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Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (18781942)  Baba Yaga  Illustration for the book
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Title: Baba Yaga
Description:
Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (18781942)
Baba Yaga
Illustration for the book "Vasilissa the Beautiful", 1900

Baba Yaga is a witch-like character in Slavic folklore. She flies around on a giant mortar, kidnaps (and presumably eats) small children, and lives in a house which stands on chicken feet. In most Slavic folk tales, she is portrayed as an antagonist; however, some characters in other mythological folk stories have been known to seek her out for her wisdom, and she has been known on occasion to offer guidance to lost souls, although this is seen as rare.
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 out of silver birch. She lives in a log cabin that moves around on a pair of dancing chicken legs, and/or surrounded by a palisade with a skull on each pole. 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 house does not reveal the door until it is told a magical phrase: Turn your back to the forest, your front to me.

In some tales, the house is connected with three riders: one in white, riding a white horse with white harness, who is Day; a red rider, who is the Sun; and one in black, who is Night. Baba Yaga is served by invisible servants inside the house. She will explain the riders if asked, but may kill a visitor who inquires about the servants.

Baba Yaga is sometimes shown as an antagonist, and sometimes as a source of guidance; there are stories she helps people with their quests, and stories in which she kidnaps children and threatens to eat them. Seeking out her aid is usually portrayed as a dangerous act. An emphasis is placed on the need for proper preparation and purity of spirit, as well as basic politeness. It is said she ages one year every time she is asked a question, which probably explains her reluctance to help. This effect, however, can be reversed with a special blend of tea made with blue roses.

In the folk tale Vasilissa the Beautiful, recorded by Alexander Afanasyev (Narodnye russkie skazki, vol 4, 1862), the young girl of the title is given three impossible tasks that she solves using a magic doll given to her by her mother.

In the Christianised version of the story, Vasilissa is sent to visit Baba Yaga on an errand and is enslaved by her, but the hag's servants a cat, a dog, a gate, and a tree help Vasilissa to escape because she has been kind to them. In the end, Baba Yaga is turned into a crow. Similarly, Prince Ivan in The Death of Koschei the Deathless is aided against her by animals whom he has spared.

Baba Yaga in Polish folklore differs in details. For example, the Polish Baba Jaga's house has only one chicken leg. Monstrous witches living in gingerbread houses are also commonly named Baba Jaga. Baba Jaga, flying on a mop, wearing black and red striped folk cloth of Świętokrzyskie Mountains is an unofficial symbol of Kielce region (it is connected with legendary witches sabbaths on Łysa Góra mountain).

Baba Yaga is used as a stock character by authors of modern Russian fairy tales, and from the 1990s in Russian fantasy. In particular, Baba Yaga meets at Andrey Belyanin's books in his cycle Secret service of Tsar Pea, etc. The childhood and youth of Baba Yaga for the first time were described in the A. Aliverdiev's tale Creek ("Lukomorie").

In some fairy tales, such as The Feather of Finist the Falcon, the hero meets not with one but three Baba Yagas. Such figures are usually benevolent, giving the hero advice or magical presents, or both.

Other recorded Russian fairy tales that feature Baba Yaga are Teryoshecka, The Enchanted Princess, and The Silver Saucer and the Red Apple.
According to Russian folklore, Baba Yaga dwells, in the words of Alexander Pushkin's Lukomorye (a preface to his fantasy poem Ruslan and Lyudmila), in a "cabin on chicken legs... with no windows and no doors". Baba Yaga herself usually uses the chimney to fly in and out on her mortar. Sometimes the door appears at the other side of the hut; to see it, a hero should pronounce "Hut, o hut, turn your back to the woods, your front to me" and thus force the cabin to turn around and discover the door.
There are indications that ancient Slavs had a funeral tradition of cremation in huts of this type. In 1948 Russian archaeologists Yefimenko and Tretyakov discovered small huts of the described type with traces of corpse cremation and circular fences around them; yet another possible connection to the Baba Yaga myth.

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Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (18781942)  Baba Yaga  Illustration for the book Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (18781942)  Vasilisa and the White Rider  Illustration for the book Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (18781942)  Illustration for the Russian fairy tale
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