Words and Witchery: Some References for Slavic Mythology

A tall man in a Mother Christmas t-shirt stands beside a short woman in a Ukrainian embroidered blouse.
Stephen and Valya at Chicon8

Over Labor Day weekend, Stephen and I took the younger two teenagers to their second World Science Fiction Convention: Chicon 8 (San Jose was their first Worldcon in 2019).

Both of us were on panels (usually at the same time), and I was delighted to be on the Slavic Mythology panel with moderator Dr. Jeana Jorgensen, Alex Gurevich, and Alma Alexander. (Unfortunately Alex Shvartsman did not make it to the panel.)

We had a really wonderful and engaged audience, and at the end of our discussion, someone asked for additional references about Slavic Mythology. I agreed to post a list of resources published in English on my blog.

4 masked panelists seated at a table talking with a curtain behind them.
Slavic Mythology panel at Chicon 8.

I’ve done my best to collect them here. I will try to remember to update the post as I acquire new books, or as new media come to my attention.

A small disclaimer: Many books have been published recently about Slavic magic and Baba Yaga. I have not included anything as a nonfiction reference here that I have not personally read and reviewed. Some of the fiction and films, on the other hand, come from other panelists and audience members. I cannot speak to the accuracy of their portrayal or sources.


  • Slavic Folklore: A Handbook by Natalie Kononenko
  • Encyclopedia of Russian and Slavic Myth and Legend
    by Mike Dixon-Kennedy
  • The Bathhouse at Midnight: An Historical Survey of Magic and Divination in Russia by W. F. Ryan
  • Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture by Joanna Hubbs
  • Baba Yaga: The Ambiguous Mother and Witch of the Russian Folktale by Andreas Johns
  • Fairy Tales of the Russians and Other Slavs: Sixty-Eight Stories Edited by Ace G. and Olga A. Pilkington
  • Witchcraft in Russia and Ukraine, 1000–1900: A Sourcebook (NIU Series in Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies) by Valerie A. Kivelson and Christine D. Worobec
  • Ukrainian Minstrels: Why the Blind Should Sing: And the Blind Shall Sing (Folklores and Folk Cultures of Eastern Europe)
    by Natalie O. Kononenko
  • The Paths of Folklore: Essays in Honor of Natalie Kononenko
    by Svitlana Kukharenko, Peter Holloway
  • The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe: 7000 to 3500 BC myths, legends and cult images by Marija Alseikaitė Gimbutas
  • The Magical Universe: Everyday Ritual and Magic in Pre-Modern Europe by Stephen Wilson
  • Baba’s Kitchen Medicines: Folk Remedies of Ukrainian Settlers in Western Canada by Michael Mucz
  • Essential Russian Mythology by Pyotr Simonov

Folklorica: An open-access peer-reviewed journal produced by the Slavic, East European & Eurasian Folklore Association. The Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Folklore Association (SEEFA) is devoted to an exchange of knowledge among scholars interested in Slavic, East European and Eurasian folklore.

Fiction that draws from Slavic mythology:

  • Night Witches by L.J. Adlington
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
  • Shadow and Bone series and Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
  • Rusalka, Chernevog, and Yvgenie by C.J. Cherryh
  • The Age of Witches by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • “Viy” by Nikolai Gogol (Mykola Hohol)
  • Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky (translated but difficult to find)
  • The Silence of Trees by Valya Dudycz Lupescu
  • Sticks & Bones: Home Is Where the Hearth Is (comic) by Valya Dudycz Lupescu & Madeline Carol Matz
  • Uprooted and Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
  • The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia
  • Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Forest Song by Lesya Ukrainka (play, translated by Percival Cundy)
  • Mesopotamia by Serhiy Zhadan

Television & Film

  • American Gods (Starz)
  • Shadow and Bone (Netflix)
  • Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965 – Ukrainian: Тіні забутих предків, directed by Sergei Parajanov)
  • The Witcher (Netflix)


A stack of books topped by a Baba Yaga figurine.

Live from Chicago…This Saturday

When I was young, I didn’t know that science fiction conventions or fandom existed. A gathering place where people dressed up in costumes, met with “actual authors,” and talked about the stories they loved would have seemed as fantastic as some of the stories themselves. Reading was a solitary activity, and I didn’t know a lot of other kids (or later adults) who loved sci-fi or fantasy.

I attended my first convention in 2012, when the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) was held in Chicago (and called Chicon), and it opened up a new world to me. It was a joy to share that world with the kids in 2018 when we brought them to Worldcon in San Jose. 

If you’ve never been to a Worldcon, then you probably have never heard of “Stroll With the Stars.” Every morning at Worldcon for the last decade, fans have been invited to join guests to “Stroll With the Stars.” The activity was Stu Segal’s idea after he was challenged by artist Frank Wu to find a way to introduce fitness into fan activities. Stu came up with “Stroll with the Stars” to lure fans out for “some gentle exercise in the fresh air by strolling along with Hugo and Nebula winners and nominees, Grandmasters, artists and celebrities.” The strolls have been going strong ever since. 

