The Power of Baba Yaga – Storytelling for Everyone

Slavic Folklore

In Slavic myths, Baba Yaga is the wild woman or dark lady of magic and there are many folktales about her.

These stories may come from people who lived in the forests of northern Russia and Finland many years ago. For centuries, they had stone statues named Yaga or Golden Babas. Often the statues had their own little huts, built on tree stumps, full of gifts. They were statues of a local goddess that people asked for advice. She also had the power to decide what happened to people, a bit like Baba Yaga.

The word Baba can mean any woman old enough to marry. In the stories, however, Baba Yaga is often described as a frightening, wild, old witch with a terrible appetite for eating people. The story of “Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Fair” is one of the well-known tales and has much in common with other folk tales, such as Cinderella.

Why is Baba Yaga important—Witch or Wise Woman?

Baba Yaga may stand for a person’s fate. When someone enters the hut, they live or die depending on what they say and do. Some also say that Baba Yaga stands for the dark side of wisdom, and the character of Vasilisa stands for the light side.

However she came about, she is more than just an ugly old witch, for she has power—people should fear and respect her.

In many ancient societies, older women were seen as the keepers of wisdom and tradition for the family or tribe. No longer having to care for children, they became mother to the rest of the community.

It was believed that these wise women understood the mysteries of birth and death. They were healers and looked after the dying. Sometimes they were thought to have the power of life and death itself. The word witch once meant wise.

Later, from the 12th century, when people began to believe in the use of magic power for evil, people began to fear and hate these wise women with their potions and advice. Many were put to death and the picture of the wise woman or ‘witch’ changed, to become the frightening, ugly, evil old hag, casting wicked spells, as in the stories today.

Baba Yaga is interesting because, although she is described as a terrifying old witch, she is still wise and powerful; wild, cruel but sometimes also kind. Baba Yaga makes a link between the wise women of early myths and the witches of folk and fairytales.

How does Baba-Yaga live?

Like most witches, Baba Yaga can fly but she does not use a broomstick. Instead, she sits in a giant mortar (a bowl for grinding food) with her knees almost touching her chin. She drives very fast across or above the forest floor, and uses the pestle (the grinder) as a rudder held in her right hand. She sweeps away her tracks with a broom made out of silver birch held in her left hand. Wherever she appears, a wild wind begins to blow, the trees groan and leaves whirl through the air.

Her home is a hut deep in a birch forest, in a place that is difficult to find, unless a magic thread, feather or doll shows the way. The hut has a life of its own. It stands on large chicken legs and can move about. Its windows act as eyes and the lock is full of teeth.

A post fence surrounds the hut. The posts are made of human bones and topped with skulls whose blazing eye sockets light up the forest. Very often the hut is guarded by hungry dogs, evil geese, swans or a black cat.

The hut can spin around and moves through the forest. It makes blood-curdling screeches. Most of those who go in never leave, as Baba Yaga washes them, feeds them and then places them on a giant spatula, before putting them in her oven.

In many stories, the fate of those entering her hut is in their own hands. A guest may, or may not, fit into the oven, depending on how they fit on the spatula. Although she eats as much as ten men, Baba Yaga is very skinny and bony, like a skeleton. Her nose is very long and hooked.

Why do people seek help from Baba Yaga?

It may seem strange that anyone would look for Baba Yaga or enter her hut. However, she is wise and is all knowing, all seeing and tells the whole truth to those who are brave enough to ask.

She rules over the elements (fire, air, earth and water). Her faithful servants are the White Horseman, the Red Horseman and the Black Horseman. She calls them, ‘My Bright Dawn, my Red Sun and my Dark Midnight’ because they control daybreak, sunrise, and nightfall.

Some of her other servants are her soul friends (three bodiless pairs of hands, which suddenly appear to carry out her wishes) and her herdsman, the sorcerer Koshchey the Deathless.

Often a hero or heroine enters her hut looking for wisdom, knowledge, truth or help, like Vasilisa. Baba Yaga aids the heroes and heroines, by giving advice, finding weapons and making tasks easier.

Like many myths and folk tales, these stories also have a moral: If you are good and wise, listen to your elders, and use your intuition you will be rewarded. But if you are cruel and unkind, like the wicked stepmother and her daughters, you might meet a bad end.



Year of the Black Water Rabbit – Storytelling for Everyone

Lunar New Year 2023

On January 22nd 2023, the Lunar New Year of the Rabbit bounds into action. All Rabbit years are believed to bring happiness and good luck, but this is no ordinary Rabbit year, for 2023 is the year of the Black Water Rabbit—a specially gifted, creative Rabbit that has not been seen since 1963.

After the chaos and tumult of the departing Year of the Tiger, Water Rabbit energy promises to restore peace and harmony and shower the world with a myriad of opportunities. But will you benefit from the Rabbit’s generosity? The Year of the Rabbit might bring hope and prosperity your way—as well as a few surprises.

