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.