Television

Meet Baba Yaga, The Latest Mythical Monster On Supernatural

Over its 15 season run, Supernatural has introduced countless monsters and mythological creatures. Now that it’s in the last leg of its final chapter, it appeared unlikely that the story would veer away from God and Jack. But the series’ latest episode “Drag Me Away From You” has introduced a brand new monster after a long time — Baba Yaga, a mythical evil with a hefty history in folklore that manages to overpower even the badass Dean Winchester.

In the episode, Baba Yaga is presented as an ancient immortal witch who has for centuries found great pleasure in tormenting children, feeding on their fears by inducing terrifying hallucinations, and then eating them alive. She keeps them in her nest– her hideouts where she keeps her victims to continue feeding on them. In 1993, while saving a young child named Travis, a young Dean seemingly killed her by first cutting off her fingers and then stabbing her, following which she dissolved into dust. 

But 27 years later, she returns and starts killing again, starting with an adult Travis who was still traumatized by his childhood memories of the Baby Yaga and returned to room 214 of Rooster’s Sunrise Motel where she tried to to kill him years ago. This prompts the Winchesters’ return to the motel where they discover the true identity of Baba Yaga and realize that her powers, as well as her life source, resides in the red-stoned ring she wears. All those years ago, when Dean cut off her fingers, her ring fell off and cracked which weakened her and when she was stabbed, she was simply rendered dormant. 

But Travis’ mom, a cleaner at the motel, found the ring and gave it to her son who was unaware of the truth. For years he wore it on a chain around his neck, thinking it was his lucky charm and days before returning to the motel, he got it repaired, thus inadvertently allowing the Baba Yaga to return. 

As Dean and Sam set out to defeat her, it becomes obvious that she is much more powerful, unbelievably fast, and her years of hunger have made her develop a taste for eating adults as well. The Winchesters have their work cut out for them as they face a powerful and famished Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga’s depiction in folklore

While a part of Slavic folklore, scholars have always had a hard time pinning down her origins often depicting her as an outright villain but often she has bouts of heroism which complicates her role in these myths. As per Ancient-Origins, her most common illustration is of an insatiable swamp witch who loves eating fat children after torturing them by making them do her chores. Just like her true nature, her name’s meaning is rather unclear. The most commonly depicted meaning of her name is “Wicked Grandmother.” Here baba means “old woman” or “grandmother”, while yaga often translates to “snake” or “wicked.”

Often, her portrayal depicts her as an old, skinny and bony woman who is exceptionally long and has iron teeth. Her nose is equally elongated and touches the ceiling of her house when she is sleeping. Legend describes that she lives in a house that rests on mammoth chicken legs, has a rooster’s head as the roof and is surrounded by a fence of human bones. 

While she has rarely has stories solely dedicated to her, in fables where heroes come across her house, they find her stretching across the length of her gigantic cooking stove that covers almost her entire hut and in which she cooks children to eat them. Her preferred mode of travel is a mortar and pestle, rather than the typical broom and she also wields the pestle as her wand. 

Baba Yaga Supernatural
Courtesy of Summit Entertainment

But when it comes to explaining her characteristics, the folk tales differ. Some simply portray her as absolute evil while some paint her as a grey shaded character that fulfils her promises to a hero after they complete their list of tasks.

Vasilisa, the beautiful

Consider this particular fable a rather dark take on the Cinderella story. Here Vasilisa is tormented by her stepmother and her evil daughters who make her do impossible tasks. One day, when she ventures out in the woods in search of more light, she encounters Baba Yaga and is challenged with even more grueling tasks to get the needed fire for her household. When Vasilisa completes all the tasks with the aid of her magical doll, Baba Yaga not only sticks to her promise but also gives her a fire in a skull that incinerates her stepfamily when she reaches home, thus freeing Vasilisa from their torture. 

Baba Yaga helps Vasilisa but in her own cruel, monstrous ways. The story also states that while working for her, Vasilisa saw three riders which the ancient monster says are servants of her–  Day, the Sun, and Night, respectively– whom she controls. This hints that her status goes beyond eating children and her powers are more akin to that of Mother Earth.

Another Perspective

In another cruel stepmother story, three children are sent to Baba Yaga to be killed. But they manage to escape her hut as all the animals, plants and other objects that she doesn’t take care of or mistreats help them escape. While this story reinforces the fact that she doesn’t explicitly seek victims and only targets those who cross her path or approach her, it also retcons her portrayal as a Mother Earth figure as the elements of nature turn on her here. 

Other stories about her throughout Slavic literature are of similar contradictions making it hard to pinpoint whether she is a villain or possesses an ambiguous nature. Supernatural has decided to forego all the confusion and goes with her being an evil, child-munching, hideous witch but it doesn’t stick to her other physical attributes. As for her chicken hut, the series goes for its age-old concept of fitting monsters in the real world and thus Baba Yaga has a nest of her dead victims stashed away in a dank hideout instead. 

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