Tag Archives: Baba Yaga

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.

Baba Yaga

Main Text

CS: “The myth of Baba Yaga, some people have heard of it, it’s like a Russian folktale. It’s like generally Eastern European, but um, the myth there is, as I’ve read through picture books and stuff, is there’s this like evil baba, baba is the Bulgarian word for grandma. So there’s this evil baba that lives out in the forest, and she lives in this hut that sometimes has chicken legs and sometime doesn’t, you know depends on like the retelling. And she flies around in a pot, like a cauldron, uh, and has a broom, flies around with a broom too. That’s how she, I don’t know, pushes the air or something, whatever. But she’s like really mean and, um, she like beats the kids that she kidnaps, she kidnaps the disobedient children so people always say like, uh, ‘You gotta listen to your baba, because she’s better than Baba Yaga, like, if you don’t listen to your baba then Baba Yaga is gonna come get you.”


CS is a 21 year old Bulgarian American from California and is a third year student studying Computer Science: Games at USC. CS first heard about Baba Yaga from his own baba as a tool to make sure he listened to her when in public. He never really believed in Baba Yaga and suspected, as a child, that his grandmother did not either as she always brought it up very coyly, but he understood what the stories were implying and so would always listen to what his baba said.


This story was told in CS’s household, and in other’s he says usually by a maternal figure to younger more impressionable children in order to keep them in line and listening to their grandmothers. The story supposedly only works as a deterrent if the children believe in and are afraid of Baba Yaga, but it had the same effect on CS even though he did not believe.

Interviewer Analysis

Baba Yaga follows a larger folkloric trend of children’s stories designed to instruct them by preying on their fear of the unknown, or upon instilling that fear. By using a story like Baba Yaga, parents are able to use a terrifying fictional character to make sure their children behave well. This story is told with good intentions by Eastern European parents and grandparents alike and is effective at achieving its goal, but this interviewer wonders if using fear of the unknown to keep children obedient has detrimental consequences in the long run.

For a deeper dive into the Baba Yaga story and story type, read Andreas Johns’ 2004 book Baba Yaga: The Ambiguous Mother and Witch of the Russian Folktale.

The Baba Yaga

The interlocutor (MT) is a friend of the interviewer’s (INT). She took a class on Russian literature at her university and learned about the Baba Yaga through her professor’s telling of the legend as well as through conducting her own research.

DESCRIPTION: (told over text)
(MT): “So the Baba Yaga is kinda a mixed figure in slavic folklore bc in the stories I’ve personally encountered, she’s a witch with cannibalistic tendencies (and a preference for children) who lives with her two other sisters (also named Baba Yaga, think Macbeth and the three witches). She lives in the woods and she’s depicted as super ugly and repulsive and often with reptilian traits.”

(INT): “Sorry, what kind of reptile?”

(MT): “A crocodile!!! So in the late 17th century, early 18th century, she was also used in these things called a lubok, which was this wooden tablet to tell stories and the ones that had the Baba Yaga were used to relay political messages and depicted her as a crocodile.”

(INT): “Okay, thanks.”

(MT): “Yeah, totally! in general, she’s a villain (hello! she eats children) and a scary figure who’s a hag, super ugly and lives in the woods, away from the “civilized” people in the cities and villages. But, like, some stories (like, later works of Russian lit) complicate her morality by making Baba Yaga more of a guiding figure who has wisdom from her age. That’s it, I think.”

Final Thoughts/Observations:
While I’ve definitely heard of the Baba Yaga before, it was interesting to hear about this folk tale from someone who’s studied her in more depth and tracked her through different pieces of Russian literature! The Baba Yaga is interesting because she’s another example of the stories people across different cultures tell children to scare them into good behavior. I noticed how MT’s telling of the Baba Yaga falls into the category of “redeemable villains” that we discussed in class. Overall, she’s clearly a fascinating and memorable figure in Slavic folklore that’s well-known for a reason.

Baba Yaga


The informant is a Russian-American-Bulgarian woman who spent the first half of her life in Russia. She currently resides in Boston, MA and the interview took place over zoom in which I interviewed her about the Russian folklore that she grew up with and that she feels represents the Russian people and culture.

Transcribed and translated from an interview held in Russian

Baba Yaga is this old mean witch that lives on the edge of the forest in a hut that stands on chicken legs. This hut can turn in different directions, so the hero comes to it and says “Hut, hut. turn your back to the forest and your front to me” So it turns and allows the hero to enter and speak with Baba Yaga. She’s evil so she can mess with you, lie to you, send you in the wrong direction. She flies in a mortar, holding a broom. 


The figure of the older, evil woman/witch is one that pops up a lot, especially in European folklore. Be that the evil stepmother or an evil witch, the purpose of this archetype remains largely the same: to impede the hero in their journey or to somehow cause them harm. This probably mirrors society’s general disapproval of an older, unmarried, childless woman by portraying them as “evil hags”. Even in the case of a stepmother, she almost always made out to be malicious, possibly because she is not the hero’s biological mother and usually has hers or her own children’s interest at heart rather than the hero’s.