Baba Yaga: Wikis


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Baba Jaga, by Viktor Vasnetsov.

Baba-Yaga (in Russian pronounced Bába-Yəgá; also spelled Baba Jaga) is a witch-like character in Slavic folklore. She flies around on a giant mortar or broomstick, kidnaps (and presumably eats) small children, and lives in a hut which stands on chicken legs. In most Slavic folk tales she is portrayed as an antagonist; however, some characters in other mythological folk stories have been known to seek her out for her wisdom, and she has been known on occasion to offer guidance to lost souls, although this is seen as rare.


Etymology and origin

The name of Baba-Yaga is composed of two elements. Baba means "old woman, grandmother" used in most Slavic languages; it derives from child language and often has pejorative connotations.[1] The second element, yaga, is from Proto-Slavic (j)ęgа, which is probably related to Lithuanian ingis 'lazybones, sluggard', Old Norse ekki 'pain', and Old English inca 'question, scruple, doubt; grievance, quarrel'.[2] It has also been suggested that Yaga may be a diminutive of the feminine name Jadwiga.[citation needed]

An early recorded reference to "yaga-baba" is in Of the Russe Common Wealth by Giles Fletcher, the Elder, in the section "About Permyaks, Samoyeds and Lopars",[3] indicating at a possible Finno-Ugric influence.[4]

The name differs within the various Slavic languages. It is spelled "Baba Jaga" in Czech, Slovak and Polish (though Czech and Slovak also use Ježibaba). In Slovene, the words are reversed, producing Jaga Baba. In Russian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian and Belarusian it is Баба Яга transliterated as Baba Yaga (also Baba Jaga, in Ukrainan and Belarusian Baba Yaha or Baba Jaha). In South Slavic languages and traditions, there is a similar old witch, written Baba Roga in Croatian and Bosnian, and Баба Рога in Serbian and Macedonian. In Romanian, which is not Slavic but one of the Romance languages, the name is "Baba Cloanţa" (roughly translated as "old hag with broken teeth").


Vasilisa the Beautiful at the Hut of Baba Yaga, by Ivan Bilibin

In Russian tales, Baba Yaga is portrayed as a hag who flies through the air in a mortar, using the pestle as a rudder and sweeping away the tracks behind her with a broom made out of silver birch. She lives in a log cabin that moves around on a pair of dancing chicken legs, and/or is surrounded by a palisade with a skull on each pole. The keyhole to her front door is a mouth filled with sharp teeth; the fence outside is made with human bones with skulls on top, often with one pole lacking its skull, leaving space for the hero or heroes. In another legend, the hut does not reveal the door until it is told a magical phrase: Turn your back to the forest, your front to me.

In some tales, the hut is connected with three riders: one in white, riding a white horse with white harness, who is Day; a red rider, who is the Sun; and one in black, who is Night. Baba Yaga is served by invisible servants inside the hut. She will explain the riders if asked, but may kill a visitor who inquires about the servants.

Baba Yaga is sometimes shown as an antagonist, and sometimes as a source of guidance; there are stories where she helps people with their quests, and stories in which she kidnaps children and threatens to eat them. Seeking out her aid is usually portrayed as a dangerous act. An emphasis is placed on the need for proper preparation and purity of spirit, as well as basic politeness. It is said she ages one year every time she is asked a question, which probably explains her reluctance to help. This effect, however, can be reversed with a special blend of tea made with blue roses.

Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin

In the folk tale Vasilissa the Beautiful, recorded by Alexander Afanasyev (Narodnye russkie skazki, vol 4, 1862), the young girl of the title is given three impossible tasks that she solves using a magic doll given to her by her mother.

In the Christianised version of the story, Vasilissa is sent to visit Baba Yaga on an errand and is enslaved by her, but the hag's servants — a cat, a dog, a gate, and a tree — help Vasilissa to escape because she has been kind to them. In the end, Baba Yaga is turned into a crow. Similarly, Prince Ivan in The Death of Koschei the Deathless is aided against her by animals whom he has spared.

The version in Polish folklore differs in details. For example, the Polish Baba Jaga's hut has only one chicken leg. Monstrous witches living in gingerbread hut are also commonly named Baba Jaga. Baba Jaga, flying on a mop, wearing black and red striped folk cloth of Świętokrzyskie Mountains is an unofficial symbol of Kielce region (it is connected with legendary witches sabbaths on Łysa Góra mountain).

Baba Yaga is used as a stock character by authors of modern Russian fairy tales, and from the 1990s in Russian fantasy. In particular, Baba Yaga meets at Andrey Belyanin's books in his cycle Secret service of Tsar Pea, etc. The childhood and youth of Baba Yaga for the first time were described in the A. Aliverdiev's tale Creek ("Lukomorie").

