Baba Yaga’s chicken-legged house (Russia/Eastern Europe)

The ambiguous figure of Baba Yaga appears in the Slavic fairy tale of Vasilissa the Beautiful. Having several manifestations, Baba Yaga is sometimes sought after for her grandmotherly wisdom, but more often avoided on pain of death; her darkest incarnation is a bogey-woman who eats children (for example she wishes to devour Vasilissa). Baba Yaga lives deep in the forest in a windowless and doorless cabin that stands on chicken’s legs. While the witch on her mortar can enter the house down the chimney, others wishing access must chant “Hut, o hut, turn your back to the forest, your front to me”. At this command, the house rises on its chicken legs and moves into a position which allows the visitor to see a door.

Folklorist Andreas Johns speculates the hut’s chicken feet may be associated with certain Slavic healing rites involving hens and chicks; for example, in Russian tradition, a pregnant woman might be warned off collecting eggs from henhouses lest her baby develop ‘hen illness’ (constant crying). If a child was thought to be affected by hen illness, she or he was taken to the chicken coop, which was asked to restore sleep to the child or “give the child a ‘human life’ instead of a ‘chicken life’”.[i] Like Baba Yaga, the hen too has an ambiguous status in Slavic folklore, at once linked to evil spirits and also to fertility.

 

 




[i] Aleksandr Pushkin, Ruslan and Liudmila (1820), cited in Andreas Johns Baba Yaga (New York, 2004), p. 166.