Vasalisa and Baba Yaga

As the year turns toward Halloween, stories of Baba Yaga have come more and more to my awareness.

Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin

Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin

It started with my son bringing me a short story about Baba Yaga a couple of weeks ago. Since I have read several versions of her folktale, I wasn’t happy with this one, and offered to read him another, much longer version. The story is really about Vasalisa, a young girls whose mother gives her a magic doll as her dying blessing.

When Vasalisa’s father remarries, the wicked stepmother and stepsisters join the story. They don’t like Vasalisa very much, because she is so pretty and pure of heart. (Sounds similar to Cinderella, huh?) They contrive to let the fire go out, a very bad thing back then. They send Vasalisa to go get fire from the Baba Yaga, a horrible witch who flies around in a mortar, steers with a pestle, and sweeps away her tracks with a broom.

The journey through the woods is long, and Vasalisa finally arrives at the home of Baba Yaga, only to find it dancing around on chicken legs. Baba Yaga comes home, and before she will grant Vasalisa’s request, gives the young girl three impossible tasks over three nights. If she succeeds, Baba Yaga will give her fire. If she fails, Baba Yaga will eat her up. Each night, the magic doll helps Vasalisa complete the tasks before the Baba Yaga returns to eat her.

After the third night, Baba Yaga gives Vasalisa the opportunity to ask questions of her, thereby imparting Vasalisa with wisdom. Baba Yaga then asks Vasalisa how she managed to accomplish the tasks. Vasalisa replies that she did it with her mother’s blessing (the doll). When Baba Yaga hears that Vasalisa carries her mother’s blessing, she quickly gives her a burning coal (in a skull from her fencepost) and orders her to leave.

Vasalisa returns home. Depending on which version you read, either her stepmother and stepsisters run away in fear of the skull with glowing eyes, or her father sends them away when he learns what they did to his daughter. Vasalisa has proven herself as a courageous woman, and her beauty and pure heart win her a husband. She lives happily ever after, as is the way with folk tales.

Since Baba Yaga seems to be calling for my attention, I will share more about her next week, and keep your eyes out for the Baba Yaga guided meditation.



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