Baba Yaga is a prominent figure in Slavic folklore. She’s sort of a witch-slash-dark goddess who appears as a crone with iron teeth. Sometimes she protects children and other times she eats them, so she’s quite ambivalent. She flies through the sky in a mortar, and uses the pestle as a weapon. Sometimes she pushes herself along the ground in the mortar using the pestle as an oar-like device.
She lives in a hut that stands on giant chicken legs and which turns constantly in a circle. She has all kinds of dark associations with pain, fear, torture, death, funeral feasts, as well as snakes, birds, winter, and evil magic. Not the kind of little old lady you want to meet on a dark night in the forest.
Sometimes she’s one in a trio of sisters, all called Baba Yaga, which to my mind puts her in company with other three-formed goddesses like the Morrigan, Hecate, and Brighid. The Morrigan and Hecate, especially, have dark sides and associations with death that resonate with Baba Yaga.
According to this Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baba_Yaga, scholars have noted similarities between Baba Yaga, Perchta, and Frau Holle. In some Slavic countries, she’s called “Forest Mother.” I don’t know if scholars would agree with me, but I feel strong echoes of her–or someone a lot like her–in the witch in Hansel and Gretel, too. Like that witch, she lives in the forest and eats children.
While writing my first Fortunata novel, Dirty Magic, I was inspired to create a Baba Yaga-like character called Drozma Drojhka or Granny Winter. She’s a witch-like goddess who preys upon young men and women, demanding food and sex from the males and occasionally possessing the bodies of the females. If she’s denied the food and sex she requests, she eats the victim. My hero, Vadryc, has a couple of too-close encounters with Drozma Drojhka.