Since very early age I’m fascinated by the thousands of portrayals of witches across cultures. (I’m not talking about the religious execution of “witches” in history but the witches in mythology.) In my mind the character of the “witch” is actually the archetype of the outcast woman.
She encompasses all the things and characteristics that people are afraid of. She is almost always portrayed as old and/or very ugly, a loner, someone whose intentions are usually malicious. Women with bad intentions exist all throughout the mythologies of the world (think for example of Medusa in Greek, or Kuchisake-onna in Japanese mythology ) but their bad intentions are usually the result of some injustice that happened to them whereas with witches these past is either nonexistent or not talked about. That being sad Baba Yaga is often an ambivalent character for she helps the protagonist in the story with her wisdom or special knowledge that the hero seeks out.
Her portrayal is consistent with that of a grumpy old woman who – despite being very threatening and unfriendly – is very respectable since she possesses great knowledge of the world. Even in the tales her aid is only given when the hero talks to her politely.
This apparent lack of her past and youth, and the fact of her being in possession of some important knowledge is what makes Baba Yaga such an interesting character.