Thursday Fun: Baba Yaga

I’ve always found Baba Yaga to be a figure of particular interest. If you think about it, she’s sort of like the witch in the story of Hansel and Gretel, except without the candy house. In fact, she’s so brazen in her villainy that she doesn’t just subsist on a diet of children, she flaunts their bones all over her yard.

Her house is not designed to lure, but children come to her anyway, often due to circumstances beyond their control, (cast out by selfish stepparents seems to be a popular one throughout European folklore). The children find themselves in situations where they have to work for her in order to gain their freedom, and tasks run the gamut from the tedious to the impossible.

Typically, Baba Yaga is pitted against a young girl—often the iconic figure of Vasilisa the Beautiful, who, despite her appellation, is portrayed as resourceful, sensible, and generally fearless.

Here is my favorite illustration of Vasilisa the Beautiful, as depicted by Ivan Bilibin.

Vasilisa

In this picture, we see her using one of Baba Yaga’s burning skulls as a lamp, and in the background is the Baba’s cottage, which stands on a single chicken’s foot, behind a fence of bones. The grisly details are really what sets Baba Yaga apart from other European witches. To me, the particulars of these stories just “have that Slavic sensibility,” whatever that may be (although skull-lanterns that burst into flame at dusk definitely suit my preconception).

Last month, I wrote my weekly fiction about Vasilisa and her wise doll, and the way in which Baba Yaga is occasionally depicted as a figure of knowledge and wisdom, imparting great truths. These stories are a notable minority, however. Usually, she just wants to chew on your bones.

12 thoughts on “Thursday Fun: Baba Yaga

  1. I Love her Hut…They even made it an artifact in the RPG D&D LMAO…I know I’m a bit of a geek.

  2. If you are a Fairy Tale, gnawing on enough bones will bring you wisdom.
    And some small measure of Solitude.

  3. Have you read “Enchantment” by Orson Scott Card? It’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with Baba Yaga as the villain. She’s still more the chew-on-your-bones type, but he manages to flesh her out some, and make her quirky. Great read.

  4. That is so cool! And thanks for the links. There’s actually something extra-compelling about seeing her portrayed as so young and so . . . well, she almost looks arrogant, and it’s just really intriguing.

  5. Haha :D–well, when you put it that way, the solitude is pretty much a given, I suppose.

  6. Oh wow, this sounds wonderful. I love Orson Scott Card, but I’ve only read the Ender books. I just looked up Enchantment on Amazon, and I can’t pass up any book with this line: “Only a fool would want to live through the Russian version of any fairy tale.”

  7. This is totally cool! I’ll admit that I don’t really know what an artifact is in this context, but I’m assuming it’s an object of significance 😉 and I love the idea of the crossover mythology (I’m always really happy to find Eastern European lore slipping into American media).

  8. In my PhD life, I went on a Fulbright to Russian in 2006 specifically to research Baba Yaga. The end result was a paper about Baba Yaga’s appearances in US pop culture, as well as some academic babble about the nature of BY.

    In edition to Enchantment, I recommend looking at Mike Mignola’s Hell Boy, and Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic, which both have pretty good portrayals of Baba Yaga, if you’re interested.

    Catherine

  9. I went on a Fulbright to Russian in 2006 specifically to research Baba Yaga

    That sounds like so much fun (and work. and fun). Thanks for the reading suggestions–I love seeing examples of Russian folklore through the pop-culture lens!

  10. I’d love to decorate the kids’ room with art like that. Another one would be of the house on a chicken leg–I usually love those. I had no idea one could get a PhD studying “BY” (I love it!). It almost re-inspires me to seek higher education. Almost.

  11. I’d love to decorate the kids’ room with art like that.

    Do you have any idea how much that would have made my entire childhood?

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