Yaga by Ivan Bilibin
on image for larger version
Russian folklore there are many stories
of Baba Yaga, the fearsome witch with
She is also known as Baba Yaga Boney
Legs, because, in spite of a ferocious
appetite, she is as thin as a skeleton.
In Russian that's: 'Baba Yaga Kostianaya
some stories she has two older sisters,
who are also called Baba Yaga, just
to confuse you!
nose is so long that it rattles against
the ceiling of her hut when she snores,
stretched out in all directions upon
her ancient brick oven.
being a boringly-conventional witch,
she does not wear a hat, and has never
been seen on a broomstick. She travels
perched in a large mortar with her knees
almost touching her chin, and pushes
herself across the forest floor with
Whenever she appears on the scene, a
wild wind begins to blow, the trees
around creak and groan and leaves whirl
through the air. Shrieking and wailing,
a host of spirits often accompany her
on her way.
Being a somewhat secretive lady, (in
spite of all the din she makes,) she
sweeps away all traces of herself with
a broom made of silver birch (what are
brooms for anyway?).
can also fly through the air in the
Here's a picture of her flying across
the evening sky by Ivan Bilibin:
Yaga lives in a hut deep in the forest.
Her hut seems to have a personality
of its own and can move about on its
extra-large chicken legs. Usually the
hut is either spinning around as it
moves through the forest or stands at
rest with its back to the visitor. The
windows of the hut seem to serve as
the while it is spinning round, it emits
blood-curdling screeches and will only
come to a halt, amid much creaking and
groaning, when a secret incantation
is said. When it stops, it turns to
face the visitor and lowers itself down
on its chicken legs, throwing open the
door with a loud crash.
hut is sometimes surrounded by a fence
made of bones, which helps to keep out
intruders! The fence is topped with
skulls whose blazing eye sockets illuminate
a visitor enters her hut, (not too often)
Baba Yaga asks them whether they came
of their own free will, or whether they
were sent. (One answer is the right
she appears to have no power over the
pure of heart, such as Vasilisa and
those of us who are 'blessed' (protected
by the power of love, virtue, or a mother's
Baba Yaga rules over the elements. Her
faithful servants are the White Horseman,
the Red Horseman and the Black Horseman.
When Vasilissa asks her who these mysterious
horsemen are, she replies: 'My Bright
Dawn, my Red Sun and my Dark Midnight.'
her other servants, are three bodiless
and somewhat menacing pairs of hands,
which appear out of thin air to do her
bidding. She calls them "my soul
friends" or "friends of my
bosom" and she is more than a little
reticent about discussing them with
strange character who served as a herdsman
for Baba Yaga is the sorcerer Koshchey
the Deathless. Read all about him here.
here's a mystery for you: While she
is giving instructions to Vasilisa,
Baba Yaga mentions that 'someone spiteful'
had mixed earth in with her poppy-seeds.
What could she have meant? Could Baba
Yaga possibly have an enemy? Would anyone
dare to risk incurring her wrath?
to see larger pictures
on pictures to see full size images)
she is mostly portrayed as a terrifying
old crone, Baba Yaga can also play the
role of a helper and wise woman. The
Earth Mother, like all forces of nature,
though often wild and untamed, can also
In her guise as wise hag, she sometimes
gives advice and magical gifts to heroes
and the pure of heart. The hero or heroine
of the story often enters the crone's
domain searching for wisdom, knowledge
and truth. She is all-knowing, all seeing
and all-revealing to those who would
dare to ask.
is said to be a guardian spirit of the
fountain of the Waters of Life and of
Baba Yaga is the Arch-Crone, the Goddess
of Wisdom and Death, the Bone Mother.
Wild and untamable, she is a nature
spirit bringing wisdom and death of
ego, and through death, rebirth.