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Covers the myths and legends of the Russian Empire at its greatest extent as well as other Slavic people and countries. Includes historical, geographical, and biographical background information
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Encyclopedia of

Russian & Slavic
Myth and Legend

Encyclopedia of

Russian & Slavic
Myth and Legend
Mike Dixon-Kennedy

Santa Barbara, California
Denver, Colorado
Oxford, England

Copyright © 1998 by Mike Dixon-Kennedy
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or
otherwise, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review, without prior permission in
writing from the publishers.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Dixon-Kennedy, Mike, 1959–
Encyclopedia of Russian and Slavic myth and legend.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Summary: Covers the myths and legends of the Russian Empire at its
greatest extent as well as other Slavic people and countries.
Includes historical, geographical, and biographical background
1. Mythology, Slavic—Juvenile literature. [1. Mythology,
Slavic. 2. Mythology—Encyclopedias.] I. Title.
BL930.D58 1998


ISBN 1-57607-063-8 (hc)
ISBN 1-57607-130-8 (pbk)










130 Cremona Drive, P.O. Box 1911
Santa Barbara, California 93116-1911
Typesetting by Letra Libre
This book is printed on acid-free paper I.
Manufactured in the United States of America.








For Gill


Preface, ix
How to Use This Book, xi
Brief Historical and Anthropological Details, xiii

Encyclopedia of
Russian and Slavic Myth and Legend, 1
References and Further Reading, 327
Appendix 1, 331
Glossary of Terms
Appendix 2, 333
Transliteration from Cyrillic to Latin Letters
Appendix 3, 335
The Rulers of Russia
Appendix 4, 337
Topic Finder
Index, 353



This volume is not unique. A good number of books have been published about the
myths and legends of the ancient Russians
and Slavs. However, as a quick look at the
Bibliography will show, many of these are
available only in languages other than; 
English.Thus this book presents, possibly for
the first time, the myths and legends in their
translated form. In addition, a great deal of
historical, geographical, and biographical
information related to the Slavs and their
mythology has been included so that readers
may gain the deepest possible understanding
of the myths and legends against their cultural and geographical background. A
detailed map of the area covered by this volume has been included to make this last task
easier; for even though certain places or
countries described might be familiar, there
are a fair number that are not so well known.
Russian and Slavic beliefs weave a rich
tapestry between the real world and the
world of pure fantasy. Here we have a culture
that believed in a large number of supernatural and fantastical beings, from dragons to
one-eyed or multiheaded monsters, from
shape-changing wolves to soulless beings.We
also find a curious mix of the pagan and the
Christian; for even though Russia adopted
Christianity as the state religion in A.D. 988,
paganism remained popular until the end of
the nineteenth century, and in more remote
areas, even up to the present day. Thus we
find Christian themes interwoven with
pagan ideas: Dragons fight priests, saints
encounter nymphs, and witches enter the
kingdom of heaven.

Having studied the amazingly complex subject of world mythology and legend for more
than twenty years, I have found few stories
more stirring than those of ancient Russia.
Regrettably for us, at the end of the twentieth century very few Russian pre-Christian
(pagan) beliefs remain. Those that have survived have been Christianized, their pagan
roots now long forgotten.
My introduction to Russian legend was
the story of the witch Baba-Yaga, told me
by someone whose identity I have since forgotten. Many years later, as I began to
research world mythology and legend, BabaYaga resurfaced as I delved into the mysteries and delights of ancient Russian and
Slavic folklore.
This book is a general guide to the myths
and legends of the Russian Empire at its
greatest extent, along with those of countries
and peoples that can be broadly defined as
Slavic or that have influenced and been
influenced by Slavic cultures. Today, at the
end of the twentieth century, Russia or Rus
is a huge country that occupies a large part
of Europe and Asia.Yet it was once a land of
modest size that subsequently underwent
centuries of expansion and change. Populations came and went, and each migration
added to the culture base of the country as it
progressed from one incarnation to the
next—from principality to empire. All this
movement has left the rich legacy of mythology and legend detailed in this volume—a
legacy inherited by a land that covers
approximately one-sixth of the earth’s total

It is my hope that by preparing this volume in the format in which it is presented, I
have brought the myths and legends of the
Russian and other Slavic peoples to a much
broader readership, and by so doing, have
increased readers’ understanding of the cultures on which the volume touches.
Obviously one such volume cannot begin to
do justice to this subject. Although I have
included as much information as possible
within the physical constraints of the book, I
hope readers will be inspired to undertake
their own, further research and to carry it to
new levels.
Whenever one writes a book, one obviously owes thanks to many different people
for their help. To list all those who over the
years have provided me with information,
guided me as to where to look, and correct-

ed my countless mistakes and assumptions
would need a volume all its own. Needless to
say, they all know just who they are, and to
each and every one of them I say a great big
“thank you.”
My final thanks have to go to my longsuffering wife, Gill, and to Christopher,
Charlotte, Thomas, and Rebecca, my four
often “fatherless” children. For long periods
of time over many years they have lost me to
my research, my passion. Very rarely have
they complained, and I hope that now they
will be able to enjoy the results of their solitude. Whoever thinks writing is a solitary
occupation should think of the writers’ partners, for theirs is the true solitude.
Mike Dixon-Kennedy


Although this book is arranged as a simple,
straightforward encyclopedia, several conventions have been adopted to make cross-referencing easier and the text more decipherable.
1. Where headwords have alternative
spellings, these are given under the main
entry within the book preceded by “Also.”
When the variant spellings are widely different, variants are given their own, shorter
entries that direct readers to the main
entries. Where this is simply a matter of the
omission or addition of a letter or letters,
then those letters affected within the headword are enclosed in parentheses; e.g.,
Timofe(y)evna gives two versions of the
patronymic, Timofeyevna and Timofeevna, both of which are acceptable
transliterations from the Cyrillic.
Where the variation is a different ending,
then the most common is given first. For
instance, Svarozhich (~gich) indicates that
the most common variant is Svarozhich
and the less common is Svarogich.
Where the difference is a complete word,
then that word is enclosed in parentheses.
This occurs when an epithet or patronymic
is part of the subject’s name but is not commonly used, e.g., Peter (Belyaninovich).
2. Where there is a separate entry for any
of the people, places, or objects mentioned
within an entry, a list of these will be found
at the end of the entry preceded by “See
3. At the end of many entries, citations of
sources in the References and Further
Reading section will be found, preceded by

The spellings of Russian words and names
that appear in this book are based on various commonly used systems of transliteration from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. These word-spellings are phonetically
based (see Appendix 2); thus, the words
should be pronounced more or less as written, with every vowel and consonant being
sounded (there are no silent e’s, for example).The single prime sign (') has been used
where the soft sign would appear in the
Cyrillic word, indicating that the preceding
consonant is palatalized. Appendix 2 shows
the full modern Cyrillic alphabet and each
letter’s various possible pronunciations as
well as its written equivalents in the Latin
Russian rulers and their families were given
titles that may be unfamiliar to the reader.
Briefly, they were as follows.
tsar or czar—Russian emperor. The title
was first used c. 1482 by Ivan Vasilevich,
Grand Duke of Muscovy—better known as
Ivan Groznyi, or Ivan the Terrible.Thereafter,
it was used by the emperors of Russia until
the 1917 Revolution. The word tsar is
derived from the Latin cæsar.
tsarevich or czarevich—The son of a
tsar. Historically the tsarevich was the eldest
son, but the word applies to any son, not just
the heir.
tsarevna or czarevna—The daughter
of a tsar. Like the tsarevich, the tsarevna was
usually the eldest daughter of the tsar; but

the word may be correctly applied to any
tsarina or czarina—The wife of a tsar;
an empress, but not necessarily a ruler in her
own right. (Unlike a tsaritsa, she is empress
merely by virtue of her marriage.)

tsaritsa or czaritsa—A woman who is
empress and rules in her own right, regardless of whether she is married to a tsar.
A glossary of other terms used in the
book may be found in Appendix 1.


Known to the classical writers of the first and
second centuries as the Vanedi, a people living
beyond the Vistula, the Balts and Slavs originated the northeastern Indo-European languages spoken in central and eastern Europe,
the Balkans, and parts of north Asia.The Slavs
are generally subdivided into three linguistic
and cultural groups: the Western Slavs,
including the Poles, Czechs, Moravians, and
Slovaks; the Eastern Slavs, made up of
Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians; and
the Southern Slavs, comprising the Bulgars,
Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The closely related Balts are also divided into three groups:
Latvians, Lithuanians, and Prussians.
There is such a high degree of similarity
among the Slavic languages that experts
describe this linguistic group as a dialect continuum in which the speakers of one language
understand much of what is said in the others.
In their written form, the Slavic languages visibly differ in that some, such as Polish, are
written in the Roman alphabet, while others,
like Russian, employ the Cyrillic alphabet (see
Appendix 2). These different alphabets are
largely explained by the turbulent history of
the Slavic regions, which were subdued by
various empires and rulers at various times.
Although the languages themselves continue
to flourish despite political and cultural
upheavals, very little of ancient Slavic mythology and legend survives today.
Although closely related to both the Balts
and Slavs, with whom they assimilated, the

Finno-Ugric peoples do not belong to the
Indo-European family. Their language
grouping, a subfamily of the Ural-Altaic
family, contains more than twenty different
tongues that are spoken from Norway in the
west to Siberia in the east, and to the
Carpathian Mountains in the south.
The Finno-Ugric peoples may be subdivided into four main groups according to
their geographical position. The first group
includes the Finns, Lapps, Estonians (though
Estonia is generally thought of as a Baltic
country), Livonians, and Karelians. The second grouping comprises the CheremissMordvin peoples of the middle and upper
Volga. The third includes the Votyaks,
Permyaks, and Zyrians, who inhabit the
Russian provinces of Perm and Vyatka, and
the last, the Voguls and Ostyaks of western
Siberia. The Magyar people of Hungary are
normally included in the fourth grouping, as
they originated in western Siberia, but they
are generally considered a Turkic people.
The Finno-Ugric peoples were widely
influenced by their Indo-European neighbors—the Balts, Slavs, and Norse/Teutons.
Many of their legends bear direct comparison with those of both the Balts and the
The legends of the Finnish peoples are
not considered in this volume, as they are
extensive enough to warrant a volume of
their own. In addition, these legends do
not exhibit any signs of cultural crossfertilization and seem to have little bearing
on the study of Russian and Slavic myth
and legend.




An indigenous people who live near the
Lena River in northeastern Siberia, in one of
the coldest regions on earth, the Yakuts speak
a Turkic language in the Ural-Altaic family,
closely related to Finno-Ugric. Very few of
the beliefs of the ancient Yakuts have survived.

unfortunate, as this story (Ivan the Mare’s
Son) is particularly fine.

An ancient Siberian people. Only one of the
major Tungus legends has survived, which is

Readers will find further detail on each of
these groups under the respective headings in
the main body of the book.

Indigenous inhabitants of Latvia who were
closely related to their neighbors the
Lithuanians. Their language is Baltic with
characteristics of both Latvian and Lithuanian.

