04 March 2007

The Black Goddess Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga is a Slavic goddess originally worshipped in Central and Eastern Europe. She is a goddess of death, among other things. She is a witch of the woods and lives in an amazing home that doubled as the first step into initiation. It is a wooden hut on hen's feet surrounded by a fence of human bones topped with skulls that magically produce their own light. The gatepost is made of dead men's legs and the bolts of dead men's teeth. She travels the land in a mortar and uses the pestle to push herself along. And even though she leaves death and disease behind her she sweeps her tracks clean with a broom made of silver birch twigs. She is also often known to cannibalize children; hence she became a character in many fairy tales, like Hansel and Gretel. Baba Yaga is most closely associated with the fair Vassilisa, an innocent maiden who comes of age under her tutelage.

We know little about Baba Yaga, or any ancient Slav deity, because the Orthodox Church largely succeeded in suppressing much of the traditional tales. However, as is sometimes the case, there is a great deal of post-Church fairytales that give us tantalizing details about her original status. We do know that in some stories she isn't evil at all but can be helpful to children and those who have suffered an injustice. Her earlier function was one of a benevolent fairy who possessed great wisdom. And her incredibly unique house is actually based on homes built by nomadic hunting peoples. They were built up off the ground to keep the snow out and preserve supplies. Blue roses are sacred to her and heroes who offer them are often rewarded. And the mortar and pestle is an obvious reference to her expertise in the field of herbal healing. In fact, after having read quite a bit about her and some of the surviving folk tales she seems like she could be considered a patron goddess of green witches.

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