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Baba Yaga – The Mythical Forest Witch from Slavic Folk Tales

What lies behind the legend of every child’s worst nightmare

Photo © Slavorum / source: slavorum.org

Baba Yaga is one of the most famous character that we can find in Slavic mythology. The old crooked nose, old hag that is as evil as much as hideous she looks. Both a force of nature and evil old women that eats people that dwell into the deep forest. Her name comes from Slavic word for grandmother “Baba” and word “Yaga” is not certain but some think it means “Wicked”, also it should be noted that South Slavs call here traditionally Baba Roga.

However in all Slavic countries she is portrayed in same fashion as old witch hag that dwells in forest and preys on lost wanderers, certainly something you would not want to come across. This is why mentioning her to young kinds has become popular in Slavic countries to keep your children quiet before sleep or she would come and punish them.

Baba-Yaga-sculpture
Blood thirsty Baba Yaga sculpture / Photo © Artemiy Ober / wikimedia cc

In many tales she is mentioned as being created by Slavic goddess Morana, in her attempt to rival Perun and other Gods.

Etymology and origin of name “Baba Yaga”

Term Baba Yaga is mostly used in Eastern Slavic languages, while Baba Roga in Southern Slavic languages.

Baba – It’s first word “baba” is a babble Slavic word for “old woman” or simply “grandmother”. Same word is also used in South Slavic languages while West Slavs such as Poles have a variation “babcia”. Most popular Russian word for grandmother, “babushka” also originates from “Baba”.

Yaga – second word “yaga” appears in many different forms across Slavic lands. For example Serbian and Croatian word “jeza” (horror, chilling your bones) is related to Yaga. But it should be noted that South Slavs call this creature as “Baba Roga”. Yaga probably derived from old Church Slavonic “jędza” meaning (illness or disease) or upper mentioned “jeza” (to horrify) and as such it was attributed to this old crone witch that brings horror to people that get lost in forest (or miss-behaving children).

Baba Yaga in Slavic folk tradition

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In folk are a lot of times they use to illustrate Baba Yaga as if she is riding a broom, or mortar and in tales she dwells in a hut that stands on large chicken legs while one could find human skulls and bones around the hut or even as a hut decor. With her stove being located inside the hut this is the place where Baba Yaga ends it’s victims and eats them, however despite all this cannibalism she is always illustrated as weak and skinny old woman.

Popular myth about the old witch Baba Yaga

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In some myths Baba Yaga gives tasks to it’s victims and depending on the successful completing of their mission they are either eaten or rewarded. So she isn’t only evil villain but in many cases she even could help them like in the Russian story of “Vasilisa the Beautiful” where Baba Yaga gives her tasks to accomplish in trade for help.

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However in popular art and myths she is usually depicted as completely evil mythical creature and our recommendation is if you ever walk alone in woods to keep away from flying old hags!

You can get your own Baba Yaga / Roga to protect your room:

Baba Yaga the Slavic Witch Sculpture

Other articles on Slavic creatures and legends you might like:

Did you hear of myths about Baba Yaga / Roga?

What do you think?

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