Baba Yaga or Baba Roga (also known by various other names) is a haggish or witchlike character in Slavic folklore. She flies around on a giant mortar, kidnaps (and presumably eats) small children, and lives in a hut that stands on chicken legs. In most Slavic folk tales, she is portrayed as an antagonist; however, some characters in other mythological folk stories have been known to seek her out for her wisdom, and she has been known on rare occasions to offer guidance to lost souls. According to Propp, she often fulfills the function of donor; that is, her role is in supplying the hero (sometimes unwillingly) with something necessary to further his quest.
The name of Baba-Yaga is composed of two elements. Baba means “old woman” or “grandmother” in most Slavic languages; it derives from babytalk and often has come to have pejorativeconnotations in modern Slavic languages. The second element, yaga, is from Proto-Slavic (j)ęga, “Jędza”[Polish], which is probably related to Lithuanian ingis (“lazybones” or “sluggard”), Old Norseekki (“pain”), and Old English inca (“question, scruple, doubt; grievance, quarrel”).
An early recorded reference to yaga-baba in English appears in Of the Russe Common Wealth by Giles Fletcher, the Elder, in the section “About Permyaks, Samoyeds and Lopars”, indicating a possible Uralic influence.
The name differs within the various Slavic languages. It is spelled Baba Jaga in Czech, Slovak and Polish (though Czech and Slovak also use Ježibaba). In Slovene, the words are reversed, producingJaga Baba. In Russian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian and Belarusian, it is Баба Яга́ transliterated as Baba Yaga (also Baba Yaha, in Ukrainian and Baba Yaha or Baba Jaha in Belarusian). In South Slaviclanguages and traditions, there is a similar old witch, written Baba Roga in Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian, and Баба Рога in Bosnian, Macedonian and Serbian - this name translates as “horned old woman/grandmother”. In Romanian, which is not Slavic but one of the Romance languages, the name is Baba Cloanţa (roughly translated as “old hag with broken teeth”).
In Russian tales, Baba Yaga is portrayed as a hag who flies through the air in a mortar, using the pestle as a rudder and sweeping away the tracks behind her with a broom made of silver birch. She lives in a log cabin that either moves around on a pair of dancing chicken legs, is surrounded by a palisade with a skull on each pole, or both. The keyhole to her front door is a mouth filled with sharp teeth; the fence outside is made with human bones with skulls on top, often with one pole lacking its skull, leaving space for the hero or heroes. In another legend, the hut does not reveal its door until it is told a magical phrase: “Turn your back to the forest, and your front to me.”
In some tales, the hut is connected with three riders: one in white, riding a white horse with a white harness, who is Day; a red rider, who is the Sun; and one in black, who is Night. Baba Yaga is served by invisible servants inside the hut. She explains the riders if asked, but may kill a visitor who inquires about the servants.
Baba Yaga is sometimes shown as an antagonist, and sometimes as a source of guidance; there are stories in which she helps people with their quests, and stories in which she kidnaps children and threatens to eat them. Seeking out her aid is usually portrayed as a dangerous act. An emphasis is placed on the need for proper preparation and purity of spirit, as well as basic politeness. It is said she ages one year every time she is asked a question, which may explain her reluctance to help. This effect, however, can be reversed with a special blend of tea made with blue roses.
The Polish folklore version differs in details. For example, the Polish Baba Jaga’s hut has only one chicken leg. Monstrous witches living in gingerbread huts are also commonly named Baba Jaga. Baba Jaga, flying on a broom and wearing black and red striped folk costume of Świętokrzyskie Mountains, is an unofficial symbol of Kielce region (it is connected with legendary witches’ sabbaths on Łysa Góra mountain). In some legends Baba Yaga is also awarded the title Костяная Нога (“The Bone Leg”) and considered a guardian between the real world and the land of the dead. This title later became an idiom, often used as taunt.
Baba Yaga is used as a stock character by authors of modern Russian fairy tales, and from the 1990s in Russian fantasy. In particular, Baba Yaga is included in such books as Andrey Belyanin's cycle Secret service of Tsar Pea. The childhood and youth of Baba Yaga were described for the first time in the A. Aliverdiev’s tale “Creek” (“Lukomorie”).
Other recorded Russian fairy tales that feature Baba Yaga are “Teryoshechka”, “The Enchanted Princess”, and “The Silver Saucer and the Red Apple”.
Tagged as: Baba Yaga. Baba Roga. Slavic Folklore. Hag. Witchlike. Witch.
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