Vassilissa the (very) beautiful and Baba Yaga: Russian tale

Russian folklore is rich in thousands of myths, legends and folk tales that detail the lives of various extraordinary characters.

Most of the time, heroes and heroines will resort to magic or some occult or esoteric power whatsoever.

As we will see, this will indeed be the case with the tale that we are going to discover together today.

The legend of Vassilissa the Beautiful and Baba Yaga describes the exceptional life of a young girl who, a long time ago, met one of the most enigmatic witches of all time.

Contents :

The legend of Vasilissa

A few words about the history of this tale

The figure of Baba Yaga

Other messages from this caption

For further

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Young Vassilissa in the middle of a Russian field.

The legend of Vasilissa

The story of Vassilissa the Beautiful and Baba Yaga begins when a terrible event struck the girl, who was still very young: we are talking here about the death of her mother.

As if that wasn't enough, his father remarried shortly after to an evil woman, a real shrew who harbored a visceral hatred towards poor Vassilissa.

A very special gift

One thing, however, allowed him to keep hope despite everything: just before dying, his mother had given him a small doll, a sort of small wooden figure which hid great powers.

Soberly named "blessing", Vassilissa's mother told her daughter that, if one day something serious happened to her, all she had to do was give the doll food to be able to ask her advice and receive her help.

This object, however, Vassilissa had to keep the existence of it a secret and not tell anyone about it.

Very strange outings in the forest

As the years passed, Vassilissa became more and more beautiful (her nickname is really not stolen), thereby increasing the hatred of her mother-in-law who was getting older and uglier.

One day, while the father was traveling abroad, the terrible matron decided that the little family would move next to a forest in the region.

Well known to the locals, this forest was said to be the home of a terrible sorceress, a terrible woman renowned for preying on unwary travelers, a great witch who some said worked with demons... Baba Yaga.

So every day the wicked stepmother sent Vassilissa into the forest. To look for wood, berries or water: any excuse was good to try to get the young girl kidnapped by Baba Yaga.

Yes, what the woman didn't know was that Vassilissa was guided by her magic doll which helped her each time to return safe and sound.

The final request to Vassilissa

One night, however, things did not go as usual.

Having extinguished all the candles in the house, the mother-in-law asked her unfortunate daughter-in-law to go in search of Baba Yaga to ask for a fire.

Naive and full of kindness, Vassilissa accepted and left for the dark forest where the witch lived.

There is one thing to know about Baba Yaga that I haven't told you about yet.

Despite a terrible and sometimes even evil character, this being is inhabited by feelings of justice and fairness.

So, when she met young Vassilissa, instead of killing her without warning, she offered her a deal: in exchange for the light she had come to seek, Vassilissa had to accomplish a series of tasks that she would give her, if However, she couldn't do it, she would be eaten.

A young girl full of self-sacrifice

These tasks would have seemed impossible for any reasonable human being to achieve, but thanks to her naivety and purity, Vassilissa tried tirelessly and, with the help of her doll, was able to accomplish them.

Furious because she considered the use of such an enchanted object as cheating, Baba Yaga nevertheless resigned herself to admitting defeat and gave the young girl a magical skull containing a flame that would never spread.

Once her part of the bargain was accomplished, the witch chased Vassilissa away and returned to her business.

All's well that ends well for our heroine

Our heroine therefore returned home and placed the skull on a table not far from the front door.

Disappointed, her mother-in-law went to sleep while thinking about the next trap she would set for her victim.

However, she was never able to put it into practice: in fact, during the night, the skull exploded, killing the mother-in-law and reducing the house to ashes... but leaving Vassilissa without the slightest injury.

After this incident, the girl found shelter with an old woman living in a neighboring town.

There, she learned the art of weaving and, the beauty of her works mingling with her natural grace, she attracted the attention of the tsar who decided to marry her.

Thus ends the legend of Vassilissa the beautiful.

Russian dolls, a Faberger egg and a pendant with the Orthodox cross of Saint Nicholas

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A few words about the history of this tale

The story of Vassilissa and the witch Baba Yaga is in fact an ancient Russian oral tale from a tradition so ancient that it is complicated to trace it precisely.

Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev: an influential story writer

However, we know that the most common version, the one I have just presented to you, comes from a transcription work by a Russian author known as Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev.

From 1855 to 1867, this man worked on the construction of a large collection of traditional Russian tales and legends which he called “Russian Fairy Tales”. (Don't ask me to pronounce it to you in Russian, I wouldn't be able to ^^)

In short, this famous writer is considered by many specialists as the Slavic equivalent of the Brothers Grimm, as his work made it possible to anchor many stories previously transmitted orally.

A legend common to many Slavic peoples

When we talk about Vassilisa the Fair, it is also interesting to note that although she is from this country, her legend is not confined to Russia.

From Romania to the Baltic countries, via Poland, the Balkans and all of Central Europe, it is in fact the entire Slavic world which knows its fabulous history.

However, there are regional differences that must be noted.