Encyclopedia of

Russian & Slavic
Myth and Legend

several of his family had been murdered, so it
was decided, upon the suggestion of Duke
Boleslaus, that Adalbert should undertake a
mission to the pagan Prussians in Pomerania.
Adalbert went on to evangelize
Hungary and possibly Prussia and
Poland as well but was murdered in
997, along with his two companions
Benedict and Gaudentius, by
Prussians who suspected them of
being Polish spies.
Adalbert’s body was thrown into the
water near Königsberg (modern Kaliningrad, a Russian city that is separated from
the rest of the country by Lithuania) but was
later recovered after it washed ashore in
Poland. He was enshrined at Griezno, but his
relics were forcibly repatriated to Prague in
1039. Saint Adalbert is usually depicted with
a club and lances—the weapons used to
murder him—and often with a two-headed


Prussia and Poland
The patron saint of Prussia and Poland,
whose feast day is 23 April. Adalbert (c.
956–997) was born to a noble Bohemian
family and baptized Voytech. At his confirmation, he took the name Adalbert, after his
teacher of the same name in Magdeburg.
When his teacher died in 981, Adalbert
returned to Prague and was consecrated
there in 982, becoming the first native
bishop of the city. However, Adalbert
encountered stiff opposition to his attempts
to convert others to Christianity, and in 990
he withdrew from Prague to Rome, where
he joined the Benedictine abbey of Saints
Boniface and Alexis. Duke Boleslaus
(Boleslaw I, “the Brave”) of Poland petitioned Pope John XV (pope 985–996) for
the return of Adalbert to Prague, and shortly
thereafter Adalbert was sent back under
papal decree.
Conditions appeared to have improved,
and Adalbert founded the Benedictine abbey
at Brevnov. The peace, however, was shortlived, and the populace once again grew hostile to him and his teachings when he
attempted to give sanctuary to a woman
who had been accused of adultery. The
horde dragged the woman out of his church
and summarily executed her, whereupon
Adalbert promptly excommunicated everyone involved. Once again he was obliged to
flee to Rome, from where he was yet again
ordered to return, this time by Pope Gregory
V (pope 996–999). However, in his absence,

See also: Bohemia; Hungary; Poland; Prussia

The tsar of an unnamed realm, which some
say lay in the Thrice-Ninth Kingdom, and
the owner of the Horse with the Golden
Mane. When Ivan Vyslavovich was caught
trying to steal both the horse and its golden
bridle (though the shape-changing wolf
helping Ivan Vyslavovich had warned him
not to touch the bridle), Afron gave him a
chance to redeem himself. If Ivan
Vyslavovich could bring him Elena the
Beautiful, after whom Afron had lusted for
quite some time, he would not only forgive
Ivan Vyslavovich but would also give him the
Horse with the Golden Mane and its bridle.
If he failed, Ivan Vyslavovich would be
branded a common thief.
Ivan Vyslavovich succeeded in abducting
Elena the Beautiful with the help of the
shape-changing wolf who had been helping
him throughout his journey, which began as



a quest assigned to him by his father, Tsar
Vyslav Andronovich, to capture the Firebird.
However, Ivan Vyslavovich fell in love with
Elena the Beautiful, and vice versa, so the
wolf assumed her shape when they came
back to Afron’s palace. Afron kept his word
and gave Ivan Vyslavovich both the Horse
with the Golden Mane and its golden bridle,
and Ivan and the real Elena the Beautiful
rode away on the horse.The wolf resumed its
true form and rejoined them, thus leaving
Tsar Afron with nothing.
See also: Elena the Beautiful; Firebird,The;
Horse with the Golden Mane,The; Ivan
Vyslavovich;Thrice-Ninth Kingdom,The;
Vyslav Andronovich

A mysterious monster with whom Badikan
was said to have done battle. With Armenia
lying so close to the Holy Land, it seems reasonable to assume that Agog-Magog was a
derivation of Gog and Magog (Revelation
20:8), whose names would probably have
been familiar to the common populace
through the work of missionaries and travelers to and from the holy cities.
See also: Badikan

A mysterious and curious flying creature
sometimes depicted as a cockerel and sometimes shown with the head of the lucky
Zaltys (grass snake) and the fiery tail of a

“birthgiving, nourishing mother.” She
owned the Golden Book of Fate, which contained the names and destinies of every
human being either living or yet to be born.
She brought the soul of the newborn baby
down from heaven so that a complete human
being could come into existence and then
entered the name of the new person in the
Golden Book of Fate. It was only when the
name had been entered in the book that the
person became a fully fledged member of the
human race. Other Siberian tribes thought
the mother-goddess dwelt in heaven on a
mountain that had seven stories. There she
not only gave newly born people their lives
but also determined the fate of all people and
equipped them with the potential to do both
good and evil.
The Altai Tatars acknowledged a similar
deity known as the “milk lake mother,” and
the Yakuts themselves have a curious myth
about a White Youth who encounters a calm
“lake of milk” near the cosmic tree, the
world pillar of Yryn-al-tojon, the “white
creator Lord.” After seeking the blessing of
the tree, this youth felt a warm breeze, heard
the tree creak, and saw a female divinity,
Ajysyt, rise from the roots. She offered him
milk from her full breasts, and after satisfying
his thirst, the youth felt his strength increase
a hundredfold. Thus, the milk-breasted
mother of life, the mother-goddess, and the
cosmic Tree of Life are combined into one
sustaining and nourishing entity.
See also: Golden Book of Fate,The; Lena,
River; Siberia;Tatars;Tree of Life,The;White

See also: Zaltys

The mother-goddess of the Yakuts, a Turkic
people living near the river Lena in Siberia.
Literally translated, her name means “birthgiver,” though she is also referred to as “the
mother of cradles” and was believed to be
present whenever one of her devotees gave
birth. As Ajysyt-ijaksyt-khotan, she was the

“Birthgiving, nourishing mother,” an aspect
of the Yakut mother-goddess Ajysyt.
See also: Ajysyt;Yakuts

One of a pair of heroes who are described in
a poem as engaged in mortal combat, the

other hero being Bulat.Ak Molot managed to
inflict numerous wounds on his enemy that
would have killed any normal man, but Bulat
was not normal, for he did not carry his soul.
After three years of fighting, Ak Molot saw a
golden casket hanging from the sky on a
white silken thread. Ak Molot shot down the
casket and opened it, whereupon ten white
birds flew out, one of which contained Bulat’s
soul.While still fighting Bulat, Ak Molot shot
the birds one after another, and then, as the
tenth bird fell to the ground, Bulat died.
See also: Bulat

The god of the moon, formerly called
Dundra. Sent to the earth by his father,
Dundra taught the Romany people their
laws and became their protector. When he
had finished his task on earth he ascended
into the skies, where he became Alako. He
watches over his people and carries their
souls to live on the moon after death. One
day Alako will return from the moon and
lead his people back to their lost homeland.
Alako was worshiped as recently as the
late nineteenth century. Votaries carrying
idols of Alako that showed him holding a
quill in his right hand and a sword in his left
would gather once a year at full moon, set up
his idols, and offer songs and prayers to him.
These rites were then followed by a feast.
Alako was also central to the rites of passage.
At Christian baptisms, a child would be baptized in the names of both Christ and Alako,
and all newlyweds were consecrated to him.
See also: Dundra; Moon

Iranian-speaking nomadic tribe of the barbarian peoples known as the Sarmatians,
who inhabited Russia in Roman times.They
first appeared in history north of the Caspian
Sea, and between the second and fourth centuries A.D. migrated westward into the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. They

then divided into two groups. One group of
Alans continued to migrate westward with
the Germanic peoples, appearing in Gaul,
Lusitania (Portugal), and finally, North
Africa, where they merged with the Vandals.
The other group, wandering eastward, settled
in the Caucasus Mountains. Their descendants, the Ossetes of the Republic of
Georgia, tell a story similar to that concerning the passing of King Arthur. It is quite
possible that the story of Arthur was carried
to the region by the Romans, although this
has never been proven. The story of Batradz
the Ossete hero might also have been the
source of the Arthurian legend, as it seems to
be the older of the two.
See also: Arthur, King; Batradz; Caspian Sea;
Caucasus; Georgia; Ossetes; Sarmatians

A brilliant white stone that lies on the island
of Buyan. Frequently mentioned as a potent
force in magical spells and charms.
See also: Buyan

The daughter of an unnamed witch that
some authorities identify as Baba-Yaga. The
witch brought the lad Ivashko home for supper and ordered Alenka to cook him.
However, when the witch went out again,
Ivashko tricked Alenka, pushed her deep into
the hot coals, locked the oven door, and hurried outside to hide in the forest canopy.The
witch returned and berated her absent
daughter for having left the meal unattended. She then sat down to dine with her
friends, unaware that they were feasting on
Alenka—a fact soon brought to light when
Ivashko reappeared.
See also: Baba-Yaga (-Jaga, -Iaga); Ivashko

Although of royal lineage,Alenushka and her
brother Ivanushka were forced to wander

like gypsies after their parents died. During
their wanderings the pair came to a pond
where a herd of cattle were grazing.
Ivanushka rushed to the water to slake his
thirst, but Alenushka stopped him, warning
him that if he drank he would turn into a
Next they came to a lake beside which a
flock of sheep were grazing. Again
Ivanushka ran to the water’s edge, and again
Alenushka stopped him from drinking,
warning him that if he did he would turn
into a lamb. Near the next stretch of water
some pigs were rooting about. Alenushka
once more stopped Ivanushka from drinking, this time warning him that he would
become a piglet. By the time they reached
the next watering hole, near which a herd of
goats were grazing, Ivanushka’s thirst was so
great that he ignored his sister’s advice. As
soon as he drank the water, Ivanushka
turned into a kid.
Alenushka harnessed her brother, and the
two continued on their way.They eventually
arrived at a royal palace, where Ivanushka ran
off to eat the well-manicured grass.The royal
guards brought Alenushka and her brother
before the tsar, who was immediately captivated by Alenushka and asked her to marry
him. She consented and she and her brother
remained at the tsar’s palace.
Some time later the tsar had to be away on
business. While he was absent, a sorceress
who had designs on his affections cast a spell
on Alenushka, who fell ill, growing thinner
and weaker each day. By the time the tsar
returned, the flowers and the grass around
the palace had died, and Alenushka was very
wan. Awhile later, the tsar again had to leave
the palace on business.This time the sorceress told Alenushka that she could cure herself
if she went to the sea’s edge at dusk and
drank a little of the water.Alenushka went to
the sea to drink, but as she bent down to the
water, the sorceress tied a huge boulder
around her neck and threw her far out to sea.
The sorceress then assumed the likeness of
Alenushka and returned to the palace, where

the tsar rejoiced to see his wife restored to
full health.
Ivanushka remained by the water, bleating for his sister. In the palace the sorceress
nagged the tsar to kill Ivanushka, saying that
she had grown tired of the way he smelled.
At first the tsar would not hear of it, but
eventually he reluctantly agreed. Ivanushka,
learning of his fate, asked the tsar for permission to go to the seashore. The tsar
There Ivanushka called out to his sister,
but Alenushka replied that she could not
come because of the boulder tied around her
neck. Ivanushka returned to the palace, but at
midday once more asked permission to visit
the seashore, where he again called to his sister and received the same reply. As dusk
began to fall Ivanushka asked permission of
the tsar a third time. Once more the tsar
agreed; but this time, his curiosity aroused by
Ivanushka’s strange behavior, he followed the
kid to the edge of the water.There Ivanushka
called to his sister, and this time she came
bobbing to the surface.
The tsar immediately swam out to
Alenushka, released the boulder, and carried her back to the palace. There he
ordered his guards to light a huge bonfire.
When the sorceress came out to see what
they were doing, the tsar threw her onto
the fire, where she burned to death. As the
sorceress died, the gardens around the
palace burst into flower once more, and
Alenushka and Ivanushka lived out their
days happily together.
See also: Ivanushka

