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Baba Yaga as depicted by Ivan Bilibin (1902)
Baba Yaga as depicted by Ivan Bilibin (1902)

In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is a supernatural being (or one of a trio of sisters of the same name) who appears as a deformed and/or ferocious-looking woman. Baba Yaga flies around in a mortar, wields a pestle, and dwells deep in the forest in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs. Baba Yaga may help or hinder those that encounter or seek her out and may play a maternal role and has associations with forest wildlife. According to Vladimir Propp's folktale morphology, Baba Yaga commonly appears as either a donor, villain, or may be altogether ambiguous.

Andreas Johns identifies Baba Yaga as "one of the most memorable and distinctive figures in eastern European folklore," and observes that she is "enigmatic" and often exhibits "striking ambiguity."[1] Johns summarizes Baba Yaga as "a many-faceted figure, capable of inspiring researchers to see her as a Cloud, Moon, Death, Winter, Snake, Bird, Pelican or Earth Goddess, totemic matriarchal ancestress, female initiator, phallic mother, or archetypal image".[2]

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Baba Yaga is a supernatural figure in European folklore, who appears as a misshapen witch. She hides in a hut in the woods, and is known to kidnap children and eat them. baba Yaga was essentially the archetype that most modern witches came from. But what if baba yaga wasn’t just a legend. What if baba yaga was real? Welcome back to life’s biggest questions, I’m your host charlotte dobre. This is where I ask you to leave a like and subscribe to the channel for more videos like this one. Baba Yaga was, by most accounts, a very scary woman, who was portrayed as the witch in Russian and Slavic fairy tales. Baba yaga has warts all over her face, a long crooked nose, a hairy chin, hooks for hands and humpback. Her log hut was surrounded by a fence made of human bones and skulls on top. When a protagonist goes to visit baba yaga, they are often told to do so after speaking to forest animals while on a quest. Her character sometimes threatens to eat children and cut off the head of the hero in the story. But baba yaga isn’t always portrayed a fearsome hag, often her character is presented as a source of guidance, or a maternal figure, where she helps the protagonist on their quest. She presents the hero with a task, in exchange for power and happiness, but if the hero does not complete the task, the consequence is death. Some experts believe baba yaga is a representation of primal womanhood. She embodies both destruction and the power of creation. So, first things first, if baba yaga was real, she would have been far more impactful. Tribes and ancient humans would believe she was some sort of god, and there would be entire religions devoted to baba yaga. We would see evidence of elaborate frescos and temples devoted to her. Her image on pottery and figurines. She would have helped many people, and many people would have also feared her, but then, many people also fear god as well. If baba yaga was real, it would essentially mean that witches are real. After all, its said in many Slavic fables that baba yaga is the youngest of three sisters. Who knows how many witches are really out there, but if they really existed, people would flock to them for guidance. Perhaps the entire course of history could have been changed. In one story about baba yaga, Vasilia the beautiful, she helps a young woman kill her wicked stepmother and stepsisters who have inspired to have vasilia killed. They send vasilia to baba yaga, thinking that baba will eat her, but instead, baba yaga presents vasilia with several impossible tasks, that she successfully completes. After this, baba yaga helps vasilia kill her terrible family, and eventually vasilia ends up marrying the tsar. Who knows how many stories like vaslilia the beautiful exists, how many people’s lives baba yaga would help to improve, and how many people she would end up killing. But one thing is for certain, a visit to baba yaga would not be for the faint-hearted. Kings and powerful men would visit her to ask for her help in winning wars and conquering lands and enemies. She probably wouldn’t help them though, baba yaga tends to give men the really difficult tasks, and she gives women strange household chores to do. I guess shes sort of biased in that way, but hey, maybe some jerk broke baba’s heart at one point or a series of jerks and now she takes it out on the rest of men. You know, it would be nice for women to get a break, they definitely got the short end of the stick, historically speaking. Everything would be relatively fine until Christianity came along. Its pretty difficult to see the good in a witch when she’s a cannibal, so the catholic church would probably want to get rid of her. Witches have never been liked by the catholic church, as you probably know, tens of thousands of women and men were wrongfully persecuted after being accused of being witches, or practicing witchcraft when they weren’t. Instead of representing the divine feminine, catholics believed witches were satan’s conspirers. Witch hunts plagued Europe between the years 1400 to 1782. By the time the last witch was burned at the stake, over 60 thousand people had been executed. If there really was a real life witch lurking about in the forest somewhere, it can be assumed that this ruthless persecution would be much, much worse. Townspeople would search the forests with pitchforks and torches, looking for baba yaga. Of course, they probably wouldn’t find her because she’s a powerful witch that can fly and who knows what else. But people who were suspected of either being baba yaga or colluding with baba yaga would be persecuted. Lets hope in this case baba yaga would find a way to intervene. After all, it would be completely unfair for all those innocent people to die because of her. In this case, she would show herself and display her power in such a way that challenges the idea of Christianity. Baba yaga is a real life magical being, and sure, maybe jesus was too, but the existence of another type of absolute power other than god, would challenge the very idea of Christianity, which is, to this day, the most powerful religion on planet earth. Word of the powers of baba yaga would eventually spread, and like jesus, she would start to gain followers. Until finally, earths most powerful religion would be the church of baba yaga. Followers would gather outside her hut by the millions, which, let’s be honest, she would obviously hate. Hey, just because she’s the embodiment of the divine feminine, that doesn’t mean shes nice. Thank you for watching life’s biggest questions, if you enjoyed this video you’ll love our video, are Ouija boards dangerous. Once again my name is charlotte dobre and if you want to catch up with me, my instagram handle is in the description of this video. Make sure you subscribe to notifications so you never miss a video.



