Baba Yaga, Demon or Goddess?

In Bulgaria, March is a time for supernatural creatures to return to the human world from their winter residence in Dragon Village (Zmeykovo). Baba Yaga is one of the most well-known of these figures in Slavic folklore. “Baba” is a word that means “old woman” or “grandmother,” while “Yaga” comes from a word that possibly means “ill-tempered” or “quarrelsome,” as well as being derived from numerous other words, such as “illness,” “horror,” and “torment,” to name a few.

And she was indeed an ill-tempered old woman, and ugly, ugly, ugly. She has a crooked nose and iron teeth. The witch is skinny, with bones poking out.

If you haven’t heard about her, she’s a witch with a proclivity for eating children who wander onto her property. She lived in a hut that stands stilt-like on one or two chicken feet, and a fence of the bones of her victims surrounds her property. The witch doesn’t fly on a broom. Instead, you’ll see her in her mortar, using a pestle to guide her through the air.

Her hut, too, is a wonder to behold. It hops about, spinning, screeching, and moaning. When Baba Yaga wants it to stand still, she recites a special incantation.

Baba Yaga and Chicken Hut

While doing research on dragons, I discovered Baba Yaga has been compared to Hala, called a storm demon in some locations. Wherever she travels, she stirs up the wind.

But, Baba Yaga was also once a goddess of birth and death, the guardian of the fountains of life and death. Like nature, she is wild and untamable. She is the image of the matron of the family, one who no longer has to care for her own children. These women were knowledgeable in folk healing, and were thought to possess the power of life and death.

Baba Yaga can determine a person’s fate and represents the darker side of this wisdom. If her guest performs special tasks, without complaining, the witch will give the person magical gifts to help them as they tackle other adventures. If they complain, or ask too many questions, their fate is to end up in the witch’s oven. Even though she is known for her wisdom, she ages one year for each question she’s asked, so, yes, that can certainly put a damper on her willingness to help.

As time went on, she eventually became the hideous creature whose main desire was to devour children, rather than help bring them into this world.

Baba Yaga is one of our favorite characters in our Dragon Village middle-grade fantasy series. We’ve also collected so much more information about this fascinating personality that we’ll share in a future book about Folklore Witches in our Spirits & Creatures series. For now, though, we’ll leave you with some artists renditions of this famous witch: https://www.picuki.com/profile/bulgarianfolktales.

Dragon Village (Zmeykovo) – Dragons in Bulgarian Folklore and Mythology

December 7, 2017

The day fire and ice erupted from the sky everything changed – forever.

Vote for the New book Dragon Village on Amazon Kindle Scout. If the book gets chosen, you get a free copy!

The Unborn Hero of Dragon Village Cover

The Unborn Hero of Dragon Village Cover

To review and vote for the book you can use this link.  If Amazon selects to publish the book through Kindle Press, anyone who nominated the book will receive a free, advance copy. This is your chance to read and review it and tell the world what you think.

The Unborn Hero of Dragon Village is the first book in a series that will expound upon Bulgarian mythology and customs. When twelve-year-old Theo’s sister is captured by a dragon on Midsummer’s Day, he’s determined to rescue her. His journey takes him to the mystical land of Dragon Village, a place he thought existed only in legends. As he searches for the way to defeat the three-headed dragon Lamia, he encounters inhabitants of the land—some friendly and others treacherous.

Fascinating legends about Lamia and Zmey, dragons from Bulgarian folklore, inspired this middle-grade series. The books will include many other Bulgarian mythological creatures, in particular Samodivi (woodland nymphs or fairies) and Baba Yaga (a witch).

Bulgarian folklore is filled with tales about dragons (zmey, male, and lamia, female) who lived in forest and mountains in caves, holes, or cracks in rocks. Serpents or carp would turn into dragons if they were not seen by humans for forty years. Therefore, dragons often had characteristics of various other creatures: snakes, fish, birds, and even humans. Flashes of lightning, shooting stars, large clouds, and rainbows were ways dragons manifested themselves.

Dragon Village

Map of Dragon Village

The lamia is what we typically consider a dragon to be: dangerous and malicious. She does not appear as a human like the zmey. Some tales describe her as a “huge lizard with a dog’s head. Her mouth is so big that it can swallow a whole man and her body is covered with yellow scales. The lamia also has wings, four legs, sharp claws, and a long tail.”  Some had three, seven, or nine heads.

The zmey, however, who often was depicted as a man with wings under his arms, was more kind. He often fought against the lamia when she appeared as a storm or hail to destroy crops. The zmey didn’t abduct a maiden to harm her. Instead, it is because of his great love for her. He often tries to entice her to marry him, telling her of the riches she will have. If persuasion fails, the zmey restorts to abducting the maiden while she performs the horo dance in the village. However, the dragon’s marriage to a human always meets with misfortune. The bride suffers depression and is ostracized from the community.

Zmey and Bride

Zmey and Bride

One tale tells of a girl who married a dragon she met at his well. After a few years, she wanted to visit her family. Unfortunately, she had grown a dragon’s tail. Wanting to appear normal to them, she kept trying to bite it off. When she heard the songs of friends she had once known, she became frantic and died when her heart burst with the effort of removing the tail. The girls buried her by the well. Every year thereafter they performed a buenetz dance, not the traditional circle horo dance. In the buenetz, they dance in a snakelike fashion in honor of the dragon maiden.

While researching for the book, I’ve discovered many creatures of Thracian, Slavic and proto-Bulgarian mythology. The hardest question has been which ones to include in the first book. On this page, I’ll post information about them to try to open the door to the magical world of Dragon Village (Zmeykovo).

Samodiva

Diva the Wild Samodiva