Baba Yaga is the legendary witch of Slavic folklore, especially Russian fairy tales. She lives on the edge of the forest in a hut that stands and moves on chicken legs. Baba Yaga herself fills the hut from end to end, stretched out on her stove with her nose growing into the ceiling. She travels through the air in a mortar, pushing herself along with a pestle and sweeping away her tracks with a broom. She also likes to eat people.
Baba Yaga is probably descended from a pre-Christian goddess of death, and many of the deliciously weird elements in her myth can be understood as holdovers of ancient symbolism. Our costume was particularly inspired by Marija Gimbutas’s description of Baba Yaga’s hut (emphasis added):
Baba Yaga never walks; she either flies in a fiery mortar or lies in her hut on bird’s legs. The fence around the hut is made of human bones and topped with human skulls with eyes intact…The hut can turn around on its axis like a spindle and is, in fact, Baba Yaga herself. (The Language of the Goddess, 1991)
1. Red flannel nightgown. Another option is here. A long flannel nightgown works great as a house dress.
2. One yard of skulls-and-flowers calico to use as an apron. At first glance this looks like a classic Russian calico, with multicolored flowers on a black background. It’s only when you look more closely that you realize there are skulls in there. Psychedelic skulls! To use this as a full-length apron, just pin the top of the fabric to your nightgown at chest level and use a string or belt to secure it around your waist. (It’s not like it has to look good. Baba Yaga is not known for her sartorial splendor.)
3. Black creepy cloth. Wrap some of this around you as a raggedy shawl.
4. Skull garland. The garland is 68 inches long and has 8 foam skulls, each about 2 inches high. Get a couple of these, one to drape around your shoulders as a giant necklace and another to wrap around your waist.
5. Blue skulls head scarf. Wear this babushka style: fold it in half as a triangle and tie it under your chin.
6. Costume chicken feet. You are one with your hut. If these chicken feet aren’t in stock, just wear flat boots or booties. You could also consider lapti (bast shoes), but these tend to be pricey souvenir items outside of Eastern Europe. UPDATE 10/6/2013: The chicken feet do seem to be sold out at the first store, but this place reportedly still has a couple of sets in stock.
Hair and makeup: You’ll need long gray hair and a great big nose (below). Note that you’ll also need spirit gum to attach the nose, and a boatload of foundation and powder to make it blend in. Use black eyeshadow to make huge dark circles around your eyes. You can also enhance your eyebrows with white or gray makeup.
Broom: The brooms that are sold online tend to be very small, so the best thing is to go to a local craft store. They usually have nice twiggy brooms in stock for Halloween.
Main illustration credits: The marvelous model of Baba Yaga’s hut in the upper right corner is by artist Forest Rogers. The other images are all Russian lacquer pieces depicting Baba Yaga and her hut.