Perhaps “Baba Yaga” is somewhere up there alongside the few Russian words that someone who never studied Russian language knows. Like, for example, “Tovarisch'”, “Russki”, and “Babushka”.
Yes, it’s one of those characters we scare our kids with. And then some. and that “some” as more to it than meets the eye. Let’s try to look into the mythical character with the usual “who? where? why?” level analysis.
She is a very old, witch-like woman, who lives alone and sometimes is assisted in her evil or good doings by her cat (also possessing magical skills); she lives in a log cabin that stands on two chicken feet as supports, and can move wherever Baba Yaga wants it to. She knows spells to help people as well as to hurt them. Her typical appearance in a fairy tale or a folklore legend involves either helping or hurting the main characters – she is never the focus of a story, but is a key character for the plot.
So…an old witchy witty wise wonder-provoking woman, situated amidst some forest. We still have one question left : why?! Here’s where it gets interesting.
One of the explanations for her existence in the first place relies on the general “just a part of Slavic culture and folklore” argument. But what I have recently stumbled across is another, religion-based explanation. As we all know, Russia has not always been Eastern Orthodox. Before the year of 1088 (the official year of baptism of Rus’ kingdom), the pagan faiths roamed the vast lands occupied mainly by Rus’ tribes.
When Christianity comes in to take over as the main religion in a region that was previously dominated by pagan beliefs, it is empirically proven that the main deities are the first to go. And so they went – now the Gods of Wind, Water, Sun, etc are only mentioned in mythology. But minor pagan deities became folkloric characters because that was one thing the Orthodox church could not impose or take away – fairy tale heroes. There were ways to remove any mention of major Gods because it was quite obvious when they were mentioned or worshiped. But with minor deities – their traces remained because the church frankly did not know where to look for signs of people’s belief in them. So, according to this theory, Baba Yaga is precisely that – a character who was minor enough to be overseen by the clergy but outstanding enough to keep most of her supernatural characteristics though centuries.
Should you have any questions – please post them here. Again, we could get a conversation started.
Spasibo for reading!
Do skorogo! (literally = “Until soon”)