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. 


LoneStarCon Recap

I attended my second WorldCon in San Antonio at the end of August. My first was last year in my hometown of Chicago. In the span of a year, I’ve participated in a few different cons, some large, some small: Locust Moon Comic Festival, ICFA, C2E2, Readercon, WisCon, and LoneStarCon.

Each time I leave inspired, not only by the great works that get honored or by the guests who are celebrated for their contributions, but by other working writers and editors who carve out time whenever they can; who are on their second, third, or tenth books; who complain about their laptops, vent about their partners and families, gush over stories that inspire them, and find joy in the company of other weird and wonderful creative people.

After the Hugos, with Amy Sisson, Francesca Myman, Cady Coleman, Stina Leicht.
After the Hugos, with Amy Sisson, Francesca Myman, Cady Coleman, Stina Leicht.

There were panels: some informational, others provocative; some balanced, others not so much. I attended many discussions which featured friends, and I was treated to passionate conversations about poetry and science; plot problems; the future of short stories; science, space, and speculative fiction; and China through the lens of its science fiction.

"Science, Space Exploration, and Speculative Fiction Collide"  Panel with Mrco Palmieri, Ann VanderMeer, Stanley Schmidt, John Chu, and astronaut Cady Coleman.
“Science, Space Exploration, and Speculative Fiction Collide” Panel with Marco Palmieri, Ann VanderMeer, Stanley Schmidt, astronaut Cady Coleman, and John Chu.

There were awards, where I cheered for Campbell-nominated friends (yay Max Gladstone and Stina Leicht) and celebrated those who won Hugos (yay John Picacio, Best Professional Artist; and Galen Dara, Best Fan Artist); and there were After Parties, places to celebrate with friends.

After the Hugos: Wesley Chu, Stina Leicht, Max Gladstone, and David Boop.
After the Hugos: Wesley Chu, Stina Leicht, Max Gladstone, and David Boop.
After the Hugos, with Tara Smith, John Picacio, and Nancy Hightower.
After the Hugos, with Tara Smith, John Picacio, and Nancy Hightower.

There were large public spaces where we congregated for wifi and coffee, for meetings and impromptu chats; and when the sun went down for wine, scotch, sweet things, and more coffee.

In such good company, hanging out with wonderful Tor people: Ellen Gallo, Max Gladstone, Stephanie Neely, Miriam Weinberg, Stacy Hill, and Carrie Vaughn.
In such good company, hanging out with wonderful Tor people: Ellen Gallo, Max Gladstone, Stephanie Neely, me, Miriam Weinberg, Stacy Hill, and Carrie Vaughn.

Those “writers in the wild” times were my favorite–the casual moments when we wandered and were welcomed at tables and beside bars. When a conversation could carry on late into the night, or well into the morning. Because sometimes 5am guacamole along the riverwalk is a way of holding onto the magic for a little while longer, before we all have to return to the real world and the work that makes up most of our days.

Monday morning with Stina Leicht and Marco Palmieri.
Monday morning with Stina Leicht and Marco Palmieri.

So I came home and delved back into the stories  I’ve been working on all summer, finishing up a novelette and a few shorts, tweaking some poems, and sending things out to readers. Fall brings the next novel and the excitement of delving into ancient history to build a new world and a new cast of characters who will live inside my head until it’s done.

My fabulous roommates: Nancy Hightower and Stina Leicht.
My fabulous roommates: Nancy Hightower and Stina Leicht.

In the meantime, there are little tastes to keep us going: tweets at midnight when we’re writing, facebook chats and email exchanges. It helps to keep us connected, but nothing can compare with midnight marshmallows, early morning guacamole, and coffee in the company of good friends.