Baba Yaga
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Basic Information

Baba Yaga is a powerful, dangerous and morally ambiguous creature of Russian mythology.

Taking the form of an old woman (hence the "Baba"1) she haunts the wild places and deep forests of Greater Russia, very much a Power of The Land and generally best avoided. Whether she is witch, hag, fairy or pagan goddess is up for debate … at times she has aspects of all four.

In many, perhaps most, folk tales she is a villain - an evil creature who abducts (and probably eats) small children and flies through the skies in a giant mortar2 spreading random curses and other assorted trouble. In others, however, she acts the part of an oracle or a somewhat malevolent donor … and on occasion even serves as a tutor to young girls who are apprenticed to her for one reason or another. In the apprenticeship tales she is usually a harsh mistress who makes demands of her pupils that they would find it impossible to meet if it weren't for some unusual benefit derived from their own good nature.
Whatever role she ends up playing, those who stumble on her chicken-footed hut3 behind its fence of bones in a forest clearing usually end up having a tough time of it one way or another.

She is often served by various talking animals and animate domestic objects (which are frequently humans transformed to serve her as the result of a bad bargain or some insult), a variety of invisible servants and three horsemen who are respectively entirely white, black or red (including the horse). The three riders are day, night and the sun (or noon, midnight and dawn) and are either her slaves or her sons (or possibly both).

Some legends suggest she can answer any question she is asked, but ages a year each time and thus is easily angered by people asking her questions. Presumably the actual power is to answer truthfully otherwise she is no better off than anyone else, and the question may be whether she knows the answer before being asked (and aged) … in which case, she might have more patience with those who don't frame their inquiries as a question ("Grandmother, I seek your council - we are going out to fight the Tartars this year and I worry that there is some thing that I have overlooked, some thing that I need to know in order to have the victory").

Anthropologically she may be the relic of an ancient paleo-Slavic death goddess and/or a Lilith like personification of infant mortality welded onto the traditional outcast wise woman. The other possibility is a sort of personification of Russia itself - which is not an easy place to live for the careless, the stupid or those who fail to give respect where it is due.


5. Graphic Novel: The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman — includes an encounter with Baba Yaga during Tim Hunter's visit to Fairyland.

Game and Story Use

  • If in Russia (or a fantasy counterpart culture) expect Baba Yaga. As per the stories, she could do pretty much anything.
    • Tad Williams managed it without a Russia equivalent, dropping his expy onto the edge of a mixed Scandinavian/Saxon culture.
    • Something very similar could easily appear in, say, a jungle … but perhaps in this case the hut's feet cling upside down or vertically to one of the trees…
  • She could also appear outside Russia as a result of a "cultural IP violation" … or as part of a gathering of witches from around the world.
  • She might well serve a campaign as a tutor for an order of evil female magicians - or even just a mythical founder.
    • If you follow the threads, the iconic (and hard to pronounce) sorceress Iggwilv from D&D's Greyhawk setting appears to be a (possibly adopted) daughter of Baba-Yaga (or an expy thereof). Like her mother, she's less a BBEG and more of an omnipotent plot device.
  • If you happen to be in the woods somewhere and come across a little hut with a fence made of human bones … at least try to run. You may find yourself always returning to the clearing, but it's worth a shot.
    • Of course, you may get Blair Witched anyway.
  • In one Sandman story, Koschei got his heart given to Baba Yaga. What could a witch/hag/fae/goddess do with the original lich as a servant?
    • Easy to run with that and make the giving of his heart a less literal act … Koschei might well make a good father for the horsemen…
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