This year’s Worldcon (which was supposed to be in New Zealand) is going virtual because of the pandemic, and it was suggested that during the lockdown, we have “virtual strolls.” To make sure the strolls are accessible to the fans in the Americas, UK, Australia, New Zealand, et al, they selected 4PM CT (10PM London, 9AM Auckland, 7AM Sydney, 2PM San Francisco), as the best time when most folks are awake.

Every day last week, an author, artist, or editor has done a Facebook Live Video on the “Stroll With the Stars: Home Edition Spring 2020” Facebook Group. Some have done a tour of their home or work space, others have taken us along on a walk in their neighborhood or garden. It’s been entertaining to hear how they are keeping safe and busy during these strange times. Guests have included: Ellen Datlow, Scott Edelman, Lawrence Schoen, Joe and Gay Haldeman, and others; and over the next month or two will include Ellen Kushner, Derek Kunsken, Steven Silver, Kate Baker, and many more. (Stu keeps updating the list on the Facebook group page.)

Nighttime calm after a long day.

Stephen and I will take our turn hosting a stroll this Saturday, May 2, 4pm CT. I’m not sure exactly what you’ll see, but we’ll be live on Facebook for 15 minutes or so, to give you a little peek into our quarantine lives. You can also chat with us in the chat window. Here’s the link to the group page, and we’ll post about it again on Facebook as we get closer. 


You can join the “Stroll With the Stars: Home Edition Spring 2020” Facebook group if you want, or can tune onto Stephen or my Facebook page next Saturday when we’re live. The video will also be saved and available for watching afterward (we’ve watched a few of them in the evening after work hours). In the meantime, you can access previous strolls from the Facebook page:


I’m not much of a television (or YouTube) watcher. There’s just not a lot of time left over after work, kids, house, checking in on friends and family, and writing. Most of what we watch, we watch with the kids. Much of it is stuff they choose to share with us, or things we find to share with them.

I was never one to enjoy the reality shows of the past few decades; however, I have found recent joy in some of the programming the kids have shared with us during this quarantine time. From the Bon Appétit chefs cooking in their home kitchens to John Oliver broadcasting in his basement to the cast of Hamilton coming together via Zoom, I have enjoyed these honest glimpses into people’s homes and lives.

I appreciate the candor and generosity of people sharing some of the things that challenge them and inspire them right now. It highlights a shared humanness that I don’t think we often get to see. I hope that we can share the same with you this weekend. 


A Crush On Fandom

Dear Fandom,

I didn’t know you existed. Not really.

I’ve caught glimpses of you my entire life. You looked different each time, but still familiar. You were kindred.

I first recognized you on the playground. Swinging, I pretended to fly on fairy wings and saw you use the slide as a rocket launcher. In kindergarten, you came dressed as an alien dragon with tinfoil tail and pasta strainer on your head. You were humming the Star Wars theme. I would see you in third grade homeroom, doodling superhero self-portraits, and I always secretly wished you would draw me beside you, in a purple cape and silver boots.

When I was ten and saved up pocket change to run down the block to the used bookstore, you were there across the piles of Le Guin and Brooks. You’d usually make room for me on the floor of the neighborhood library as we sat side-by-side without touching, looking through the newest McCaffery and Heinlein, Pratchett and Cherryh. On rare occasions, we made eye contact, but usually our gazes stayed on the pages, too shy to smile.

In junior high, when the kids were cruel, I knew you must be out there, but I didn’t see you. I began to write because I had no one else to talk to.

In high school, I drifted away a little, pre-occupied with honors classes and yearbook duties, but I thought we exchanged a knowing glance as the class discussed Bradbury and Yeats. I definitely heard your voice carried on the Aquanet air talking about V and The Next Generation. I strained to hear you over the Talking Heads. I wish I had looked for you then.

College introduced me to “magic realism,” I didn’t recognize you as we chatted over chai about Morrison and Allende, but you reminded me how much I loved to be surprised and enchanted in otherworldly ways.

It was love at first sight when you showed me your Tolkien and handed me my first Sandman. Afterwards you introduced me to Stars Our Destination on Clarke, and arms aching with books, my world broke open. My heart broke open, and I remembered the magic of those stories and the joy I felt in writing. I decided not to become a lawyer, but a writer.

In graduate school, I tried to learn craft and looked for you in discussions about Joyce. I found you cradling Faulkner, and I respected you when you talked about the mythology of Marquez, the allegory of Rushdie, and the re-visioning of Angela Carter.

