Graveyard Shift

Meet Baba Yaga, The Slavic Witch Who Lives In A Chicken-Legged Hut Surrounded By Skulls

The story of Baba Yaga is one of the best known in Slavic folklore. This elderly, supernatural figure has the powers of a witch and cannibalistic desires, and is whispered to roam the countryside in a hut mounted atop chicken legs. She's usually presented as a fearsome apparition, but Baba Yaga isn't all bad; one of her most important roles is as a Slavic guardian who stands between the worlds of the living and the dead. Still, whether she appears in fairy tales, books, or films, Baba Yaga carries with her the reputation of a witch who should be avoided at all costs.

What makes Baba Yaga so terrifying? According to some tales, her very appearance is enough to strike terror. She's known to prey on young children, devouring their flesh and grinding their bones with her iron teeth and fearsome mortar and pestle. Then again, some legends tell of Baba Yaga helping people, and serving as the protector of the natural elements. Whether she's a horrific hag or a stern goddess of nature, Baba Yaga continues to capture the modern imagination. 

  • She Devours Children And Grinds Their Bones

    She Devours Children And Grinds Their Bones
    Photo: Viktor Vasnetsov / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Baba Yaga's unusual eating habits make her particularly frightening to children. Any child caught by the witch runs the risk of becoming her dinner. Some stories depict her having a large stove for cooking children in a similar manner to Hansel and Gretel. Otherwise, Baba Yaga is known to use her pestle and mortar to grind up children's bones after she's killed them. True, she sometimes consumes adults, but the young are usually her primary target.

  • Her Hideous Appearance Inspires Terror

    The physical description of Baba Yaga goes much further than the typical witch, and it's truly the stuff of nightmares. In most of the Baba Yaga legends, it's clear that every single part of her body is hideous. Her iron teeth make it easier for her to devour unsuspecting humans. She has extremely cold and piercing eyes, numerous physical deformities, and bony legs. A long, crooked nose completes her terrifying visage.

  • She's Accompanied By The Foul Stench Of Death

    She's Accompanied By The Foul Stench Of Death
    Photo: Ivan Bilibin / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    No matter where Baba Yaga goes, she leaves behind a morbid reminder of her presence: the foul stench of death emanates from her body and clothing, and the disturbing smell tends to linger. Folklore often connects her with disease and decay, just like many of her fellow witches.

  • She Flies On An Enchanted Mortar

    She Flies On An Enchanted Mortar
    Photo: H J Ford / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Witches are traditionally depicted as flying on brooms. But Baba Yaga is too flat-out strange for that. Instead, the Slavic figure flies on a mortar, and uses a pestle as both a wand and a weapon. Some stories say she does carry a broom, which she uses to sweep away her tracks.