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The Scythian and Sarmatian Sources of the Russian Mythology and Fairy-Tales

Sergei V. Rjabchikov

Krasnodar, Russia



Copyright © Sergei V. Rjabchikov, 2001. All rights reserved.

Published 25 July 2001  Last posted 23 September, 2005


Here I study Scythian pictures and a Scythian/Sarmatian inscription which shed new light upon the Russian pagan mythology and plots preserved in Russian fairy-tales.

1. The plot depicted in figure 1 is presented on a wall of a Scythian crypt of the ancient town known as the Scythian Naples, the Crimea, Ukraine (Shtambok 1968: 109, the lower photo).








I have distinguished a fiery horse, a hut standing on four chicken legs (as in Russian fairy tales!) and a woman (goddess) with the fiery hair. A child is seen in this fairytale hut. These data correspond to the Russian fairy-tales about Baba-Yaga (the old woman Yaga).

I think that the personage Baba-Yaga corresponds to the Scythian goddess Tabiti. I have counted ten rays at her head in this figure. The face of a goddess is represented on a Scythian brooch discovered in the Belyaus burial ground, the Crimea, Ukraine (Dashevskaya 1991: 121, table 65, figure 10). It is a designation of Tabiti whose head is decorated with nine or ten rays. As has been shown earlier (Rjabchikov 2001a), Baba-Yaga (cf. Old Indian yaga 'sacrifice') is closely related to the fire god Agni. Actually, this god plays the main role in sacrifices according to the Indo-Arian mythology (Neveleva 1975: 85).

Let us examine some features of Baba-Yaga. V.Y. Propp (1998: 147) stresses her roles of a donor, an abductor, a female warrior. The last function is in my opinion a hint at the Amazons, otherwise the Sarmatian women. In Baba-Yaga's hut the initiations are performed (Propp 1998: 157). She denotes the fertility without the participation of men (Propp 1998: 168); she directs winds; she keeps keys from the sun (Propp 1998: 169). As an ancestress she is connected with the hearth (Propp 1998: 171). She gives her horse (Kobylitsa-Zolotitsa 'The Golden Mare') to a hero (Propp 1998: 172). Some epithets of the horse which is equal to the god Agni are "with a golden mane", "having a light-coloured back", "with a fiery head" in the Indo-Arian beliefs (Propp 1998: 264). The main attributes of Baba-Yaga are the fire and the horse (Propp 1998: 190, 197). Besides, she is preparing a youth for a marriage; she is burning or boiling children (Propp 1998: 198, 200).

Why does Baba-Yaga's hut stand on chicken legs? First of all, Old Indian kukkuta means 'cock; hen; fire-brand; spark of fire'. So such legs may correlate with the cult of the fire. The usual formula to enter the hut is Izbushka, izbushka, stan' k lesu zadom, ko mne peredom 'The hut, the hut, turn your back to the forest, your front toward me'. Perhaps Russian izbushka na kur'ih nozhkah 'the hut on chicken legs' is a reflex of Old Indian kula 'family; race; community; tribe; caste; the residence of a family; the front or fore part'. Russian izbushka and hatka (hata) 'hut' may be compared with Old Indian hata 'multiplication; miserable; killed; killing; striking'.

I believe that Baba-Yaga is the sun goddess. According to the fairy-tale Baba-Yaga i Zamoryshek (Baba-Yaga and Zamoryshek), she is burning by the use of a fiery shield. According to the fairy-tale Mar'ya Morevna, Baba-Yaga's house is surrounded by a fence made of twelve poles. I think that it is a designation of twelve months (a year). Baba-Yaga knows the future and betokens (Afanasiev 1996: 57). And now one can examine an information about the Scythian goddess Tabiti mentioned in the History of Herodotus (Book IV): she compares with Hestia, the Greek goddess of hearth and home who is a virgin and the eldest sister of the god Zeus (1). All these features fit the features of Baba-Yaga (hearth; initiations; without a husband; connected with winds). The edges of roofs in the ancient town Panticapeum, the capital of the Bosporan kingdom (modern Kerch, the Crimea, Ukraine), were decorated with masks of a goddess (Blavatsky 1953: 173, figure 7). Since her hair is shaped like tongues of flame or rays of the sun, this is Tabiti, the goddess of hearth and home. It is well to bear in mind that D.S. Raevsky (1994: 204-5) points to the similarity of Tabiti (Tapayati 'Heating; Flaming') to Agni. In a Scythian inscription I read the words Tabera vese 'Knowing Tabiti' (Rjabchikov 2001a). The names Tab-iti and Tab-era (cf. the Russian suffix ar) 'Heating; Flaming' are the variants. One can suppose that the Scythians translated the name Tabiti as Ta biti 'Beating' (Trubachev 1981: 23), too. The beating Baba-Yaga is also known (Propp 1998: 180-1).

