight to ten feet. The stumps, with their spreading roots, would give an impression of "chicken legs".

A similar but smaller construction was used by Siberian pagans to hold figurines of their gods. Recalling the late matriarchy among Siberian peoples, a common picture of a bone-carved doll in rags in a small cabin on top of a tree stump fits a common description of Baba Yaga, who barely fits her cabin: her legs lie in one corner, her head in another one, and her nose is grown into the ceiling.Fact|date=February 2007

There are indications that ancient Slavs had a funeral tradition of cremation in huts of this type. In 1948 Russian archaeologists Yefimenko and Tretyakov discovered small huts of the described type with traces of corpse cremation and circular fences around them; yet another possible connection to the Baba Yaga myth. [Рыбаков Б.А., "Язычество Древней Руси" (1987) Moscow, "Nauka" ] [Ефименко П. П., Третьяков П. Н. Курганный могильник у с. Боршева. МИА, № 8. М.; Л., 1948, рис. 37-42.)]

Modern fantasy writers, such as Tad Williams and Elaine Cunningham use the character of the cabin on chicken legs in their works, as do Fritz Leiber (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) and Mike Mignola in his portrayal of Baba Yaga in his Hellboy comics. The castle in Hayao Miyazaki's film version of Diana Wynne Jones' novel "Howl's Moving Castle" also moves on mechanical chicken legs.

Film and animation

Baba Yaga is a favorite subject of Russian films and cartoons. The film "Vasilissa the Beautiful" by Aleksandr Rou, featuring Baba Yaga, was the first feature with fantasy elements in the Soviet Union. [James Graham, " [ Baba Yaga in Film] "] Georgy Milliar, a "male" actor, portrayed Baba Yaga in numerous movies from 30's to 60's, among them "Vasilissa the Beautiful", "Morozko", "New Adventures of Puss-in-Boots", and others. He also often portrayed Koschey the Deathless.

The animated film "Bartok the Magnificent" features Baba Yaga as a main character, but not the antagonist. 'Emily and the Baba Yaga' is an animated short telling a modern version of the classic tale. Instead of combs and handkerchiefs, chainsaws and mangy pets help defeat the hag.

The Russo-Finnish co-production "Jack Frost" features a Baba Yaga character known as the Hunch Back Fairie. She is represented as an old hag living in a brown shack with chicken legs. The hero of the film tricks her into aiding him; she later uses witchcraft to try to get revenge.

The rival twin sisters of Yubaba and Zeniba in the Japanese animated film Spirited Away are both clearly derived from the Baba Yaga mythos to some extent.


There are two well-known musical references to Baba Yaga. The ninth piece in Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, a suite originally composed for the piano (followed by many orchestrations, the most popular being the one by Ravel), is entitled "The Hut on Hen’s Legs (Baba Yaga)".

When the progressive rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer created an adaptation of Mussorgsky's suite, they included Mussorgsky's piece about the hut of Baba Yaga as well as a new track entitled "The Curse of Baba Yaga."

In the symphonic poem "Baba Yaga" (Op. 56) by Anatoly Lyadov, the music depicts Baba Yaga summoning her mortar, pestle and broomstick, then flying off through the forest.


*Maria Tatar (2002) "The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales", ISBN 0393051633 [ p. 175]

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