Baba Yaga, the wild witch of Slavic folklore, appears throughout hundreds, if not thousands of folktales in Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine since the 18th century, if not much earlier. Figures similar to Baba Yaga also appear in west Slavic (Polish and Czech) folktales.
Baba Yaga’s name is not capitalized in Russian which leads us to assume that she embodies more of an archetypal role rather than that of an individual person. She is a type rather than a woman, wild, untamed, and frightening, Baba Yaga embodies the crone who guards the border between life and death. She transcends definition which only increases her power.
Although Baba Yaga is fearsome and wild, she is not easy to find. In fact, we must find her. She is known to reside in the deepest and darkest part of the forest, in places we can only access with the help of magickal aids. Her hut rests on the legs of chickens and moves at will. Some say her hut rotates in perpetuity with the earth, others that her hut will turn it’s back to newcomers until a magickal rhyme has been spoken” “Little house, little house! turn your back to the forest, your front to me.”
Her hut, far away from civilization, resides on the border to another world. It is surrounded by a fence made of bones and wild animals guard its entry. The center of Baba Yaga’s hut contains a stove whose flames she stokes with bones. The stove is often associated with the womb in Russian folklore as well as being known as the repository of the ancestor’s souls. As such, Baba Yaga’s hut represents the portal between life and death, the conduit from death to rebirth.
When Baba Yaga leaves her hut, she rides in a mortal and pestal, using the pestal as an oar to row through the air. Sometimes she carries a broom and sweeps her tracks as she goes. She is often accompanied by animals, a flock of birds or wild animals that run beneath her.
Baba Yaga is known to be unusually tall, stretching across the whole room when she lies down. Her teeth are made of metal which she sharpens in anticipation of a tasty human snack. She is said to be a cannibal and lures visitors into her hut in order to consume them. Whilst she is known to roam the skies in her mortar and pestle wreaking havoc, Baba Yaga also exists within her own duality. She may provide a newcomer with an answer they are seeking or, she may cook them on her stove! She represents a potent duality between life and death, destruction and renewal, male and female. “Like the mushroom, sometimes nourishing and delicious but also sometimes poisonous, Baba Yaga is an ambiguous presence in the Russian forest”
When we encounter Baba Yaga in a dream or vision we are experiencing an encounter with our shadow self. Baba Yaga asks: “of what are you afraid”? What boundaries have been transgressed? Where are we acting meekly when we desire to be heard? An encounter with Baba Yaga is an encounter with death and rebirth. It is a call to explore our authentic selves unfettered by conditioned ways of being.
When we invoke Baba Yaga we are walking the path into the depths of the forest where we may encounter aspects of ourselves that we do not initially like. It is a chance to connect with the untamed, wild nature of our being, to be unconcerned with outward appearances, to let our facades crumble.
Baba Yaga reminds us that appearances can be deceiving. She is impolite, unkempt and uninterested in the opinions of others. Her power resides outside of material conditions and she reminds us that so to, does ours.
Prompts For Working With Baba Yaga
- What does “wildness” mean to you?
- What aspects of yourself are you hiding?
- What are you afraid to say?
- What part of yourself has been “killed off” in order for you to conform to societal norms?
- Where do you need more “Baba Yaga” energy?
- What have you been taught about beauty which is disempowering to you?
Baba Yaga Associations
|Moon Phase||Waning / Dark|
|Sacred Animals||Birds, cats|
|Symbols||Mortar and pestle, broom, the forest, the hut|
|Crystals||Smoky quartz, bloodstone, tourmaline, garnet|
|Colors||White, red black|
- The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales, Introduction and Translations by Sibelan Forrester link
- Linda J. Ivanits, Russian Folk Belief link