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WesternSFA


Ask Baba Yaga
By: Taisia Kitaiskaia
Andrews McMeel Publishing, $14.99, 141pp
Published: September 2017

“Ask Baba Yaga” is filled with questions from those who seek mystical advice and answers from the age old witch Baba Yaga.

In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is a supernatural being who appears as a deformed or ferocious-looking old woman. In Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga flies around in a mortar, wields a pestle and dwells deep in the forest in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs. As ambiguous as she is hideous, Baba Yaga is an anomaly – both a maternal, mother-nature figure and an evil villain who enjoys eating those who fail to complete her tasks. Though the origins of her name are as unclear as her purpose tends to be, it is believed that baba means something akin to “old woman” or “grandmother”, while yaga has conflicting theories of meaning ranging from “snake” to “wicked.” Regardless, even Baba Yaga’s name emphasizes the strangeness of her person, making her an interesting character to decipher.

The book is a compilation of the most interesting, odd and sometimes funny questions and answers gathered from the days when Taisia wrote an advice column for the woman's website, The Hairpin; while communing with Baba Yaga for the answers.

As the author states in her forward, "Indifferent and immortal, Baba offers no comforting pats on the back. But she can extend--with her gnarled. clawed hand--a glowing skull lantern. If you keep your nerve, that eerie light might just guide you through."

The questions asked can be poignant, thoughtful, humorous and sometimes sad, and Baba's answers can be hard, honest wisdom for some:

Dear Baba Yaga,

I think I must crave male attention too much. I fear that, without it, I would feel invisible.

BABA YAGA:

When you seek others this way, you are invisible nonetheless. Yr shawl is covered in mirrors in which others admire themselves; this is why they greet you so passionately. It is good to be seen, but it is better to see. Find a being to look hard into, & you will see yrself and what is more than you.

It was interesting to see how Baba addressed those seeking advice in contemporary life with old-school skewed wisdom: sometimes harsh and direct, sometimes softly veiled, but always full of honesty as only Baba Yaga knows how to deliver.

I enjoyed this little book. Aside from the advice, the book is sprinkled with lovely folk style illustrations by Brenna Thummler.

Be careful of what you request of Baba Yaga, for she does not sugarcoat the wisdom she imparts, nor does she always give you the answers you desire to hear. ~~ Dee Astell

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