City to which Martiros promised his dying
father he would never travel to trade. He
later broke his promise when he learned that
the people of Aleppo paid exorbitant prices
for goods, especially boxwood. Ancient
Aleppo (today’s Halab) is located in northern
See also: Martiros

Also: Aliosha
A bogatyr', the son of Leontii, a priest from
Rostov, Alesha lived in Kiev at the court of
Prince Vladimir Bright Sun. When Vladimir
asked his knights which one would rescue
the princess Zabava from the clutches of a
dragon that had carried her away, it was
Alesha who told the prince about Dobrynya
Nikitich’s pact with the dragon, thus making
the prince command that knight to rescue
the girl, or be beheaded.
Alesha was not always inept, as the story of
his arrival at Kiev proves. Riding out from
Rostov, Alesha and his squire Ekim chose to
head for Kiev because they were certain that
the other possible choices, Suzdal' and
Chernigov, would lead them into trouble
either from wine or from women. Arriving
in Kiev, they immediately realized that all
was not as it should be, for there were no
grooms waiting in the courtyard to stable
their horses.
Entering the royal palace, they presented
themselves to Prince Vladimir Bright Sun,
who had already heard of Alesha and bade
him attend a banquet that night as a guest of
honor.Alesha chose not to sit at the table but
instead to perch himself on the stove in the
banqueting hall, a position usually occupied
by beggars and serfs. Shortly after the meal
had got under way, the door to the hall was
thrown open and a giant, brutish creature
slithered in.This was Tugarin, a heathen creature with the girth of two fully grown oak
trees, eyes set far apart in his ugly head, and
ears that were nearly eight inches long.
Without paying his respect to Vladimir,
Tugarin seated himself between the prince
and his wife.
Watching these events from his place on
the stove, Alesha inquired as to how serious
the argument must have been between the
prince and his wife to allow such an ugly
creature to sit between them. Ignoring
Alesha, Tugarin plunged the blade of his
knife into a roast swan that was set before

him and ate it whole, spitting out the bones
as he swallowed the flesh. Alesha once again
taunted Tugarin, saying that his father,
Leontii, once had a mongrel dog that choked
to death on a swan’s bone, and that he hoped
Tugarin would do the same. Tugarin again
ignored Alesha and devoured a huge game
pie in a single bite.
Alesha once more commented, saying that
his father had had an old cow that had
rooted around in the dirt for food and had
choked to death. He hoped that Tugarin’s ill
manners would lead to the same fate. At last
Tugarin rose to the bait and asked Prince
Vladimir Bright Sun who the ignorant peasant was. When he heard that it was none
other than Alesha—for even Tugarin had
heard of him—he threw his long knife at
him. However, the agile Ekim caught the
knife by its handle. Seeing this, Tugarin
pushed the table over and challenged Alesha
to meet him out on the steppe.
Alesha was only too happy to oblige and
immediately set out on foot. Some distance
from Kiev, he came across a pilgrim who was
carrying a heavy staff weighing ninety poods
(3,240 lbs, or 1,472 kg). Exchanging clothes
with the pilgrim, Alesha also borrowed the
staff. Soon afterward he caught sight of
Tugarin astride a powerful horse, flying overhead on a set of paper wings he had made.
Alesha prayed for a heavy shower of rain, and
his prayer was answered almost immediately.
As the rain fell, Tugarin’s paper wings disintegrated and he crashed to the ground.
Tugarin realized who the pilgrim was and
galloped toward him, fully intending to crush
him under his horse’s hooves.
Alesha nimbly sidestepped the rushing
horse and hid beneath its flowing mane. As
Tugarin searched for Alesha the knight
struck out with the staff, knocking Tugarin’s
head from his shoulders. Picking up the
head, Alesha impaled it on the end of the
staff and returned to Kiev riding Tugarin’s
See also: Bogatyr'; Chernigov; Dobrynya
Nikitich; Dragon; Ekim; Kiev; Leontii;


Rostov;Tugarin;Vladimir Bright Sun, Prince;
Zabava (Putyatichna), Princess
References: Astakhova 1938–51; Speranskii

356–323 B.C. Greek Macedonian king, the
son of Philip II of Macedon and Olympias.
Alexander’s place in Russian and Slavic legend is due to the fables of Vardan and
Mekhithar Gosh.
See also: Mekhithar Gosh;Vardan

Variant spelling of Alesha. Although Alyosha
is yet another variant spelling of the same
Slavic name, the very different tales of
Alesha/Aliosha and of Alyosha recorded in
this volume should not be confused. The
similarity between these two legends in certain details (e.g., both protagonists are the
sons of priests) might or might not indicate a
common origin.
See also: Alesha; Alyosha

A collective term for sacred fields, springs, or
groves that could not be plowed, fished, or
felled. These Alka were holy places for the
cremation of the dead and for votive offerings to the gods.
The personification of the darkness of the
sky, a monster that filled the universe with a
huge body and enormous wings of impenetrable blackness. Alklha fed on the moon
each month, slowly nibbling away until the
moon disappeared. However, the moon did
not agree with Alklha, and the resultant irritation caused Alklha to vomit and thus
return the moon to the night sky.Alklha also
tried to eat the sun, but it was far too hot, so
it disappeared only in part, or only for a short

Portrait of Alexander the Great (Library of Congress)

time. The gashes made by Alklha’s fangs are
clearly visible on the surface of the moon,
and similar marks also could be seen on the
sun if it were not so bright.
See also: Moon; Sun

A demoness, or sirin—half woman and half
bird—who torments the damned. Possibly of
Persian origin, Alkonost' lives in Rai, the
abode of the dead, where her song tortures
the souls of the dead who led evil lives, giving them no rest.
See also: Rai; Sirin; Underworld,The
References: Haase 1939

Christian name given to one of the three
female spirits that oversee the functions of
human life—the Russian equivalents of the
Greek Fates. Her companions were Miloserdnia and Miloslaviia.
See also: Miloserdnia; Miloslaviia
References: Bezsonov 1861

“Son of the apple,” the name of three children born miraculously to an old couple
from three apples that fell from an apple tree,
their only possession. As each of the three
children was identical and each had the same
name, the old couple referred to them as First
Almafi, Second Almafi, and Third Almafi.
When the children reached their eighteenth
birthday, the old man called them to him,
speaking initially to First Almafi, saying that
the time had come for him to leave home
and seek his fortune. His mother gave him a
loaf of barley bread, and First Almafi set out.
As night fell, First Almafi sat down under
a tree and took out the barley loaf and began
to eat. He had only taken a couple of bites
when an old man came up to him and asked
for food. First Almafi said that he would
gladly share his meager rations, whereupon
the old man told the youth to watch for the
rising of the scythe-star, and then go in the
direction the shaft pointed him in.Along the
way he would come to a fast-flowing stream.
He was not to worry, as the stream’s waters
would bear his weight. In the midst of the
stream grew the most beautiful water lilies.
He was not to pick even a single one, as if he
did he would be lost. When he had crossed
the stream he would enter a field of silver,
and after that, a field of gold. He was to cross
both without picking even a single blade of
the enchanted grass, as if he did he would
perish. Finally, having crossed the fields, he
would find his fortune.
First Almafi thanked the old man, who
instantly vanished. Then he watched and
waited for the scythe-star to rise, and set off
in the direction it indicated once it was
clearly visible. Before long he came to the
stream, which he started to walk across, stopping when he came to the water lilies.
Bending down, he picked one of the blooms,
instantly turned into a fish, and was carried
away by the fast-flowing waters.
Although it had been some time since
First Almafi had set off to seek his fortune

and no word had come from him, his father
sent Second Almafi off to seek his fortune.
Second Almafi took exactly the same road as
his brother had, sat under the same tree, saw
the same man, and received the same set of
instructions. The old man, however, added
that First Almafi had been tempted by one of
the water lilies and had been lost. Second
Almafi was almost tempted by the water lilies
as he crossed the stream, but he remembered
the words of the old man just in time and
made it safely across. However, as he entered
the silver field he was so enchanted that he
stooped down and picked a silver flower for
his buttonhole. Immediately he became a silver snake and slithered away.
Finally it was Third Almafi’s turn to set
out and seek his fortune. He followed the
same road his brothers had, sat under the
same tree, and received the same instructions
from the same old man, who added that his
two brothers had already succumbed to
temptation. Third Almafi set off, crossed the
stream and the silver field with ease, and was
almost tempted to pick a flower as he crossed
the golden field; but remembering what the
old man had said, he resisted the urge and
made his way safely through the field.
He found himself in a vast, empty desert
that stretched as far as the eye could see. For
three days he struggled through the deep
sand, his feet sinking with every step. Finally
he sank to the ground, exhausted. He lay
there a long time, until he heard a loud humming in the sky, and looking up, saw a floating palace. As he watched the palace float by,
he caught a glimpse of a beautiful maiden
standing on a balcony. He hauled himself to
his feet and hurried after the floating palace.
Exhaustion finally got the better of Third
Almafi, who slumped to his knees, panting.
As he knelt, a small chicken landed in front
of him. Almafi watched it in amazement. He
could easily have reached out and eaten the
bird, but it looked as exhausted as he was, so
he said that he would carry it so that they
might seek refuge together. Instantly the bird
turned into the old man, who told him that

as his pity had overcome his greed, he could
grant Third Almafi one wish. Third Almafi
thought for a moment, then asked for his
two brothers to be released from their
enchantments. The old man told Third
Almafi that they were already on the road
home, and then he vanished once more.
Third Almafi continued on his journey,
and after another day’s travel, as exhaustion
was again beginning to overtake him, he
came to a huge castle with no windows, just
a single small door. Inside he found a huge
hall with a row of tables in it.The first table
held a bowl of porridge and a note saying
that whoever ate the porridge would never
be hungry again.Third Almafi sat down and
emptied the bowl, and afterward he felt as if
he need never eat again.
He then moved to the second table, where
he found a bottle of water along with a note
saying that whoever drank the water would
never feel thirst again. Without hesitation
Third Almafi drank the water and then
moved on to the third table, where he found
a small jar containing some ointment, and a
note saying that whoever anointed themselves with the ointment would be filled
with the strength of a thousand men. Third
Almafi duly anointed himself and then went
to the fourth table. There he found a sword
and a note saying that whoever wore the
sword would be invincible. Third Almafi
buckled on the sword and then went to the
fifth table, where he found another small jar
of ointment along with a note saying that
whoever anointed their eyes with the lotion
would see everything. Third Almafi applied
the lotion and then lay down to rest, for now
he knew that he had to find the mysterious
flying palace and the maiden he had
For a full year Third Almafi wandered the
world, looking for the flying palace, and
through all that time he never felt hunger or
thirst. During his travels Third Almafi came
to the edge of an immense forest, where he
sat down and fell asleep beneath a large oak,
even though he didn’t really need to rest.

