THE TALON

Mythical Monsters: The Baba Yaga

"Little house, little house, turn the way your mother made you! Open as your master bade you! Let no pretty words persuade you!" --Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga flies in her magic mortar.

Baba Yaga flies in her magic mortar.

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Imagine hiking through the Russian wilderness. Sapphire lakes lap against their drowsy banks; fields of wildflowers are fringed with towering pines. But then, off in the distance, you spot something peculiar: a quaint log cabin, the idyllic paradise for Russia’s frigid beauty—or so you think, until you see the house rise in the air. Beneath it, long, scaly, yellow chicken legs stretch lazily and begin to scratch at the dirt. You’ve just found the house of Baba Yaga, and if you value life and limb, you would do well to run for your life before she realizes she has a visitor; if not, you are sure to end up her dinner guest—and not in the good way.

She sharpens her teeth and nails on a grindstone in her yard so she can devour small children who wander into the woods alone; she especially loves the taste of Russian flesh, which she claims has the strongest flavor.”

Baba Yaga primarily features in Russian folklore, though she is present in many other Slavic mythologies. She is described as the most repulsive old hag you could ever imagine, hideous and fetid with a personality to match. She sharpens her teeth and nails on a grindstone in her yard so she can devour small children who wander into the woods alone; she especially loves the taste of Russian flesh, which she claims has the strongest flavor. The grindstone is in near-constant use as gnawing on the bones of her victims wears down her crooked yellow fangs.

No part of the carcass goes to waste under Baba Yaga’s roof; once she has stripped the bones of flesh, she uses them to make the fence—or corral, rather—for her chicken-footed hut, lashing stout leg bones together with stringy tendons. Skulls sit atop the fenceposts, guarding the gate and lighting the way with the hellfire that burns in their empty eye sockets. The souls trapped within them cry out to all who approach, begging them to stay away so as not to meet the same dismal fate, but their pleas are rarely heeded; only the truly desperate would ever dare to step foot in Baba Yaga’s stronghold. She can occasionally be manipulated into giving something akin to aid, but she will do everything within her power to beguile, trap, and devour any who are foolish enough to cross her threshold; in order to escape with your life, you must outmaneuver her with your own cunning. If you seek the treasure within her abode, there are two principle methods that the various legends attest to: you can attempt to sneak in and back out while she is off on her witch’s business, flying over the treetops in her magical mortar. Of course, if you’re discovered, your fate will be worse than death; Baba Yaga loves her ‘pets,’ which she keeps chained to the fence-post until they go mad. Believe it or not, it is safer to announce yourself as a visitor, bringing with you the gift of a freshly-slain deer; she will demolish the entire thing in one sitting, then spend the next few days in a bloated stupor, allowing you to raid her hovel freely.

If you do have an unexpected run-in with Baba Yaga, do not be discourteous; Russian children are instructed to bow deeply and address her as ‘grandmother,’ affording her all the respect one would an elderly—if cranky—woman. If you are polite, it is possible to escape unscathed; be obsequious and helpful, but not insomuch as she would want to kidnap you to keep as a house-servant, as happened with the maid Vassilisa. Make up an excuse to run an errand and run for your life instead. Above all, never accept anything from her; she may look like a grandma, but any cookies she offers are just as likely to be made of you as for you!

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