Have you ever wondered what advice you might get from a goddess? Or a wizened old Crone? Look no further than Ask Baba Yaga—two books that have spawned from an old advice column on The Hairpin.
Yes, two books. I’m a bit late to this party, as the second installment, Poetic Remedies for Troubled Times, was released in October 2020. I’ll undoubtedly be reading and reviewing that one for you soon, but first we must start at the beginning!
I found my way to Baba via an episode of The Witch Wave, a "podcast for bewitching conversation about magic, creativity, and culture" hosted by Pam Grossman. In episode 67 - Taisia Kitaiskaia, Literary Witch, Grossman interviews Kitaiskaia about her Russian childhood and her connection to Baba Yaga, as well as her books and oracle deck.
I was drawn in by the title of the episode and enchanted by Kitaiskaia; how she channels this ancient archetype to create poetic advice that bridges the gap between our modern world, with all of its problems, and that of the quiet, dark Slavic forests Baba Yaga roams. After finishing the podcast, I immediately started searching my reading apps for the books.
Genre: Modern Poetry; Self-Help
Category: Cozy Read
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Rating: 4/5 Stars
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this Crone, Baba Yaga is a wise old woman in Slavic folklore who lives in house which sat atop chicken legs and offers guidance to seekers, at times in a form the seekers not initially understand or appreciate. In modern media, she has been depicted time and again as an intimidating witch with terrifying powers. I appreciate that this weird, delightful little book creates a space in which Baba Yaga is sagely and snarky, gentle yet grim.
I adore the aesthetic of this book—the idea behind it, use of a typewriter (because, as Kitaiskaia says, Baba Yaga is messy, playful, and likes old things), intentional typos (because what age-old witch has time for modern grammar rules?!), color scheme, and illustrations (by Katy Horan) whose whimsy beautifully contrasts the heavier subject matter in some of the depictions and questions answered, while reminding the reader there is a little animal in all of us.
As stated earlier, this collection allows Baba Yaga to use all of her voices—wise and grandmotherly, yet sarcastic and grouchy. Baba is not afraid to tell her querent what they don’t want to hear, including when their questions are stupid. She is also prone to “answering” questions with a thought-provoking query of her own, meant to guide the seeker to the treasure they want, which is often already within them.
"Boredom is like the rot in a wet stump-top: the rain, gathering in that little well, makes possible the decay the cells are given to. ,What is it in you that makes you stagnate so easily? ; Stir the dead water & watch deep." -Baba Yaga
Because of this, Ask Baba Yaga could even be appreciated by readers who loathe modern poetry and/or self-help books because of grammar usage or how it can be received as overly-simplistic and shallow. This book is not that. Baba’s advice is thought-provoking, often requiring to be chewed at length in order to truly digest them.
Between Baba's sage advice and the overall aesthetic, this adorable little tome is witchy as fuck. I would recommend it to fans of modern poetry, as well as modern takes on myths; anyone in the middle of depression or grief, a hard breakup, or pesky quarter-life crisis; those who'd rather seek advice from a grumpy old wood-witch than a sugary, puffed-up bubble floater; or anyone who simply enjoys anything that is both beautiful and macabre.