Russian Literature, Character: Baba Yaga
Baba Yaga is one of the most iconic characters in the Russian literature. She serves several purposes in literature: sometimes she’s a cannibalistic witch who kidnaps children, maidens, and princes to eat them. Other times she’s the wise old woman, a guide sought out by heroes on quests. Sometimes they must accomplish certain tasks before she will give them the answer; if they fail the task they get eaten, if they succeed, they’ll get what they came for. Rest assured, she’ll try her hardest to make the hero fail. Mostly because she ages one year every time she has to answer a question.
Yaga lives in the dark part of the forest, in the hut on the chicken legs. What most western readers may not know is that you must speak the magic words “Turn your back to the forest, your front to me” to get to the door.
Baba Yaga gets around on a mortar and drives it with her broom made of silver birch. She appears in a lot of folklore, one being Vaselissa Prekrasnaia (the Beautiful).
Although 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 be kind.
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.
She is said to be a guardian spirit of the fountain of the Waters of Life and of Death.
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.