In Russian folklore there are many stories of Baba Yaga, the fearsome witch. Hideous to look upon, and with a nature to match, she devours her victims with her iron teeth. She is also known as Baba Yaga boney legs, cause in spite of her ferocious appetite, she is as this as a skeleton. And her nose is so long that it rattles against the ceiling of her hut when she snores. She sleeps stretched out on her ancient brick oven, which she also uses to cook her meals (including people whom she catches).
She does not seem to bother with pointed witch’s hats, and has never been seen sitting on a broomstick. Her mode of travel is a large mortar pushed along with a pestle. Never one for leaving a trail behind her, she sweeps away all traces of her path with a broom. It is also rumoured that she can fly through the air in the same manner.
Baba Yaga lives in a hut deep in the forest. Her hut seems to have a personality of its own and can move about on its large chicken legs. Usually the hut is either spinning around as it moves through the forest or stands at rest with its back to the visitor. The hut is surrounded by a fence made of the bones of Baba Yaga’s victims. Baba Yaga scares passersby to death just by appearing to them and then devours them. Her fence is topped with the skulls of her victims whose blazing eye sockets illuminate the darkness.
When a visitor enters her hut Baba Yaga asks them whether they came of their own free will, or were they sent (only one answer is the right one). Thankfully she appears to have no power over the pure hearts, such as Vasilisa and those of us who are “blessed” (protected by the power of love, virtue or a mother’s blessing).
She rules over the elements: her faithful servants are the White Horseman, The Red Horseman and the Black Horseman. When Vasilisa the beautiful (sometimes called Vasilisa the Wise) asks her who these mysterious horsemen are, she replies: “My Bright Dawn, my Red Sun and my Dark Midnight”.
In some stories she has two older sisters, who are also called Baba Yaga, just to confuse you!
Although she is mostly portrayed as a terrifying old crone, Baba Yaga can also play the role of a helper and wise woman. The Earth Mother, like all forces of nature, though often wild and untamed, can also be kind. In her guise as wise hag, she sometimes gives advice and magical gifts to heroes and the pure heart. The hero or heroine of the story often enters the crone’s domain searching for wisdom, knowledge and truth. She is all-knowing, all-seeing and all-revealing to those who would dare to ask.
Baba Yaga is the arch-crone, the goddess of wisdom and death, the bone mother. She brings wisdom and death (just like wild nature does) and through death, rebirth. Behind her story is the figure of the ancient Slavic goddess of death and rebirth, whose autumn harvest holds the promise of winter survival and new growth in Spring.