Baba Yaga just means “old woman” in Russian. Her real name was Iris, like the rainbow. She married young and had five children but then in the war her husband and four of her children died and one of them got lost and after searching for him for several years she realized that she would never find him, whereupon she went into the woods and found a vrajitoara — a witch — to learn magic from. After the vrajitoara died Iris created her fabulous hut with the chicken legs and the people nearby — some of whom had actually gone to church with her but didn’t recognize her any more — started to call her Baba Yaga.
During her period of tutelage with the vrajitoara Iris said that she was sure that she didn’t want to spend her life having children because they would just die in stupid things like wars and break her heart, so instead she wanted to find a new goal for her life. She decided for awhile that her goal was to overcome herself — to be more, more, more — bigger, faster, more powerful, to know what she hadn’t known before, to be able to do what she had once been unable to do. The vrajitoara said “I used to think that.”
“Why don’t you any more?” asked Iris. It was late at night. They lay next to each other on the bed full of goose feathers. Outside it rained and the wind screamed like someone was skinning eight hundred cats using eight hundred fiddle bows.
“Because more doesn’t mean anything. More strong, but also more weak. They’re both more. You can learn to do things but every time you learn to do something you learn not to do something else. You learn to put out a burning building you lose the ability to walk past it and do nothing.”
“So.” The vrajitoara kissed her and they went to sleep.
When the vrajitoara was alive Iris didn’t understand what she meant, but after she died Baba Yaga hurtling through the countryside in her chicken-leg hut, terrifying people knew it very well indeed. Her hair was long, her fingernails were sharp, her breasts hung down and her eyes were so clear she noticed that Jupiter had moons and Saturn had rings three and a half centuries before Galileo.
Noticed and didn’t care!
Many many years later she figured out time travel and went back to ancient Babylon where she befriended Humbaba, the giant who cried when he learned human beings would never be immortal like the snake because we would never be able to shed our skin. By that time in her life Baba Yaga was neither old nor young — she had shed her body and left her hut behind and was just a whisper of suggestion, pervading the cloud of information that we see as trees and rocks and people and flowers.
She would settle in next to Humbaba as he fell asleep and whisper in his ear contriving her voice so it sounded to him like his own mind, or perhaps a god.
“Treat it gentle, honey.” said Baba Yaga to Humbaba “Take it easy, my sweet boy.”