This is quite different than last year’s Tiger year. Think of it this way: “Tigers can take on anything and bring courage, a strong moral code and responsiveness,” says Ingress. “Whereas this year, we can anticipate more diplomacy or more cautious approaches on the world stage and for individuals.”

The Meaning of Chinese New Year’s customs

Chinese New Year is the most widely celebrated Chinese holiday across the globe. This year, it falls on Jan. 22, 2023, and will begin the Year of the Rabbit. “Different regional cultures celebrate through distinct activities and food,” says Jenny Leung, executive director of the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco. “For example, people in northern China eat dumplings on Lunar New Year’s Eve, while people in southern China prepare rice cakes, with the meaning of ‘climbing higher in the new year.’” 

As a holiday that goes back thousands of years, there are a wide variety of Chinese New Year traditions that have been passed down. Some are based on myth, some on symbolism, some on superstitions, and some on wordplay. Each individual may choose to celebrate a little differently based on preferences, beliefs, and location, but almost everyone spends time with family and eats Chinese New Year food.  

Chinese New Year is also referred to as Lunar New Year, a term that includes other cultures that celebrate the start of the new year using the same calendar system. In China, it’s also known as Spring Festival. “Lunar New Year celebrates the first days of spring on the lunar calendar,” says Leung. “Historically, celebrating Lunar New Year in China was meant to pray for good blessings on farming in the new year—hence, worshiping ancestors has always been a critical component.”

Clean to prepare for the new year

Each year is seen as a fresh, new beginning, so starting it off with a clean house is important. Giannina Ong, editor-in-chief of Mochi Magazine, the longest-running online publication for Asian American women, advises that the timing of your cleanup is crucial. “Leading up to the New Year, you should clean as much as possible to clear out the bad luck and any leftover ill feelings from the previous year,” she says.

Decorate to invite good fortune

In terms of decoration, Ong says “everything is red because a fire sign symbolizes new life and prosperity.” The origins of red’s lucky properties may stem from a legend about a beast named Nian (an approximate homophone for the Chinese word for year), who appeared on New Year’s Eve to wreak havoc. People figured out that Nian was afraid of the color red, and to this day, people hang red lanterns, couplets written on red paper and the character fu (meaning good fortune) on red paper.

That character is usually hung upside down—the word for turning something upside down, or pouring, also sounds like the word for arriving, so an upside-down fu symbol invites good luck to arrive. Flowers and kumquat fruit trees are also symbolic of prosperity, so after cleaning, you can bring some blossoms into your house for extra good luck. In addition to these Chinese New Year traditions, check out these tips from feng shui experts to keep the good vibes going all year long.

Visit family

Family is the cornerstone of Chinese life, so naturally one would aim to start each new year in the company of their loved ones. In China, the Spring Festival comes with a one-week vacation. People across the country flock to their families in what is often called “the world’s largest human migration.” Leung explains that “similar to Thanksgiving and Christmas, Chinese New Year is also a holiday for people to get together with family members, to celebrate the spring and the start of the new year.”

Eat delicious and auspicious food

One of the most popular Chinese New Year traditions is the food. Who doesn’t love an excuse to eat a festive meal? These dishes also have special symbolism attached to them. “On both birthdays and Lunar New Year, we make sure to eat long noodles,” says Ong. “You can’t break them while cooking or cut them while eating either, because the length of the noodles is a symbol of longevity. So get slurpy!”

In addition to these long-life noodles, spring rolls (shaped like gold bars) and dumplings (which resemble silver ingots, or boat-shaped blocks) are eaten for prosperity, and a number of other foods are eaten because of how their names sound. For example, , the word for fish in Mandarin, sounds like the word for surplus. Fish for Chinese New Year dinner is most often prepared steamed and whole. Don’t worry if you can’t finish it—leaving a little left over further enhances one’s surplus. In other parts of the world, these are the New Year’s Eve foods believed to bring good luck.



8 Chinese New Year Traditions, Explained

The Red Thread – Storytelling for Everyone

Japanese Legend

According to an ancient Japanese legend, there is an invisible red thread tied to everyone’s little finger at birth. The other end of the red thread is tied to someone that we are destined to meet.

The people connected by this thread will become part of each other’s story. The thread may get tangled or stretched but it will never break. The scarlet connection is not necessarily romantic or limited to couples, the tie can extend out towards all those significant and perhaps seemingly insignificant others that make up the story of our lives.

Our red threads could connect us to a great friend, a teacher, business associate, team mate or mentor. We are all part of a scarlet tapestry. The red threads are given at birth but we weave them together ourselves.

This Japanese legend explains life’s mysteries in a way that is both believable and incredibly romantic. If Fate really exists, let’s hope that it works in exactly the way that’s described here.

Close your eyes. Imagine your body as transparent. Can you picture the endlessly complex network of blood vessels connecting all parts of your body? We owe our existence to these life-giving rivers. Now, take note of one rather special channel within this system – the one that connects the heart with your pinky finger!

