Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales

Introduction and Translations by Sibelan Forrester
Sibelan Forrester
Helena Goscilo
Martin Skoro
Foreword by Jack Zipes
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Baba Yaga
    Book Description:

    Baba Yaga is an ambiguous and fascinating figure. She appears in traditional Russian folktales as a monstrous and hungry cannibal, or as a canny inquisitor of the adolescent hero or heroine of the tale. In new translations and with an introduction by Sibelan Forrester, Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales is a selection of tales that draws from the famous collection of Aleksandr Afanas'ev, but also includes some tales from the lesser-known nineteenth-century collection of Ivan Khudiakov. This new collection includes beloved classics such as "Vasilisa the Beautiful" and "The Frog Princess," as well as a version of the tale that is the basis for the ballet "The Firebird."

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-943-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. FOREWORD: Unfathomable Baba Yagas
    (pp. VII-XII)

    In Baba Yaga: The Ambiguous Mother and Witch of the Russian Folktale, the most thorough study of Baba Yaga to date, Andreas Johns demonstrates that Baba Yaga has appeared in hundreds if not thousands of folktales in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus since the eighteenth century, if not earlier. She is not just a dangerous witch but also a maternal benefactress, probably related to a pagan goddess. Many other Russian scholars such as Joanna Hubbs in Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture, Linda Ivanits in Russian Folk Belief, and Cherry Gilchrist in Russian Magic: Living Folk Traditions of an...

    (pp. XIII-XIX)
    Sibelan Forrester
  5. INTRODUCTION: Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East
    (pp. XXI-LI)
    Sibelan Forrester

    As the classic Russian fairy-tale witch, Baba Yaga has elicited fascination, trepidation, and wonder in generations of Russian children and adults. This book offers twenty-nine stories and even more images; the tales are from Russia, while the illustrations come both from Russia and from the wider world. Our introduction is meant to put Baba Yaga in context and perhaps to answer questions that arise during or after reading. We hope this collection will appeal to many kinds of readers, whether they have a special personal or scholarly interest in Russia, are students of folklore or popular culture, are curious about...

    (pp. LII-LIV)
  7. Tales of Baba Yaga

    • Baba Yaga I
      (pp. 3-4)

      Once upon a time there lived a husband and wife, and they had a daughter. The wife up and died. The man married another woman and had a daughter with her, too. That wife took a dislike to her stepdaughter; the poor thing had no kind of life at all.

      The man thought and thought about it and took his daughter into the woods. As they were driving through the woods, he looked and saw a little house standing on chicken legs. Then the man said, “Little house, little house, stand with your back to the woods and your front...

    • Baba Yaga II
      (pp. 5-8)

      Once there lived an old man and his wife. The old man’s wife died and he took another wife, but he had a little girl from his first wife. The evil stepmother did not like her. She beat her and thought about how to get rid of her once and for all.

      Once the father went away somewhere, and the stepmother said to the girl, “Go see your aunt, my sister, and ask her for a needle and thread to sew a shirt for you.” But this aunt was a Baba Yaga, bony-leg.

      The girl wasn’t stupid, so she stopped...

    • Baba Yaga and the Kid
      (pp. 9-13)

      Once there lived a tomcat, a sparrow, and a young man made three. The tomcat and the sparrow went to cut wood, and they said to the kid,¹ “You look after the house, but watch out. If Baba Yaga comes and starts counting the spoons, don’t say anything—be quiet!”

      “All right,” said the kid.

      The tomcat and the sparrow left, and the kid climbed up on the stove and sat behind the stovepipe. Suddenly a Baba Yaga appeared, picked up the spoons, and started counting: “This is the tomcat’s spoon, this is the sparrow’s spoon, and the third one...

    • Baba-Yaga and the Runt
      (pp. 14-18)

      There lived a man and a woman who had no children. No matter what they did, no matter how they prayed to God, the old woman still didn’t bear any children. One day the man went into the woods to get mushrooms. On the road he ran into a very old man. “I know what’s in your thoughts,” he said. “You keep thinking about children. Go through the village, collect one egg from every household, and put a brood hen to sit on those eggs. You’ll see for yourself what happens!”

      The old man went back to the village. There...

    • Finist the Bright Falcon II
      (pp. 19-27)

      Once there lived an old man and an old woman. They had three daughters; the youngest was such a beauty that it can’t be told in a tale or written down by a pen.

