Baba Yaga is a Slavic witch. Long famous in Eastern Europe (the first written reference to Baba Yaga appeared in 1755), she has been “discovered” (Columbused) by the Western world recently. And she is a horror, her body often described as distorted, the stories often playing into body horror by playing up a feature (in some stories her nose is so large it reaches to the ceiling of her hut; in others, she has only one long, thin leg).
Baba Yaga is usually presented as an old woman, a hag who is small in stature with pockmarked skin, long, rotting teeth, and an overlarge nose. She flies in a mortar, using the pestle as a rudder and sweeping away her tracks with a broom or mop. Sometimes she is part of a trio of sisters who all share the same name to add to the confusion.
She lives on the edge of the forest in a wooden hut on a large pair of (or sometimes just one) chicken legs. There are no windows. Sometimes there’s a door–if you know the magic words. The house is protected by a fence made from human bones, skulls topping most of them—but there’s clearly room for more.
Baba Yaga has the ability to turn from old woman to young maiden quickly, and she often uses this ability to deceive and misguide strangers in the forest. It is rumored that she eats these strangers, especially the children. Baba Yaga loves the taste of children, evidently.
Despite all of this, Baba Yaga is still a rather ambiguous figure. She can be as helpful as she is harmful, especially if requests are made politely and with a purse spirit. She has been known to offer guidance and help those who are lost, but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Seeking her out is dangerous, but when Baba Yaga is helpful, she is very very helpful.
The ambivalence around Baba Yaga is part of what makes her so interesting. She is horrifically ugly, and sh can be incredibly dangerous. But for all her danger, she can be a powerful guide and a much-needed assistant to those who are lost. And, though she’s rumored to eat children (and other wanderers), few seem to meet these fate in the stories told about Baba Yaga.