Wandering Tales: Baba Yaga
Wandering Tales October: Baba Yaga
You look familiar, did we meet in East Anglia or was that some other crazed adventurer… What are you doing in Siberia, anyway? It doesn’t matter, quick, behind this bush.
Have a peek, can you see it? The wooden hut standing on a pair of chicken legs. It’s Baba Yaga’s hut. The strange thing is, no matter how you approach the hut you’ll always come upon the back of it. The hut waits, you see, for you to say the special phrase then it spins on its legs and presents the front door. No, I’m not telling you the words! The decorative skulls adorning the fence posts should give you an idea of how welcoming she is.
Look, Baba Yaga is a… complicated woman. Some say she’s a villain, a trickster who takes great joy in misleading with a taste for the flesh of would-be heroes. Then, there are those who see her as a force of nature, the bringer of death and rebirth. A guardian of the wild forests she inhabits and occasionally, Baba Yaga has even been sought out to share her wisdom.
Baba Yaga is as old as time itself, which leads to the confusion of just who, or what, she is. Many tales are actually of three Baba Yaga’s, sisters, who protect the fountains of the water of life. Old clans believe in a horde of Baba Yagas acting as watchful matriarchs over families. How would you sleep with Baba Yaga as your shield? Like a small babe, knowing no one would challenge her wrath by hurting you? Or maybe, fitfully, constantly waking in a cold sweat, terrified of what would happen if you disappointed her?
Among her followers are three mysterious horsemen, White, Red and Black, whom she calls her “Bright dawn, red sun and dark midnight”. All you need to know about them today, is that they are best avoided. Baba Yaga herself follows no one, but she has been known to accompany Death on his travels, flying on her mortar and pestle. She has a particular taste for newly released souls. Death is always happy to let her eat her fill.
Whether there’s one, three, or more, do not cross Baba Yaga. She likes courage, there are countless tales of her testing would-be heroes, forcing them to prove their bravery before she’ll assist them, but she does not enjoy being fooled.
The first time we know anyone dared to commit her name to paper, was in a Mikhail V Lomosov’s 1755 book on Russian Grammar. No, I’m not joking. In a section dedicated to comparing Slavic and Roman gods, such as the Slavic god Perun and the Roman god Jupiter… Baba Yaga had no counterpart, no equivalents. Baba Yaga is a force unto herself.
If you’re still intent on meeting her, you should know that she looks… distinct… and it’s best not to stare. In some parts she goes by “Baba Yaga boney leg”, her skeletal legs a reminder how she straddles this world and the next. Of course, she may be asleep. She likes to sleep stretched out on her stove, they say her nose is so long it scratches across the ceiling. I would also warn you not to bring attention to her iron teeth, and the fact they could bite straight through your arm.
Try not to be startled by her “soul friends” either, three bodiless pairs of hands, who appear from nowhere to do her bidding. Just say thank you if they bring you tea.
You still want to meet her? Really? Okay. Well. Go stand there, in the clearing, in front of the house’s back and say the words. We’re not that far away though so… You’ll have to excuse me if I run in the opposite direction once I tell you. Just in case, you understand.
“Turn your back to the forest, your front to me.”
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Lucinda is a folklore lover and general tree-hugger. She takes a sweet and sour approach to art, writing stories etched in creep, terror and tenderness alongside watercolour paintings of botanical beauties and dreamy magic.
You can find Lucinda at instagram.com/lucinda_morrow_ or foraging in the woods.