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Who is Baba Yaga?

Updated: Jan 6

Baba Yaga


In ancient cultures, older women were seen as the keepers of family or tribal wisdom and tradition, and they were revered as such.

These knowing women were thought to be familiar with the mysteries of birth and death; as a result, they were qualified to care for the sick and dying, and they were endowed with the function of bringing life and death.

Baba Yaga, viewed as a prototype or as a folkloric pattern infused in the mythologies and fairytales worldwide, establishes a link between ancient mythological wise women and the witches in the folklore.

Nevertheless, Baba Yaga evokes a sense of a goddess associated with the ever-moving wheel of time and seasons.

Therefore, the Slavic inhabitants of Eastern Europe associated Baba Yaga with a seasonal divinity. They believed that she lived in a sheaf of grain harvested once a year and that the woman who tied the sheaf would give birth to a child that same year. Likewise, in Lithuanian and Russian mythology, she was seen as a goddess of regeneration.

Furthermore, Baba Yaga was transformed into the terrifying hag in Russian folklore, a witch-like woman who rowed across the air in a mortar and pestle, using the pestle as her oar, and swept the traces of her flight with a broom.

Accordingly, Baba Yaga became a witch who resided deep in the forest and terrified passersby to death simply by appearing in front of them. As a result, her post fence was topped with skulls, indicating that she had devoured her victims. This intense fable is shrouded in mystery, but it is actually the figure of an ancient birth-and-death Goddess, "whose autumn death in a cornfield was followed by a new birth in the spring".


The name varies among Slavic languages. In Polish, it's spelt "Baba Jaga," and in Czech and Slovak, "Jeibaba." In the Slovene language, the words became Jaga Baba. The Russians, the Bulgarians and the Ukrainians alike transliterated it as Baba Yaga.

Moreover, Baba Yaga's name is formed of two components. Baba (originally a child's name for Babushka) refers to an "older or married lady of lower social status" or simply "grandmother" in the majority of Slavic languages. Yaga (Jaga/Jagusia/Jadzia) is a diminutive variant of Jadwiga, a Slavic given name.

However, some etymologists detect a relationship between the word " iaga " and Baltic phrases denoting " strength, force " or "comprehension ". This etymological meaning links Baba Yaga to positive, beneficial forces and implies that the negative names in Slavic languages that are similar to Iaga are later additions.

Other etymological theories revolve around words used in Western and Southwestern Bulgaria (eza, enza, endza, iandza). The Western and Eastern Slavic words have evolved to designate bad women, witches, or witch-like beings, implying a "female demon of illness" or " illness."

In West and East Slavic folklore, the demonic female entity with this name became a folktale figure and lost her dangerous aspect.

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Baba Yaga's description

Depending on the region, the legend of Baba Yaga will differ. Most of the descriptions are highly similar in that she is an ugly old woman who is fierce or an ogress. Her prominent hooked nose and long teeth, and her long bony legs are among the traits that have been mentioned often. Baba Yaga is exceedingly emaciated and bony, like a skeleton, despite eating as much as ten men.

Accordingly, in folk tales, Baba Yaga is frequently depicted as having at least some iron features, such as an iron nose, an iron leg, or iron teeth.

Baba Yaga's assistants

As is the case throughout myths and folklore, Baba Yaga has at her disposal some assistants.

The most distinctive ones are The White Horseman, the Red Horseman, and the Black Horseman.

In the tale of "Vasilisa the Fair", she names them as 'My Bright Dawn, My Red Sun, and My Dark Midnight', because they rule dawn, morning or noon, and nightfall.

Other devoted servants are represented by three bodiless pairs of hands that emerge from nowhere to carry out her whims.

Baba Yaga and her Hut

Her house is a cabin hidden deep in the woods, difficult to spot unless a magical thread, feather, or doll points the way. The cabin has its own personality. It can move around and stands on colossal chicken legs. It has eyes in its windows and teeth in its lock. Around the hut is a post fence. The stakes are made of human bones and are topped with skulls with glowing eye sockets that illuminate the woodland. Hungry dogs, wicked geese, swans, or a black cat are frequently seen guarding the cottage.

The hut has the ability to spin and move around the woods. It emits a series of blood-curdling screeches. The fate of individuals who visit her house is in their own hands in many tales.

Signification and symbolism

Attached to the symbolism of regeneration, Baba Yaga is typically represented as the last sheaf of corn in agricultural festivities.

Nevertheless, the complexity of Baba Yaga is established by the numerous folktales, illustrations, fables and other oral accounts that have been either lost or appended with other influences, modern or pre-modern.

Symbolically, she is associated with the Triune goddes found in other mythologies, usually depicted as personifying the crone aspect.

This association reveals her as the goddess of life, Rebirth, the moon, time, cycles, thresholds, and nature. Thereby she can be seen as Mother Earth, too. Baba Yaga is also referred to as The Great Teacher as she guides the soul to the afterlife. She serves as a guardian between the worlds of the living and the dead; therefore, she acts as a psychopomp. She is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful. Correspondingly she is seen as The Goddess in Russian fairy tales.

Another instance for Baba Yaga is her representation as a wild and untamable soul of nature.

Moreover, Baba Yaga and the mythical serpent are identical figures in Slavic folklore: what is ascribed to the snake in one iteration is performed by Yaga in another. Nonetheless, in Ukraine, a witch is frequently referred to as a snake. As with a snake, she conceals the springs of living water, copper, silver, and gold, which are the sun's treasures. As a result, she is able to summon either terrible or fine weather at will.

Iron is also associated with Baba Yaga and her equivalents.

Additionally, Baba Yaga's role as mistress of the forests, birds, and animals has also been considered. Not just beings, but also natural elements, are subservient to her command. She "hisses like a snake," "roars like a beast," and has the ability to transform into various animals, reaching impressive sizes.

Consequently, it is said that Baba Yaga has two other sisters, who are also Baba Yagas who live in Her hut. Baba Yaga becomes a Triple Goddess in this fashion, embodying the Virgin, Mother, and Crone. The "Keeper of the Water of Life and Death" is another name for Baba Yaga.

A common pattern encountered through myths and folklore is that when a hero is assassinated with a sword or by fire, he or she is sprayed with the Water of Death, which instantly cures all wounds. Then they are bathed in the Water of Life, granting Rebirth.

The cottage itself can be interpreted as a symbol as it evokes old totemic rituals or those related to the burial of the dead.

Another reference to this idea may be found in her revolving hut, which is surrounded by 12 posts, representing the passage of time through the 12 months of the year.

Baba Yaga is also an accomplished weaver, frequently seen at her wheel, which is almost always associated with 'weaving time.'


With this in mind, it is reasonable to conclude that Baba Yaga was a pagan goddess of fertility who gave birth to all of nature and set cosmic rhythms.

If we are to ascribe to Baba Yaga, only the appellative " the goddess of death" would not be sufficient. She synthesises numerous goddesses and archetypes with a dash of witchcraft, which distinguishes her as one-of-a-kind. She is the goddess of duality; she is the goddess of "death and life, Rebirth, senility and fertility, destruction and rejuvenation, villainy and compassion, masculine and feminine."

As a result, she serves as the intermediary between two universes, also acting as a psychopomp in some instances.

Therefore she is the gods' intermediary instrument – neither divine nor human. As a result, she is a mother but not a wife, a mother of beasts but not of humans, and so forth. As with every mediator, she possesses no free will of her own; instead, she transfers it to humans, though not to everyone, but to the chosen.

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1 Comment

Neil Day
Neil Day
Oct 14, 2021

Fascinating read. Thanks for writing it.

Neil Day (KS Backer)

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