Baba Yaga – the Slavic Astro-Myth of Seasonal Shifts

Baba Yaga is a supernatural figure from Slavic folklore, particularly in Russian and Eastern European tales. She is often depicted as a witch or sorceress who lives in a hut that stands on chicken legs and is surrounded by a fence made of human bones. Baba Yaga is known for her unpredictable and often sinister behavior, and she plays a role in various folktales and legends.

Baba Yaga can be both a helper and a hinderer. She might assist or test the protagonists by giving them advice, magical items, or tasks to complete. On the other hand, she can also be a dangerous antagonist, seeking to harm or devour those who cross her path. Her character is complex and multifaceted, embodying both the dark and enigmatic aspects of the natural world.

Baba Yaga is often depicted as flying in a mortar (a bowl) while using a pestle (a club-like tool) to steer. This is her most common representation.


Baba Yaga or Baba Roga?

  • Baba Yaga and Baba Roga are two different names for the same mythological character. Baba Yaga is prominent in Russian, Ukrainian, and Eastern European folklore. Baba Roga is more commonly found in Slavic folklore from countries like Serbia, Croatia, and Bulgaria.

The first word “baba”, means “grandmother” in all Slavic languages. However, her names are more problematic. The name “Yaga” is often connected with Proto-Slavic “ęga”, meaning “dread, terror”. On the other hand, the name “Roga” is sometimes connected to the word “rog”, meaning “horn”. However, there are no myths that mention horns in connection to Baba Roga.

However, both of these words have interesting meanings in Sanskrit, and may point to connections that go further back in time.

Baba Yaga and the Flying Mortar

As previously noted, the extensive collection of Baba Yaga stories makes it impractical to cover them comprehensively in this brief article. Therefore, our focus will be directed solely towards her most emblematic portrayal: the enchanting flying mortar.

In the realm of Old-European mythology, a belief system that potentially extends back to the Neolithic era, our planet was envisioned as a youthful maiden during the spring season and transformed into an elderly, silver-haired woman throughout the winter months.

Nonetheless, our forebears had to depend on the celestial patterns of stars and constellations to ascertain the forthcoming shifts in seasons. Back in the day, one of the paramount constellations serving this very function was Virgo.

In relation to Baba Yaga, it becomes intriguing to note that Virgo is positioned above another constellation called Crater, symbolizing a large bowl utilized for the mixing of wine. Could it be that this is what ancient Slavs saw as Baba Yaga, and her flying Mortar?

It is also noteworthy that both Virgo and Baba Yaga are sometimes depicted holding a spindle. The same is true for another mythological character – German Old Mother Frost.


More than Meets the Eye?

Continuing along this line of exploration, additional parallels come to light. For instance, an adjacent constellation to Virgo is Corvus, representing the Raven. In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga frequently finds aid in Ravens.

Additionally, the configuration of the Libra constellation bears a certain resemblance to the form of Baba Yaga’s dwelling, which famously rests atop chicken legs.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, the saga of Baba Yaga stands as a remarkably ancient and intricate narrative. Delving beneath its manifold layers, it is plausible that her tale originated as an astronomical interpretation of the changing seasons.

As autumn approached, she could have been depicted bearing a pestle or a spindle, aligning with female winter tasks. Conversely, in spring, a broom might have been her emblem, signifying the time for household cleansing and New Year preparations.

In this context, another mythological character potentially associated with her could be “Baba Marta” – “Grandmother March”, as recognized in the folklore of the southern Slavic regions. Baba Marta embodies the essence of an aged, capricious figure who harbors disdain for untidy homes, and akin to the witches of European mythos, in spring she flies away on her broom, as the young maiden of Spring takes her place.


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