Variations of the name Baba Yaga are found in the languages of the Eastern Slavic peoples. The first element, baba, is transparently a babble word. In Old Russian, baba may mean 'midwife', 'sorceress', or 'fortune teller'. In modern Russian, the word бабушка or babushka (meaning "grandmother") derives from it, as does the word babcia (also "grandmother") in Polish. In contemporary, unofficial Polish Baba is the pejorative synonym of woman (especially old, dirty or foolish woman). Baba may also have a pejorative connotation in modern Russian, both for women as well as for "an unmanly, timid, or characterless man".[2] Similarly to other kinship terms in Slavic languages, baba may be employed outside of kinship, potentially as a result of taboo. For example, in variety of Slavic languages and dialects, the word baba may be applied to various animals, natural phenomena, and objects, such as types of mushrooms or a cake or pear. This function extends to various geographic features. In the Polesia region of Ukraine, the plural baby may refer to an autumn funeral feast.[2]

These associations have led to variety of theories on the figure of Baba Yaga, though the presence of the element baba may have simply been taken as its primary meaning of 'grandmother' or 'old woman'. The element may appear as a means of glossing the second element, iaga, with a familiar component. Additionally, baba may have also been applied as a means of distinguishing Baba Yaga from a male counterpart.[2]

While a variety of etymologies have been proposed for the second element of the name, Yaga, it remains far more etymologically problematic and no clear consensus among scholars has resulted. For example, in the 19th century, Alexander Afanasyev proposed the derivation of Proto-Slavic * and Sanskrit ahi ('serpent, snake'). This etymology has subsequently been explored by other scholars in the 20th century.[3]

Related terms to the second element of the name, Yaga, appear in various Slavic languages; Serbo-Croatian jeza ('horror, shudder, chill'), Slovene jeza ('anger'), Old Czech jězě ('witch, legendary evil female being'), modern Czech jezinka ('wicked wood nymph, dryad'), and Polish jędza ('witch, evil woman, fury'). The term appears in Old Church Slavonic as jęza/jędza (meaning 'disease, illness'). In other Indo-European languages the element iaga has been linked to Lithuanian engti ('to abuse (continuously), to belittle, to exploit'), Old English inca ('doubt, worry, pain'), and Old Norse ekki ('pain, worry').[3]


The heroine Vasilisa outside of the hut of Baba Yaga as depicted by Ivan Bilibin (1899)
The heroine Vasilisa outside of the hut of Baba Yaga as depicted by Ivan Bilibin (1899)

The first clear reference to Baba Yaga (Iaga baba) occurs in 1755; Mikhail V. Lomonosov's Rossiiskaia grammatika ('Russian grammar'). In Lomonosov's grammar, Baba Yaga is mentioned twice among other figures largely from Slavic tradition. The second of the two mentions occurs within a list of Slavic gods and beings next to their presumed equivalence in Roman mythology (the Slavic god Perun, for example, appears equated with the Roman god Jupiter). Baba Yaga, however, appears in a third section without an equivalence, attesting to perception of her uniqueness even in this first known attestation.[4]

In the narratives in which Baba Yaga appears, she displays a variety of typical attributes: a turning, chicken-legged hut; and a mortar, pestle, and/or mop or broom. Baba Yaga frequently bears the epithet "bony leg" (Baba Iaga kostianaia noga), and when inside of her dwelling, she may be found stretched out over the stove, reaching from one corner of the hut to another. Baba Yaga may sense and mention the "Russian scent" (russkim dukhom) of those that visit her. Her nose may stick into the ceiling. Particular emphasis may be placed by some narrators on the repulsiveness of her nose, breasts, buttocks, or vagina.[5]

In some tales a trio of Baba Yagas appear as sisters, all sharing the same name. For example, in a version of "The Maiden Tsar" collected in the 19th century by Alexander Afanasyev, Ivan, a handsome merchant's son, makes his way to the home of one of three Baba Yagas:

