If, one fine morning in Old Mother Russia, you are out for a ramble through the countryside, and you happen upon a beautiful but sad young woman sitting in a steam looking piteously in your direction, do not attempt to render her aid. The tears are a device to lure you to her, the reason she is sitting in the stream is because her bottom half is a fish, and it will not go well for you at all. Water spirits are like that.
There’s also the bathhouse spirit, and various types of were-creatures; were-wolf, were-dog, and curiously enough, were-cat. (What would the later do to you? Claw up your legs? Trip you on the stairs? Enquiring minds want to know.) But the most important spirit is the house spirit. Every hut has one, and it’s a good idea to stay on its good side. They tend to be temperamental, and if you want your bread to rise, or your fire not suddenly go out on a cold winter’s night, it’s best to keep it pleased and complemented.
Then there’s Baba Yaga, she of the house of chicken feet fame. Turns out she is not especially evil, but more an agent of chaos because she just gets so bored.
Baba Yaga! Terrible old hag! Accursed man-eater! How wonderful you are with your song and your crystal eyes! You are a GODDESS. So take me into your death – which is better than life.
The blizzard falls silent. It’s warm and dark in the little hut on chicken legs. The broom stands in the corner, exchanging winks with the pestle. The faithless cat purrs sleepily, stretching his back, pretending . .
Baba Yaga is lying on the stove. Water drips onto the floor from her icy hair. A bony leg sticks out from under some rags.
Boring. Boring. B – o – r – I – n – g.
Pre-Christian Russia seems like a rather magical place, and who wouldn’t want a house spirit, on whom to blame everything gone wrong?