Do you know who Baba Yaga is? Well, she’salso known as Jezi Baba and the Black Witch who is is a notorious figure in Eastern European folklore. Hideous to look upon, she was said to devour her victims with fearsome steel teeth. Her gruesome countenance and cannibalistic practices were used to scare many an impressionable child into contrition (“Now tell the truth or the Baba Yaga will get you”), but there is more to this mysterious legend than nightmarish wickedness.
Deep in the birch trees of old Russia, Baba Yaga is said to make her home in a hut on chicken legs that travels the forest at will and only admits visitors who utter the appropriate incantation. Her home is surrounded by a fence fashioned from the bones of her victims and topped by their skulls. No broomstick-riding caricature, Baba Yaga travels in a mortar, which she moves along with a pestle. She never wears a hat, and only carries a broom to sweep away evidence of her passing. Baba Yaga “Bony Legs” is thus named because despite her insatiable hunger, she is frail and dreadfully thin.
There are many stories featuring Baba Yaga. Often, she is a cannibalistic villain or a witch whom a young girl must outsmart to regain her freedom, making her a symbolic rite of passage. While her image is often twisted into something simplistic and evil, Baba Yaga is more complex than that. Baba Yaga also offers wisdom and guidance to those who are clever enough not to offend her. She is a nature spirit and the guardian of the forest, as well as the protector of the fountain of the Waters of Life and Death. She doles out advice to those who are worthy and offers magic and gifts to the pure of heart. Baba Yaga represents the death of ego. She is the bone mother, and the bringer of wisdom and death. She personifies time and aging, as well as the wisdom that accompanies them.
Even in the stories, Baba Yaga is more a concept than a myth. Baba Yaga’s relatives are known by the same name, and many stories reveal that a woman is actually a Baba Yaga in disguise. In many ways a contradiction, she’s an idea that can be applied to any woman. Take Baba Yaga’s freedom from society, from ego and from the confines of youth and beauty to heart and let her wisdom into your own life.
Get your due
Baba Yaga teaches us to celebrate our fearsome side, our right to be uncompromising. She is a hard bargainer, known to eat those who don’t fulfill their end of an agreement. We can learn from her resolve. There will always be people willing to take advantage of your compassion and understanding. When you feel someone is using your good nature against you, take a stand. Being fair to others should never mean being unfair to yourself.
Feed your passion
All too often we’re willing to overlook what we need. Yet we must acknowledge our needs and hungers. What have you been dying to do for yourself, if only you had the time? What do you need from your partner or friends that you are not getting? Unlike Baba Yaga, many of our hungers can be satiated. Looking after our own needs is not a selfish impulse. Remember, it’s only when you feed ourselves that you’re whole enough to support others.
To be a Baba Yaga is to stop trying to please everyone. Stand for what you believe in and don’t be distracted by thoughts of how others will judge you. That anxiety is not only a waste of energy, it inhibits your actions and keeps you from seeing the situation clearly. Trust your own judgment. Hideous to look upon, Baba Yaga is unconcerned with how she looks to others. It frees her to make decisions that are not weighed down by vanity or insecurity (ego). When you liberate yourself from your own image and reputation, you give the power over your decisions back to yourself.
Without aging, there would be no growth. Baba Yaga derives her power from her maturity and represents the freedom that accompanies the death of the ego. Young maidens come to her for help in situations they could not escape without wisdom and experience that only comes with age. Baba Yaga teaches us that youth and beauty are things to overcome. Look toward wisdom with anticipation, and know that you will only grow more powerful.
Help the deserving
Though her helpful nature is often overlooked, Baba Yaga was a great advisor and aide to those she found deserving. What wisdom and power we gain is useless if not shared, and our experiences are far more valuable if everyone can benefit from them. Help others, but don’t feel guilty about being discerning. Time and energy dedicated to one problem cannot be spent on another. Choose carefully so that your gifts can remain as valuable as possible.