Tag Archives: Bulgarian

Baba Yaga as the Bogeyman

Context: The informant is a 22 year old USC student and the daughter of two Bulgarian immigrants. She told me that when she visited her grandparents, they would often tell her stories about Baba Yaga.

In C’s words: “[A]s a kid, my grandmother would bring up the story of Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga is this old witch who lives in a house deep in the forest. She lurks there, skulking the countryside, looking for naughty children to abduct. The only visible sign of her witchcraft is how her house moves around on its own two skinny chicken feet”

Analysis: C told me afterwards that her grandmother told her these stories in order to scare her into behaving, with Baba Yaga functioning much in the same way the Bogeyman would. Here, Baba Yaga is treated as a legend, with C’s grandmother purposefully attempting to make it seem as if being kidnapped by her is a genuine possibility; this is a common tactic to get children to behave.

Interestingly, this version of the story doesn’t emphasize that Baba Yaga is terribly ugly or scary in any way physically — the only way to tell that she’s a witch is to see her cottage, at which point it would be too late for a potential victim. This makes it easier for Baba Yaga’s story to function as a legend, as she could essentially be anyone around you, making it easier to think that she’s real. It seems that because there’s no popular hero/villain story with Baba Yaga’s defeat in it, it’s almost easier to transition her from a fairy-tale creature to what could be considered a legend. In comparison to, say, the Big Bad Wolf, who also seems to function as a manifestation of the consequences of one’s behavior, Baba Yaga is much more believable as a real and present fear because she isn’t clearly associated with a narrative in which she is killed. By this, I mean that saying that the Big Bad Wolf might come after you doesn’t work as well partially because the most popular version of Red Riding Hood today ends with his death.

Part of the associated fear seems almost as if it’s due to an inversion of the grandmother stereotype/figure/character; rather than being maternal, Baba Yaga steals children. As mothers or grandmothers would typically be the ones telling these stories, it would only further that feeling of discomfort due to some sort of transgression upon the traditional concept of an older maternal figure.

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 Polite Moose

“So Connor, Dave, and (insert the name of the person you’re telling the joke to; we’ll say Jack in this case) went out camping.  They went out camping, just in the woods.  They’re sitting by the bonfire and the Park Ranger stops by to, ya know, make sure Connor, Dave, and Jack are following the rules of the park.  And they talk for a little and everything is all good, but just before the Park Ranger leaves, he says, “Just a heads up, you know, nothing too bad to worry about, but like there’s a Polite Moose that lives in this forest and every now and then he might come into somebody’s camp and uhh…..  I don’t know how to say it, but ya know, like he fucks one of us.  But like, so many people here, nobody heard of Moose in long time, so like, nothing to worry about.”  So ya know, like the boys have fun, they drink a little, and then they all go to their tents, uh, for the night, and Jack was really concerned about the Polite Moose, like ya know, he’s gonna come fuck him in the middle of the night.  So they were drinking like wine or champagne earlier, so he says, ya know, I’m gonna put this champagne cork up my butt, so even if like I’m sleeping and the Moose comes and wants to fuck me, ya know, he won’t be able to penetrate me, ya know.  So the other one’s are sleeping in the middle of the night, it was very dark and quiet… All of the sudden you hear from Jack’s tent “(sound of cork being uncorked, then in a very deep voice) Good evening, Jack.”



This joke relies heavily on the delivery, therefore it’s tough to get it fully across on paper.  During the punchline, the teller will stick his finger inside his cheek and then pull it out quickly, making a popping sound.  Then he will make his voice substantially deeper and say “Good Evening, (whoever he’s telling the joke to)”  I first heard this joke as a 16 or 17 year old while I was working my summer job.  Every summer since I was 16, I’ve done valet parking at a resort on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  The rest of the valets and I have a fair amount of downtime during the 8 hour shift, so we just tell jokes and stories to pass the time.  This joke belongs to my boss and good friend, Rado.  Rado is originally from Sofia, Bulgaria.  He came to the US a little over 10 years ago.  It was tough to get his Bulgarian accent to translate onto the page, but listening to him tell the joke in imperfect English is hilarious.   

