ENCOUNTERING BABA YAGA
Once there was a little girl called Vasilisa. When she was still very young, her mother died and left her in the care of her father who eventually remarried a woman with two other little girls. Vasilisa's stepmother was a cruel, mean-hearted, woman who scolded Vasilisa and made her work hard, doing all the housework for the family while her stepsisters taunted and made fun of her. Vasilisa was very sad, but she had a secret - a magical doll that her mother had given her before her death, which Vasilisa kept in her pocket. This doll was actually alive and would talk to Vasilisa and help her to feel better when life was so sad and difficult. Vasilisa's stepmother and stepsisters conspired to get rid of Vasilisa, so they let the fire go out in their home and insisted that Vasilisa should go into the forest to find the house of Baba Yaga, the old witch, and get some light from her. Before Vasilisa knew what was happening, they had booted her out of the house and left her standing on the doorstep with nowhere to go but into the dark forest.
Vasilisa nervously began her journey into the forest to find Baba Yaga. All she could think about was the many frightening tales she had heard about the old witch and what a sad and pathetic little girl Vasilisa, herself, was. Often she thought she could not go on, but the little doll in her pocket would talk to her, tell her the right way to go and give her the courage to continue. On her journey she came across three horsemen belonging to Baba Yaga. A pale rider on a white horse was the first, as dawn broke in the forest. The second was a red rider on a chestnut horse, and the sun of midday shone brightly. The third rider was dressed in a black cloak and rode a dark steed. He overtook Vasilisa and galloped ahead of her straight into the house of Baba Yaga, which was right before her. Night fell as she arrived at the door and knocked.
Baba Yaga was every bit as frightening as Vasilisa had imagined. She was dark and menacing and wasted no time in asking Vasilisa why she was there and what she wanted. When Vasilisa tried to explain that she needed some light for her family, Baba Yaga told her that she would have to work hard before she would ever see that light. There were dishes to wash, meals to cook, the house to clean, and some special tasks, like sorting wheat from chaff and separating poppy seeds from a pile of dirt. “This sounds just like home,” thought Vasilisa, “only worse!” But Vasilisa was determined to do all the tests required of her, and her little, magical doll helped in every one. It seemed to take days to get everything done, but finally every chore was completed.
Before Baba Yaga would give her the light to take home to her family, she had a question for Vasilisa. “How did you accomplish all of these tasks?” she asked. Vasilisa was about to tell Baba Yaga about the little doll in her pocket, but the doll warned her to keep their secret. “With the help of a gift from my mother,” she replied, and with that Baba Yaga gave her what she had earned, and Vasilisa was free to go home, triumphantly carrying with her the light of awareness. (Barbara York)