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Senior Project: Baba Yaga

April 28, 2012

A section of an illustration of Baba Yaga.

In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is an old witch living in the dense, unpopulated forests, far from towns or even the beaten path through the trees. Her hut stands on chicken legs in a clearing fenced in by bones. She flies through the woods by day in an oversized mortar and pestle, and at night she sleeps in her hut. She threatens to eat hapless travelling children, and with that fence of bones, who’s to say she doesn’t?

This is what most people are used to when they picture Baba Yaga:

An illustration of Baba Yaga flying through the forest in a mortar and using the pestle to steer. She carries a silver broom in the other hand.

Baba Yaga as illustrated by Ivan Bilibin. 1900.

Creepy, grumpy old lady flying around the dark places in the forest. However, I wanted to go beyond that. After all, my project is all about looking at the human aspects of these characters and the ways they would have interacted with the world.

An illustration of Baba Yaga, dressed in red with a white apron and kerchief, as she goes about her daily life. She crouches on the ground, hands reaching forward toward a seedling that has just begun to grow. The ground cuts away to reveal the substantial root structure beneath.

“Baba Yaga: Life.” 13″ x 19″. Mixed media. February 2012.

For Baba Yaga, this meant peeling back the layers to find the woman who survives on her own in a time when just living outside of the town was bad enough, but being a solitary woman was even worse. To live on her own like this, she must have possessed a great knowledge of the plants and herbs of the forest, and being an herbalist, she would seem to possess the powers of life and death.

The text that I drew from to analyze Baba Yaga is Vasilissa the Beautiful, which I read in annotated form in SurLaLune Fairy Tales.

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