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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Pullman, Washington » Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #343303

Title: Baba Yaga and the Mushrooms

item Dugan, Frank

Submitted to: Fungi
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/26/2017
Publication Date: 8/1/2017
Citation: Dugan, F.M. 2017. Baba Yaga and the Mushrooms. Fungi. Fungi Magazine 10(2):6-18..

Interpretive Summary: The Russian witch Baba Yaga is known for her association with mushrooms in folk- and fairytales. Various aspects of folklore about Baba Yaga reflect ethnobotany and ethnomycology of Russian, Baltic and/or Ugric peoples, including the roles of women (especially older women, the 'babas' of Russian and Eastern Europe) as healers, and as repositories of this ethnobiological lore. Contemporary writings on Baba Yaga and ethnomycology often reflect popular but specious hypotheses. This account cites these popular works, but presents as an alternative documented facts plus more qualified speculations on the origins and evolution of pertinent traditions. These traditions encompass relationships of the 'babas' to nature (especially to certain plants and fungi, but also forest animals) and society (especially agriculture-centered peasants and wildland foragers). Linguistic, folkloristic, historical and mycological aspects are summarized.

Technical Abstract: Nineteenth and early twentieth century artists portray the Russian witch Baba Yaga with mushrooms, especially with Amanita muscaria, the fly agaric. Fairy tales about Baba Yaga, as well as other Slavic folktales, repeatedly contain passing reference to mushrooms, but mushrooms are not integral to story line in Baba Yaga tales. Written documentation for Baba Yaga extends only to late 17th'early 18th centuries, but philological studies and comparative folklore suggest her presence in folk belief considerably before then, plausibly originating from Baltic, Ugric and/or other non-Slavic sources. Linguistic and ethnographic analyses firmly link 'baba' and 'witch' to various mushrooms in Baltic and Slavic countries. In some tales, Baba Yaga is either the aunt or mother of a certain wizard, whose identity overlaps with another wizard equated with fly agaric. Baba Yaga is also strongly associated with water birds and bird-maidens (rusalki). Khanty myth references a water bird assisting creation of Earth from a red-capped mushroom. Baltic myth contains a 'Mother of Mushrooms.' Pre-Slavic Balkan (Vinca) artifacts include figurines of bird-women, and mushrooms sculpted from rock crystal. Relationships of Balkan, Baltic, Ugric, and other mythic figures to Baba Yaga and to mushrooms are conjectured here and in other literature.