Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Small Gang of Authors: Baba Yaga Folk Lore Part 1

A Small Gang of Authors: Baba Yaga Folk Lore Part 1: Rebecca Tran Recently I wrote a novelette based loosely on the folklore surrounding Baba Yaga. When I started the projec... A little mythology with Rebecca Tran.

Baba Yaga Folk Lore Part 1

Rebecca Tran

Recently I wrote a novelette based loosely on the folklore surrounding Baba Yaga. When I started the project I was surprised by the number of people who never heard of her before. I have run across her several times in books and tv shows. I think I asked ten people if they knew who she was and only one said yes. In this series I thought I would share with you some of the folk lore surrounding this interesting character over the next three to four posts.
 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Baba Yaga is traditionally found in Russian and Slavic folk lore. There is debate over the meaning of Baba's name. Depending on the country of origin Baba can mean anything from old woman, to hag. Most believe it refers to the latter. The meaning of Yaga however, seems to elude most scholars. In some slavic languages it translate to witch, in others horror and my personal favorite is fury in Polish. 

Sometimes Baba Yaga is one woman and sometimes a trio of them. Whether one woman or three she is always pictured as an old crone. Her body is deformed, with boney knees,piercing cold eyes, and
By Ivan Bilibin (died 1942)
 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
iron teeth. 

Baba Yaga is known to fly around in a large Mortar using the pestle as both club and rudder. Her home stands on chicken legs and moves at Baba's request.  The fence around her yard is made of bones just in case the chicken legs weren't intimidating enough.

In case you haven't guessed by now Baba Yaga is a powerful witch. She is as inclined to help as she is to harm. Most of her stories revolve around themes of having a pure heart, integrity, and politeness. Depending on the qualities the other characters display arre Baba may help or harm you. If you make her mad enough so say she may even eat you.

Baba Yaga is the primary antagonist in the fantasy novel Enchantment by Orson Scott Card, appears in the short story "Joseph & Koza" by Nobel Prize-winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, and is regularly featured in stories in Jack and Jill, a popular children's magazine.

My novelette Magic Always Has a Price features Baba Yaga in an unexpected way.

Magic Always Has a Price

One night in the middle of the summer after a long day at the hospital I fell into a fitful sleep. I was in the woods near dusk. A fog rolled in. I heard hoofbeats. This time I wasn’t scared. I understood. It was the red horseman. Late afternoon is when he held the most power. He was patrolling the woods keeping it safe. What was he guarding against though? What was the threat? I walked down the path until I found the fence made of bones. They were old bleached white by the sun. Most were animal bones: wolves, bears, dogs, house cats, mountain cats, but there were human bones too.

The wind shifted, and it was suddenly very cold. I looked up to see the door to the log cabin open. Spider webs hung across the door. No one lived there. I looked closer at everything around me. The windows were dirty and full of spider webs. The fence itself was in disrepair. The horseman rode up behind me, and I felt his emotions. He was sad. The horseman wasn’t patrolling. He was searching for the owner of the cabin.

Then I heard the ravens. It started with a single call, then two then three. I looked up, and there was a whole flock of them in the trees above me. I turned and ran down the path. I had to get away. I didn’t want to know whose death they brought. Running blindly through the woods I tripped on something hard and solid. I thought it was a rock at first but it was too smooth, and there was a hollow on the underside that caught my foot. I used a quick spell to unearth enough of it to see what it was. A huge mortar lay on its side half buried in the dirt.

Only one witch ever used a mortar like that and had three horsemen. Why? Why was she plaguing my dreams? I heard a cackle in the distance. I moved to get up, but tree roots grabbed my arms and legs. The laugh grew closer. “No, no, no” I was panicked now.

If you like myths and folk lore check out Erika Szabo's series on Folklore and Myths Parts 1, 2, & 3