In folklore and fairy tales, we often encounter weary travelers wandering through the forest, searching for unknown wisdom. Their journey often leads them to a foreboding cottage inhabited by a mysterious old woman - who may offer shelter and advice…or something much more sinister. Slavic and Eastern European traditions know this spirit as Baba Yaga (“grandmother witch” or “old hag”), a supernatural crone of ambiguous power and origins.
Stories from Russia, Poland, Hungary, and other countries in the region abound. Her home is a cottage built on tall chicken legs, accessible only by speaking a magic spell. She travels through the forests and skies in a mortar, using the pestle as an oar and a broom to sweep away her tracks.
While she is occasionally helpful, Baba Yaga is something of a trickster who is more likely to eat a passerby than to assist them. Understandably, these tendencies place her on the edges of society and create a sense of foreboding around her. In stories like “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” she may kidnap seekers to press them into service or prepare them as a meal. Frightening stuff, to be sure, but tricksters are always more than what they seem.
Baba Yaga herself is not a deity, but in pre-Christian times, she was revered and feared as a being that held the power of life and death. Some scholars believe it is even more than that: “Grandmother Witch” is the oldest of the old, and always has been. Her existence is said to pre-date time as we know it, before the very beginnings of our world.
As is often the case with spirits or beings so ancient, then, Baba Yaga is neither good nor evil - she simply Is. This mystery of her true nature serves as a catalyst; in many stories where she plays a part, doing her bidding results in a supernatural gift that rescues them from an undesirable fate.
Modern magical practitioners know that such catalysts are essential to their personal growth. Baba Yaga represents our shadow side, where we attempt to hide dark or primitive emotions such as rage, fear, envy, or the desire for power, as well as those aspects of ourselves that we deem weak or unworthy. And our shadow selves, like Baba Yaga, have always existed and always will.
In many of the old stories, the seeker learns to appease Baba Yaga or appropriately do her bidding. In much the same way, we cannot ignore or get rid of our shadow - but if we are wise, we can gain a better understanding of who we are at the core. When we turn fear into acceptance, we avoid being devoured and instead learn to coexist.
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Susan (aka the Dragonfly Charmer) is an Indigo Moons staff member and an intuitive reader with over 25 years of experience. She also teaches Tarot classes at the shop. Visit her Linktree for all the other places you can find her.
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