Who is Baba Yaga? - Stories & Folklore

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the infamous Baba Yaga, who is featured as one of the most fearsome characters in a number of Russian fairytales. While typically portraying the enemy, Baba Yaga does help people learn important lessons.

Baba Yaga

Many American parents remind their kids to behave because Santa is watching them and will bring them coal and whips if they aren't. This is a cautionary tale that encourages good conduct. In Russian, many parents tell their children stories about Baba Yaga to keep them on the straight and narrow. Baba Yaga literally means 'Grandmother Jadwiga.' Let's find out more about Baba Yaga.

Physical Description

Baba Yaga is a thin, ugly, old witch with a long nose and iron teeth. Instead of flying on a broomstick, Baba Yaga flies in a mortar and uses the pestle to guide her movements. A mortar and pestle is a small cup and grinding tool used in the kitchen or by an apothecary to prepare spices or medications.

She lives in a log cabin that stands (and moves) on chicken legs. Her home is surrounded by a fence made of skeletal parts and topped with human skulls with illuminated eye sockets. The keyhole is made of sharp teeth. Sometimes it is portrayed as windowless and other times it is portrayed as having 2 windows that serve as eyes.

Cautionary Tales

Stories of Baba Yaga are told by parents to keep children close to home, but the stories are also used to teach children to be polite, respectful, and kind as these character traits render Baba Yaga powerless in her attempts to kidnap and eat children. When she is approached with a pure heart, there are stories where she helps people, as well.

Vasilisa the Beautiful

One of the most popular fairytales featuring Baba Yaga is 'Vasilisa the Beautiful' in which Vasilisa is ordered by a cruel stepmother to find light. Vasilisa goes to Baba Yaga's chicken hut, and Baba Yaga forces her to work to earn the fire with the threat of death. Vasilisa completes her work, but is thrown out of Baba Yaga's house with the light when Vasilisa credits her success to her mother's blessing.

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