In some fairy tales, such as The Feather of Finist the Falcon, the hero meets not with one but three Baba Yagas. Such figures are usually benevolent, giving the hero advice or magical presents, or both.[5]

Other recorded Russian fairy tales that feature Baba Yaga are Teryoshechka, The Enchanted Princess, and The Silver Saucer and the Red Apple.[6]


Cabin on chicken legs

Nicholas Roerich, "Izba smerti" ("Hut of Death", sketch, 1905), an artistic expression of burial traditions of the ancient Slavs

According to Russian folklore, Baba Yaga dwells, in the words of the preface to Alexander Pushkin's fantasy poem Ruslan and Lyudmila, in a "cabin on chicken legs... with no windows and no doors". Baba Yaga herself usually uses the chimney to fly in and out on her mortar. Sometimes the door appears at the other side of the hut; to see it, a hero should say "Hut, o hut, turn your back to the woods, your front to me" and thus force the cabin to turn around and discover the door.

Sami storehouse, Stockholm, Sweden

This may be an interpretation[citation needed] of an ordinary construction popular among hunter-nomadic peoples of Siberia of Uralic (Finno-Ugric) and Tungusic families, invented to preserve supplies against animals during long periods of absence. A doorless and windowless log cabin is built upon supports made from the stumps of two or three closely grown trees cut at the height of eight to ten feet. The stumps, with their spreading roots, would give an impression of "chicken legs".

A similar but smaller construction was used by Siberian pagans to hold figurines of their gods. Recalling the late matriarchy among Siberian peoples, a common picture of a bone-carved doll in rags in a small cabin on top of a tree stump fits a common description of Baba Yaga, who barely fits her cabin: her legs lie in one corner, her head in another one, and her nose is grown into the ceiling.[citation needed]

There are indications that ancient Slavs had a funeral tradition of cremation in huts of this type. In 1948 Russian archaeologists Yefimenko and Tretyakov discovered small huts of the described type with traces of corpse cremation and circular fences around them; yet another possible connection to the Baba Yaga myth.[7][8]

Modern fantasy writers, such as Tad Williams and Elaine Cunningham use the character of the cabin on chicken legs in their works, as do Fritz Leiber in Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and Mike Mignola in his portrayal of Baba Yaga in his Hellboy comics. The castle in Hayao Miyazaki's film version of Diana Wynne Jones' novel Howl's Moving Castle also moves on mechanical chicken legs.


Baba Yaga is one major character in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s children story Joseph & Koza, where she is described as having a face like a pitch, a red turned up nose with broad nostrils, eyes burning like live coals, thistles instead of hair and a beard. Singer also mentions that the Mazovians believed in “many lesser babas” and “little imps called dziads.”[9] In his novel The King of the Fields, Baba Yaga was a goddess to whom the prehistoric Poles made sacrifices.[10]

Popular culture

Baba Yaga is a major character in Orson Scott Card's novel, Enchantment. In this novel, Card plays Baba Yaga as the antagonist, and weaves a lot of the folklore and possible origins of the folklore into his novel. In Michael Buckley's The Sisters Grimm series, Baba Yaga is a supporting character in the fictional town of Ferryport Landing. In the Primeval novel Extinction Event, Baba Yaga is interpreted to be a Tyrannosaurus which travelled to the present through an anomaly. In the Fables (comics), Baba Yaga is a spy for the Adversary. Baba Yaga's hut is parodied in Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 novel, Ravenor Rogue, as the "Wych House of Utochre". The Wych House takes the form of a 300m wide metal construct with clawed feet and short legs which it can use to run. The whole House hangs upside down under a frozen ocean, attached to the pack ice above by its feet. One character remarks that the house reminds him of an ancient legend from his home world, the myth of Baba Yaga. He is quickly corrected that this is actually an ancient earth legend. Baba Yaga appears in Sarah Zettel's 'A Novel of Isavalta' series as well as an illustrious but powerful political player who has her own political agenda and tries to achieve her goals by intimidation and manipulation of other characters, often aided by magic weavings.

Baba Yaga also appears in Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson novel Bone Crossed. She appears as a healing fae and not a witch.

Film and animation

Baba Yaga from Bartok the Magnificent.

Baba Yaga is a favorite subject of Russian films and cartoons. The film Vasilissa the Beautiful by Aleksandr Rou, featuring Baba Yaga, was the first feature with fantasy elements in the Soviet Union.[11] Georgy Milliar, a male actor, portrayed Baba Yaga in numerous movies from 30's to 60's, among them Vasilissa the Beautiful, Morozko, New Adventures of Puss-in-Boots, and others. He also often portrayed Koschey the Deathless.

The animated film Bartok the Magnificent features Baba Yaga as a main character, but not the antagonist. 'Emily and the Baba Yaga' is an animated short telling a modern version of the classic tale. Instead of combs and handkerchiefs, chainsaws and mangy pets help defeat the hag.

The Soviet film Jack Frost featured a character called the "Hunch-Backed Fairy" who was obviously Baba Yaga, to the point that she first appeared in the chicken-legged house, and later was seen flying around in a mortar.

