Tag Archives: russian folklore

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.

Domovoi and Barabashka


The informant is my father. He is a 55-year old white male and spent the first 26 years of his life in the Soviet Union (Moscow). He, like many others in the USSR was raised as an atheist, and his whole family (including himself) has a background in the sciences; therefore he is a very logical, analytical individual. 

The following conversation took place as a part of a larger conversation about Russian folklore during a road trip from Southern Utah to Las Vegas.

Transcribed and translated from an interview held in Russian

“The idea of home-dwelling ghosts is not very popular in Russian. But in older fairy tales, like from the pagan times there is the character of Domovoi. It’s this small creature, that you can’t really see – or can’t see at all – but it lives in the house and does all kinds of unexpected things”

Unexpected how?

“Honestly, I cannot really remember…he’s definitely more of a mischievous character, wreaking all kinds of havoc.”

“In later Soviet times, a more common character was Barabashka. Barabashka was like a Domovoi, but he doesn’t really do anything that’s bad or good, you can just hear him sometimes. And if you hear a sound coming from somewhere at home, they say that it’s the Barabashka making that noise”

Is it Barabashka because it sounds like the word baraban (drums)?

“Probably, yeah. But you see, because in the Soviet Union, people didn’t really own houses, unless it was in the country-side somewhere, the concepts of “ghosts haunting a castle” or something weren’t really a thing.”


Due to the political ideologies of the Soviet Union, it was uncommon to openly believe in religious or mythical stories or superstitions. This did not completely stop people from spreading folklore, but what it did do was make the resort to folklore from a pre-Soviet, even pre-Christian Russia, making pagan folk figures some of the most popular in Russian folklore in the late 20th century.



The subject is a USC student, born and raised in Southern California. The subject takes pride in his Russian-Jewish heritage, so I wanted to ask him about any rituals he has attended.



Subject: There’s a great Russian holiday, um, that’s to celebrate the end of the winter. And I saw it when I was going to school in Russia for a bit in eighth grade, I’m not sure the name in English but in Russian it’s called Maslenitsa. Which is sort of — it’s the process where you burn this, like, hay statue of the, winter witch, or something.

Interviewer: The winter witch?

Subject: Yeah, so it’s like the farmers defeated her, cuz she was gonna ruin their crops, but they survived. So it’s a very joyous time, and, um, you eat all this great Russian food, it was a lot of fun.

Interviewer: So when exactly in the year does it take place?

Subject: The end of winter, whenever it is that year, I, uh, think when I went it was the end of February or something.



Upon further research, I’ve found that Maslenitsa is an Eastern Slavic religious and folk holiday, celebrated during the last week before Great Lent, and it may be the oldest surviving Slavic holiday. Since Lent excludes parties, secular music, dancing, etc. which provide as distractions during times of prayer, Maslenitsa is the last time for individuals to take place in social activities.

An important aspect of the holiday which the subject did not include, is the presence of pancakes, and the lack of meat (however, in modern settings the ban of meat is less enforced).

Compared the the rituals and festivals which we studied in class, we can see that this society greatly values its prosperous agriculture. During such dire times of cold, harsh winter, it’s comforting to know that a party is waiting on the other end.