Baba Marta: Bulgarian Springtime Ritual

Contextual Data: A friend and I were sitting together one day after class and exchanging different bits of folklore we had encountered in our childhood. She mentioned to me that she was Bulgarian and there was one particular tradition that her family continued to participate in, which had just passed the previous month. The following is an exact transcript of her description.

Informant: “Okay, so Baba Marta. It’s a holiday for Spring in Bulgaria, um, and the name—it literally translates as, um, Grandmother March, since March is like the month of Spring, and we start celebrating it on March 1st. And what you do is, um, you put this little pin on you. Um…Or a bracelet. And it has to be with red and white threads because those are, I guess, Bulgarian symbols of Spring. And they kind of symbolize, you know, rebirth and regrowth and newness. And you have to wear that pin or that bracelet. And it can come in, like, many different forms. Um, especially nowadays—they get really creative with the designs and they have like little dolls, and etcetera. But you wear it for the entire month of March. Um, and then you can take it off either when you see a flowering tree, or—like you take it off and you pin it on the tree—or just like at the end of March. And then again, you find some nice blossoming tree or flower and you just kind of pin it on there. And we get ours from our relatives and they just kind of like mail it to us—because you obviously can’t find any here—which is nice. And then you get to… Just kind of wear it and, like, still be connected to the culture and like people ask you about it and they’re like, ‘Oh, what’s this?’ And you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s for Spring.’ Um, which is cool. And… It’s a nice little decoration or bracelet I guess.”

– End Transcript – 

This ritual very much seems to be a part of a life-cycle celebration. My informant explained that the beginning of March marks the beginning of Spring in the Bulgarian calendar, and as can be seen in many different cultures, this time of the year symbolizes “rebirth and regrowth.” That people perform this ritual could therefore be a way of sort of earning luck or signifying a rejuvenation as they move forward. It could even just be away of acknowledging the importance of this “rebirth” in the earth cycle — particularly if the colors stand as “Bulgarian symbols for the Spring.” My informant also mentioned that now that she lives in America, it is kind of a way of allowing her to still be part of the Bulgarian culture and to connect to her family back in Bulgaria (particularly as her grandparents are the one to mail her the bracelets). Whenever she sees those bracelets hung on trees during this time of year, she does get a little thrill of excitement from it — a kind of “oh, that’s nice.”

You Only Know a Person After You’ve Eaten Through a Whole Sack of Salt with Him

Proverb: Само знаеш човек след като си изял цял чувал сол с него.

Transliteration: Znaesh chovek camo cled kato ci izyal cial chuval ot col c nego.

Literal Translation: You only know a person after you’ve eaten through a whole sack of salt with him.

Meaning: It takes time to really know get to know someone.


I was at home from college for a weekend and I was spending time with my family, which involved mostly listening to my mother gossip about her friends. She began to talk about someone whom we both knew that had turned out to be quite a different person that what we had originally thought. We had misjudged that friend’s character, and while it wasn’t anything too serious or dramatic, my mother shook her head and said a Bulgarian proverb I had never heard before: “cамо знаеш човек след като си изял цял чувал сол с него,” or “you only know a person after you’ve eaten through a whole sack of salt with him.”

Upon seeing my confused face, my mother explained that since one would sprinkle only a little bit of salt on one’s food occasionally, it would take an exceptionally long time to eat through a large sack with someone. However, that amount of time is necessary to truly understand a person’s character, given that personalities and circumstances are quickly liable to change.

Since salt has been a common spice used in Bulgarian salads, dinners, and various meals, there was bound to be at least one proverb using it. I feel that my parents and relatives that live in Buglaria use salt much more than I prefer to do, either because they prefer saltier food or I am more used to the plainer cuisines I eat in California. Whatever the reason and wherever I am, people agree that it is important to know and understand whom one is with.