The goddess Tabiti is depicted on a gold badge discovered in the Chertomlyk barrow, Ukraine; it was dated to 4th century B.C., now it is in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia (Raevsky 1992: 445, the right photo). To the right of the goddess there is a torch (Bessonova 1983: 99). It looks like five petals (tongues of flame; rays of the sun). I believe that it is a mark of the fifth month, May. It is quite possible that here this goddess is called Makosh' (Ma kosh') 'The solar (military) transport' (2). In different sources Makosh' (Mokosh') is usually mentioned with two Rozhanitsa 'The bearing (goddess)' (Belyakova 1995: 101-2). In fact, in accordance with the Russian fairy-tale Vasily-korolevich i Mar'ya Yaginishna (The Prince Vasily and Mar'ya Yaginishna) there are the three sisters named Baba-Yaga. I conclude that Baba-Yaga (Makosh') has an epithet, Rozhanitsa 'Bearing', the symbol of the fertility. I think that the Great goddess depicted on an Old Russian fibula and in the Slavonic art (Belyakova 1995: 102-4) is indeed Makosh' (Tabiti, Baba-Yaga).

2. On a silver clasp discovered in a buried treasure, the village Martynovka, Kiev Territory, Ukraine, there are Scythian/Sarmatian signs (Rybakov 1953: 85, figure 20, 2; 97, figure 25, 15), see figure 2. This artifact was dated to 6th - 8th century A.D., so this inscription might be copied from a Scythian/Sarmatian artifact. On the other hand, early Slavonic priests might know ancient secret records on the Scythian/Sarmatian religion.




This text can be understood using the readings of syllables of Linear A (B) (Rjabchikov 2000). It reads 33-80 33-33 55 rama Rar(a) nu 'the ram - the quick sun bird Rarog' (3), cf. Old Indian remi 'ram', ramb 'lamb', nu 'quickly'. There is a striking parallel in the Scythian art: a bronze tip represents the head of a fantastic animal united the forms of a ram and a bird of prey (Galanina, Domansky and Smirnova 1981: 126-7, photo). In the Russian beliefs, pastries shaped as cows and sheep were baked during the pagan feast Kolyada devoted to the winter solstice (Afanasiev 1996: 160).

3. The pattern is depicted on a Scythian pot from the Astaninsky burial ground, the Crimea, Ukraine; this artifact was dated to 7th - 5th century B.C. (Yakovenko 1982: 73, figure 5, 2), see figure 3.




Here I have distinguished three signs of the sky (Rjabchikov 2001a). The sign of an eye is depicted near the sign of the third sky. Apparently, this is the symbol of the Indo-Aryan god Indra (the Scythian god Targitai). Really, an eye of this god is the sun; he rules on the third sky (4).

Let us consider the plot represented on a grave-stone from the Yuzhno-Donuzlavskoe ancient town, the Crimea, Ukraine (Dashevskaya 1991: 99, table 43, figure 2; 27): the horseman is hunting a deer; an eye is attached to his horse. I suppose that this is the god Indra/Targitai killing his father, the sky god (Rjabchikov 2001a). In my opinion, the name Targitai comes from Old Indian tara 'fire; horse; carrying across; saviour; protector; clean; clear'. Obviously, Russian tarashchit' 'to goggle' comes from the same Old Indian word and is connected with the name Targitai. In the Russian beliefs the ideas 'eye', 'sight', 'vision', 'the sun', 'light' are connected (Afanasiev 1996: 236, 248). In a Russian fairy-tale about Eruslan this hero used the bile of the sun, and as a result his blind father and the warriors recovered their sights (Afanasiev 1996: 284).




1. See Takho-Godi 1991.

2. Russian kosh signifies 'carriage' and 'military transport' (Shilov 1995: 358).

3. See Rjabchikov 2001b.

4. See Toporov 1991: 533; Neveleva 1975: 61, 65, 68.




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