Baba Yaga is one of the most fascinating & complicated character in the Russian mythology. She is an active participant of most thriller-sort tales, where humans to fulfill their mission must collaborate with strong spirits. Although I can hardly call her a spirit. Baba Yaga is a pretty serious personage. She might seem weird, scary, but she performs an important task: connects the world of living with the world of deads. Her aspect, her house & a way of living are attributes pointing to the fact that she is alike god Pluto but in a female body. Baba Yaga means a complete transformation & she helps the hero to pass all the necessary steps to reach it.
She is usually depicted as an old, often ugly woman with a hooked nose, almost toothless, hunchbacked, lame or with a bony leg. She has a bad sight, but able to feel a human presence. As a rule meeting a hero she says: “I feel the human spirit.” She combines functions of a witch, queen of the forest & animals. She is an almighty old lady, who has some supernatural powers & keeps the balance between two worlds.
Her magical attributes are a broom, a mortar she flies into, a turning & a chicken-legged hut where she lives. There are some tales, mostly too dark ones, which also add a fence made from lightening skulls around her dwelling. I guess that it symbolizes her connection with the world of deads. In Russian the name of her house sounds “izb’ushka na k’uriij n’ogkah” and unlike many folklorists linking the notion “kurij” with “kuritsa” (chicken), I suppose that there might be other varians of this idea. For example, the Scottish Gaelic gives us peculiar sound correlations cùbhraidh (ku:ri) (sweet, fragrant); cuir (kur’) (put, send; sow, plant). My own supposition is that Baba Yaga might burn fragrant plants around her hut or simple grow them. They might be medicine plants, as she is a known herbalist. Perhaps, her original dwelling was a hut on piles, turned afterwards into chicken legs.
The hero is never afraid of Baba Yaga. On the contrary, before the mission, he comes to her for advice, to learn the future & to obtain some powers or weapons. Baba Yaga always welcomes him well. She prepares b’anya (the Russian sauna), washes him, then gives a festive meal. In some tales, to get this VIP service, the hero must prove he is worthy of it. Baba Yaga might make him scary by saying that she will bake him in the oven or simply make a quarrel. When the hero has proved his serious intetions, she receives him as a guest & learns how to fight the evil.
Speaking from the point of view of the modern reality, Baba Yaga demonstrates us clearly that wise women will save our sinful world…and men into it.
More about Yaga in wikipedia: Baba Yaga