      Once the old man was getting ready to go to the city for the market and he said, “My gracious daughters! Whatever you wish, give me your orders—I’ll buy everything at the market.”

      The eldest asked, “Buy me a new dress, Father.”

      The middle one said, “Buy me a shawl kerchief, Father.”

      But the youngest said, “Buy me a little scarlet flower.”¹⁰

      The father laughed...

    • Go I Don’t Know Where, Bring I Don’t Know What
      (pp. 28-44)

      In a certain state there lived a king who was an unmarried bachelor, and he had a whole company of musketeers. The musketeers would go out hunting, shoot migratory birds, and provide the ruler’s table with game. A fine young musketeer by the name of Fedot served in that company. He had a sharp eye for shooting game: it was almost as if he never missed, and for that the king loved him more than all of his comrades.

      One time it happened that he went out to hunt early-early in the morning, at the crack of dawn. He walked...

    • Ivanushka
      (pp. 45-49)

      There was a lady, and she had a son, Ivanushka. He got into a little boat and went sailing. He sailed and sailed. The lady came to the shore. “Ivanushka! Sail over to me, I’ve brought you something to eat and drink!” He sailed over. She gave him something to eat and drink, and she sent him off to sail some more.

      Baba Yaga came. “Ivanushka! Sail over to me, I’ve brought you something to eat and drink!” Ivanushka heard that it wasn’t his mother’s voice, and he didn’t sail over to her. Then the Baba Yaga ran to the...

    • Mar’ia Morevna
      (pp. 50-59)

      In a certain kingdom, in a certain state lived Prince Ivan. He had three sisters: one was Princess Mar’ia, the second was Princess Olga, 28 and the third was Princess Anna. Their father and mother had died, and as they were dying they ordered their son, “Marry each of your sisters to the first man who comes to court her. Don’t keep them here for long!”

      The prince buried his parents, and from grief he went out to stroll with his sisters in the green garden. Suddenly a black cloud came over them, and a horrible thunderstorm arose. “Let’s go...

    • Moon and Star
      (pp. 60-66)

      In a certain kingdom, in a certain state there lived a tsar, and he had no children. So he and his wife begged God to give them a child for consolation. After a certain time the tsar’s wife grew heavy with child, and they rejoiced greatly. They had a daughter, and they gave her the name Moon. And how glad the tsar was! They hired all kinds of courtiers to teach her . . . After a certain time the tsar’s wife grew heavy again, and everyone was glad that God had given her such a gift. They had another...

    • Prince Danila-Govorila
      (pp. 67-71)

      Once there lived an old princess. She had a son and daughter who were still growing, both so noble and good.⁴¹

      An evil witch took a dislike to them and wondered how she could ruin them. She mulled it over and came up with an idea. She turned herself into a fox, went to their mother, and said, “My dear gossip! Here’s a little ring for you. Put it on your son’s finger. It’ll make him rich and quick on the uptake, if only he never takes it off and if he marries a girl whose finger fits the ring!”...

    • Prince Ivan and Beloy Polyanin
      (pp. 72-78)

      In a certain kingdom, in a certain state there once lived a tsar. This tsar had three daughters and one son, Prince Ivan. The tsar grew old and died, and Prince Ivan took the crown. As soon as the neighboring kings learned about this, they immediately gathered numberless armies and set off to make war against him. Prince Ivan didn’t know what to do. He went to his sisters and asked, “My dearest sisters, what can I do? All the kings have risen in war against me.”

      “Oh, such a brave warrior! What are you frightened of? How is it...

    • The Bear Tsar
      (pp. 79-84)

      Once there lived a tsar and his wife, and they had no children. One day the tsar rode out to hunt beautiful beasts and to shoot at migratory birds. It got hot, and he wanted a drink of water. He saw a well to one side, went up to it, bent over and was about to drink his fill—but the Bear Tsar⁴⁵ grabbed him by the beard.

      “Let me go,” begged the tsar.

      “Give me the thing you have at home that you don’t know. Then I’ll let go.” “What would I not know at home?” thought the tsar....

    • The Bogatyrs Soska, Usynia, Gorynia, and Duginia
      (pp. 85-88)

      Once there lived an old woman who had no children. One day she went out to collect wood chips, and she found a block of pine. She took it back home, went in, heated up her house, put the block on the stove, and said to herself, “Let it dry out, and it will make good splinters for light.”

