Baba Yaga is the Russian Goddess of birth and death that has devolved into a child-eating boogie-witch whose name was used to threaten children into obedience. “Be good or Baba Yaga will eat you!” She appears as a deformed and ferocious looking elderly woman who is thin as a skeleton. It’s no wonder that she frightens children; she has iron teeth that stick out like boar’s tusks, hands that are tipped with bear claws, wears a necklace of human skulls, and smokes a pipe.
Baba Yaga also possesses a potion that can transform her into a beautiful young woman. She never transforms to seduce or to obtain love, she changes so that she may deceive and misguide strangers. The lesson that she teaches is that not all is as it seems, and one must be wary of beauty as well as ugliness.
Baba Yaga lives in the heart of a deep, birch forest in a little hut named Izbushka (which means little hut) that stands on stilt-like chicken’s feet. The hut is a sentient being that will obey orders and can move. Izbushka moves through the forest, screeching and groaning, with a spinning motion that imitates the spinning of the earth. It will only come to rest when a special incantation is spoken, then the door flings itself open with a loud crash. The house itself is made of bones that Baba Yaga has collected, the door posts are leg bones, the lock is a sharp-toothed mouth, the bolt is a hand. The windows serve as eyes. The fence surrounding Izbushka is made of 12 bones capped with skulls whose empty eye sockets glow in the dark. The twelve fence posts correspond to the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Wherever the house is located, it is always at the border of the realms of death and the afterlife.
Inside the house is an oven that Baba Yaga sleeps upon and where she attempts to roast children and hapless heroes that have stumbled across her forest dwelling. She is almost always unsuccessful in cooking her guests, and is quite often tricked into the oven where she herself, is roasted. She has been burned up, but will always be reborn again and can never truly die.
Baba Yaga rides through the woods perched in a mortar, pushing herself across the forest floor with a pestle. The mortar is also capable of carrying her through the air and is then steered by the pestle. Like all witches, she has a broom, but she never rides it, instead she uses it to sweep away all traces of her presence. BabaYaga’s broom is made of birch twigs.
You will know that Baba Yaga is present when a wind begins to blow, causing trees to creak and groan and leaves to swirl through the air. You may hear the shrieking and wailing of the spirits that often accompany her on her way. She is accompanied by three horsemen who are her servants, representing dawn, sun, and night. In this aspect she is the Mistress of Time who measures the Turning of the Wheel.
Though Baba Yaga is mostly seen as a terrifying old hag, she can also be a helper and wise woman. She sometimes gives advice and magickal gifts to heroes and the pure of heart. To those who dare to ask, she will sometimes impart wisdom, knowledge and truth. In her aspect as Primal Mother, she rescues, nurtures and destroys. She is the guardian spirit of life and death, wild and untameable, she is the spirit of nature who brings wisdom and death of ego through spiritual death and re-birth. Her awesome power is to be feared and respected, but if you have the courage to confront her, you will be rewarded with the wisdom and power of the grandmother/ crone aspect of your life.
ANIMALS: All animals but especially horses, hedgehogs, snakes, and dragons
BIRDS: Crows, ravens, and owls which are not only hunting birds but are also Psychopomps who bear a dead soul on a journey or a living person to the Underworld.
PLANTS: Poppies, black sunflowers, medicinal herbs, rye
OFFERINGS: Traditional Russian foods, the more difficult to make the more she will like it. Tobacco, black Russian Caravan tea, and vodka.
©Rowan Morgana 2014
The Encyclopedia of Spirits by Judika Illes
Baba Yaga - Witch, Crone and Archetype
Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales