Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In Russian mythology, especially in the Caucasus region, Koschei (Коще́й) is an evil spirit with a terrible appearance, menacing principally young women. Koschei is also known as Koschei the Immortal or Koschei the Deathless (Коще́й Бессме́ртный). As is usual in Russian transliterations, there are numerous other spellings, such as Kashchej and Kaschei. Katschei and Kastchei refer to the same monster, though these spellings seem to be limited to the spirit's appearance as the villain in Stravinsky's The Firebird.
Koschei cannot die. His soul is hidden separate from his body inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in an iron chest, which is buried under a green oak tree, which is on the island of Bujan , in the ocean. As long as his soul is safe, he cannot die. If the chest is dug up and opened, the hare will bolt away. If it is killed, the duck will emerge and try to fly off. Anyone possessing the egg has Koschei in their power. He begins to weaken, becomes sick and immediately loses the use of his magic. If the egg is tossed about, he likewise is flung around against his will. If the needle is broken (in some tales this must be done by specifically breaking it against Koschei's forehead), Koschei will die.
James Branch Cabell used the spelling Koshchei in several of his books. His character, however, was a sort of over-deity who presides over all the "first-level" human gods (such as Jehovah and Loki). Robert A. Heinlein used Cabell's version in his book Job: A Comedy of Justice.
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