Countdown to Halloween: Mythical Creatures of Europe

For Euronews Culture’s countdown to Halloween, we take a look at some of the lesser known mythical creatures from Europe.

Today it’s the turn of Slavic myth, the Baba Yaga.

In Eastern European folklore, Baba Yaga (or Baba Yaga Bony Legs / ‘Baba Jaga’ in Polish) is a voracious, deformed old woman who kidnaps her victims before cooking and eating them.

Usually children. Something about the flesh being more tender.

The supernatural entity usually lives in a house that continually rotates on bird’s feet.

Oh, and if that wasn’t sinister or crazy enough, she sometimes joins Death on his travels, helping him devour newly freed souls.

As you do.

Simply put, she’s the terrifying inspiration for every old forest, wicked witch or evil godmother you’ve encountered in children’s stories and movies – and if you’re not even a tiny bit terrified, then you you are braver than us here at Euronews Culture.

VA Gatsuk

An 1894 edition of Tales of the Russian People included this image of Baba Yaga – VA Gatsuk

Baba what?

Action fans will recall that in the John Wick film series, the hitman played by Keanu Reeves is known among the Russian mafia as “Baba Yaga”, which they translate (rather badly) as “the Croquemitaine”.

The Croquemitaine is actually the Babaïka, a monster from Russian folklore. Baba Yaga actually refers to an evil grandmother.

“Baba” is a Slavic word for “old woman”, “grandmother” or “witch”.

As for the “Yaga” part, it is a compound of words meaning “serpent” or “wicked”.

So the next time you watch the John Wick movies, you can tell your friends that the writers are okay with their hero being called a mean old woman.

Valonia Feline on DeviantArt

Baba Yaga’s house – Valonia Feline on DeviantArt

Baba who?

The Baba Yaga is usually described as having a Pinocchio-sized nose that sometimes stretches to the ceiling when sleeping, unbreakable teeth, and, despite his diet, bony legs.

She is known to glide through the air in a giant flying mortar or iron kettle. And if you’re still not sure if you’ve identified her correctly, her aforementioned home is quite unique.

It’s a cabin in the woods perched atop a pair of giant, moving, dancing chicken legs. This means that the cannibal’s house can hunt people and can only be entered if someone says the magic phrase: “Turn your back on the forest, your front on me”.

Her fence is also nicely topped with human skulls, a tribute to her victims as well as a pretty obvious warning that she must not be disturbed.

Ivan Bilibin

Vasilia the Beautiful emerges victorious from the house of Baba Yaga – Ivan Bilibin

A complex number

There are many gruesome tales of the Baba Yaga, but the most well-known story is that of Vasilia the Beautiful, the Eastern European version of Cinderella.

After her mother’s death, Vasilia’s father remarried a woman with two daughters. Her stepmother and stepsisters abuse Vasilia and when her father goes on a long trip, Vasilia’s stepmother seizes the opportunity to get rid of her. She is tasked with searching for Baba Yaga to bring more light to the house, as they survive the candlelight.

Vasilia finds the old woman, who then gives Vasilia a series of nearly impossible tasks that she must complete or Baba Yaga will eat her.

After successfully completing the tasks, Baba Yaga is true to his word and frees Vasilia, who returns home with a skull shining from the light of her eyes. This ominous glow incinerates his horrible new family.

Baba Yaga is both obstacle and savior here, a twisted version of the Fairy Godmother who is an aimless antagonist. He is also an enigmatic figure that some characters seek out for his wisdom. In order to get his advice, you must approach him with caution and respect. It is also advisable not to ask too many questions.

Finally, many depictions feature her as a figure of mother nature, becoming more of a cautionary tale: if you don’t have a healthy reverence for nature and the spirit world, Baba Yaga is coming for you.

Millennial movies

Hellboy Comes Face To Face With Baba Yaga In Hellboy 2019 – Millennium Movies

Baba Yaga in popular culture

One place Baba Yaga has made her mark is in the Hellboy universe of comics and movies, where Hellboy investigates child abductions and attempts to kill her. The Baba Yaga swears revenge and becomes one of the main antagonists of the series.

She had a role in the terrible 2019 Hellboy reboot movie, which saw Big Red go to the Chicken Legs House and shoot Baba Yaga in the eye.

An unofficial depiction of Baba Yaga can be seen in the latest Blair Witch film, 2016 adventurously titled Blair Witch. The titular witch was nowhere to be found in the original 1999 film, but there are glimpses of her in the reboot/sequel’s final act, portrayed as an oversized ghoul with skinny legs and a pretty insatiable appetite when it comes to genocide. campers.

Lions Gate

A Glimpse of the Blair Witch in 2016’s Blair Witch – Lions Gate

Finally, Baba Yaga has become something of a feminist icon over the years.

The image of a powerful old woman who does whatever pleases her became an aspiration for many – she even had an advice column, “Ask Baba Yaga” in The hairpina website that was founded in 2010 and ceased publication in 2018.

Who wouldn’t take advice from someone who knows how to make the perfect toddler soufflé?

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