His sleep was disturbed by a loud crowing
from the branches above him. Sitting up,
Third Almafi saw a large golden cockerel in
the tree, the tone of its crowing telling Third
Almafi that all was not well with the bird.
Third Almafi asked it what the problem was,
whereupon the cockerel told him that he
was under an enchantment, having originally been a prince engaged to a beautiful
Third Almafi took pity on the plight of
the prince and said that he would do whatever he could to help. The cockerel flew
down from the tree and told Third Almafi
that the enchantment had been placed on
him by Deceit, who owned a well of
enchanted water. If Third Almafi could
obtain a cupful of the water and spray the
cockerel with it three times without the
bird’s knowledge, the enchantment would be
broken and the prince would be himself
again. Third Almafi leaped to his feet and
asked the cockerel to point him in the direction of the well, but the cockerel did not
know its whereabouts. However, the cockerel told Third Almafi that he should travel to
the Talking Mountain, and it would give him
the directions he required. When Third
Almafi asked how he was to find the mountain, the cockerel told Third Almafi to tear
off a part of his crest, which would guide
Third Almafi did as he was told and set
off after the piece of golden crest, which
flew just ahead of him. For three days and
three nights Third Almafi traveled without
rest until he reached a vast forest in the
middle of which rose a lofty mountain at
whose foothills the crest stopped flying.
Third Almafi found a cave on the slopes of
the mountain and entered. Inside was a
marble slab inscribed with instructions on
how to awaken the voice of the mountain.
Following the instructions,Third Almafi left
the cave, uprooted twelve tall pine trees
from the forest below, dragged them into
the cave, and set them afire.Then he waited
until the last embers died away, whereupon

the mountain spoke, telling Third Almafi
how to find both the well of Deceit and the
beloved maiden of the cockerel prince.
Almafi traveled three weeks to reach the
well, which was guarded by a twelve-headed
dragon. Drawing his sword, Third Almafi
quickly disposed of the vile monster and
then lay down to rest. When he awoke he
found that Deceit had bound him hand and
foot and thrown him into a deep dungeon.
Third Almafi waited three weeks in that
dungeon before Deceit returned, surprised
to find the prisoner still alive although he
had had no food or water. Deceit moved
closer to Third Almafi to have a better look.
Third Almafi, who had loosened his bonds
earlier, now tore them off and quickly bound
Deceit hand and foot with them.Then Third
Almafi carried Deceit out of the dungeon,
built a huge bonfire, and burned Deceit to
death. Then Third Almafi drew water from
the well and made his way back to where the
golden cockerel waited.
When the cockerel asked Third Almafi if
he had succeeded in his task, Third Almafi
said he had not. The cockerel dropped its
head in despair, and Third Almafi sprayed the
water over it three times, restoring the prince
to his human form.The two of them then set
out to rescue the prince’s beloved from her
place of imprisonment, which lay, as the
Talking Mountain had told Third Almafi,
beneath the sea, in a glass mountain.
At the edge of the sea Third Almafi
dipped his head beneath the waves and saw
the mountain far offshore. Then, calling all
the animals of the sea to their aid, Third
Almafi had them raise the mountain to the
surface, for even he could not breathe
under water. When the mountain surfaced,
Third Almafi hauled it ashore and smashed
it with a single, carefully aimed blow. The
maiden stepped from the glass fragments
and embraced the prince, and all three set
off for the prince’s kingdom, where Third
Almafi acted as best man at the wedding.
Then Third Almafi set out to resume his
own quest.

After a long journey he came to the foot
of an immense mountain and decided to
climb it so that he might spy the flying
palace in the distance. Seven days later he
stood on the summit, far above the clouds,
and saw the flying palace heading straight
toward him. As it swept past, Third Almafi
sprang upward and landed in the courtyard
of the palace. Quickly searching through
the palace, which was deserted, Third
Almafi found the maiden chained to the
balcony. Using his great strength, he tore
the chains apart, and he and the maiden
embraced. Then Third Almafi asked her
what had happened.
She told him that her father, a king, once
had the misfortune of wounding a terrible
monster.The monster swore that one day he
would steal away the king’s most precious
possession—his daughter. For a long time she
had lived a virtual prisoner, but at length the
king relaxed the guard and she was allowed
to wander in the palace gardens. There, one
day, she had heard a humming in the air, and
looked up to see the flying palace heading
down toward her. As it swept overhead the
monster leaned out and took hold of her.
She had been a prisoner for three years.
Although at first the monster had allowed
her to wander through the hundred rooms of
the palace, he had chained her after she tried
to escape.
Third Almafi searched the palace. In the
hundredth room he came across the monster
fast asleep and woke him with a swift kick.
The two wrestled, the monster managing to
throw Third Almafi only once before the
youth got the upper hand and smashed the
monster’s head open. He returned to the
embrace of the maiden, and together they
pondered the manner in which they might
leave the palace, which at that moment was
flying on its two tremendous wings over a
wide sea. Third Almafi decided that when
they were over land again he would simply
cut off the wings with his sword.
Some days later the maiden saw land in
the distance. As they drew closer the maiden



recognized the land, and soon she caught
sight of her father’s palace. Waiting until the
appropriate moment, Third Almafi cut the
wings from the flying palace, which floated
to the ground next to the king’s. The king
celebrated the return of his daughter, and a
little while later, he dispatched his messengers to bring Third Almafi’s mother, father,
and brothers to the kingdom, where preparations were being made for the marriage of
the maiden to Third Almafi—who eventually
would inherit the kingdom and would rule
with kindness, compassion, and wisdom.
See also: Deceit; Dragon;Talking Mountain,
References: Biro 1980

See Alenka.
See Alenushka.
The son of a priest who was taught how to
read and write by an old woman. One day,
on his way home from his lessons, he passed
the palace of the local, unnamed tsar and
peered in through a window. There he saw
the tsar’s daughter, and as he watched, she
took her head from her shoulders, washed
and dried it, and then replaced it. Alyosha
was astounded. He immediately realized that
the princess was a witch. Worse for Alyosha,
the witch had caught sight of him at the
window and was plotting a way to keep her
Feigning illness, the princess called the tsar
to her bedside, eliciting his promise that
when she died he would have the son of the
local priest stand guard over her coffin three
nights in a row. The tsar gave his word, and
the very next morning the princess was
dead.The tsar went to the home of the priest
and told him that Alyosha must sit vigil

beside the coffin of his dead daughter for
three nights, reading aloud from the Psalms.
Alyosha knew that the witch had faked
her death.At his lessons that day he asked his
teacher for advice. The old woman told
Alyosha how he might protect himself; and
thus prepared, Alyosha went to the church as
night fell to begin his lonely vigil, first carefully inscribing a circle in the stone floor
with a knife the old lady had given him. At
the stroke of midnight, the lid of the coffin
opened and the witch climbed out. She quietly made her way toward where Alyosha was
seated with his back toward the coffin, reading the Psalms. However, as the witch
reached the circle, she stopped, and no matter how hard she tried, she was unable to
cross it; and so she spent the remainder of the
night clawing helplessly at Alyosha’s neck.
Alyosha kept reading the Psalms and did not
turn around, for turning would have broken
the spell and he would have fallen prey to the
witch.As the first cock crowed, the witch ran
back to the coffin and tumbled in, and
Alyosha went home.
The following night the very same thing
happened, but when the witch reached the
circle in the stone, she started to mouth
eerie sounds. As these sounds filled the
church, a huge wind blew up inside the
sanctuary, and Alyosha felt as if his body
were being invaded by a thousand creeping
insects.Yet not once did Alyosha falter in his
reading of the Psalms, and not once did he
turn around; and at daybreak the witch had
to return to her coffin.
The third night came and Alyosha
returned to the church. This time he hammered nails into the coffin lid before sitting
down to read from the Psalms. At midnight
the lid of the coffin flew off and the witch
sprang out, chanting strange spells that conjured up all the demons of hell. All through
the night the demons tormented Alyosha,
but not once did he falter or turn around,
and at daybreak the terrible images faded
away and the witch tumbled back into her

Then, as the cock crowed the second
time, the tsar entered the church. He was
alarmed to find his daughter face down in
her open coffin. However, after Alyosha
explained all that had passed, the tsar
ordered the foul witch to be burned at the
stake and buried beneath a heavy stone slab.
In return for Alyosha’s loyalty and faithful
service, the tsar bestowed on him a vast
One of seven legendary bogatyri who assembled to go on a journey together. The other
six were Vasilii Buslayevich, Vasilii Kazimirovich, Ivan Gostinyi Syn, Godenko
Bludovich, Dobrynya Nikitich, and Il'ya
Muromets. A legend that is purported to
explain why the bogatyri disappeared from
Holy Russia may be found in the entry for
Vasilii Buslayevich.
Alyosha Popovich also puts in a brief
appearance in the legends surrounding the
wedding feast of Dunai Ivanovich and the
Princess Nastas'ya, where he is described as
the most valiant man in all Russia.The valor
of Alyosha Popovich, however, is called into
question when he recommends Dobrynya
Nikitich to Prince Vladimir Bright Sun as
the man most suited to go to the assistance
of the King of Lithuania. Alyosha’s intention
was not to aid his prince or the besieged
King of Lithuania but rather to rid Kiev of
Dobrynya Nikitich so that he might marry
Dobrynya’s wife, Nastas'ya Nikulichna.
Several times over a period of several years
Alyosha delivered news of the death of
Dobrynya Nikitich, and each time, he asked
Nastas'ya Nikulichna to marry him. She
always refused, saying that she preferred to
wait another three years. However, she eventually agreed, and preparations were made
for the wedding. News of the impending
ceremony reached Dobrynya Nikitich, who
returned to Kiev in disguise and sang songs
of celebration at the couple’s wedding feast.
In the end, Dobrynya Nikitich and his wife

were reunited, and Alyosha Popovich was
shown in his true light.
See also: Bogatyr'; Dobrynya Nikitich; Dunai
Ivanovich; Godenko Bludovich; Il'ya
Muromets; Ivan Gostinyi Syn; Kiev;
Lithuania; Nastas'ya, Princess; Nastas'ya
Nikulichna;Vasilii Buslayevich;Vasilii
Kazimirovich;Vladimir Bright Sun, Prince
References: Speranskii 1916; Ukhov 1957

A young prince who was imprisoned
beneath the earth, possibly in the underworld, by an old witch. The prince finally
elicited from the witch the information that
she kept her power in a shining beetle, and
her soul in a black beetle.These beetles were
to be found inside a box, inside a pigeon,
inside a hare, all of which were inside a wild
boar kept in a green field. If both beetles were
killed, then she would die. After some time
the prince managed to escape from his prison
and found the boar, which he quickly killed.
After he recovered the two beetles, he
crushed the shining one first. At this, the
witch took to her bed. The young prince
confronted her there and crushed the second
beetle, whereupon she died.
See also: Koshchei (the Deathless);

