Saturday, October 17, 2009

Baba Yaga -The Russian Witch (article) & Various Baba Yaga Illustrations

Baba Yaga by Leonid Bloommer

I love the character of Baba Yaga. While she certainly is terrifying in many ways, to me she's more enigmatic than anything else. To some extent, if you can figure out the rules you can not only survive and encounter with her, she may actually help you.

There's definitely more to this traditional Russian fairy tale villain than meets the eye. I've read stories where Baba Yaga has sisters, a lover or a child (and in the story I read, yes, she loves her kid - you don't want to come between this Mama and her baby!), all of which seem at odds with the character as she's normally portrayed.
Baba Yaga
by Ravenari

I found an article posted in the first week of October which discusses Baba Yaga as a 'force of nature' and how this would have had an impact on those listening to the story years ago. The focus was different from the usual a) she's mostly evil or b) she the crone in the maid-mother-crone triad.

Here's a couple of excerpts:

When visitors arrive, Baba Yaga asks them if they came of their own accord or were sent. Smart visitors say they were sent. Coming of their own accord puts them in the witch's power; they are consenting to their own doom, so nothing can save them. They must also actively seek entrance by telling the house to turn its door to them. This concept is similar to the idea that a vampire (also an Eastern European legend) can't come into a home unless invited. The danger is one you bring on yourself. Another way ofl ooking at it, though, is that if you want to get something from nature, you have to take chances...

Baba Yaga
by Himmapaan

...These stories may have roots in Indo-European tales that passed into both eastern and western folklore. A trinity of Hindu goddesses consists of the Virgin, the Mother, and the Hag, and Baba Yaga is sometimes considered a Slavic version of the Hag. (Sometimes Baba Yaga even has two sisters). The versions about Vasilisa and the boy and girl are similar to the western “Hansel and Gretel,” in that wicked stepmothers send children off to be eaten by witches. And when Baba Yaga detects a victim, she often says, “Foo! Foo! I smell a Russian spirit!” This sounds like “Fee fi fo fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman!” in “Jack and the Beanstalk."

Hunchback Fairy
by Endling
(additional website HERE)

But some aspects of Baba Yaga tales are uniquely Russian. Siberians placed log cabins on uprooted tree stumps to keep animals away from their food supplies. To remote and imaginative people, tree stumps can easily become chicken legs, and from there Baba Yaga’s horrible home. The doll in the tale of Vasilisa is similar to small household idols that Russians had in pre-Christian times. And a recurring theme is that virtue will protect one, no matter what the danger, whereas, in Western fairy tales, craft prevails. This trust in virtue must have been comforting to people scratching out a marginal existence in a forbidding climate.

The rest of the fascinating article is HERE. The author, Kathleen Murphy (a community college writing tutor) has a writing focused website HERE.

Baba Yaga
by Waldemar von Kazak
(additional website HERE)

You can find more information about each artist by clicking on the image or on their names. The deviantART artists have some interesting things to say about Baba Yaga too, so make sure you check their comments below the artwork.

And isn't that steampunk Baba Yaga fun? Methinks it won't be long before a steampunk Baba Yaga makes her way into a story... ;)

While we're on the subject, I should mention a book released at the beginning of September titled "Dreaming Anastasia" by Joy Preble. It features Baba Yaga quite prominently and I'm curious to read it (despite the cover which would normally make me ignore it).

Here's the part of the blurb that pertains to Baba Yaga:
In 1918, in a Russian cellar, Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov was murdered with the rest of her family. Or so history tells us. Thanks to old magics, Anastasia was rescued by the witch Baba Yaga and now spends her days confined in a tiny hut perched on chicken legs. With only the witch and a doll for company, Anastasia writes letters to her family, and waits.
HERE author Joy Preble discusses how she uses Baba Yaga alongside the prominent maternal themes in the book and has her character be much more than the dangerous child-eating witch she's often portrayed as. She also makes use of a matroyshka (Russian nesting doll or Babushka doll, also known as the 'little mother doll'*) as a 'special object' and as a model for the novel's structure, so I'm doubly curious about this one.

Available at HERE.

*This doll was the key to Vasilissa (also spelled Vasilisa) surviving an encounter with Baba Yaga in one of my favorite fairy tales. It was, appropriately, given to Vasilissa by her mother before passing away and is symbolic of her mother's spirit remaining with her and giving her the strength (and the wits) to do the Baba Yaga's impossible tasks set for her. The real villains of this story, though, are Vasilissa's stepmother and stepsisters - not Baba Yaga. The witch keeps her agreement and gives Vasilissa the fire she needs.. Of course, that's only part of the story. You can read more about it HERE. Which reminds me I should do a post on Vasilisa in her role as the Russian Frog Princess... ;)
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