Baba Yaga (2) - Fairy-Tale Witches and Mother Goose

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Baba Yaga (2)
Fairy-Tale Witches and Mother Goose

A stepmother wishes to be rid of her stepdaughter and so sends her to Baba Yaga on the pretext of borrowing a needle and thread but really because she expects the girl never to return. The stepmother doesn’t explicitly say “Baba Yaga”; she tells the girl to get the needle and thread from “Auntie in the woods.”

The young girl is aware of Auntie’s identity and understands her stepmother’s true motivation quite well. Before embarking on her errand, she makes a pit-stop at her beloved real aunt’s home to say goodbye forever. The aunt tells her not to be afraid. She then proceeds to give the girl such exceptionally detailed instructions that one suspects that the aunt herself has survived this journey:

Image A birch will lash her face. She gives the girl a ribbon, advising her to tie up its branches. (This is reminiscent of the ribbons girls tie on the Rusalka’s birch trees; see FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Rusalka.)

Image Baba Yaga’s gates will creak and refuse to open; she gives the girl oil for the hinges.

Image Baba Yaga’s dog will try to eat the girl. The aunt gives her bread to propitiate the dog.

Image Baba Yaga’s cat will try to claw out her eyes. The aunt gives her meat to give the cat.

Notably the true aunt gives her everything but the needle and thread. She could give her a needle and thread and tell her not to go to Baba Yaga’s hut but it is apparently crucial that the girl goes and that she passes this initiation. Everything the aunt advises comes to pass. By following her advice, the girl is able to make important spiritual alliances that, together with her own bravery, sharp wits, and honorable behavior, enable her to survive and return.

Most fairy-tale characters who survive Baba Yaga’s initiations do so with the assistance of an older female relative or of animal allies.