Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Baba Yaga

I have a penchant for Russian/Eastern European illustrators and fairy tales. Ivan Bilibin's otherworldly and dreamlike illustrations, with their muted palette and rustic ornamentation  they have long captivated my fancy. His images often depict dense woodland, my favourite playhouse for tales of long ago. Always I have imagined the forests of Russia to be deeper and darker and more able to withhold a secret than those elsewhere.
The tales of the Baba Yaga belong to these forests, these deep woodlands of perpetual night. This ancient crone of Eastern European mythology is most often portrayed as an evil and terrifying witch with a necklace of skulls and an appetite for human flesh. Big nosed, boney legged and broken teeth. Curled fingernails, sagging skin and warts. She is the epitome of our fear of old age. 
But there is also something of the Shaman about her. She is a shapeshifter with the ability to fly and to govern the elements. It is thought that her origins derive from the archetypal goddess of death and regeneration,  and as such displays wisdom and healing powers, though not often kindness. She is deeply connected with nature and her chosen method of flying (the mortar and pestle) is evidence of her knowledge of healing and magical herbs. She is wise and all seeing, and like Mother Nature herself, powerful, wild and free.
Search Google images for this misunderstood woman and all you will find is a terrifying and skeletal old hag. I have always found it difficult to believe in characters that are completely evil or completely good. Stories are somehow more absorbing, more real and more frightening if the the contradictory nature of humans is exposed. Then nothing is predictable and anything is possible.
Below is a picture of Baba Yaga on a good day. This is her light side, her softness that makes her cruelty even more menacing. She has left her jewellery at home and has no evil plans for the evening, only a midnight stroll amongst the stars, before returning to her faithful chicken legged home amongst the trees. At any moment she is capable of extreme and supernatural wrath, but for now she is quiet....





Baba Jaga

Original size 112mm x 110mm





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