Baba Yaga: The Fearsome Witch of Slavic Lore
The Witch Archetype
Baba Yaga is a powerful and terrifying witch depicted in Slavic folklore. She lives in a small hut, located deep in the forest. Her property is surrounded by a massive fence, decorated with human bones as if they were ornamental wind chimes. Often, her hut is described as being set upon chicken legs, an unsettling image any way it is illustrated. Her primary mode of transportation is a mortar and pestle set. She sits within the bowl of the mortar and uses the pestle like an oar to move through the sky. This shows attention to the practice of alchemy or herbal work, which is an integral part of witchcraft. It is said she appears as a long, skeletal figure with an enormous hooked nose which reaches the ceiling of her hut when she rests. Her legacy is as erratic as she is, as she is often said to be the guardian of her dark and wild land, a matriarch, and a wise teacher, but also a fickle and treacherous eater of men. The earliest recognizable mention of her is found in a Russian text written by Mikhail V. Lomonosov in which he presents a series of tales from Slavic tradition. Most surviving stories involving Baba Yaga don’t revolve around her, but around heroes or villains who come in contact with her.
One of the most interesting details of Baba Yaga is that she is described as being neither malevolent nor “good.” Many folktales throughout the centuries differentiate between witches as being either good or evil, but stories of Baba Yaga illuminate that the true nature of a witch is more ambiguous, or even unpredictable. This Slavic crone is often helpful, willing to impart her wisdom unto those who seek it, but she is also a formidable enemy, should one incur her ire. Many times, she has been credited with the success or the downfall of heroes in Slavic lore.
Baba Yaga and the Trinity
Some tales of Baba Yaga describe her as being more frightening than she appears in other tellings of her deeds. Some say that she abducts and consumes those who wander in the forest, and that she tends to prefer the flesh of children. These stories draw a similarity between her and other witches of folklore, such as Black Annis of England, and the witch with a candy house in the story of Hansel and Gretel. Baba Yaga is unique here however, as it is said she never seeks out victims to consume. She tends to only feed on those foolish enough to approach her or her home.
Some stories imply that she lives with two sisters who share the same name, meaning that there are three separate but intertwined Baba Yagas. The depiction of her as part of an interconnected group of three highlights the significance of the trinity in folklore, mythology, religion, and psychology. Groups of three are common throughout the cumulative consciousness of humanity and is often found to be related to great supernatural power. Examples are the Holy Trinity of the Christian faith, the Norns of Norse tradition, the Fates of Greek mythology, and so-on. Baba Yaga appearing as part of a trinity suggests that she has been recognized as an exceptionally powerful being.