Tag Archives: witch

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.”

Background

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.

Context

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 Salt Witch

The informant grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. Here, he tells the story of an old chieftain from the American Indian Omaha Tribe who encounters a witch after his wife’s passing.

N: There’s the Salt Witch. There’s a chief– I don’t know if he’s of the Omaha Tribe or not, cause there are some stories of chiefs of the Omaha Tribe. But, there’s a chieftain who lost his wife and he basically, like, shut down because his wife was dead. I don’t remember how his wife died. She just passed away, or something?

Um, but he retreated into his hut and the other members of the tribe were like “We gotta vote a new chief in. This guy’s doing shit all”. So one day he just came out of his hut, like, full war dress on adn just fucking leaves. And he, like, comes back a week or something later with a shitload of scalps, like heads, and a buncha salt. 

And the story– like the scalps are like, “Okay. He can still kill white people. Still strong” like whatever. But like, the salt part is he told a story about one night he was trying to sleep and he heard a ruckus. So he went out and he saw a young woman, who was being held down by an old crone about to chop her head off. And the chieftain ran and buried his tomahawk into the old crone’s head. Saved the young woman, and the young woman looked up at him and had his wife’s face. But then, when he reached down to grab her, she, like, disappeared, leaving a buncha salt behind. And he sorta scooped it all up.

“Reve-enka” – Norwegian Tale

Description of Informant

NF (21) is a Norwegian-American, born and raised in Trondheim, Norway before coming to Colorado for middle school. She is fluent in Norwegian and English, is a trained dancer, and presently studies screenwriting and acting at the University of Southern California.

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Context of Performance

The informant, NF, sits in her bedroom opposite the collector, BK, her friend and classmate.

Performance

NF: It’s called Reve-enka and it basically translates to “The Fox’s Widow” and it’s a Norwegian folktale, or fairytale, and… God I don’t know when it was written. Like early 1900s I want to say? And once again there was a claymation or stop motion [film adaptation]…

BK: So it’s a piece of authored work? Or…

NF: It’s from a collection. So these two Norwegians were inspired by the Grimms to travel around Norway and collect fairytales. So they would go inside people’s homes and collect their stories. And then they wrote those down, and later on, you know, 70 or however many years later, those were adapted into stop motion movies. So they’re examples of fairy tales that were then written down and it’s not exactly authored literature but it was collected the way that the Grimms collected stories and it’s hard to know how much was altered. But it was collected, I believe from a dairymaid. 

NF: So [Reve-enka] tells the story of this fox whose husband has just died, so she’s the fox’s widow. And she’s beautiful so she’s got all the suitors. So the first suitor is a wolf and on his way to her house he passes an old lady whose nose is really, really long. And it’s been caught in a tree stump like a crack. And she asks for help and he says, “No, I’m off to propose to the fox’s widow” so he leaves her alone and he goes to the fox’s house. Umm… knocks on the door and is turned away.

NF: The next suitor, I believe, is a bear. And he does the same thing. He walks past the old lady, he doesn’t want to help her. Goes to the fox’s widow and he’s turned away.

NF: And the last suitor is a fox himself. And he’s very poor, dirty. But he stops and he helps the widow— or not the widow, but the old lady. And he helps her get her nose out of the stump and of course… She’s. A. Witch! So she makes him look really nice and he cleans up his coat and makes him all shiny and handsome and sends him off to go see the fox’s widow.

NF: The fox’s widow has like this little helper. She’s like… I don’t know what animal she is. She’s like this little cat? Or something similar. And she’s the one that’s been opening the door and turning away the suitors.So she opens the door, and she’s the one who sees this beautiful gleaming fox. And she gives him such praise and is so excited to see him and welcomes him in. He meets the fox’s widow and they fall in love, and it’s love at first sight, and they live happily ever after.

NF: So it’s another one of those stories about, you know, helping people that you come across because you never know who they are. This was adapted into the film version which I have a stronger association with than the classic fairy tale, which I was told by my parents.

Collector’s Reflection

Reve-enka was collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe. Their collection of folktales was near and dear to NF growing up, and was her first experience with the tale. In the original story, which is written in old Norwegian, there is no witch. That seems to have been added to the film adaptation NF is familiar with. The story is also told more from the perspective of the widow rather than the suitors. In this version, as suitors arrive, the widow asks for the color of their coat/fur. She only accepts a suitor whose coat matches that of her dead husband.