I never knew I’d find you at a drumming circle or in the Goth bar, but there you were, and we discussed Gaiman and Straub, Wolfe and George R.R. Martin. We waxed philosophical about Babylon 5 and Deep Space 9, X-Men and Star Trek Nemesis. We became friends. We cheered while watching BSG. We discussed Stevenson, Sedia, and Scalzi. We rallied around the return of The Doctor. We waited patiently (mostly) for A Dance With Dragons. We remembered Clarke, McCaffrey, Bradbury, Sendak, and too many others who’ve died. We became family.

My first book was published, and you read it. I could not believe it became an Amazon bestseller in Winter 2011, and I knew you were among the readers because I recognized your reviews; you praised the mythology, dreams, and “fantastic” elements. You liked the magic I put into it.  It reached the Top 10.

When I worked with the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame to create the Fuller Awards, I knew it had to be Gene Wolfe who was honored first. I invited beloved writers and editors who also adored Gene’s writing, and they came. You came. I had never seen so many of you in one place.

Then there was Chicon 7.

It was my first Worldcon ever and my first real Con. I had been to Academic conferences and literary expos, but they are a different animal altogether because you are not always there, not so many of you in one place.

So many of us in one place.

I came to Chicon 7 to sell and sign my book and debut the first chapter of our graphic novel. I stood behind the table in the Dealers Room for five days and watched as people passed by.  You were there: alien dragon and rocketman, Superwoman and Sandman, Vulcan and Hobbit. You held hands, or walked quietly alone. Sometimes you stopped to talk, other times you nodded and kept walking. You wore Whovian scarves and steampunk goggles, and we nodded with recognition. You signed books and prints. You discussed the naming of characters and the qualities of villainesses. You paraded in costumes and received awards with grace and joy. You made me proud to be a part of it all.

2012 Hugo award winners at Chicon7. Photo by David Dyer-Bennet

I never knew it could be like that—so many creators and lovers of science fiction and fantasy in one place. I never knew you had been doing this for 70 years.

Learning to Be Dangerous Panel. Photo by Jonathan Crowe.

After one panel, when you discussed how some writers try to dodge the “ghetto” of Science Fiction and Fantasy, I wanted to rush home and finish my next novel because I want in. I’m not trying to dodge anything. Quite the opposite, I wish to be a part of that continuum, those brilliant imaginative storytellers and the people who adore what is created.

The beauty of what I saw, the magic of fandom, is that fans don’t just close a book and put it on the shelf. Fans engage with the text. Whether it’s a comic, novel, or film, they continue the conversation. This allows the stories to have a special type of longevity, and it creates a community that cares enough about those ideas, characters, places, and philosophies to want to create panels, plays, costumes, zines, awards, and more.

Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.

The beauty is in that co-creation and conversation. What author, what artist, would not wish to be a part of that?

I do.

I love so many of the stories and the authors who createed them. In recent years, some of them have become friends, and their friendship is a treasure, but this week I have a crush on fandom. Or would that be a Con-crush? I don’t know the lingo, the Con history and traditions. When I wasn’t behind the Wolfsword Press table, I felt a bit lost. It seemed that everyone else knew where to go and what to expect, but I’ll learn because even though Chicon 7 was exhausting and exhilarating, what I experienced broke me open again in the best possible way.

A new friend from this Worldcon weekend is writer and editor Stephen H. Segal, who gave me a copy of his book Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture on the last day of the Con. It was the perfect gift to end the weekend, and I’d like to quote from his introduction:

“Hence Geek Wisdom: the first compendium of sacred teachings from the wide-ranging “holy scriptures” of geekdom, that weird mass of pop culture and high art ranging from blockbuster movies to esoteric novels to cult classic T-shirt slogans. Star Wars. The Princess Bride. Albert Einstein. Stan Lee. From such sources we’ve gathered (and moved thoughtful upon) the deepest, purest, most profound ideas and sayings to be found. The ones that cut right to the heart of life in the twenty-first century. The ones we quote as if they’ve come from the Bible, or from Shakespeare. The ones that, increasingly, have emerged from the underground to form the cellular structure of a true culture cannon.

Our culture canon. And thus does the geek inherit the earth.”

Geek Wisdom. It definitely defines a large part of my life. Segal’s book highlights some of the best building blocks of that culture. That foundation is part of the reason more than 5,000 people gathered in Chicago for Chicon 7. It’s who we are and what we did this past weekend—build upon what has come before and stretch beyond comfortable boundaries to create anew.

After coming home and crashing, after laundry and unpacking, I am going to write tonight. I have so many stories. I can’t wait to share them with you, and I want to see what you come up with as well. I want to talk with you, because we have a common nerd culture, we have a history, and I look forward to our future.

Until we meet again.



Spending time with friends at Chicon (with Madeline Matz and Gene Wolfe). Photo by Teri Goulding