Saturday, October 31, 2009

FOLKLORE: Goblins, Ghouls & Baba Jaga

by Staś Kmieć
It is Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve) and while Poland does not celebrate this very American holiday directly, it does have subtle cultural similarities. Two days later on November 2, Poles honor those who have passed on the Catholic observance of All Soul’s Day (Święto Zmarłych, Dzień Zaduszny or Zaduszki) . Foretelling and magical occurrences take place on St. Andrew’s Eve (Andrzejki).

Poland has its own monstrous folklore figure with the mythical, archetypal witch – Baba Jaga. Any Polish child would be very upset if there were no fairy tales with Baba Jaga. This character exists in several cultures. She is the Hindu Goddess of Death, Kali, In Macedonia she is Baba Pora, in Serbia she is Baba Roga.
In Slavic folklore Baba Jaga is a witch-like character. She flies around on a giant mortar or broomstick, kidnaps (and presumably eats) small children, and lives in a house which stands on chicken legs. In most Slavic folk tales she is portrayed as an antagonist; however, some characters in other mythological folk stories have been known to seek her out for her wisdom, and she has been known on occasion to offer guidance to lost souls, although this is seen as rare.
In Polish folklore Baba Jaga’s house rests on a single chicken leg and she wears the the black and red striped weaved cloth of the Świętokrzyskie (Holy Cross) Mountains. She is an unofficial symbol of the area’s Kielce region, which has a folklore rich in legendary witches Sabbaths on Łysa Góra (the famed Bald Mountain).
Баба Яга is used as a stock character by authors of modern Russian fairy tales, and from the 1990s in Russian fantasy.
The name Baba Jaga is composed of two elements: Baba means "old woman, grandmother" used in most Slavic languages; and the second Jaga, is from Proto-Slavic (j)ęgа, which may be related to Lithuanian ingis meaning ‘lazybones, sluggard', Old Norse ekki – 'pain', and Old English inca – 'question, scruple, doubt;, grievance, quarrel.’ It has also been suggested that Jaga may be a diminutive of the female name Jadwiga.
There are several stories attributed to Baba Jaga. One version says with each question asked of her she ages a full year. The only way to regress in age is by brewing a special tea from blue roses. She is a wise hag who imparts advice and magical gifts to heroes of the pure of heart. Baba Jaga is all-seeing, all-revealing, and all-knowing. She is a forest spirit who brings wisdom through death and rebirth.
Happy Halloween and watch out for Baba Jaga!