Baba Yaga – Russian tale


“My grandmother told me this legend when I was a little girl. I don’t remember all of it super well but this is pretty much what she told me. Baba Yaga is a woman-like creature who I think had chicken legs and she lives in the woods. She is very cruel and really quite ugly. She would scare children and eat them if the went near her home. I was always really quite scared that would happen to me when I was little. She really is very witch-like. But, she also was very knowledgeable, so if you needed something and you came to her with the right gifts she would help you. But you had to be careful because she would play tricks on people, so you had to think everything she said or did for you because you never know if she is playing a trick or not. I remember asking my grandmother one time what you had to bring to her to receive help and she wouldn’t tell me. I think she was scared I would go looking for her and get lost [laughs].”


I was told this story from L, my grandmother, over the phone. I knew she could tell me this story because she had told it to me also when I was very little. Her grandmother (my great-great grandmother) was the one who originally told it to L. L was born and raised in California, but her grandmother was born in Russia.


Although L categorized this story as a legend, it fits more succinctly as a tale. This is a relatively well known tale in Slavic countries. It teaches you to be wary of strangers and careful when receiving something from someone because their motives for helping you are not always clear. It is also used to teach and scare children away from wondering into the woods alone. L who never even lived near the woods, feared Baba Yaga when she was a child. Adults are not usually scared of Baba Yaga the way children are. It is shares similar qualities of other stories from the tale type index, such as the character Baba Yaga, who like many other tales, is a witch who lives in the woods. It is also interesting to note in the version L shared with me, there are no other characters, nor does it center around a plot. The whole tale is who Baba Yaga is and what she does, yet it is not told through the perspective of other characters, such specific children. Other versions might have more details, which might give a deeper look into the lessons behind the tale.