To the early Slavs, the forests and the swamps within them were everywhere. Around farms and villages as well as upon mountains, the woods were inescapable. And in the shadows of those trees, spirits lurked.
Most spirits in Slavic mythology aren’t the friendliest creatures. Tales of demons in the night’s shadows spread all across the Slavic tribes and nations, and one of the most frightening tales told was that of Koshchey.
So who is Koshchey according to Slavic Lore?
Koshchey or Koschei, often called “the Immortal” or “The Deathless” is a supernatural antagonist in Slavic Mythology. He has the look of an ugly bony old man, and he is dangerous mostly to young women.
Usually, he takes the role of a malevolent rival father figure, who competes for or entraps a male hero’s love interest.
His name is derived from the ancient Slavic word “Kosh” meaning something very skinny or sapless. In the modern languages his name resembles the word “kosť” most closely meaning “bone” in Slovak.
Koshchei is a powerful wizard and is a master of transformation spells. He can take on the form of a flying snake or a black raven. He likes to ride his skeleton horse around his gloomy kingdom. In his kingdom, there are no trees, the birds don’t sing, nothing grows in the soil and the sunlight never shines through the thick clouds. That’s why there’s always dusk, which causes the hardest frosts.
The legend of Koschei
The legends claim that Koschei is very hard to kill as he hides his soul in a needle that is hidden inside an egg, the egg is in a duck, the duck is in a hare, the hare is in an iron chest and the chest is buried & chained up on a far island named Bajan in the middle of an Ocean. If the needle is safely hidden Koschei is unkillable. But if the iron chest is open, the hare runs off immediately. If you kill the hare, the duck flies off and if you kill the duck & manage to steal the egg Koschei is now in your power. When this happens, Koschei starts losing his magical powers. If the needle is broken, Koschei dies.
Koschei according to other tales
In other tales, Koschei can cast a sleep spell that can be broken by playing an enchanted gusli1. Depending on the tale, he has different characteristics: he may ride a three- or seven-legged horse, may have tusks or fangs and may possess a variety of different magic objects (like cloaks and rings) that a hero is sent to obtain, or he may have other magic powers. In one tale he has eyelids so heavy he requires servants to lift them.
1 Gusli is the oldest East Slavic multi-string plucked instrument.
This was the second episode of Slavic Saturday. There are many other creatures I am ready to cover for you, my lovely fans. If you missed episode one then you can find that here. I hope to see you all return next Saturday!