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Baba Yaga is a witch from the Ghostbusters RPG's Tobin's Spirit Guide (RPG).
Tales of witches abound in practically every culture extant on this planet; the word, and what it means in general, should not be unfamiliar. In Western civilization, the term brings to mind a typical and almost universal image: a horribly ugly crone who dresses in black, rides across the sky, and (when she is not tormenting mortals) spends much of her time stirring the odious and probably poisonous contents of her kettle.
Without meaning to give short shrift to these evil and fairly powerful spirits, we must now advise the reader that he will find no more about so-called "ordinary witches" in these pages. What we purport to do here is describe the witch of all witches, the one who embodies all the worst qualities of every witch and at the same time is unique unto herself.
That witch is the terrible Baba Yaga, who for centuries has made life miserable for people in the great land of Russia. During all but the last few years of this time, Russia has chosen to remain more or less isolated from the Western world-a situation with which Westerners, by and large, were more than happy to live. Now, since the Great War and the events coincidental with it that have occurred in that country, Russia is more and more showing signs of becoming interested in exerting influence upon, and being influenced by, the other countries of the world. As an unfortunate byproduct of this process it is entirely possible that Baba Yaga too will see fit to venture forth and exert her influence on innocent Europeans who have never heard of her before.
This passage, then, is first and foremost a warning. As of this writing, we have no proof that she has invaded our culture or is about to do so. But we dare not assume that such a thing will not happen. Where Baba Yaga is concerned it is best to take no chances.
Baba Yaga, known in some Russian tales as old Bony-Shanks, appears as an impossibly emaciated, unthinkably ugly old woman. Imagine the ugliest person you have ever seen, and then imagine someone who makes that person look like Venus or Adonis, and you will have approached an idea of what Baba Yaga looks like.
The witch, also known as The Devourer, has iron teeth set inside a mouth that can, if she desires, open wide enough to ingest half a human being in one bite. (She might be capable of swallowing a person whole, but apparently prefers the pleasure of savoring her meal by chomping on portions instead of eating a person all at once.) She is said to have a special taste for young children.
She lives in a small thatched hut that would be unimpressive in itself, were it not for the trappings that adorn it. Around the hut is a fence made of human bones; the fence posts themselves are skeletons. The hut rests on a pair of enormous chicken feet that can, upon Baba Yaga's command, elevate the hut and rotate it so as to face any direction she desires. The sections of the hut are held together by dismembered human hands. In place of a latch on the door is a mouthful of sharp teeth, such that anyone who tries to enter the hut without Baba Yaga's consent will have his hand severed at the wrist. The inside of her hut is as large or as small as she chooses to make it, regardless of what it looks like from the outside.
Baba Yaga does not remain inside her hut waiting for people to come to her, although she can compel someone to do so if she desires. She enjoys traveling through the surrounding area-looking for victims, or sometimes just taking perverse pleasure in showing herself and frightening someone to death (perhaps literally). When she travels overland, she does so by sitting inside a giant iron kettle that makes awful clanging and booming noises as it bumps along. When she wants to fly, she sits in a mortar and propels herself through the air with a pestle. There seems to be no limit to the kinds of impossible tasks she can accomplish if she puts her mind to it; she appears to be bound by none of the physical or natural laws that dictate what we mortals can and cannot do. One of her favorite bits of cruelty is to recruit or kidnap someone to help her tend to chores around the hut. She gives commands such as "Wet the firewood before you ignite it" and "Take this sieve and fetch water for my bath." The poor prisoner, of course, is unable to do these things-, where upon Baba Yaga (depending on her mood) either flies into a rage or cackles merrily and proceeds to demonstrate that-for her-it is quite easy to set fire to drenched wood or carry water in a sieve.
For all of her power, Baba Yaga has three weaknesses that prevent her from being more of a force in the world than she actually is. First, she is unable to enter or travel on the surface of a naturally occurring body of water, and so it is possible to escape from her by diving into a lake or leaping across a stream.
Second, more often than not she prefers to take a prisoner rather than killing a victim outright-so that, from the prisoner's point of view, while there is life there is hope. As attested to by the large number of Baba Yaga stories in Russian literature' many people have encountered the Devourer and survived to tell about it.
Third, she is extremely dull-witted and can be outsmarted rather easily. For instance, she would not notice if the firewood had been dampened with lamp oil instead of water; and if one of her "helpers" did succeed in carrying water in a sieve, it would not occur to her to examine the sieve and discover that the outside of it had been coated with grease. In this respect she is almost a comical character, because in many tales her potential for stupidity seems to exceed even her penchant for evil.
But make no mistake about it: she is evil, and cruel, totally devoid of remorse and compassion and reasonability. When this kind of personality is combined with power that is capable of bending (if not breaking) the rules of earthly reality, the result is an entity who should never-never!-be taken lightly.
Perhaps in the months and years to come, as I continue to pursue my life's work, I shall come across new stories of encounters with the most awful of witches. As a researcher who counts this among his unfulfilled goals, I look forward to the prospect. But as a human being who cares about the welfare of his fellow man, I hope I never hear or read another word about Baba Yaga.