Carroll Baker portrayed Baba Yaga in a 1973 Italian-produced, English language film that was retitled Baby Yaga, Devil Witch for its release in the United States[12]. This film is not noted as a faithful retelling of the legend, however[13].

Baba Yaga briefly appears in the 16th episode of Russian animated series "Nu, pogodi!" Her chicken-legged house contained a magic apple tree that turned a body part of whoever ate from the tree into an animal's. Inside the house there was also a gusli (hollow-boxed stringed instrument) that, when played, forces people and the house itself to dance.

The Baba Yaga appears in a Hellboy short story titled The Baba Yaga, which can be found within the graphic novel Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others. She serves as the main antagonist in Hellboy: Darkness Calls, in which she tries to take revenge on Hellboy for the events that occurred in the The Chained Coffin.

Computer games

In the online game RuneScape, Baba Yaga is featured in quests and as an integral part of the Lunar Isle where she runs a magic store in her chicken-legged house.[14]

Baba Yaga's chicken house from the game RuneScape.

Baba Yaga is also a character in the Sierra games, Quest for Glory and Quest for Glory 4. She serves as the primary antagonist in the first game, having cursed the Baron of Spielberg and thus causing all the troubles which the player must set to rights. Her role in the fourth game is much smaller, dealing entirely with a subplot relating to a Gnome comedian whom she cursed in revenge for his making fun of her in his act. Baba Yaga's chicken-legged hut appears in both games, though only the first requires the magic phrase "Hut of brown, now sit down"; in the fourth, the player must coax it into sitting with an offer of corn.[citation needed]

Fantasy RPG

In the fictional world of Golarion (published by paizo) Baba Yaga subdued the realm of Irrisen, defeating the local barbarian tribes in a 23 days lasting winter war and placing one of her numerous daughters in power for a hundred years. After this time she returns (from a realm beyond) and places another daughter of hers in power taking the former one with her.


Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, a suite for piano composed in 1874, features "The Hut on Bird's Legs (Baba Yaga)" as its penultimate movement. Mussorgsky's suite has since been set in whole or in part for a variety of instruments. The most famous version for orchestra was made in 1922 by Ravel. The progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer adapted Mussorgsky's suite for an album in 1971 that included the original Baba Yaga movement along with an original track entitled "The Curse of Baba Yaga."

Baba Yaga (opus 56), a symphonic poem by Anatoly Lyadov, was composed between 1890 and 1904. The music depicts the witch summoning her mortar, pestle and broomstick, then flying through the forest.


The Massachusetts-based craft brewery Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project has produced a stout called Babayaga[15].

Name in other languages

Baba Yaga is an archetypal character in the culture of many eastern European countries, and is known by different names across the region, including "Baba Roga" in Macedonian, Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian; "Baba Cloanța" in Romanian; "Ježibaba" in Czech; and "(vasorrú - literally iron-nosed) bába" in Hungarian.

See also



  1. ^ Max Vasmer, Etimologicheskii slovar' russkogo yazyka, Vol. I (Moscow: Progress, 1964), p. 99.
  2. ^ Max Vasmer, Etimologicheskii slovar' russkogo yazyka, Vol. IV (Moscow: Progress, 1973), p. 542.
  3. ^ A chapter from Fletcher's book (Russian)
  4. ^ ""Baba Yaga was a Good Old Northener, by Aleksandr Tutov, Energiya, no.3, 2004
  5. ^ W. R. S. Ralston Songs of the Russian People Section III.--Storyland Beings.
  6. ^ Bonnie Marshall (2004) "The Snow Maiden and Other Russian Tales",ISBN 1563089998, Preface, p. 19.
  7. ^ Рыбаков Б.А., Язычество Древней Руси (Moscow: Nauka, 1987).
  8. ^ Ефименко П. П., Третьяков П. Н. Курганный могильник у с. Боршева. МИА, № 8. М.; Л., 1948, рис. 37-42.)
  9. ^ Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stories for Children, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991, p. 146-151.
  10. ^ Isaac Bashevis Singer, A King of the Fields, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003, p. 4, 16, 60.
  11. ^ James Graham, "Baba Yaga in Film"
  12. ^ IMDb entry for Baba Yaga(1973)
  13. ^ James Graham, "Baba Yaga in Film"
  14. ^ "", RuneScape Knowledge Base, By Jagex ltd
  15. ^


  • Maria Tatar (2002) "The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales", ISBN 0393051633 p. 175


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




From Slavonic баба (baba), grandmother), and Yaga, a probable diminutive of Jadwiga.

Proper noun

Baba Yaga


Baba Yaga

  1. (Slavic mythology) In Russian tales, a hag who flies through the air in a mortar, using the pestle as a rudder.


Simple English

The Baba Yaga is a mythical creature. It is found in folklore.


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