The widowed mother of Vasilii Buslayevich
and Dobrynya Nikitich, in the first case having been the wife of Buslai, and in the second
case as the wife of Nikita. Amelfia Timofeyevna is depicted as a powerful and wealthy
sorceress who constantly advised her sons—
although her advice was seldom taken.
See also: Buslai (~y); Dobrynya Nikitich;
Nikita;Vasilii Buslayevich
References: Speranskii 1916; Ukhov 1957

This Siberian river originates at the junction
of the Shilka and the Argun Rivers in south-



eastern Siberia, then runs east- and southeastward until it nears the Songhua, a tributary flowing northward from China, where it
turns again and heads northeastward along
the Sikhote Alin mountains.The Amur empties into the northern end of the Tatar Strait,
which separates mainland Russia from the
island of Sakhalin.Today the modern city of
Nikolayevsk-na-Amure lies at the river’s
mouth—the traditional homeland of a native
Siberian people known as the Gilyaki
(Nivkhi). The Amur holds the same great
historical and cultural significance for the
Gilyaki and other native people of the region
as the Dnieper does for Russians and
See also: Gilyaki (Nivkhi); Siberia

A goddess of Iranian origin, Ardva Sura
Anahita (“the high, the powerful, the
immaculate”) was widely worshiped in
Armenia, where she was commonly referred
to as Anahita. Depicted as a young woman
with an expansive bust, she wore a crown of
stars, brocade and otterskin clothing, fine
jewels, and golden sandals. Anahita was the
goddess of all the waters—rivers, streams,
lakes, and the sea, as well as the life-giving
fluids of mankind, such as semen and mother’s milk.
Goddess with a temple at Acilisena, where
the unmarried daughters of noble families
entered the goddess’s service as temple prostitutes.After their term of service to the goddess, the young women commonly married
without apparent difficulty.
Connected with Saints Nedelia and Paraskeva. Twelve Fridays in the year were
believed sacred to Paraskeva, and consequently also to Saints Nedelia and Anastasia.

On these days men and women young and
old would strip naked and jump and shake
themselves about, saying that they had seen
Saints Paraskeva and Anastasia and had been
ordered to honor them with their lascivious
dances. These celebrations were condemned
as pagan rituals in 1589 by the Patriarch of
Constantinople. The Stoglav Council, set up
during the latter half of the sixteenth century
by Ivan the Terrible, also condemned the festivals, calling them orgies; but the cult
remained active, especially in Ukraine, where
Friday was considered the Sabbath until well
into the eighteenth century.
See also: Constantinople; Ivan Groznyi;
Nedelia, Saint; Paraskeva, Saint; Ukraine
References: Afanas'ev 1865–69; Bezsonov
1861; Haase 1939; Ralston 1872

Patron saint of Russia, Scotland, and Achaia
and of fishermen and old maids. Saint
Andrew’s feast day is 30 November. One of
the twelve apostles, brother of Simon Peter,
he was a fisherman converted and baptized
by John the Baptist and became one of Jesus
Christ’s closest companions (see Mark 1:29
and 13:3; John 1:40 and 6:8; and Acts 1:13).
Tradition holds that Andrew preached the
gospel in Asia Minor and Scythia and was
crucified in Achaia (Greece) on the order of
the Roman governor. The belief that his
cross was x-shaped dates from the tenth century but did not gain popularity until the
fourteenth. Among Russia’s patron saints in
addition to Andrew are Saints George and
See also: Basil, Saint; George, Saint; Scythia

See Vyslav Andronovich.
The sister of Basil II, the Byzantine emperor.
In 998,Vladimir I made the political decision


An icon of the apostle Andreas (Saint Andrew) from Macedonia, c. 1600 (collection of Professor D.Walter
Moritz, Hanover, Germany; Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY)



to accept Christianity as part of a pact with
Basil. Another condition of this pact was
Vladimir’s marriage to Anna.
See also: Basil II, Bulgaroctonus; Byzantine
Empire;Vladimir I

The unnamed son of the laborer Ohan.
Having proved himself no good at anything,
his father took him to the home of forty
thieves to become their apprentice. The first
task the thieves gave their apprentice was to
fetch water from a nearby well. However,
when the Apprentice leaned over the well
and dipped his pitcher into the water, he
found that he could not pull it out again.The
Apprentice tugged with all his might, and
the pitcher came out of the water with a pale
white hand holding tightly onto it. Quick as
a flash, the Apprentice took hold of the white
hand and began to pull. A shriek emanated
from beneath the surface of the water, from
which another hand appeared holding a fantastic golden goblet. Not wanting to lose the
pitcher, the Apprentice released the hand and
snatched the goblet. He then made his way
back to the home of the thieves, the pitcher
full of water in one hand and the goblet hidden under his shirt.
The thieves were immensely surprised to
see their apprentice return, for no one had
ever succeeded in drawing water from the
well before: Everyone who had tried had
been pulled under the water and drowned.
When asked where he had got the water, the
Apprentice told his masters what had happened at the well, finishing up by showing
them the goblet.Their eyes lit up when they
saw the goblet, for they instinctively knew
that it was priceless and that they should be
able to sell it for enough to be able to retire
and live in luxury for the rest of their days.
All forty thieves and their apprentice set
off for the nearest city, and there they showed
the goblet to the city jeweler, who offered to
take it to the king for an assessment of its
value. The thieves agreed. The jeweler then

took the goblet to the king, claiming that it
had once been his property but had been
stolen by a band of forty thieves and that
those thieves now were trying to sell it back
to him. The king lost no time in having the
forty thieves and their apprentice brought
before him. The Apprentice told the king
how he had come to have the goblet and said
that he would bring his majesty eleven more
like it to prove that the jeweler was lying.
The king agreed and freed the Apprentice
but detained the forty thieves in case the
Apprentice did not keep his word. The
thieves were thrown into the king’s dungeons, and the Apprentice set out from the
city to find eleven more goblets just like the
one from the well, although in truth he had
no idea where to go or what to do.
After several days’ ride the Apprentice
came to a large city. There he found all the
people shuffling around with sorrowful
expressions etched on their faces. When the
Apprentice asked an old woman what the
problem was, he was told that the king’s only
son had died and that every night his grave
was defiled and the people had to rebury the
dead prince the following day. The Apprentice quickly made his way to the palace and
sought an audience with the king, telling
him that he would guard the grave of the
prince and ensure that it was never again
tampered with.
The king told the Apprentice that he
would give him whatever his heart desired if
he could make that so. The Apprentice kept
vigil over the grave through the night. On the
stroke of midnight three doves flew down,
settled by the grave, and discarded their feathers to become three beautiful maidens. One
of the maidens took out a tablecloth and a
crimson wand, and tapping the cloth, a banquet was instantly laid.Then the maiden went
to the gravestone and tapped it with the
wand.The ground opened up, and the prince
stepped out of his grave and sat down to eat
with the three Dove Maidens.
The Apprentice watched from his hiding
place, and then, taking careful aim, he fired

an arrow at the Dove Maidens.The maidens
hastily donned their feathers again and flew
away, leaving behind the tablecloth and the
crimson wand.The Apprentice made himself
known to the prince, gathered up the cloth
and the wand, and had the prince return to
his grave, promising to release him from
death very shortly.
When the king and his ministers came to
the grave in the morning they were delighted to find that everything was just as
they had left it the evening before.The king
was even more delighted when the Apprentice struck the grave with the wand and
the prince climbed out and embraced his
father. However, when the Apprentice asked
for eleven golden goblets just like the one he
had gotten from the well, the king told him
that one such goblet was worth more than
his entire kingdom and that he could not
give the Apprentice what he wished.
Saddened by this, the Apprentice would not
accept anything else from the king, and
instead he resumed his travels.
After several days’ ride the Apprentice
came to another city, where he found all the
people starving. When he asked the king of
that city what the problem was, he was told
that their food had to be brought to the city
by ship, but that whenever a ship entered the
harbor, a hand would reach out from the
water and sink it.The Apprentice asked for a
small boat, and having provided a feast for
the entire city thanks to the tablecloth, he
rowed out into the harbor to await the next
consignment of food.
He did not have to wait long before a fleet
of forty merchant ships sailed toward the
harbor mouth. As the first ship entered the
harbor, the Apprentice saw a pale white hand
rise out of the water, a golden bracelet
around its wrist.The Apprentice took hold of
the bracelet and pulled with all his might,
and the bracelet slipped over the hand, which
then disappeared beneath the waves. When
all forty ships had been unloaded and the
people of the city had collected their food,
the Apprentice went to the king and asked

for eleven golden goblets as his reward. The
king said he could not grant the Apprentice’s
request but he did know where the
Apprentice might find such goblets.
The following morning the Apprentice
set sail with one of the merchant ships, and
after a journey of seven days and seven
nights they came to the island of the king of
the houris. On the island was a beautiful
palace. The Apprentice walked boldly up to
it, knocked on the door, and entered. Inside
he found an old man preparing a stew, an
old man who told the Apprentice to hide, as
the houris would soon return, and if they
found him there, they would tear him to
Sure enough, moments after the Apprentice had hidden, three white doves flew
down into the courtyard, discarded their
feathers, and sat down to dine. During the
meal the first houri toasted the Apprentice
who had managed to acquire her golden
goblet. The second toasted the Apprentice
who had secured her tablecloth and crimson
wand, and the third toasted the Apprentice
who now held her bracelet. When the
Apprentice heard these toasts in his name, he
made himself known and was welcomed to
their table.
After they had eaten, the three houris sat
in sad and silent contemplation. When the
Apprentice asked them what was wrong,
they told him that they had a brother who
had been taken captive by the giant Azrail,
and that no one had ever been able to set
him free. The Apprentice said he would
gladly perform this task if they would reward
him with the eleven goblets he needed to set
the forty thieves free. They agreed and took
the Apprentice to see their father, the king of
the houris. When the king asked the
Apprentice what he needed to undertake his
quest, the Apprentice asked for a horse from
the king’s stables, the use of the king’s sword,
a bow and arrows, and a large steel mace. So
equipped, the Apprentice rode out to find
the lair of the giant Azrail, guided by the
king’s chamberlain. After several days’ ride

they came to the foot of Mount Djandjavaz,
the home of the giant.
Leaving the chamberlain at the foot of
the mountain, the Apprentice rode onward
and upward until he came to a group of
huge buildings.When he approached them,
he found his way barred by the two huge
servants of Azrail; but having no time for
them, the Apprentice spurred his horse, and
in one swift swing of his sword, decapitated
them both. As their huge heads fell from
their shoulders, the Apprentice caught
them and threw them onto an overhead
balcony. The noise awakened Azrail, who
came out to see what all the commotion
was about.
When Azrail saw the Apprentice and the
dead bodies of his servants, he roared a challenge, quickly armed himself, and came out
to meet the Apprentice carrying seven
maces, seven swords, and a bow with seven
arrows. The Apprentice neatly dodged the
first mace thrown by Azrail, picked it up, and
hurled it back, telling Azrail to have another
go.The giant threw all seven of his maces, all
seven of his swords, and fired all seven of his
arrows, but they all missed the Apprentice.
Seeing the giant totally devoid of weaponry,
the Apprentice urged on his horse, and at the
gallop, let fly with his mace, which caught
Azrail on the side of the head and knocked
him to the ground. In a flash, the Apprentice
sliced off the giant’s head with his sword and
then cleaved it in two with a second mighty
blow. The head pleaded to be cut in half
again, but the Apprentice refused, for he
knew that a third blow would restore Azrail
to life.
Instead the Apprentice tethered his horse
and entered the home of Azrail, where he
found the son of the king of the houris
bound in chains. With a single swipe of his
sword, the Apprentice set him free, and the
two returned to the king of the houris. En
route the houri prince told the Apprentice to
ask as his reward not only the goblets but also
the hand of the prince’s youngest sister as his
bride, and the ring of the king of the houris.

