Baba Yaga Wants to Cook Your Children in a Stew

Arkane Curiosities

A smile filled with iron teeth. Skin wraps her bones like cling wrap. A nose so long it scrapes the ceiling when she sleeps. This is Baba Yaga, a witch who fits all the stereotypes. But in Slavic lore, she is much more than a bogeyman. Some consider Baba Yaga to be a force of nature or even a deity. Yet many tales talk of her voracious appetite and her desire to cook your children in a stew.

She Will Count Your Spoons

Apparently all aspects of cooking fall under Baba Yaga’s domain. In the story called “Baba Yaga and the Brave Youth”, she returns again and again to young man’s house to count his spoons. 

In the tale the youth lives with a talking cat and sparrow (so we’re off to a good start). The youth is a layabout, letting the animals go out into the forest to cut wood. Their only warning is to hide if Baba Yaga shows up to, you know, inventory the spoons. 

Three times the witch appears and each time the youth can’t keep his trap shut. When he sees her touch his spoon, he yells out “That’s my spoon!” The first two times, the cat and sparrow swoop in for the rescue. But the third time is not the charm and Baba Yaga makes off with the youth to cook him in a stew. 

Legend has it that Baba Yaga only counts eating spoons, not stirring spoons. She wants to know how many people are in the house, and maybe if there are any children. 

Beware the Black Geese

Three black geese serve Baba Yaga. Their mission? To fly around in search of delicious-looking kids to eat. In the fairytale of the black geese, the parents warn a young Elena to watch over her brother. 

Elena gets distracted with her friends while the brother plays outside. Cue the malevolent geese. They swoop down and abduct the helpless boy. Knowing she screwed up, Elena sets off to rescue her brother. 

She must hurry. After all, the brother is destined for Baba Yaga’s pot. Yet even in her rush, she pauses to rescue three woodland creatures. She saves a fish out of water, a squirrel caught in a trap and a field mouse with a pebble blocking its home. In gratitude for her help, the animals give her three tokens (a shell, a nut and the pebble). They tell her to throw them over her shoulder if she’s ever in danger. 

Reaching Baba Yaga’s hut, she found the witch asleep and her brother beside the bed playing with bones. A cauldron bubbled on the fire, ready for a little-boy-stew. Elena snuck and and grabbed her brother, but the black geese sounded the alarm.

Elena bolted into the forest with Baba Yaga in chase. Hampered with her brother, Elena could not outrun the witch. Remembering the tokens, she tosses the shell over her shoulder and it becomes a lake. Instead of going around the lake, Baba Yaga leans down and slurps it up. Next Elena tosses the nut and it sprouts into a thick forest. The witch chews through the wood, devouring the trees. 

Finally, Elena throws the pebble. It transforms into a mountain, too high to climb. Baba Yaga can’t drink or eat the mountain, so she returns home empty handed. 

The moral, of course, is to watch over your kids. Nothing like a bit of child-eating to scare your little ones into being good and following the rules. 

Tim Kane

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Werewolf Ointment and Child Horderves

Most folk think they know the werewolf legend. You get bit by a werewolf and then become one. Yet how did the first werewolves begin? Its like the chicken and the egg dilemma. The best place to look is sixteenth century France. Between 1520 and 1630 there were 30,000 cases of lycanthropy. That’s a whole lot of baying at the moon. Reading through the various cases, I noticed some trends emerge.

Origami Werewolf

Origami Werewolf

The Dark Lord

It’s no surprise in a devout Christian country that the devil would be blamed for any wrongdoing. In two legends, a figure dressed all in black approaches the victims and tempts them. In 1502, Pierre Burgot was trying to gather up his sheep when he ran across an ominous horseman all in black. The stranger called himself “The Lord” and asked Burgot to obey him. In a second meeting, The Lord commanded that Burgot denounce God.

Another case involved a boy called Jean Grenier. He ran away from an abusive father, finally meeting the Lord of the Jungle in the woods. The man was tall, dressed in black, and sat upon a horse. (Puts a whole new meaning to tall, dark and handsome.) This Lord kissed Grenier with icy lips. On their second meeting (and it seems the nasty part of the deal happens at the second meeting) the Lord scratched a tattoo onto the boy’s thigh, marking him.

Curse of the Werewolf 1961

Curse of the Werewolf 1961

Werewolf Ointment

Apparently the Dark Lord carries around vials of werewolf ointment. In both the above cases, this is what caused the transformation. In the case of Burgot, he met a man called Michel Verdum (possibly a friend of the Lord). He commanded Burgot to strip naked and rub magic ointment on his body. During the process, Burgot saw his arms and legs transform, becoming hairy and lupine. Verdum also became a werewolf and together they ravaged the countryside.

The boy lycanthrope, Grenier, had a similar experience. The Jungle Lord gave the boy ointment and a wolf skin. After anointing himself, the wolfskin transformed Grenier into a werewolf. One view of the lycanthrope is as a skin walker.

The Beast of Gevaudan, published by Basset, 1764 (color engraving). Musee Nat. des Arts et Traditions Populaires, Paris, France­

The Beast of Gevaudan, published by Basset, 1764 (color engraving). Musee Nat. des Arts et Traditions Populaires, Paris, France­

Eating Children

Apparently, the favorite food of werewolves is children, raw and crunchy. Burgot tore apart a seven-year-old boy and abducted a four-year-old girl. He and Verdum ate up every last bit. Grenier attacked and ate fifteen children, including one from a cradle.

The werewolf of Caude (1598) was tried for killing and eating a boy of fifteen. There was also a werewolf who used a tailor shop to lure children (because so many kids desperately yearn to hem and stitch).

Finally, the Hermit of Dole (Gilles Garnier) munched down on several children in 1573. Another werewolf, Gilas Garner, attacked children with paws and teeth, eating flesh from their legs and belly. Bottom line, it did not pay to be a teen in medieval France.


Werewolf by Lucas Cranach

In none of these cases do further werewolves multiply by excessive bites. The legends seem clear that some mingling with the dark forces causes lycanthropy, not some disease.

Tim Kane