Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Old age

Baba Yaga

Ekatherina Chumakova

 

Баба Яга (Old Lady Yaga)

Baba Yaga

“A scary old witch who lives in the forest in a hut that has chicken legs. She is usually like a boogeyman figure who will kidnap and eat children if they don’t behave, or if they wander alone into the forest. Baba Yaga is generally malicious, and flies around in a stoop with a broom for steering. She eats children and hapless travelers in the forest, and is said to be immortal. At the same time, if you’re a hero in a legend, she will give you tests and if you pass them, she can’t eat you and must grudgingly point you in the right direction. She is not always immediately evil: often she will pretend to be a kind old lady who is very hospitable, and will offer you a place to stay for the night. But most of her hospitality is a trap: the water with which you bathe might be boiled, the food might trap you in her clutches, and the bed makes you fall asleep so she can prey on you. However, she is often wise and if you can use common sense and get around her sometimes obvious traps, she will aid you in your quest.”

Analysis: This is a legend which also has links in numerous fairytales. Propp identified her as a typical villain figure, or, more often, a test for the main hero that he needed to pass in order to succeed. Baba Yaga does not usually seem an active figure unless she is dealing with children. This is probably used in stories to children in order to make them behave and not wander off into the woods. When it comes to adults, however, Baba Yaga does not seek them out but rather waits for them to come to her. There are many, many different conceptions of Baba Yaga in Russian folklore. Her appearance as an old woman both gives her an appearance of wisdom and age, and might also represent the separation of old women from society and family life in some respects: she is no longer bearing children, nor can she actively participate in household chores. In the village life in Russia, old women were sometimes seen as a burden, one more mouth to feed that had no concrete wisdom to give (being a woman). The idea of old women as witches is also a very popular one in Russia and Europe. That she has a broom reinforces the image. However, it does not accuse all old women of witchcraft, unlike Europe and the US: this is a singular character with a single name, as well known as ‘the boogeyman’ or ‘La Siguanaba’ in other cultures.

 

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