Folklore From Around the World: Slavic Folklore
The people of Slavic descent make up the largest Indo-European language group in the world. They stretch across Central Europe, over the Ural Mountains, and throughout Russia and certain parts of Eastern Europe. In these places you can find the shared roots of Slavic culture in language, in traditions, and in folklore. Stories abound in Slavic culture, stories of terrible witches, cruel immortals, shy helper spirits, and heroes in all shapes and sizes. Xlibris Publishing wants to share some of these folktales and characters in Folklore From Around the World: Slavic Folklore, to hopefully inspire your own stories and ideas.
Baba Yaga, The Dread Witch
One of, if not the most feared and infamous figure on Slavic folklore is Baba Yaga. The Serbians call her Iron Tooth, the Bulgarians and Romanians know her as Forest Mother. But however Baba Yaga is named, she is always spoken of as a figure of respect and fear… lots, and lots of fear. It is likely there is no witch in mythology or folklore whose name is as widely known and dreaded as that of Baba Yaga’s. She embodies the scary stories about a terrible old crone in the woods, cursing those who annoy her, and devouring those who cross her.
Throughout the Slavic cultures, certain parts of her story are constant. According to the stories, Baba Yaga lives in a house that has chicken legs, allowing her house to walk and travel where she wills it. She rides through the forests in a giant mortar bowl, pushing herself forward with the pestle in one hand, while sweeping away her tracks with a broom in the other. Her home is surrounded by a fence made of the bones of her victims. This fence is decorated with flaming skulls, each skull containing a soul imprisoned by Baba Yaga to serve her.
Oddly enough, another constant trait of Baba Yaga is her fickleness. While often depicted as a villain or antagonist in Slavic folktales, Baba Yaga responds favourable to people who show respect and treat her politely. Those who are perfectly polite to Baba Yaga she will let live and perhaps even provide advice or aid through her magic. As for those who disrespect or insult Baba Yaga, even unknowingly… her iron teeth are very sharp and her cooking pot is always warm.
Koschei the Deathless
Another infamous figure in Slavic folklore is Koschei the Deathless. All modern fiction with characters who remove their hearts (Davy Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean) or souls (Voldemort, Harry Potter) to become immortals, all owe the idea to Koschei the Deathless. A powerful sorcerer and warlord, Koschei put his soul into a needle, put the needle into an egg, put the egg into a duck, put the duck into a hare (or goat in some stories), and put the hare into an iron chest, which Koschei buried beneath an oak tree, which is on an island that cannot be found.
Koschei often serves as a stock villain in Russian fairytales, usually by kidnapping the true love of the hero. As far as many Slavic stories and folktales go, Koschei is the evil wizard and tyrant to use as the villain. As Koschei is powerful and unkillable, the hero must resort to trickery, guile, and perhaps some supernatural aid to bring down the Deathless and save the princess. In some stories, it is Baba Yaga who provides the hero with a means to defeat Koschei the Deathless.
Xlibris Publishing will return with more figures from Slavic folklore in Part 2.
By Ian Smith