While the story NF tells seems to be one of helping others (since you never know who may come back to help you later on), the original seems to deal more with grief, and one’s inability to let go. It makes sense that the former interpretation would be pushed for a children’s cartoon.

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To view a translated clip from the claymation film adaptation of Reve-enka, please see:

CLIP: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaUSgu_i3sw

“The Fox’s Widow.” IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/title/tt0056409/

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For a recording of Asbjørnsen and Moe’s version of Reve-enke, please see:

“Asbjørnsen & Moe Eventyr 3.” Spotify, 1 Jan. 2003, open.spotify.com/album/7LtZBeJjjiLFayAax6MDv1?highlight=spotify%3Atrack%3A7koo6ZKGO8aKWePNaqR6lM.

Native Version of “Hansel and Gretel”

Main Piece:

Informant: Ok, so there is like a legend and you know how Natives, they travel? Like, when one place kinda dries out or doesn’t have any buffalo or food, they move to the next place.  Well, that kinda like happened. There was these children and their mom asked them to get berries before they left. They kinda got distracted when they were picking berries. And when they came back they had already left. So they went and said, “ok, maybe this is the way they went.” They went and found a small cottage and, so this is kinda like a Native story of Hansel and Gretel. So they knocked and the lady welcomed them in and got them food and stuff. And then that night when they went to bed and the lady thought they were asleep she started singing a song about eating them. And then they secretly got out of their beds and slowly looked and when the lady, when they were sure the lady got into bed they saw their little sister in a cage. So they had to quickly get her out of it. And they escaped, but the witch was coming after them, because they heard her. But the end of this story can change either way, like they got home safely, or the witch ate them. But the good way is that they got out to a place where the witch couldn’t go and the witch was blocked off by this force field, or something like that. And then they went safely looking for their family and their tribe. And the bad way, is that she got them and ate them.

Background:

The informant is a ten-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in fourth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. My sisters and I were sharing stories one night when I asked if she recalled any old stories she heard.

Thoughts:

I have heard many variations of this story growing up. I’m curious to know how much it has evolved over the years, especially after European contact. It was interesting to hear my sister’s take on it. It shares many similarities with the Hansel and Gretel story; children lost in the woods who stumble across the home of an old woman. She takes them in and is later revealed conspiring to eat them. The villainous hag is a common trope in stories worldwide. In folklore, a crone is an old woman who may be disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in nature. She often has magical or supernatural abilities which can make her either helpful or obstructing. It is also a reversal of the nurturing and protective role a women traditionally plays in a child’s life, though historically, the most power person in a child’s life is the mother, so perhaps it is just a pendulum dynamic.

Old Woman Scratching the Tipi Walls

Main Piece:

Informant: We wouldn’t go to sleep and it was getting really, really late. And the younger kids were still awake. My older cousins and my older sisters would tell us that if we didn’t go to bed there is an old woman with really long nails that would scrape her nails along the outside of the tipi. She said that every time you talked or were loud, even laughed or anything, she would come closer and closer. And you knew she was about to take you when you start hearing her nails on the tipi, on the tipi canvas. It would start on the opposite side of the tipi and get closer and closer until it went passed you to the door. Then she would grab you and take you to the coulees. 

Background:

The informant is a fourteen-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in eighth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. Admittedly, I may or may not have told her this story long ago. We were cleaning the kitchen and I asked if she remembered any old stories she heard while growing up.

Thoughts:

There is a story about the lost children who get separated from their camp. Lost in the woods, they stumble across the home of an old woman. She takes them in and is later revealed conspiring to eat them. The villainous hag is a common trope in stories worldwide. In folklore, a crone is an old woman who may be disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in nature. She often has magical or supernatural abilities which can make her either helpful or obstructing. It is also a reversal of the nurturing and protective role a women traditionally plays in a child’s life, though historically, the most power person in a child’s life is the mother, so perhaps it is just a pendulum dynamic. The part shared above is a bit of a tag on, a tail end used to make sure children kept in line. It also shows the use of spirits as a disciplinary measure, serving as a warning when you edge too close to certain bounds.