Monster Monday: Baba Yaga

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about Baba Yaga.

Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin (1902)
Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin (1902)

Baba Yaga is a character from Russian folklore. The origin of her name is not known, but the first part could be related to the Russian word babushka, meaning “grandmother.” She is usually depicted as an ugly, dirty old woman, though in some stories she can make herself appear young and beautiful.

When she has to travel, she rides in an over-sized mortar and carries a giant pestle and a broom or mop. She lives in the forest in a hut that stands on a pair of giant chicken legs. Sometimes the hut is depicted as constantly turning on its legs, and in some stories it doesn’t have any windows or doors and can only be accessed by saying magic words. It is also often surrounded by a fence made of human bones, with posts topped with skulls.

She is usually depicted as an antagonist, and is often used to scare Russian children into behaving, or Baba Yaga will kidnap them and eat them. She often misleads travelers in the forest who get lost and might try to eat them as well. However, she is often also associated with the spirit of the forest, and in some stories she can provide help and beneficial knowledge, provided she is approached politely and respectfully.

Also in some stories there is not one, but three Baba Yagas who are sisters.

Baba Yaga is a major character in my friend Darin Kennedy‘s novel The Mussorgsky Riddle available now.

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