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Scielzo, C. (1983). Other Voices: An Analysis of Bába-Yagá in Folklore and Fairy Tales. Am. J. Psychoanal., 43(2):167-175.

(1983). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 43(2):167-175

Other Voices: An Analysis of Bába-Yagá in Folklore and Fairy Tales

Caroline Scielzo, Ph.D.

The land mass geographically joining the peoples and cultures of the East and West is now called the Soviet Union. Known before the Soviet revolution as the Russian Empire and having developed from the principalities of old Rus’, this densely wooded area was affected culturally by contacts with the civilizations of both the East and the West. Predictably, the resultant culture became uniquely rich. Its oral traditions, folklore, and fairy tales blossomed through centuries of historically determined mass illiteracy. Aspects of an older Eastern source blended with later Western imagery and resulted in specifically Slavic medieval representations of magical characters. Only in the mid-nineteenth century did a fundamental study of folklore appear in Russia, when Afanas'ev collected and catalogued the various fairy tales, and a number of serious scholarly studies were undertaken.

Bába-Yagá emerged as a clearly defined spirit in Slavic folklore and the most popular character in Russian fairy tales. Having originated as a feminine character herself, the witch has had unnamed female relatives, particularly sisters; and occasional mention is made of children of both sexes, although no likely male parent appears. More often she is a lone spirit. While folklore grants her a wide range of travel as she flies about Russia in her iron mortar, fairy tales generally confine her to the deep forest where young girls, and in only a few variants, boys, encounter her magic. Primarily, her reference is clearly feminine, both by her own gender and by the overwhelmingly greater preference of contact with fairy tale heroines.

One particular tale, “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” exemplifies her full development and has become, if not the favorite Russian fairy tale, one of the best known and loved purely Russian children's stories. Containing most of the folklore elements connected with the witch Bába-Yagá, it is a tale, on one level, of a demonic encounter in the dense forest. A more psychoanalytic reading of the fairy tale reveals a depiction of the stages that lead to full adult feminine integration of personality.

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