Name: Баба Яга
Transliteration: Baba Yaga
Description: Informant describes it as an Urban Legend that became a fairytale, but presented more like a legend. It is a witch who lives in a traditional log cabin. The cabin sits on either two or one giant bird feet. She is a cannibalistic witch. Her house is decorated with the decapitated heads of her victims. She flys in the sky on a butter churner. She lures children if they are not sleeping and kidnaps them. Described as an ugly old lady with a big hook nose. People have expressed memorates of how they have seen her and how disturbing she looks.
Background Information: Russian legend whose story is told by adults to children or spread from children to children. Also spread and kept alive through memorates.
Context: The informant had originally told me this story when we were children. She recently reiterated it to me through video call. She is of Russian and Armenian descent. She was originally introduced to Baba Yaga by her cousin who was living in a small town named Stary Oskol, which is located in Russia.
Thoughts: Classic example of stranger danger. This legend is used as a lesson to children to sleep and not to wander (especially into the woods). Informant told me that Russia is very forested, so Russians try to warn children to not go into the woods because it is very dangerous. Baba Yaga is used as a cautionary tale to not go into the woods because the witch lives there. Adults need to make a fear that the children will understand instead of telling them the reality of the danger of the woods. Fantasy is more effective for children in contrast to reality.
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
“In ancient folklore, dating back to the pre-Christian, pagan times, there were a lot of beliefs about forest creatures. For example, Leshiy and Rusalka. Rusalka is essentially just a mermaid. Leshiy is this type of creature that lives in the forest. He was often depicted in paintings resembling a dry tree. So like this essense of the forest, who acts as its caretaker/ guardian who’s invisible.There is also this creature called Kikimora. I think she lived in swamps. Like a swamp mermaid, if I am not mistaken. Leshiy and Kikimora are two very popular creatures in pagan folklore. These creatures were located in the countryside, rather than cities, which is why fairy tales about them usually stemmed from small villages”.
A lot of Russian folklore got lost, hidden, or pushed to the outskirts during the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, folklore from pre-Soviet times, especially surrounding less populated areas like forests, swamps, lakes and other natural areas remained prominent particularly in smaller villages. It was much harder for the government to forcibly ban or eliminate folklore in such areas, seeing as the folklore had been around for so long and there was no way to really control it, especially in more rural areas.