[Image courtesy Wikipedia, "Baba Yaga" by Ivan Bilibin (1876/7 - 1942)]
I'm dedicating this post to all my Russian, Polish and other Eastern European regulars who pop by my blog. Yes, I've noticed you!
As a person with Polish heritage myself, I've always held a fascination with Eastern European mythology - particularly Baba Jaga. Every culture seems to have a hag, a crone, or something similar in its mythology, and Baba Jaga literally means "Old Hag".
She is a particularly fascinating character because all though she is generally deemed to be quite malevolent, she can, at times, offer help to those in need. In some stories, Baba Jaga is awful to children and keeps them as servants. She is also said to have an enormous appetite and has often been used to terrorise children into behaving under the the threat of "Baba Jaga will eat you."In some stories, however, Baba Jaga is approached for assistance and help. In these cases, great care must be taken when approaching her, as good manners and purity of intention are essential. It is said that Baba Jaga is often reluctant to answer questions and give aid because for every question she answers, she ages one year... hence her haggard and ancient appearance.
Physically, Baba Jaga is quite ugly - a twisted form of an "earth mother" with enormously long breasts (which she hangs up on a wooden rail at night). With few redeeming characteristics, she is mostly described as a weathered hag, with iron teeth and greasy hair. She lives in isolated forests, alone or with a cat and a dog (both of whom she treats quite poorly).
Her hut is a strange thing, seemingly alive and balancing on chickens legs. In some Polish myths, however, she lives in gingerbread huts.
Baba Jaga doesn't tend to walk anywhere as she has one ordinary leg and the other of bone or wood. Instead she tends to fly in a magic pot or mortar, pushing off the ground with the pestle or a large spoon, then wiping away her tracks with a broom she holds in the other arm. Her appearance in a forest is heralded by a "thump" "swish, swish".
There has been some discussion on whether Baba Jaga is the remnant myth of a fertility goddess. Golden Baba was a deity of fertility who laid eggs and could take the form of crows or birds (something Baba Jaga is apparently capable of). It makes sense that Baba Jaga then may be a warped derivation of this.
A facinating mythological being, Baba Jaga gets a mention in both "Magica Gains" and "Magical Creations" - and probably will again. :)
If you're interested in reading more about Baba Jaga, here are some of the link's I've used to garner information.
Interview with Dubravka Ugresic
Baba Jaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugresic