I absolutely love Baba Yaga, so much that I wrote her into my Revenant Wyrd Saga as a hag that was thought to be evil, but was really helpful. Without her, I don’t think my characters would have stood a chance. Baba Yaga is a hag, or a trio of sister hags who all have the same name. She is one of those tricky woodland spirits who can either help or hinder any who seek out her home.
She’s thought to fly through the night in a large mortar using a pestle to help steer herself around. When not flying through the skies, this hag lives deep in the forest in a decrepit hut that’s supported by chicken legs. As if that’s not bad enough, the windows of her hut serve as eyes that can peer out at all who venture to find Baba Yaga. But even if you find her hut, that doesn’t mean she will help you, or that you will even get an audience with her because her house won’t show you it’s front door unless you know the secret incantation. It’s been said that if you know this incantation and speak it just right, the house will turn its front to you, crash down to the ground, and the doors will be flung wide, allowing you to enter.
She has three horsemen that serve her: one completely white that she calls her White Dawn; one that’s completely red that she calls her Red Sun; one completely black that she calls her Black Midnight. She also has three spectral helpers that can appear out of thin air to do her bidding. . .do you feel as though the number three is important to her yet?
She is an Earth Goddess, a guardian of the waters of life and death. “Baba Yaga is the Arch-Crone, the Goddess of Wisdom and Death, the Bone Mother. Wild and untamable, she is a nature spirit bringing wisdom and death of ego, and through death, rebirth.” Read more at Old Russia.
Tales of Baba Yaga might persist through to some of our more modern fairy-tales. In Hansel and Gretel we hear of the of the old witch who lives in the woods and eats children. This could be to scare kids from the woods, but in the tales of Baba Yaga we often find that once a hero has figured out the magical phrase that will allow them entry to her home, they will find Baba Yaga stretched across the top of her huge stove. They’re given tasks to complete, and if the hero fails, well he may end up right in her stove. But she’s good to her word. If she promises the hero help upon completion of the task, she will deliver good on her word.
Baba Yaga isn’t always good or bad. She can also show us that from bad, good can arise. There’s an old Russian tale called “Vasilisa the Beautiful” which is essentially Cinderella. The story differs when Vasilisa’s horrible step sisters demand that she bring them more light and Vasilisa goes out looking for it (apparently light is a limited resource in their house). With the help of a doll her recently deceased mother gave her, the girl stumbles upon Baba Yaga. The hag makes her go through a series of difficult tasks, and once they are complete, she gives Vasilisa a skull torch. When Vasilisa returns home, however, the torch catches the house afire and it burns her evil stepmother and sisters alive. Homeless, Vasilisa ends up married to the tsar.
While Baba Yaga can be either good or bad, and you may just end up cooked in her stove if you fail at a task, it’s said that she can’t harm those who are pure of heart. I find Baba Yaga to be a very interesting character, and while she also has a task for the characters in my story, I like to think of her as a benevolent spirit who’s just misunderstood.