​​Formed by the ulnar artery, this channel makes your least notable finger a true “representative” of your heart. For this reason, in many cultures, when two people make a truce, or swear a vow, they do it by crossing their pinkies. 

According to the Japanese legend, this thread emanating from the heart doesn’t end at the tip of the finger. It continues in the form of an invisible red string, which ”flows” out of your pinkie and goes on to intertwine with the red strings of other people – connecting your heart with theirs.

Two people who are connected in this way are bound together by Fate itself. Sooner or later, they are destined to meet, no matter how far apart they live or how much their life circumstances differ. And, when it happens – that encounter is certain to profoundly affect both of them. The strings can sometimes stretch and become tangled, which could postpone the fateful meeting. But – those ties will never be broken.

Such a viewpoint on life and relationships has given birth to holistic philosophy, which states that our vital essence isn’t confined to the borders of our physical body. Holists declare that we are one with the Universe and see the notion of the Red Thread as one of the ways towards understanding this unity.

Have you ever found yourself thinking: ”This person has entered my life for a reason?” Quite possibly, you’re right. And it might be the case that Fate has already guided you to the point where you can bring change into the lives of others. 

This philosophy argues that, although we might not realize it, our lives move in a pre-ordained direction, guided by invisible strings that are woven into the fabric of the Universe itself. And all the while, the red thread connecting us to our distant soul-mates is getting shorter.

As the Japanese would say: Our world has its share of obstacles, but nothing in it happens by accident.



Author adminPosted on July 28, 2021Categories Folktales, LegendsTags Fate, Japan, red thread

Who is Maid Marian? – Storytelling for Everyone

 by Jaime Lee Moyer

Mention Maid Marian and Sherwood Forest in the same breath, and most people think of Robin Hood’s lady love. The forest outlaw and the noble lady are tied together so closely in modern folklore, popular literature, and movies, it’s hard to imagine one without the other.

Their story is one of the oldest and most enduring of all time, going back hundreds of years. But while Robin Hood is consistently portrayed as the boyish, carefree forest outlaw flaunting authority, Marian’s role in the ballads and tales has constantly changed.

There was no Maid Marian in the early yeoman ballads or the broadside ballads about Robin and his men that followed. A shepherdess named Marian is partnered with a peasant named Robin in early French lyric poetry, but that Robin isn’t an outlaw and doesn’t have the surname of Hood. Marian vanishes from the tales after that.

From the 16th century on, “Lady” Marian returned to the tales and became a fixture in the English outlaw tradition. Robin was still an outlaw, but now he was an outlawed noble fighting the injustices of John Lackland’s rule. As landed nobility in that age, tradition required that Robin had to have a lady by his side. Marian has a title too and when she takes to the woods, she doesn’t have an active part in the stories. She’s there to be desired and lauded for her beauty, fill the role of Robin’s lady, and at times, rescued.

Her character and role in the story continued to evolve and change. Marian became a goddess Diana type huntress in some plays, roaming Sherwood as freely as any of Robin’s men, and just as skilled with a bow. She was as at home in the forest as any of the Merry Men

By the time Ben Jonson’s unfinished play, The Sad Shepherd, was published in the mid-1600’s, her character had evolved even further. Jonson made it clear that Marian and Robin had a loving, sexual relationship. Marian becomes more than a possession; she becomes Robin’s willing and eager lover.

Over the centuries Marian was depicted as weak, then as a stronger woman. By the early 1900s her role in any of Robin Hood’s stories was fading again. Early films showed Marian as a spirited, flapper like young woman who usually ended up in trouble and needed to be rescued. The trope of being overpowered and needing to be rescued, no matter how capable Marian might be, is a stereotype that continued well into the 1990s.

Novels have done the most to move Marian toward feminism and being her own person, valued for who she is and what she can do, not solely for how she looks. Robin McKinley’s The Outlaws Of Sherwood has a high-born Marian winning the archery tournament disguised as Robin Hood. In The Forestwife by Theresa Tomlinson, Marion Holt escapes a forced marriage by fleeing to the forest and becomes the Forestwife, offering help to poor women. Along the way she gains the help of a poor peasant named Robin.

It’s fair to say that the role of Marian in any given play, ballad, or novel has reflected the changing role of women in society over the centuries. Marian has been a wife, a mother, a partner fighting at Robin’s side, an eternally chase maiden and a sexually mature woman. She’s been the property of men and fiercely independent, front and center in the ongoing narrative, and a vague background figure.

Robin’s noble yeoman has been virtually carved in stone for centuries, but Marian’s character is a bit of a chameleon. That’s a huge part of what makes her fascinating and why writers will continue to find new ways to look at her, and new stories to tell.



Author adminPosted on March 9, 2022Categories History, LegendsTags British, feminism, Maid Marian, Robin Hood