Monday, 24 October 2016

Baba Yaga, Slavic Folklore & the Highgate Vampire

I don't often mention fiction on my blog, but I was recently sent details about a novel that looks like it might be a jolly good read. The book is called Granny Yaga by Vitali Vitaliev. It's based on Baba Yaga the famous Slavic folklore character, but set in present-day London.

Apparently it includes references to Highgate Cemetery and the Highgate Vampire, the Crouch End Spriggan, an occult bookshop in London called Runes (which might have just a slight resemblance to one of London's real occult bookshops) and the ponds on Hampstead Heath, which many swimmers have reported as being haunted. The book also introduces readers to a number of other interesting characters from Slavic folklore, which the press release I was sent gave details of. Here they are:
  • Baba Yaga – Renowned in Slavic and particularly Russian fairy tales, this hook-nosed old witch lives in a forest, in a hut that stands on chicken legs. She flies around in a mortar, propelling herself with a pestle and only uses a broom to cover her tracks. It was rumoured that this sorceress ate children, so parents still often use her to deter naughty behaviour from their little ones. Vitaliev’s reincarnation, who resides in North London, is far friendlier, modern, witty and selfless: an unlikely super-heroine
  • Dziwożona (or mamuna) - a female swamp demon that is neither quite alive nor quite dead but something in between. They’re known for being generally wicked and kidnapping children. The book’s Dziwozona is Pani Czerniowiecka; a peculiar creature originating from the swamps of Eastern Poland whose existence alternates between her house and a spacious sarcophagus in the nearby Highgate Cemetery
  • Koschei (or Koschei the Deathless aka Koshchey the Immortal) - Koschei is the archetypal male antagonist in Slavic folklore and is known for kidnapping females. He is an old sorcerer and magician who metamorphoses into many different objects, people and creatures. As his name suggests, he is destined to live forever. However, this immortality is not actually foolproof. He can be killed if his soul is found (incidentally his soul is hidden in a needle, inside an egg). Vitaliev describes him as tall and, although in excellent health, extremely, almost inhumanly, thin. The name Koshchei means skeleton in old Krivichi dialect.
  • Volkodlak - A vampire, linked to various Slovenian werewolf legends. The word literally means "wolf-skin" and many sources say it is actually a vampire that can transform into a wolf. The British Museum curator character in Granny Yaga doesn’t believe a volkodlak is particularly gruesome. He explains that they are Magi sorcerers who can cause sun eclipses. It is an old volkodlak who teaches Granny Yaga to slow down time
  • Kikimora – A demon of the night that is seen throughout Slavic mythology. There are many interpretations of this female house spirit, but a kikimora is usually very ugly in depictions and considered evil.
Here are more details about the book:
On a drab winter’s evening, an old flying old woman is spotted in Bloomsbury, an area of London known for its magical, masonic and shamanism associations. This is followed by the arrival of Yadwiga, alias Baba Yaga, one of the most interesting characters of East European folklore – an ambiguous witch, a sorceress and an unlikely super-heroine. She has come to London as part of the struggling Sablins family, recent migrants from a fictitious East European country. It is in London that their adventures really begin.

Yadwiga joined the Sablins when life in the forest, where she had been dwelling inside a hut on hen’s legs for over a thousand years, became impossible due to “deforestation” and the invasion of overly-curious visitors. Baba Yaga can’t take being asked questions, for each question makes her a little bit older – a curse imposed on her by her former partner and now sworn enemy, Koschei the Deathless, the incarnation of all evil.

The story takes the reader on a fascinating excursion through the history of Slavic and British folklore projected on the vicissitudes of modern Western life.
Granny Yaga can be ordered via Amazon.  The picture bottom left is from Granny Yaga by Vitali Vitaliev.

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