The Apprentice did as he was advised, and
he was duly rewarded and married. The following day the Apprentice and his new wife
returned to the palace of the king who held
the forty thieves in his dungeons, and presented him with the eleven goblets. Seeing
that the jeweler had indeed been lying, the
king summoned the jeweler and had him
executed. Then the king, who was elderly
and lacked an heir, abdicated in favor of the
Apprentice, who made the forty thieves his
chamberlains and ministers.
See also: Azrail; Djandjavaz, Mount; Dove
Maidens,The; Ohan
References: Orbeli and Taronian 1959–67, vol. 1

See Evpraksiya (~ia), Princess.
Baltic Coast
Located on the Baltic coastline, the site of
the god Svantovit’s chief temple. Here the
god was depicted on a carved wooden pillar, in four aspects, holding a bull’s-horn cup
in his right hand. A white stallion, sacred to
the god, was kept either in the temple itself
or in the temple precincts, together with its
saddle and bridle and Svantovit’s sword and
battle flag.
See also: Baltic; Svantovit (~dovit)

A beautiful maiden who was caught and
brought to the royal palace for the sole purpose of being fed to Odz-Manouk, the serpentine son of an unnamed king and queen.
Arevhat was lowered through the roof of the
chamber in which Odz-Manouk was held,
and the trapdoor was shut.
Later in the day the king went to look in
on his son, and he was astonished to find the
girl still alive. His astonishment turned to
bewilderment when he saw that OdzManouk was no longer a dragon but a handsome prince, having been transformed when

Arevhat spoke kindly to him and showed no
fear. Released from the chamber, it was not
long before Odz-Manouk and Arevhat were
Some days later, Odz-Manouk asked his
new wife just exactly who she was. She told
him that she was an orphan and had not
always been the radiant woman he saw
before him. Once she had looked quite ordinary; but one day, while she sat sewing out in
the hills, her bobbin fell down a narrow
ravine and into a crevice. She reached down
into the crevice and could not reach the
bobbin; but she saw an old woman at the
bottom who told her how to enter her home
in order to retrieve it.
Where Arevhat was inside, however, the
door disappeared, and the girl realized that
she was in the presence of a witch.The witch
first asked Arevhat to clean her home, which
she did, and then to comb her hair. Arevhat
did these tasks with kindness, and then she
allowed the old woman to rest her head in
her lap while the old woman slept, having
first given Arevhat instructions to wake her
when she saw yellow water flowing. Arevhat
did as instructed. When the old hag was
awakened, she took Arevhat by the ankles
and plunged her into the yellow water.Then
she sent her on her way, transformed into a
radiant beauty; and so it happened that she
was brought to the palace.
See also: Odz-Manouk
References: Orbeli and Taronian 1959–67, vol. 1

The home of Ivan Savel'evich. The city of
Arkhangel'sk (also known in English as
Archangel) is located on the flatlands of the
northern branch of the river Dvina, 28
miles (45 km) from the point where the
river flows into the White Sea. English merchants first occupied the area near the
river’s mouth—a former Norse settlement
—in 1584. Originally called NovoKholmogory, the city was renamed in 1613
in honor of the archangel Michael. Sur-

rounded by dense forestlands, Arkhangel'sk
was for centuries sustained by its wood, fur,
and leather industries.
See also: Dvina, River; Ivan Savel'evich;White

A country in the Caucasus mountain
region. People lived in historic Armenia by
6,000 B.C., the earliest societies there probably being tribal groups that lived by farming
or cattle raising. In the eighth century B.C.,
a union of several tribes formed the kingdom of Urartu, introduced irrigation, and
built fortresses, palaces, and temples. In the
sixth century B.C., ancestors of the
Armenians migrated, probably from the
west, to the Armenian Plateau, where they
settled alongside the native population. The
kingdom of Urartu was conquered by the
Medes, a people from what is now Iran, in
the fifth century B.C.
Soon after Urartu fell to the Medes, the
Medes themselves were conquered by the
Persians. Armenia remained under Persian
and then Greek rule for hundreds of years,
while managing to maintain a degree of
autonomy. King Tigran II, who came to
power in 95 B.C., built an independent
Armenian kingdom that reached from the
Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea; but
the Romans defeated Tigran in 55 B.C., and
Armenia became a part of the Roman
Empire. In the early third century A.D.,
Armenia became the first nation to adopt
Christianity as its state religion. The
Armenian alphabet was developed in the
early fifth century A.D. by an Armenian
cleric, and in 451 the Armenians, under
Vartan Mamikonian, defended their religion
against the Persians in the Battle of Avarair.
Arabs conquered Armenia in the seventh
century A.D., and in 884, an independent
Armenian kingdom was established in the
northern part of the region. Seljuk Turks
conquered the country in the mid-eleventh
century, but Armenians established a new



state in Cilicia on the Mediterranean coast—
the last Armenian kingdom, which fell to
invading Mamluks (a powerful political class
that dominated Egypt from the thirteenth
century until their massacre in 1811) in 1375.
By 1514, the Ottoman Empire had gained
control of Armenia, and it would rule western Armenia until its defeat in World War I,
in 1918. Persia gained control of eastern
Armenia in 1639 and ruled it until 1828,
when the region was annexed by Russia. It
became independent in 1991, after nearly 70
years as a part of the Soviet Union, and today
it is a member of the Commonwealth of
Independent States, a loose association of
former Soviet republics.
See also: Caspian Sea; Caucasus; Russia

Semimythologized, legendary ruler of Britain whose exploits with the Knights of the

Round Table are known throughout the
world. The only connection between King
Arthur and the heroes (legendary or otherwise) of Russian and Slavic myth and legend
stems from the similarity of a story told of
Batradz, a hero of the Alans, as well as a possible connection to the Serbian Prince
Marko, who, it is said, lies asleep awaiting a
time when his services are once more
Although the similarities in these stories
may be purely coincidental, it is commonly
assumed that either the legend of Arthur was
carried to Slavic regions by Roman soldiers
or the stories of Batradz were taken to
Britain and subsequently attached to the
already growing folklore regarding King
Arthur.The connection between Arthur and
Prince Marko is more tenuous: In this case, it
seems likely that the legend of King Arthur
led to that of Marko’s enchanted sleep until
the time of his country’s greatest need.
See also: Alans; Batradz; Marko, Prince

“Old Man of the Ob',” a benevolent water
spirit venerated by the Ostyak people who
lived beside the great Siberian river.
See also: Ostyaks; Siberia

Head of King Arthur, from The Beautiful Fountain
(Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg,
Germany; Scala/Art Resource, NY)

Scandinavia and Russia
According to Russian tradition as recorded in
the Primary Chronicle, internal dissension and
feuds among the Eastern Slavs around
Novgorod became so violent that they voluntarily chose to call upon a foreign prince
who could unite them into one strong state.
Their choice was Riurik, or Ryurik, a
Scandinavian (or Varangian) chief, who in
862 became ruler of Novgorod. Two other
Scandinavians, Dir and Askold, possibly legendary figures, gained control of Kiev. Later,
the cities of Novgorod and Kiev were united
under a common ruler.
See also: Dir; Kiev; Novgorod; Primary
Chronicle; Riurik

“Lion,” the third name by which Zurab was
known (after Zuro).Aslan is also the name of
a king, the father of Gulinaz in the story of
Samson. It is quite possible that the two
Aslans are one and the same, although this
can be neither proved nor disproved.
See also: Gulinaz; Samson; Zurab
References: Orbeli and Taronian 1959–67,
vol. 4

The goddess of the moon.
Nainas, the personification of this familiar
and spectacular natural phenomenon, was
betrothed to Niekia. However, the two were
never married, due to the intervention of
Peivalké and his father, the sun.
See also: Nainas; Niekia; Peivalké; Sun

A star, also described as the goddess of stars,
and the wife of the god Vahagn.The couple’s
marriage might be interpreted as incestuous,
as Vahagn created the stars.
See also: Vahagn

A city on the Volga River delta, in southwestern Russia.The city, which extends onto
several islands in the delta, is an important
trading center because of its direct connections by waterway with ports on the Caspian
Sea and the Volga River. Like Moscow,
Astrakhan' is dominated by an old fortress, a
kremlin. Astrakhan' once served as the capital of a Tatar state. The Mongol conqueror
Tamerlane (1336–1405) destroyed the capital
in 1395. However, it was later rebuilt, and in
1556, Ivan Groznyi captured the city and
made it part of Russia.
See also: Caspian Sea; Ivan Groznyi; Kremlin;
Mongols; Moscow;Tatars;Volga

Serbian mountain where legend records that
the body of Prince Marko was buried by a
priest who came across the corpse beside the
burial place of Sarac. It is also said by some to
be the place where Prince Marko simply
sleeps and awaits his return to the land of the
See also: Marko, Prince; Sarac

The two primary stars, Zvezda Dennitsa and
Zvezda Vechernyaya (Morning Star and
Evening Star), daughters and attendants of
Dazhbog and sisters to the two—some say
See also: Dazhbog; Evening Star; Morning
Star; Zoryi; Zvezda Dennitsa; Zvezda

The deification of the planet Venus seen in
the morning sky shortly before sunrise,
known as Auseklis in Latvia and as Ausrine in
See also: Morning Star;Venus

See Auseklis.
The god of seas and of lakes.
A Mongolian people who conquered (c. A.D.
461) the Uighurs, a Turkic tribe sometimes
called the pseudo-Avars, and with the
Uighurs formed an alliance on the Volga
steppes (in what later would be Russia). In
the middle of the sixth century this confed-



The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) on a moonlit night (Abe Black/Archive Photos)

eration was almost annihilated by the Turks.
The survivors, mostly Uighurs led by Avar
chiefs, took the name of Avars and split into
two bodies. One part remained in eastern
Europe. The other moved westward until
they reached the river Danube and settled in
Dacia, whence they initiated raids of conquest.
At the end of the sixth century the territory of the Dacian Avars extended from the
river Volga to the Baltic Sea, and they exacted enormous tribute from the Byzantine
Empire. During this period, under Baian,
their khagan, or khan, they were possibly
the greatest power in Europe, and tremendously influenced the later development of
a large part of Europe by driving most of
the Western Slavs to the areas they have
occupied ever since. After the death of
Baian, the power of the western Avars
declined under strikes by the Slavs and
Bulgars, and in 795 and 796 they were
crushed by Charlemagne (742–814). Later

they were almost completely exterminated
by the Moravians, the survivors being absorbed by the Slavic peoples.
Of the Avars who remained in eastern
Europe very little is known. However, the
available evidence indicates that one of the
twenty-seven Lezghian tribes of Dagestan,
Russia, might be their descendants. Estimated to number more than 150,000, these
modern Avars are Muslims and speak a language similar to Arabic.
See also: Byzantine Empire; Caucasus;
Danube; Khan; Moravia;Volga

