The other day I discovered Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest. I love a modern spin on an old-school legend, and the Baba Yaga is a great one. As a Ukrainian, I was born hearing stories about the real Baba Yaga. She was a magical old lady who lives in the forest in a wooden hut that stands on chicken feet. Oh, and she eats babies. Sometimes…
But let’s get back to this 2020 movie for a second. It was directed and written by Russians, who grew up hearing the same stories that I did. This alone convinced me to add it to my watch list despite the mediocre ratings. Although, like I already said, they put a modern spin on it:
“When Egor’s mom dies, he gets a stepmom and then a baby half sister. Things get seriously twisted when his dad gets a hot nanny, who’s the witch, Baba Yaga.”IMDB
Real Baba Yaga
Okay, let’s talk about the original Baba Yaga some more. There are a lot of variations of Baba Yaga in Slavic folklore. Sometimes she is a supernatural being that appears to be a deformed or ferocious-looking older woman. In others, she is one of three sisters. However, it is pretty standard that she lives in a wooden hut on chicken legs. In the story that I was told, the house dances and moves around. Sounds funny now, but I found it terrifying as a child.
In most stories about Baba Yaga, she is somewhat of a caretaker or maternal figure and protects the forest from harm. Sometimes this involves harming people, but there are also variations of the story where she actually helps save people.
“In Russian tales, Baba Yaga is portrayed as a hag who flies through the air in a mortar, using the pestle as a rudder and sweeping away the tracks behind her with a broom made of silver birch. She lives in a log cabin that either moves around on a pair of dancing chicken legs, is surrounded by a palisade with a skull on each pole, or both.
The keyhole to her front door is a mouth filled with sharp teeth; the fence outside is made with human bones with skulls on top, often with one pole lacking its skull, leaving space for the hero or heroes. In another legend, the hut does not reveal the door until it is told a magical phrase: “Turn your back to the forest, your front to me”.”Wiki
The Origins of Baba Yaga
These stories may come from people who lived in the forests of northern Russia and Finland many years ago. They had stone statues named Yaga. Russian soldiers who came to the area called them Golden Babas.
‘Baba’ is a Slavic word that means old woman, grandmother, or witch, related to the more familiar modern Russian word for grandmother, babushka. ‘Yaga’ is a more problematic word to explain. It may be a diminutive of the Slavic name Jadwiga, but there’s also a chance it comes from various Slavic words meaning “abuse,” snake,” or “wicked.”
In one story, Baba Yaga gives Vasilisa the Beautiful fire for her wicked stepmother. Vasilisa the Beautiful is the original Cinderella. Instead of a fairy godmother, she has a magical doll from her mother that helps her complete all the difficult tasks that her stepmother and stepsisters make her do. Vasilisa uses it to complete some impossible tasks for Baba Yaga too, which earns her fire in return.
Summary: Real Baba Yaga
Baba Yaga was an essential part of my childhood. I remember listening to my grandmother tell me the story, but I also watched cartoons depicting her. I am really excited to see this new rendition of her as the ‘hot nanny.’ If you grew up hearing about Baba Yaga, please share your stories and memories in the comment section below!
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