Already, Vassilissa is sometimes rather called Wassilissa, or even Vasilia.

While most nickname her “the beautiful” or “the very beautiful”, others will rather describe her as “wise”.

In some forms of the story, Vassilissa does not move to a weaver's house but simply continues to live with her father.

There are even versions that the evil stepmother had daughters, who died with her in the explosion.

The roles of the witch Baba Yaga

Last point and undoubtedly the most interesting, the witch Baba Yaga is not always described as a purely evil being, quite the contrary.

Even if it always plays the role of antagonist, of obstacles bringing challenges to overcome, it is quite complicated to simply classify it in the category of evil.

Indeed, as I will now show you, this figure is clearly more complex than it seems...

Representation of the witch Baba Yaga in nature.

The figure of Baba Yaga

Yes, Baba Yaga, this mysterious magician who lives in the dark forests of Eastern Europe, might not be as evil as you might think.

First of all, you should know that the legend of Vassilissa the Beautiful does not pay homage to her: in fact, Baba Yaga is a figure present in hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of tales in Europe, and that she does not does not always occupy such negative roles.

Etymology of the name “Baba Yaga”

To understand the original and deep meaning that we can give to it, it may be good to look at the etymology of its name.

According to linguists, the term “yaga” derives more or directly from the Russian language words “uzkii” and “uzh”, two expressions which are used to designate snakes.

The word “baba” is an abbreviated form of the famous “babushka”, an expression used to talk about grandmothers and, as a general rule, older women.

The serpent in pagan societies

All this doesn't really help us: Baba Yaga would therefore be a sort of “serpent grandmother”… It's quite complicated to see what's positive in that!

Well in fact, you should know that the vision of the snake as an animal is closely linked to the Christian religion.

Thus, ancient pagan cultures, and even more so traditional Slavic cultures, rather considered this animal as a symbol of regeneration, positive transformation and even rebirth.

We are already beginning to better understand the deeper meaning of our legend…

Seeing our Vassilissa having to complete certain trials imposed by Baba Yaga actually shows us an allegory of the trials of life which lead to change, to personal evolution.

Baba Yaga: an expression of the forces of nature

In fact, if Baba Yaga is so considered an evil witch in the collective imagination, it is mainly due to Christian influence.

More than the simple change of people's religion, it is the fight between ancient pagan traditions and Christianity which is illustrated through the evolution of the figure of Baba Yaga.

It may even be interesting to note that there are in fact dozens and dozens of folkloric figures from ancient times who were demonized following the Christianization of European societies.

In short, in the early days, Baba Yaga had nothing bad in itself, but rather symbolized a natural energy combining a wild and unpredictable character with a certain wisdom.

She also did not eat any unwary travelers, and did not attack little girls.

On the contrary, some tales tell us of her as a just woman who applied a kind of superior justice by punishing evil beings, while bringing her blessings to the pure and the kind.

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Other messages from this caption

You will have understood: the Russian legend that we talked about today together is full of symbolism.

Even if it hides certain cultural subtleties which can be complicated to understand for someone who is not Russian, most of its messages can be revealed to us by the avenues that I will now open up with you.

First of all, you should know that we have only discovered here an abbreviated version of the story in which certain significant characters are hidden.

Don't worry, most of the symbols have however been presented to you.

The place of women in this traditional tale

With what we have before us, one thing can already jump out at us: there are many more female characters than male.

Vassilissa, her mother-in-law or even Baba Yaga: all are women.

The only man mentioned in this story, the father, is absent throughout.

According to most specialists, this is not a coincidence, but rather a characteristic carrying a profound meaning: since the dawn of time, it is mainly women who have ensured the transmission of customs, folklore and tradition.

This can make us think about the place of women in pagan societies, undoubtedly less devalued than what some people today try to make us believe.

Young Vassilissa's magic doll

Another major element of meaning in our tale is hidden in the magic doll.

It is obvious that this object contains great and quite inexplicable powers and, more particularly, the powers that Vassilissa's mother had when she was alive.

It was before dying that she gave it to her daughter, a bit as if she wanted to allow her to keep a piece of herself.

The doll is thus in a way the symbol of the transmission from a mother to her daughter, and of all the wealth that can be derived from it.

The symbol of light

More than just a pretext to send the little girl into the forest, the light of the sheds also carries a strong message.

As a general rule, light is associated with the divine, the sacred or even grace.

By extinguishing the candles to set a trap for Vassilissa, the mother-in-law unknowingly cuts herself off from good and from a part of what every human being needs.

When in addition we see that it is only after having taken up challenges imposed by Baba Yaga, an allegory of the natural order, challenges normally impossible to achieve but made feasible by her purity that Vassilissa has the right to If you obtain it, the link with some kind of higher connection is established by itself.

For further

Another legend talking about Baba Yaga: there are actually many that you can find on the internet.

The Wikipedia article dealing with the subject of Russian tales: very complete, it will teach you a lot on the subject.

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author picture(Cyril Gendarme)

Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.