The wife of Mikhail Potyk.The couple made
a pact that if one of them died, the other
would join the deceased in the tomb.
Avdot'ya died first, and true to his word, her
husband was lowered into the tomb beside
her. First, however, he took the precaution of
having a rope connected to the church bell

so that if he changed his mind, he might
summon assistance and be released.
Lighting a candle, Mikhail Potyk settled
down beside the body of his dead wife in
silent vigil. Around midnight a great many
snakes entered the tomb, one of which
turned out to be a fire-breathing dragon.
Unafraid, Mikhail Potyk cut off its head and
rubbed the body of his dead wife with it.
Avdot'ya instantly came back to life. Mikhail
then rang the church bell, and he and his
wife were released to enjoy many more years
See also: Dragon; Mikhail Potyk

Azerbaijan is the most populous and the least
urbanized of the three Transcaucasian
republics (the other two being Georgia and

Armenia).The official language of Azerbaijan
is Azeri, a Turkic language of the Ural-Altaic
family. Russian is also commonly spoken,
although its use is declining. The traditional
religion of the Azeris is Shiite Islam, which
has experienced a revival in recent years.
Orthodox Christianity is practiced to varying degrees among the Georgian, Armenian,
and Slavic minorities.
The area of Azerbaijan was settled from
about the eighth century B.C. by the Medes,
and the region later became a part of the
Persian Empire.A much-disputed territory, it
was conquered in the late seventh century
A.D. by Arabs, who introduced the Islamic
culture.Turkic tribes controlled the area during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
Azerbaijan once again came under Persian
control in the seventeenth century and was
ceded by Persia to Russia through treaties in

Azerbaijani interior ministry special forces patrol an ancient Muslim cemetery outside Kazakh, Azerbaijan, 14
May 1991. (Reuters/Archive Photos)



1813 and 1828. In 1918, following the
Russian Revolution, Azerbaijan became an
independent state; and in 1920 it united with
Georgia and Armenia to form the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (SFSR). When the Transcaucasian
republic was dissolved in 1936, Azerbaijan
became a constituent republic of the USSR.
The collapse of communism in the USSR in
1991 led to the reassertion of Azerbaijan’s
political independence. The new republic
joined the United Nations in 1992.
See also: Armenia; Georgia;Transcaucasia

Mysterious demon defeated by Badikan.
Little is known about his origins, his character, or his deeds, as the legend offers no
See also: Badikan
References: Khatchatrian 1933

A large, shallow inland sea bounded by
Ukraine and Russia.The Sea of Azov is connected to the Black Sea by the Kerch Strait
and covers about 14,500 square miles
(37,550 square kilometers). Its maximum
depth is only about 48 feet (15 meters). Its
western end is called the Sivash, or Putrid
Lake, because of the numerous foul-smelling
marshes and lagoons there—lagoons that
yield important chemicals for industry. The
Don River flows into the Gulf of Taganrog,
which lies at the northeastern end of the sea.
See also: Black Sea; Don; Ukraine

A giant who lived on Mount Djandjavaz
and who captured the brother of the three

houris. Although many tried, none managed to defeat the giant. When the
Apprentice heard of the plight of the
houris’ brother, he said that he would
defeat the giant and release the captive,
provided the brothers gave him eleven
golden goblets, which he needed to free
his friends.The houris agreed and took the
Apprentice to see their father, who
equipped the Apprentice with a horse, a
bow and arrows, the king’s sword, and a
large steel mace. Thus outfitted, the
Apprentice was led to the foot of Mount
Djandjavaz by the king’s chamberlain.
Riding ahead alone, the Apprentice
quickly killed the two giant servants of
Azrail. The noise of battle woke Azrail,
who came out of his huge castle to see
what was going on.
When he saw the bodies of his servants,
Azrail roared a challenge and quickly armed
himself with seven maces, seven swords, and
a bow with seven arrows. The Apprentice
neatly dodged the first mace thrown by
Azrail, picked it up, and hurled it back,
telling Azrail to have another go. The giant
threw all seven of his maces, all seven of his
swords, and fired all seven of his arrows, but
they all missed the Apprentice. Seeing the
giant totally devoid of weaponry, the
Apprentice spurred on his horse, and at the
gallop, let fly his mace, which caught Azrail
on the side of the head and knocked him to
the ground. In a flash, the Apprentice sliced
off the giant’s head with his sword and then
cleaved it in two with a second mighty
blow. The head pleaded to be cut in half
again but the Apprentice refused, for he
knew that a further blow would restore
Azrail to life.
See also: Apprentice,The; Djandjavaz, Mount;
References: Orbeli and Taronian 1959–67.

Possibly the best known of all Slavic legendary characters, this witch is known
as Ienzababa or Jezda in Poland, and
Jazi Baba to the Czechs (baba meaning “old woman” and yaga being
Russian for “hag”). Baba-Yaga is
usually portrayed as malevolent, but
she is occasionally a benefactress.
Like most Russian witches, BabaYaga is an immortal shape-changer, a
true sorceress with a deep knowledge of
everything in the world (the Russian word
for witch, ved'ma, comes from the root ved',
meaning “to know”). Baba-Yaga is the personification of death; she is the Devil’s handmaiden. She is never portrayed as a goddess,
for she is far too earthly to be considered a
true deity. Yet in her earliest form, she displayed an aspect of the Great Goddess, the
patron goddess of women, benevolent to all.
Not until the Christian era was she downgraded to a fearsome witch, and even then
she retained a wide following among
Post-Christian legends provide evidence
of the importance of Baba-Yaga to women.
One story says that an old couple had a
daughter but could find no godmother for
her.After much searching, they found an old
woman who said she would act as the child’s
godmother. This old woman then revealed
herself as Baba-Yaga and spirited the girl
away to live with her.The girl later committed some unrecorded crime against BabaYaga, who, rather than eating the child as she
would have done in pre-Christian stories,
simply exiled her into the dark forest.There
the girl was found by a prince who was out
hunting. He took her back to his kingdom,
where she subsequently bore him three sons,
each with the moon and stars upon his forehead. Learning of her goddaughter’s whereabouts, Baba-Yaga appeared, demanding that
the three children be given her as expiation
for the girl’s misdeeds. She then made off not


“Old woman,” the name given to the last
sheaf harvested. Also, the spirit that was
believed to live in this last sheaf.
Sometimes the sheaf was composed of
twelve smaller sheaves lashed together, the
women racing each other as each bound
her smaller sheaf, because the one who finished last was certain to have a child the
next year. The Lithuanian counterpart is
the Boba.
See also: Boba

A sorceress related to the dragon Goryshche, she appeared to Dobrynya Nikitich in the guise of an old hag and challenged him to a fight, armed with a sword
and lance that reached into the skies. Two
versions exist of the fight. In one,
Dobrynya was mortally wounded by Baba
Latingorka and died in shame. In the second, he did not die until his wound had
been avenged by Il'ya Muromets, who
defeated the hag. Many authorities believe
that Baba Latingorka is an incarnation of
that most terrible of all Russian witches,
See also: Baba-Yaga (-Jaga, -Iaga); Dobrynya
Nikitich; Dragon; Goryninka; Goryshche;
Il'ya Muromets
References: Astakhova 1938–51; Evgen'eva and
Putilov 1977; Speranskii 1916



A turn-of-the-century illustration of the Russian witch Baba-Yaga (Sovfoto)

only with the children but also with their
mother. The prince, predictably distraught,
set out to find them. After some time, he
came to a clearing in the forest. In the clearing a bright fire was burning around which
all manner of animals were gathered, blocking his passage. In the center, next to the fire,
sat Baba-Yaga with the prince’s wife and
three sons. The prince pleaded to be admitted, but the animals let him pass only after
the prince’s wife asked Baba-Yaga’s permission.The hag allowed the prince to carry off
his three sons but not his wife. As the story
developed, Baba-Yaga came to be equated
with Mary, Mother of God, and the forest
home of the witch became the kingdom of
The oldest surviving stories of Baba-Yaga
suggest that she is an ancient deity with origins perhaps as long ago as Paleolithic times,
when she was the patroness of herds and
herdsmen, the goddess of horses, and the
patron goddess of farmers and farming. Her
oldest personification, however, is as mistress
of all animals, a bird goddess as reflected by
the chicken legs on her house, with which
she is as one.
Although unnamed in the story of Ivan
the Pea, the old crone who lives in the forest
in a strange house that revolves in the wind
is none other than Baba-Yaga. In that story
she is far from the malevolent witch; but
maybe even Baba-Yaga realized that she
would have been no match for Ivan the Pea.
Almost every story about Baba-Yaga
describes her dwelling as a cottage in the
most remote and inaccessible part of a deep
forest, which makes her the khoziaika lesa
(“mistress of the forest”).This cottage sits on
four sets of hen’s legs, one at each corner, and
revolves either freely in the wind or when
some unheard word is spoken. Some versions
of the legend say that the cottage was not
fixed to the ground and could run around on
its hen’s legs. Others say that the hen’s legs
were simply supports for the four corners
and that the center of the house was fixed on
the spindle of a spinning-wheel, indicating

that Baba-Yaga also spins the thread of life
from the bones and entrails of the dead. Any
hero who looked inside the cottage would
be likely to find Baba-Yaga crammed into
every corner of the house, with her nose
pressed hard against the roof.
Descriptions of Baba-Yaga vary widely.
Some describe her only as an old crone and
leave the details to imagination. Others
describe her as an aged, ugly crone who is
so emaciated that she is little more than
skin and bone. Her teeth are long and very
sharp, occasionally made of iron, and sometimes her canines are so long that they protrude over her lips. Her teeth need to be
sharp, for Baba-Yaga is a cannibal, one gaze
from her eyes usually being enough to petrify her victims—either turning them temporarily to stone so that she could take
them home, unpetrify them, and eat them,
or simply immobilizing them with fear.
Her hair is a tangled mass of writhing
snakes. This aspect, like her petrifying eyes,
suggests a classical Greek influence, for
these are both essential attributes of the
Gorgon Medusa. Her nose and her breasts
are made of iron. The bones of her victims
form the gate and fence that surround her
home, each post being adorned with a
human skull, the eyes of which light up at
night.These bones are symbolic not only of
Baba-Yaga’s association with death but also
of her role as the source of new life, which
she brews from the bones of the dead. Her
soup often contains leftover body parts,
such as fingers, toes, and eyes. The house
itself is also said by some to be made of
human bones, with legs for doorposts,
hands for the bolts, and a mouth with
razor-sharp teeth for the lock. Others say
that these parts are associated only with the
bone fence and that Baba Yaga’s house
resembles any other peasant hut—apart
from its chicken leg supports.
In her benevolent guise, Baba-Yaga
appears as a normal, aged peasant woman
with luxuriant hair and a kindly face and disposition, and as often as not, wears the tradi-

