Baba Yaga

Today we’re travelling to Slavic regions to learn about Baba Yaga, the old crone-like witch who lives deeps in the forests of Russia and Eastern Europe. Baba Yaga is not your boring, run of the mill witch who wears a pointy hat. Instead, she lives in a hut which walks around on long chicken legs with a mind of its own, surrounded by glowing red skulls. Baba Yaga also forgoes the traditional broom-method of transportation, and travels by sitting in a giant floating mortar, her bony legs tucked under chin, and rows herself through the forest with her giant pestle. Baba Yaga is known for being quite thin, despite her appetite for pretty young girls and handsome youths. She also has quite a reputable nose, which is said to scrape against the ceiling of her hut as she snores in her sleep. Baba Yaga is a mysterious character at the best of times. She has been portrayed with several different facets, and symbolizes aspects that range from an earth-mother goddess to death itself.

One of the most famous Russian children’s stories about Baba Yaga follows a young girl named Natasha, and begins quite similarly to the Grimm brothers’ tale of Hansel and Gretel. Natasha lived happily with her widower father in the forests of Russia. Happily, that is, until he decided to marry again. Natasha’s stepmother was a cruel woman who hated children. One day the stepmother got the wicked idea in her head to get rid of Natasha for good, and instructed the girl to go deep into the forest to see the stepmother’s sister, Baba Yaga, for a needle and thread. Natasha was reluctant to go, for she had heard tales of Baba Yaga, and how any children who entered her home were never seen again. But the stepmother insisted, shoving a handkerchief full of stale meat and cheese into Natasha’s hands before sending her off.

Natasha followed the step mother’s directions, soon coming to Baba Yaga’s hut in the forest. The creaky old house turned around on its chicken legs, seeming to stare at her before kneeling down and allowing Natasha to enter through it’s mouth-like door. Baba Yaga was waiting for her.

“Good day, Auntie,” Natasha said to her, trying not to sound afraid, “My stepmother has sent me to you for a needle and thread.”

“Has she, my niece?” Baba Yaga grinned slyly. She knew her sister hated Natasha. “Sit down at this loom and go on with my weaving while I fetch it for you.”

Natasha sat down at the loom and Baba Yaga left, snickering. Of course she had no intention of getting the needle and thread. Instead, she meant to make a meal out of her niece, and began dragging buckets of hot water into the tub to wash the dirt from her skin.

“Are you weaving my pretty?” she called, emptying the first bucket.

“I am weaving, Aunty,” Natasha answered in despair, for she suspected Baba Yaga’s plan. As she wove, and scrawny black cat slunk in, looking hungrily about for mice.

How lucky, Natasha, reaching for her cherif of food. She gave the meat and cheese to the cat, who gobbled it up, and then blinked gratefully at Natasha.

“Little girl,” said the cat, “do you want to get out of here?” Natasha nodded vigorously. The cat whispered, “There is a comb and towel for your bath on the stool. You must take both of them and run. When Baba Yaga chases after you, throw each of them behind you. I’ll take care of the loom.”

Natasha got up, and the cat immediately started working the pedals of the loom for her, so the clickety-clack of the machine never stopped to give away her absence. The girl took the comb and towel and ran as fast as she good back the way she came.

“Are you weaving, my pretty?” Baba Yaga called.

“I am weaving, Aunty,” said the cat.

“That doesn’t sound like my dinner!” cried Baba Yaga, bursting in to find the cat at the loom, the thread in a massive tangle.

edouard-zier-the-baba-yaga-chases-the-girl-in-a-pestleThe witch ran outside and clambered into her enchanted mortar, shrieking with rage. She paddled through the air with her pestle, gaining on Natasha quickly. Natasha whimpered in fear and threw the towel behind her, amazed as it transformed into a wide river. Baba Yaga cursed her, unable to get across, and conjured up a herd of horses to slurp down the river. They did so quickly, and the witch gave chase again. Natasha, still running hard and fast, panicked as she saw her so close behind her. But then she remembered the comb, and threw that down behind her. The comb sprouted up into a forest, with trees so dense and tall that even Baba Yaga couldn’t get through. The witch howled in frustration, finally giving up and returning to her hut.

Natasha returned home to her worried father and astonished stepmother. She told her father everything as it had happened, and he was so angry that he drove his wife out of the hut. From that point on, Natasha lived happily with her father, who never let a stranger come between them again.

Hope you enjoyed! Again, please comment your requests!

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