Myths and legends are a part of virtually every culture. One of the most interesting legends of Russian culture is that of Baba Yaga. She is, however, not unique to Russia. There are similar stories about her, under other names, in Poland as well as in the Czech Republic.
The figure of Baba Yaga is most often pictured as that of an old hag on a broomstick, reminiscent of the kitchen witches we often see today. Some believe that she might have been the precursor for the ugly, old crones that most often represent witches at Halloween.
In truth, however, Baba Yaga is a complicated creature associated as much with fertility and fate as she is with death. Some believed that she also had the gift of prophecy and great wisdom. However, for reasons never understood, she seldom chose to use those skills without exacting a gruesome payment. Anyone wishing to partake of Baba Yaga's wisdom had to take on a challenge, which began with a trip to her home hidden deep within a treacherous forest. Those arriving there would often decide to turn back without confronting the hag because of the gruesome look of the house itself. As legends have it, Baba Yaga's home sat atop four chicken legs that allowed her to move it from place to place at will. Surrounded by a black picket fence adorned with flaming human skulls, those arriving on her property were no doubt scared about what they were about to encounter.
Inside the house, it was said that the crone sat at a spinning wheel, spinning with thread made from the tendons and muscles of human beings. Not prone to help anyone out of a sense of kindness, Baba Yaga would put those who sought her assistance through a series of tests before agreeing to help them.
Few ever completed them and even some of those who did were never seen again because they dared to anger the old woman in the process. She then turned on them with her sharp teeth. It was said that she could rip apart an animal or a human in less that 30 seconds.