      But the old woman’s house had no windows. Soon the chips started to burn, and the whole house filled with smoke. Suddenly the old woman heard what seemed like the pine block on the stove shouting, “Mother, it’s smoky! Mother, it’s...

    • The Brother
      (pp. 89-92)

      Once there lived a lady. She had three daughters and a little son. She took very great care of her son and wouldn’t let him out of the house. One splendid summer day the daughters came to their mother and asked her to let them take their brother to walk in the garden. For a long time the mother wouldn’t agree, then finally she let him go. They walked for a long time in the garden. Suddenly a strong wind came up. The sand and dust rose up in a cloud, and the child was torn out of the nanny’s...

    • The Daughter-in-Law
      (pp. 93-94)

      Once there lived an old man and an old woman. They had a son, and they married the son to a young woman.

      The mother-in-law sent her daughter-in-law to shear the sheep. But she didn’t have sheep, she had bears. So the daughter-in-law sat down on an oak and called, “My teddies, my gray ones, come shear yourselves!” They came and they sheared themselves. Then she went back, and she took the wool to her mother-in-law.

      Then the mother-in-law sent her to milk the cows. But she didn’t have cows, she had wolves. She sat down on an oak and...

    • The Enchanted Princess
      (pp. 95-101)

      Once in a certain kingdom there was a soldier who served in the king’s horse guard. He served out his twenty-five years in faith and truth. For his honest conduct, the king ordered him discharged and granted him full retirement. As a reward, he gave the soldier the same horse he used to ride in his regiment with the saddle and all the gear. The soldier said farewell to his comrades and rode off to his homeland. He rode for a day, a second, and a third. Soon a whole week had passed, and a second week, and a third....

    • The Feather of Finist the Bright Falcon
      (pp. 102-109)

      Once there lived an old man who had three daughters.⁵⁸ The eldest one and the middle one were fancy dressers, but the youngest one cared only about keeping house.

      The father got ready to go to town and he asked his daughters what he should buy for each of them.

      The eldest asked, “Buy me a dress!” And the middle one said the same thing.

      “And what for you, my beloved daughter?” he asked the youngest.

      “Buy me a feather of Finist the bright falcon, Father.”

      The father said good-bye to them and left for the city. He bought material...

    • The Firebird
      (pp. 110-115)

      In a certain kingdom, but not in our country, there lived a tsar. This tsar had three sons, Prince Pyotr, Prince Dimitrii, and Prince Ivan. They had an orchard, too. An apple tree grew in that orchard with golden apples on it. Only the tsar began to notice that every night one apple would disappear. A certain amount of time passed, and a lot of the apples were already missing. So he called his sons together and said, “My dearest children! If you love me, then stand guard and catch this thief. If one of you catches this thief, I’ll...

    • The Frog and the Bogatyr
      (pp. 116-122)

      In a certain kingdom, in a certain state there lived a king who had three sons. One day he called his sons to him and said, “Dear children! Now you’re of age, it’s time for you to think about marriage. Each of you make an arrow, go out into the secluded meadows, and shoot in different directions. Each one’s arrow will land by a house, and the one who shot the arrow will find his bride in that house.”

      Each prince made himself a bow, went out into the secluded meadows, and took his shot. The eldest brother shot to...

    • The Frog Princess
      (pp. 123-127)

      In a certain kingdom, in a certain state there lived a tsar with his tsaritsa. He had three sons, all young and unmarried, such brave men that it’s not possible to tell it in a tale or write it with a pen. The youngest one was called Prince Ivan.

      One day the tsar said to them, “My dear children, each of you take an arrow, draw your bows tight, and shoot in different directions. Wherever your arrow falls, go to that household to find a bride.”

      The eldest brother shot his arrow, and it fell in the yard of a...

    • The Geese and Swans
      (pp. 128-131)

      There once lived an old man and an old woman. They had a daughter and a baby son. “Daughter, daughter!” said her mother. “We’re going to work. We’ll bring you a bread-roll, we’ll sew you a dress and buy you a handkerchief. Be good, take care of your little brother, and don’t go out of the yard.”

      The parents left, but the daughter forgot what they had told her. She set her brother down on the grass under the window, and she herself ran out onto the street and lost track of the time, playing and running around. The geese...

