Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Baba Yaga - Queen of Darkness

Baba Yaga by Wiggers123

Article by Ty Hulse

There is a point in folktales where the forest changes into the other world of spirits, a point where one steps from the world of the living into the land of the dead. It is at this point, between life and death, that Baba Yaga dwells.

For Baba Yaga can at times be considered a Queen of the Land of the Dead, the guardian to the gates of the dead. As such it's her job keep the dead from returning to the world and to protect the living from the dead. Although seemingly similar jobs these two things are emotional opposites. For on the one hand she will snatch away someone to devour, yet at the same time she'll help someone rescue a lost love from other monsters that dwell in the spirit world.

What we see than is that Baba Yaga is both the one who kills unworthy humans trying to pass into the world of the dead, and at the same time she's the one who helps worthy heroes enter the land of the dead to save a lost love.

Those who go to her, such as Vasilisa the Beautiful must pass certain tests, accomplish certain tasks (most often with the help of the shamanistic familiar spirits) in order to escape the land of the dead. Should they fail in their task Baba Yaga will devour them.

In one story a young girl goes to find out where the geese carried her younger brother and finds him playing with golden apples at Baba Yaga's hut. The boy in this story doesn't appear to be mistreated by Baba Yaga, yet at the same time Geese were often one of the birds that conveyed human souls into the land of the dead, so we can presume that the boy is on the verge of death and that his sister is rescuing his soul, which makes this story scary enough, for the if the girl fails to rescue her brother from Baba Yaga both of them will pass on into the land of the dead.

It may be than that it's partially Baba Yaga's job to decide who lives and who dies, a terrifying job which is mostly feared. Yet at the same time this job puts her in a position to do some good. For example in "The Frog Princess" Baba Yaga helps a young man enter the other world and tells him how defeat the evil being that has stolen his wife's soul away.

When in her solitude Baba Yaga ponders the question "Who am I" she finds only confusion and torment. For Baba Yaga is a contradiction.

She lives with the Sun and the Day as well as the Night. So I would argue that perhaps Baba Yaga is the moon... She is light and night, she flies through the sky sweeping away the stars bringing a soft glow of hope and horrifying shadows.

Baba Yaga by lPeters
Many folklorists also contend that Baba Yaga is the spirit of the wind. In Russian folklore people would bow low to the wind because it could protect them from the cold and the heat. Warm winds brought respite in the winter and cool breezes brought comfort on hot days. So wind was beloved, but also feared for like a tornado Baba Yaga would leave destruction in her wake. So in this form Baba Yaga is the most feared and beloved element outside of water.

The Russian folklorist Alexander Afanasyev believed that Baba Yaga's name meant something akin to 'serpent witch,' or perhaps 'serpent grandmother.' Certainly to some extent Baba Yaga's generally negative but occasionally positive nature with heroes seems to show something dragon like in her nature.

So Baba Yaga is a forest spirit, in so far as the forest was considered an 'Other World' and entrance to the land of the dead. As such she kills and eats people, yet at the same time also helps heroes find their lost loves in other folktales. She dwells like a hermit yet lives and travels with the host of the dead.

She is nature, both kind and cruel. Like a child who brings home a baby bird they find injured on the ground in hopes of saving the little animal, yet shoots another bird with their slingshot, Baba Yaga is a bit immature and conflicted. Yet she is smart enough and ancient enough to understand her own conflict, smart enough to be tormented by the big question, "Who Am I?"

A question which may have no answer for nothing is ever clear in fairy land...