Introduction

Russian Stories:

The Underground Kingdom

Finist the Falcon

Vasilisa the Beautiful

About Baba Yaga

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Koshchey the Deathless

 

Koshchey the Deathless


Koshchey the Deathless gallops naked through the wild Caucus mountains with his long spindly legs trailing in the dust.

In this picture by Ivan Bilibin, he is seen brandishing his sabre, shrieking blood-curdling threats and urging the spirits of the steppes to come to his aid.

I like the cloud formations . . .

Koshchey the Deathless also known as Koshchey the Immortal

In Russian Koshchey is known as "Koshchey Bessmertny" which means deathless or immortal (thanks to Mike Harris in Moscow for this information).

Variant spellings of his name are: Koschey, Katschei/Koshchey/Kashey

In Russian folklore Koshchey is an evil sorcerer of terrifying appearance who gallops naked around the wild Caucus mountain range on his magic steed.

He is also a shape-shifter, who takes the form of a whirlwind or a storm wind. He is a nature spirit representing the destructive powers of nature.

He is fond of stealing beautiful women, often the bride of the hero.

Like his female counterpart Baba Yaga, he also has powers over the elements. Dark clouds suddenly appear amidst thunder and lightning when he comes on the scene.

As a shape-changer, Kotschey usually takes the form of a whirlwind and makes off with his victims in this form. He may also come under cover of a mist or fog and can fly through the air.

Koschey is called the deathless, or immortal because his soul/spirit/life force or his "death" as he calls it, is hidden in a remote, inaccessible place, separate from his body.

Koshchey's soul/spirit/ is often hidden in a duck's egg, inside a hare, which in turn is inside a chest buried under the roots of a mighty oak tree, on an island in the middle of the ocean.

Sometimes his "death" may be hidden in the point of a needle inside the duck's egg. Although called deathless or immortal, Kotschey may die if the hero finds out where the egg that contains his life force or, as he calls it, his "death", is hidden.

If the egg is broken, it's goodnight for Kotschey too. Anyone possessing this egg has Koshchey in their power. He begins to weaken, becomes sick and immediately loses all his magic powers.

In one story the egg is thrown at his forehead and he drops down dead.

Imprisoned in the palace of the warrior princess Maria Morevna for ten years, Koshchey is freed by the unwitting hero.

In this story the egg with his soul/spirit/death in it is not mentioned at all. Instead, he receives a kick in the head from one of Baba Yaga's magical steeds. After the horse kills him, the hero Ivan cuts Koshchey's head off, burns it and scatters the ashes to the four winds, presumably just to be on the safe side.

Koshchey's appearance:

Tall, boney, fearful to look upon. As Baba Yaga says:

' Medusa's got nothing on you, Kotschey dear .'

Maria Morewnas description of him:

He sports a wild mane of tangled seaweed-like hair which stands up all around a lean and bony face. From beneath those craggy brows peer hooded, unblinking reptilian eyes. A raven's beak of a nose juts out over a cavernous mouth from which now and then one may catch a glimpse of several large crooked teeth. Mouth may change shape according to mood.

His beard: Mottled-grey and scraggly, unsightly after meals.

Skin: Scaly, rough, forever shedding, more snake-like than human.

Method of fighting: Wraps or coils himself around his foes. Finger nails and toe nails long and claw-like (he never cuts his hair, finger or toe nails - to preserve his 'life-force' as he calls it/his lack of clothing may also be attributed to these peculiar 'life-force preservation' reasons).

On the inside of Koshchey's scrawny long ape-like arms are venom glands. (His blames Maria Morewna for his arms being so long - he complained once that hanging out in her dungeon for 10 years didn't do his posture any good).

During battle he has been known to lick these venomous parts and then bite his adversary thus causing intense pain and immobility.

Can change his voice at will. Terrifies his opponents with blood-curdling cries. Has also been known to use his voice to charm and induce sleep when necessary.

When astride his magical steed, Kotschey likes to throw off his flamboyant fish-skin clothes and it is said that he thus takes on the magical powers of his mount.

His fish-skin clothes, which he scatters behind him, are blown away and scattered by the four winds. Flocks of ravens gather behind him to fight over and devour these shreds. Shreds of his clothing may be sometimes seen flapping in the tree tops throughout the steppes.

Thus freed from all worldly constraints he gallops naked through the wild Caucus mountains with his long spindly legs trailing in the dust. In the picture by Ivan Bilibin, he is seen brandishing his sabre, shrieking blood-curdling threats and urging the spirits of the steppes to come to his aid.

Quite an emotional character, it is said that he will weep with rage for hours afterwards when outwitted by his quarry and his sobbing and wailing often echoes throughout the Caucuses, terrifying both man and beast alike.

During times of stress he may change himself into a storm or a whirlwind. In his spare time he seems to be off hunting quite a lot, although it is not specified what it is that he is hunting.

Although cunning, one of his weaknesses is that he is extremely vain and therefore may be outwitted by a woman pretending to find him irresistible.

He has twelve sisters (also shape-shifters) who come to avenge his death and who seem to be almost as charming as Koshchey himself.

Although Koshchey is a powerful sorcerer, he seems to be down the hierarchical ladder a rung or two to Baba Yaga. In one story he works as a herdsman for her in order to earn one of her magical steeds. This horse has the power of speech and gives Koshchey invaluable advice.

His favourite drink: A fermented drink make of green tea, sour goat's milk and salt.

He craves female company, and although he can turn on a charming voice at will, Kotschey is anything but a smooth talker.

When Maria Morewna is trying to pump him for information and plays up to him, he once again fails to realize that one of his oft-repeated remarks: "Foolish woman, long of hair: short of wit", does not do anything to improve his chances with her.

Beating about the bush is one of Koshchey's rules of thumb: for Koshchey to speak directly is to lose his power or 'life force'.

When she asks him about the time he spent at Baba Yaga's hut and where he got his horse he replies: "Three days there and I learned as much as in three years."

Koshchey is able to "far see" - he has the ability to see with his eyes closed.

A song he is fond of singing when he has drunk enough Kwas: (Some say he penned it himself while he was hanging out in Maria Morewna's dungeon)

Amidst great Rocks

Koschey the Deathless leaping,

Onward rides,

Wild and fierce

And free again from chains.

 

Like the storm he howls and weeping,

Sprays the steppes

With burning tears of rage.

 

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