    • The Stepdaughter and the Stepmother’s Daughter
      (pp. 132-134)

      There lived an old man and an old woman. They had only one daughter. The old woman died, and the old man married another woman. He had a daughter with the second wife as well. The old woman didn’t like her stepdaughter and was always trying to hurt her. Once the old woman sent her to the river to wash thread and told her, “Watch out! If you let the threads sink to the bottom, then don’t bother coming home!”

      The girl went to the river and laid the thread on the water. The thread floated along the river, and...

    • The Tale of the Daring Young Man and the Apples of Youth
      (pp. 135-139)

      Once there lived a tsar with his tsaritsa, and he had three sons. One day he sent out his sons to find the water of youth. So the princes set out on their way. They rode up to a pillar where the road split in three, and on the pillar it said: if you go to the right, the fine young man will be sated, but his horse hungry. If you go to the left, the young man will be hungry, but his horse sated. If you go straight, there’s no way you’ll stay alive. The eldest prince set off...

    • The Tale of the Fine Young Man and the Apples of Youth
      (pp. 140-144)

      Over the waters, over the lands, over the Russian cities there was a tsar. He had three sons, and the youngest son was Prince Ivan. Near that kingdom was a mountain no one could climb, on foot or on horseback. The tsar heard a knock that knocked and a thunder that thundered on the mountain, but what could it be? No one knew, and he sent his first son to find out why a knock was knocking and thunder thundering on the mountain. The first son rode up only one third of the mountain and came back. He went to...

    • The Tale of the Fine Young Man and the Apples of Youth II
      (pp. 145-148)

      Once there lived a tsar. The tsar had three sons, Fyodor, Yegor and Ivan. Ivan was not quite all there in the head. The tsar sent his oldest son out to get living water, and to get the sweet apples of youth. He set out and rode until he came to a fork in the road. Here stood a pillar, and on the pillar was an inscription: “If you go to the right, you’ll drink and eat; if you go to the left, you’ll lose your head.” He headed to the right and came to a house. He went into...

    • The Three Kingdoms
      (pp. 149-160)

      In a certain kingdom, in a certain state there lived a tsar named Bel Belyanin;⁸⁰ he had a wife, Nastasia Zlatokos,⁸¹ and three sons: Prince Pyotr, Prince Vasilii, and Prince Ivan. The tsaritsa went out to walk in the garden with her nurses and nannies. Suddenly a strong whirlwind arose and—oh my God!—grabbed the tsar’s wife and carried her off, no one knew to where. The tsar was sorrowful and mournful and he didn’t know what to do. The tsar’s sons grew up, and he said to them, “My dear children! Who among you will go to seek...

    • The Three Kingdoms—Copper, Silver, and Gold
      (pp. 161-164)

      Once upon a time there happened to live an old man and an old woman who had three sons. The first was Egorushko Zalët,⁸⁹ the second Misha Kosolapoy,⁹⁰ and the third was Ivan Zapechnik.⁹¹ The father and mother decided to marry them off, and they sent the oldest son to find a bride. He walked and walked for a long time. No matter where he took a look at the girls, he couldn’t find a bride for himself; none of them caught his eye.

      Then on the road he met a dragon with three heads. He was frightened, but the...

    • The Tsar-Maiden
      (pp. 165-169)

      In a certain kingdom, in a certain state, there was once a merchant. His wife had died, and he had only one son, Ivan. He found his son a tutor, and after a certain time he himself married another wife. Since Ivan the merchant’s son was already full grown and awfully good-looking, his stepmother fell in love with him.

      Once Ivan the merchant’s son and his tutor set off to sea on a little raft to fish. Suddenly they saw thirty ships sailing toward them. The Tsar-Maiden was on one of those ships with thirty other maidens, her foster sisters....

    • Vasilisa the Beautiful
      (pp. 170-184)

      Once upon a time, in a certain kingdom, there lived a merchant. He lived with his wife for twelve years and had only one daughter, Vasilisa the Beautiful.

      The girl was eight years old when her mother died. As she was dying, the merchant’s wife called her daughter to her, pulled a doll out from under the blanket, gave it to her, and said, “Listen, my dear Vasilisa! Remember and carry out my final words.

      I’m dying, and along with my parental blessing I leave you this doll here. Always keep her with you and don’t show her to anyone;...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 185-196)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 197-202)