He journeyed onwards, straight ahead [...] and finally came to a little hut; it stood in the open field, turning on chicken legs. He entered and found Baba Yaga the Bony-legged. "Fie, fie," she said, "the Russian smell was never heard of nor caught sight of here, but it has come by itself. Are you here of your own free will or by compulsion, my good youth?" "Largely of my own free will, and twice as much by compulsion! Do you know, Baba Yaga, where lies the thrice tenth kingdom?" "No, I do not," she said, and told him to go to her second sister; she might know.[6]

Ivan walks for some time before encountering a small hut identical to the first. This Baba Yaga makes the same comments and asks the same question as the first, and Ivan asks the same question. This second Baba Yaga does not know either and directs him to the third, but says that if she gets angry with him "and wants to devour you, take three horns from her and ask her permission to blow them; blow the first one softly, the second one louder, and third still louder." Ivan thanks her and continues on his journey.[7]

After walking for some time, Ivan eventually finds the chicken-legged hut of the youngest of the three sisters turning in an open field. This third and youngest of the Baba Yagas makes the same comment about "the Russian smell" before running to whet her teeth and consume Ivan. Ivan begs her to give him three horns and she does so. The first he blows softly, the second louder, and the third louder yet. This causes birds of all sorts to arrive and swarm the hut. One of the birds is the firebird, which tells him to hop on its back or Baba Yaga will eat him. He does so and the Baba Yaga rushes him and grabs the firebird by its tail. The firebird leaves with Ivan, leaving Baba Yaga behind with a fist full of firebird feathers.[7]

In Afanasyev's collection of tales, Baba Yaga also appears in "Baba Yaga and Zamoryshek", "By Command of the Prince Daniel", "Vasilisa the Fair", "Marya Moryevna", "Realms of Copper, Silver, and Gold", "The Sea Tsar and Vasilisa the Wise", and "Legless Knight and Blind Knight" (English titles from Magnus's translation).[8]

Related figures and analogues

Ježibaba, a figure closely related to Baba Yaga, occurs in the folklore of the West Slavic peoples. The name Ježibaba and its variants are directly related to that of Baba Yaga. The two figures may stem from a common figure as far back as the medieval period, if not further, and both figures are at times similarly ambiguous. The two differ in their occurrence in different tale types and in details regarding their appearances. Questions linger regarding the limited Slavic area—East Slavic nations, Slovakia, and the Czech lands—in which references to Ježibaba are recorded.[9] Another related figure appears in Polish folklore by the name of Jedza.[10]

Scholars have identified a variety of beings in folklore who share similarities of varying extent with Baba Yaga. These similarities may be due to either direct relation or cultural contact between the Eastern Slavs and other surrounding peoples. In Eastern Europe, these figures include the Bulgarian gorska maika (Горска майка', Mountain Mother', also); the Serbian Baba Korizma, Gvozdenzuba ('Iron-tooth'), Baba Roga (used to scare children in Croatia), sumska majka ('Forest Mother'), and the babice; and the Slovenian Pehtra Baba. In Romanian folklore, similarities have been identified in several figures, including Mama padurii ('Forest Mother'). In neighboring Germanic Europe, similarities have been observed between the Alpine Perchta and Holda or Holle in the folklore of Central and Northern Germany, and the Swiss Chlungeri.[11]

Some scholars have proposed that the concept of Baba Yaga was influenced by East Slavic contact with Finno-Ugric and Siberian peoples.[12] The Finnish Syojatar has some aspects of the Baba Yaga, but only the negative ones, in other Finnish tales helpful roles akin to those from the Baba Yaga may be performed by Akka.[13]

Baba Yaga in music and art

In 1874, the Russian composer Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky composed the piece "The Hut On Hen's Legs (Baba-Yaga)" based on a drawing by Victor Hartmann; Russian: Избушка на курьих ножках (Баба-Яга), as part of the suite Pictures at an Exhibition.[14]

In 1899, the illustrator Ivan Bilibin depicted Baba Yaga in his illustrations for "Vasilisa the Beautiful", a Russian folktale collected in Alexander Afanasyev's Narodnye russkie skazki.


  1. ^ Johns (2004), pp. 1-3.
  2. ^ a b c d Johns (2004), p. 9.
  3. ^ a b Johns (2004), p. 10.
  4. ^ Johns (2004), p. 12.
  5. ^ Johns (1998), p. 21.
  6. ^ Guterman (1973), p. 231.
  7. ^ a b Guterman (1973), p. 232.
  8. ^ Afanasyev (1916).
  9. ^ Johns (2004), p. 61-66.
  10. ^ Hubbs (1993:40).
  11. ^ Johns (2004), pp. 68-84.
  12. ^ Johns (2004), p. 61.
  13. ^ Johns (2004), pp. 80-82.
  14. ^ "Music about Poultry, Day 2 – "The Hut on Hen's Legs" from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky". smartandsoulfulmusic. 2015-11-24. Retrieved 2018-10-22.


This page was last edited on 12 January 2019, at 15:02
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