tional headdress of a married woman. Her
dualistic aspects are not as clearly defined as
might be expected. Baba-Yaga is an
immensely complex character who is perhaps best described as triune rather than
dualistic, each of her three aspects perhaps
best equated to the three Fates of classical
Greece. In her first aspect, as a fertility goddess, she is benevolent, bringing new life into
the world. In her second aspect she maps out
the course of human life and is both benevolent and malevolent. In her third aspect she
determines the date of human death, the role
in which she is most commonly regarded. In
her triune state, Baba-Yaga hovers over the
birth of every new life, immediately threatening to take it back again. She has the
power to send life into the earth and to recall
it. She is the most terrible of the regenerative
fertility deities, for she appears prone to fits
of passion and whim. She demands the sacrifice of a child in return for wealth, for she,
like the classical Pluto, controls all the riches
of the earth. Baba-Yaga is thus a chthonic
earth deity who encompasses life from conception through birth and life to death, and
beyond—although her role in the underworld is merely that of guardian: According
to her pleasure, she may redistribute souls to
newborns or keep them in the underworld
for all eternity, never to be reborn.
Some commentators insist that the
bones around Baba-Yaga’s house indicate
that she has a very strong connection with
the spirit world. Some even go so far as to
say that her house guards the point where
the two worlds—the world of the living
and that of the dead—meet. This may
explain why in some cases she is benevolent to humans, her purpose being not to
send people into the afterlife but rather,
like the Greek Cerberus, to stop the dead
from escaping. Others say that she is a portrayal of the gates of hell themselves, lying
in wait for her victims with her jaws agape,
swallowing any who are unfortunate
enough to seek shelter in her mouth with
its razor-sharp iron teeth.

Baba-Yaga possesses truly awesome
power, for time itself is in her hands: The
Sun, the Day and Night, obey her implicitly,
as do all the laws of nature. She controls the
weather, an aspect she shares with Russian
witches in general, and can devour the sun
and moon, cause crops to grow or perish, and
regulate the flow of milk from cows in the
same way as she regulates the rainfall. She
also has connections with the leshii, for she,
like the wood sprite, kidnaps small children
and wields power over the forest and the animals that live in it. In another aspect she is
regarded as the guardian of the fountain that
supplies the Water of Life and Death. She
rides through the air in a mortar instead of
the customary broomstick of the panEuropean witch, propelling herself forward
with a pestle and brushing away all evidence
of her passage with a birch broom.The mortar and pestle represent the destructive and
the protective aspects of Baba-Yaga, for
Slavic peoples traditionally used these implements not only to grind grain (the destructive aspect) but also to prepare flax for spinning (the protective aspect). Perhaps
unsurprisingly, the mortar and pestle also
represent the human reproductive organs.
Thus, the two objects are symbols of all three
phases of human life—birth, life, and death—
and thus of all three aspects of the triune
deity. All evidence of Baba-Yaga’s passage
through human lives is swept away with a
birch broom—a broom that may be regarded
as further evidence of her all-pervading
influence, a symbol of the inverted Tree of
Life, reaching downward. Baba-Yaga rides
the skies generating and nurturing life before
sweeping it away again with the broom. As
would befit a powerful fertility deity, BabaYaga has hordes of children, although their
names are never revealed. They are all as
strange as their mother—from the reptiles,
animals, and spirits that cohabit with her, to
her forty mare-daughters.
The mare-daughters appear in one story
where a young man is told that he must
travel to Baba-Yaga’s home to secure a horse

that will help him release his bride Maria
Morena, who has been taken prisoner by
some unnamed captor.When the young man
arrives at the home of the witch he is confronted by the bone fence that surrounds it.
On closer inspection, however, the young
man sees that one spike on the fence has no
skull on top. As he is inspecting the fence he
is confronted by the witch, who informs him
that the last picket has been reserved for his
skull, although he can escape death and
obtain what he came for if he completes a
simple task—controlling the forty maredaughters for twenty-four hours. Needless to
say, the hero of this story completes the task,
receives a supernaturally empowered steed
from the witch, and completes his quest to
free his bride.
Although Baba-Yaga may essentially be
regarded as a feminine deity, she is equally at
home in the world of men. She carries a
wand with which she can transform herself
and those at whom she directs its power, and
she rules over the male genitalia. She is also
more likely to appear in her benevolent guise
to men than to women. She owns a firebreathing, flying horse, giving her an aspect
as the horse goddess, as well as a selfdirecting, self-cutting sword, both items
being more readily lent to men than to
women. She also will lend other, feminine
articles to deserving youths, such as mirrors,
rings, and balls of yarn. Baba-Yaga is also the
patroness of wandering minstrels, for she
owns a self-playing gusli that some allude to
as the first instrument of the type ever made.
With links to the werewolf and vampire,
Baba-Yaga and her kind, the volkhvy (seers),
would perform their chief rites and cause
the most trouble at midsummer, the same
time that the female elders of villages would
go into the fields at night to look for medicinal herbs and other plants. Baba-Yaga is
the wolf goddess who devours all who try to
enter her sphere. She induces nightmares
and hallucinations as well as deadly diseases,
all three relating to her role as the goddess of
death and the underworld. She also is asso-

ciated with the bear, who sometimes
replaces her in the role of master of the forest, and the serpent—both animals to be
feared and respected. She demands human
sacrifice from her supplicants in return for
the sustenance of life.
In Russian legend, Baba-Yaga is closely
associated with serpents and dragons. Koshchei the Deathless, whose name derives from
kost' (“bone”), is a dragon in human guise,
his destiny and all he does guided by the
dualistic aspects of Baba-Yaga. She confers
on him immortality but also gives him a
soul, thus making him mortal. Baba-Yaga is
also the controlling force behind the multiheaded, fire-breathing dragon Chudo-Yudo,
who sits watch over the Water of Life and
Death, a role that has often led Chudo-Yudo
to be considered a bizarre offspring of the
witch and thus a brother to the forty maredaughters.
In Belorussia, Baba-Yaga and her associates are held to drain the energy of the sun
with their magical fires, destroy plants, and
turn the power of the earth against mankind.
Thus, in this region at least, Baba-Yaga and
her sisterhood are seen as being in control of
the elements of the earth. If humanity does
not please or placate them, then Baba-Yaga
and her kind will use their awesome powers
to turn the earth itself against those it is
meant to support.
One particular story, that of Vasilissa the
Beautiful, clearly demonstrates both the
malevolent and benevolent sides of BabaYaga and her powers. In this story the witch
assigns the poor girl impossible tasks, telling
her that she will be eaten if she fails; but
when Vasilissa has completed all of the tasks,
Baba-Yaga gives her a magical skull that rids
her of her cruel stepmother and stepsisters.
Another story about a Vasilissa—Vasilissa the
Wise—demonstrates the compassionate
nature of Baba-Yaga: In this story the witch
tells Ivan the Young how he might regain his
wife,Vasilissa the Wise, and keep her forever.
See also: Chudo-Yudo; Day; Devil,The;
Dragon; Great Goddess; Ienzababa; Ivan the


Pea; Ivan the Young; Jazi Baba; Jezda; Khoziaika
lesa; Koshchei (the Deathless); Leshii (~y);
Maria Morena; Moon; Night; Sun;Tree of Life,
The; Underworld,The;Vampire;Vasilis(s)a the
Beautiful;Vasilis(s)a the Wise;Volkhv;Water of
Life and Death,The;Werewolf
References: Afanas'ev 1974, Baroja 1964; Dal'
1957; 1957, and 1865–69; Matorin 1931;
Newell 1973; Snegirev 1839;Wosien 1969;
Zemtsovskii 1970

Indian summer (literally, “old woman’s summer”), a period of the Russian agrarian cycle
that started officially on Saint Simon’s Day (1
September), after the harvest, and culminated
in the Pokrovskaia Subbota in October.
Bab'e leto was marked by several significant
household events: Old fires were extinguished and new ones laid and lit by the mistress in honor of the ancestral spirits. The
dead were remembered, new spinning was
started, new beer was brewed, and marriages
were arranged. Although most of these rituals (e.g., the lighting of fires) were observed
only on Saint Simon’s Day, the “old woman’s
summer” would run throughout September,
right up to the Pokrovskaia Subbota—the
Feast of the Intercession, or Day of
Protection. Bab'e leto was also a time when
rulers would go out among the people, seeking their renewed support.
See also: Pokrovskaia Subbota
References: Snegirev 1837–39; Zabylin 1880;
Zemtsovskii 1970

“Old woman’s gruel,” the day after Koliada,
on which a Russian family would eat a meal
of kut'ia specially prepared in the bathhouse
so that the family would receive the blessings
of a good harvest, direct from the spirits of
their ancestors.The kut'ia was a type of mush
made of eggs and grain—foods symbolic of
rebirth. In Ukraine the festival centered on a
rite in which the entire family drank kut'ia
from a horned vessel.

See also: Koliada
References: Propp 1963; Sokolov 1945

“Old woman’s holiday.” An alternative name
for Radunitsa, used widely in Kievan Rus'.
Babii Prazdnik, celebrated near Easter time,
was dedicated to the god Rod and included
a feast prepared and eaten in honor of the
dead. During this feast, women decorated
eggs—a practice that was incorporated during Christian times into the festival of
Easter—and placed them on the graves of
deceased ancestors, symbolizing rebirth.
See also: Radunitsa; Rod(ú)
References: Snegirev 1839; Sokolov 1945;
Zabylin 1880

“Grandmother Hopping Frog,” the frog that
lived in the Green Marsh and was asked by
Baba-Yaga to help Petrushka in his quest to
find the place I-Know-Not-Where and the
thing I-Know-Not-What. BabushkaLyagushka-Skakushka said that she would
help Petrushka, provided he carry her in a
jug of fresh milk to the River of Fire, for she
was old, and without the rejuvenating powers of that river, she would not have the
strength. Baba-Yaga agreed and took the frog
back to her home in her pestle and mortar.
There she prepared a jug of fresh milk,
placed the frog in the jug, woke her son-inlaw, and told him what to do.
Petrushka took the jug with the frog in it,
mounted Baba-Yaga’s swiftest horse, and
within a matter of a few minutes, stood
beside the River of Fire.There Petrushka let
the frog out of the jug and placed her on the
ground. Placing one foot in the River of
Fire, Babushka-Lyagushka-Skakushka started
to grow until she was the size of Petrushka’s
horse. The frog told the archer to climb on
her back and hold tight, which Petrushka
did, while the frog continued to grow until

she was taller than the tallest tree in any forest. The frog made sure that Petrushka was
holding on tightly, and then she leaped
through the air, landing in a foreign land and
breathing out slowly until she resumed her
normal size.
Babushka-Lyagushka-Skakushka informed
Petrushka that they were now in I-KnowNot-Where. The frog then told Petrushka
that he should go to the lowliest hut in a
nearby village and hide there behind the
stove, for within that hut lived I-Know