Tale – Polish

The Story of Baba Yaga

As told by Kathleen

“So there were these two kids, a boy and a girl who had been orphaned at a early age and were now living with their wicked stepmother.  Over the years she had gotten progressively meaner to them, making them do all the chores and feeding them very little food.  One day she decided that she wanted to get rid of them for once and for all so she told them that they were to go live with her grandmother, Baba Yaga.

So the kids set out in the direction she told them, but decided to stop at the cabin of their loving grandmother on the way there.  She was shocked to hear about how their stepmother had bee treating them, and treated the kids to a large lunch and gave the kids a ton of cookies afterwards.  She then sadly sent them on their way claiming that there was nothing that she could do, and that they must obey their stepmother.  As the walked out the door she offered them one last piece of advice: “Just remember no matter what happens always be kind and courteous to everyone!”

The kids set out on their way into the forest and finally came across a very particular cabin.  It was spinning in circles on top of giant chicken legs.  They said a chant…I don’t remember what it was… and the house stopped spinning, turned around to face them and lowered itself to the ground.  As they were approaching the house, a haggard old witch named Baba Yaga walked out.  “I’ve been expecting you,” she said, “I will let you stay and live a good life with me if you prove that you are a hard worker—otherwise I will eat you up!”  She immediately put the two kids to work, the girl had to spin thread and her brother was forced to fill a bathtub with a colander.

The witch left for the day and the girl and the boy slaved away all day at their respective chores not having much luck.  Finally, the girl was so overwhelmed that she began to cry.  Mice appeared at her feet and squeaked, “sweet girl do not cry, give us cookies and we will help you.”  The girl willingly did so.  They said, “go find the black cat, he is hungry and if you give him a cookie he will help you.” While she was looking for the cat, she came across her brother who was having no luck filling the tub.  Some birds flew up to her and said, “sweet children give us some crumbs and we will advise you.”  They willing did so and the birds chirped, “Use some clay.”  Understanding the hint, the children plastered the sides of the colander with clay and were able to fill the tub in a very short time.

They then came across the cat and said, “dear kitty-cat, will you tell us what we can do to escape?”  The cat answered, “I will give you a towel and a comb and then you must run away. If you hear the witch catching up to you, drop the towel behind you and a large river will appear in place of the towel.  If you hear her again drop the comb which will turn into a dark wood.”  Baba Yaga came home just then.  “Well, she said to the children, you did well today, but we shall see about tomorrow when your chores will be harder and hopefully I will get to eat you up.

The next day they were told to weave linen and fetch a large amount of firewood.  As soon as Baba Yaga left the children ran away as fast as they could.  The dogs came chasing after them, but they gave them more cookies.  The gates did not open, so they smoothed them with oil.  The tree tried to scratch their eyes out, but they tied a ribbon on its branches they ran far, far away.  When Baba Yaga returned she was outraged to see that the children were gone.  “Where are the children!” she yelled and began kicking the cat.  The cat answered, “I have been faithful to you for so many years but you have never given me anything and those kind children gave me a cookie.”  The witch scolded the dogs, then the gate and then the tree.  They all had a similar reply.

Angrier than ever, she jumped inside her giant mortar, and moved swiftly using the pestle like an oar.  The children heard her behind them screaming, “Baba Yaga is coming to get you and eat you up!”  They threw down the towel and a huge river appeared, causing Baba Yaga to have to search for a place shallow enough to cross.

Eventually they heard Baba Yaga catching up again so they threw down the comb.  This time a dark forest appeared.  Baba Yaga tried very hard to get through the forest but eventually gave up in vain.

The children found their way back to their grandmother’s house and told her what happened and lived there happily ever after.”

Kathleen heard this story one time when she was over at her Polish friend’s house.  Her friend’s parents would always joke about “Baba Yaga” in witch like voices and would say that she was on her way to eat them up.  Kathleen said that after hearing references to the story multiple times, she finally asked them to tell her the full story and this is what they told her.  Kathleen was amused by the story because she liked how it was unique with the witch traveling in a mortar and pestle instead of on a broomstick.  Kathleen also said that she believed that there were other stories about Baba Yaga, and that this was just one out of many.

After doing some research on Baba Yaga, I found that it is a very common Russian folktale, and that it probably immigrated to Poland due to the cultural ties between the two countries.  There are a lot of children’s books about Baba Yaga, as well as movies and cartoons.  Because it is such a common folktale and is found in a large geographical area, my guess is that there are many different versions of the same story, and a quick Internet search on Baba Yaga confirmed my suspicions.

Story Found in:

Baba Yaga. The Ambiguous Mother and Witch of the Russian Folktale. (International. Folkloristics 3). New York: Peter Lang, 2004. 352 pp