Countdown to Halloween: the mythical creatures of Europe

For Euronews Culture’s countdown to Halloween, let’s take a look at some of the lesser known mythical creatures of Europe.

Today is the turn of Slavic myth, the Baba Yaga.

In Eastern European folklore, Baba Yaga (or Baba Yaga Bony Legs / ‘Baba Yaga’ in Polish) is a voracious and misshapen old woman who kidnaps her victims before cooking and eating them.

Usually children. Something about the meat that is more tender.

The supernatural entity usually lives in a house that is constantly spinning on the legs of birds.

Oh, and if that wasn’t sinister or insane enough, she sometimes joins Death on his travels, helping him devour newly liberated souls.

Like you do.

Put simply, she is the terrifying inspiration for all the old women of the forest, the evil witches or evil godmothers that you will have met in children’s stories and films – and if you are not even a little terrified, then you are braver than. us here at Euronews Cultura.

An 1894 edition of Tales of the Russian People included this image of Baba Yaga – VA Gatsuk

Baba what?

Action fans will remember that in the John Wick film series, the hitman played by Keanu Reeves is known in the Russian mob as “Baba Yaga”, which they translate (rather poorly) as “the black man”.

The Black Man is actually the Babayka, a monster of Russian folklore. Baba Yaga actually refers to a bad granny.

“Baba” is a Slavic word for “old woman”, “grandmother” or “witch”.

As for the “Yaga” part, it is a compound of words meaning “snake” or “evil”.

So next time you watch John Wick movies, you can tell your friends that the writers are really okay with their hero who is referred to as a mean old woman.

Valonia Feline on DeviantArt

Baba Yaga’s house – Valonia Feline on DeviantArt

Baba who?

Baba Yaga is usually described as having a Pinocchio-sized nose that sometimes stretches to the ceiling when sleeping, unbreakable teeth, and, despite her diet, bony legs.

It is known to fly through the air in a giant flying mortar or iron kettle. And if you’re still not sure if you’ve identified her correctly, her house above her is quite unique.

It’s a cabin in the woods perched on a pair of giant, movable, dancing chicken legs. This means that the cannibal’s house can chase people and cannot be entered unless someone utters the magic phrase: “Turn your back to the forest, your forehead to me.”

Its enclosure is also nicely topped with human skulls, a tribute to its victims and a fairly obvious warning not to be disturbed.

Ivan Bilibin

Vasilia the Beautiful emerges victorious from Baba Yaga’s house – Ivan Bilibin

A complex figure

There are many horrifying tales about Baba Yaga, but the most commonly known story is that of Vasilia the Beautiful, the Eastern European version of Cinderella.

After the death of his mother, Vasilia’s father remarried a woman with two daughters. Her stepmother and stepsisters abuse Vasilia and when her father goes on a long journey, Vasilia’s stepmother takes the opportunity to get rid of her. She is tasked with looking for Baba Yaga to bring home more light, as they survive by candlelight.

Vasilia finds the old woman, who then gives Vasilia a series of almost impossible chores that she has to complete or Baba Yaga will eat her.

After managing to complete the tasks, Baba Yaga is true to her word and releases Vasilia, who returns home with a skull shining with light from her eyes. This sinister glow incinerates her horrible new family.

Baba Yaga is here both an obstacle and a savior, a twisted version of the fairy godmother who is an antagonist with no clear purpose. He is also an enigmatic figure that some characters seek for his wisdom of him. To receive her advice, you need to approach her with attention and respect. She is also advised not to ask her too many questions.

Finally, many representations project her as a figure of mother nature, becoming more of a cautionary tale: if you don’t have a healthy reverence for nature and the spirit world, Baba Yaga will come for you.

Millennium Film

Hellboy comes face to face with Baba Yaga in 2019’s Hellboy – Millennium Films

Baba Yaga in popular culture

One place Baba Yaga has made her mark is in the Hellboy universe of comics and films, where Hellboy investigates kidnapping of children and attempts to kill her. Baba Yaga swears revenge and becomes one of the main antagonists of the series.

He had a role in the terrifying 2019 Hellboy reboot movie, which saw Big Red go to the chicken thigh house and shoot Baba Yaga.

An unofficial depiction of Baba Yaga can be seen in the latest Blair Witch movie, titled adventurous 2016 Blair Witch. The titular witch was nowhere to be seen in the original 1999 film, but there are glimpses of her in the final act of the reboot / sequel, portrayed as an oversized ghoul with lean legs and a rather insatiable appetite when it comes to genocide. of campers.


A look at the Blair Witch in 2016’s Blair Witch – Portalone

Finally, Baba Yaga has become something of a feminist icon over the years.

The image of a powerful older woman doing whatever she likes damn well became an ambition for many – she even had a column of advice, “Ask Baba Yaga” in The hairpina website founded in 2010 and which ceased publication in 2018.

Who wouldn’t take the advice of someone who knows how to make the perfect baby souffle?

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