Soidla T. R. (2008) Quiet life of wisdom in language and fairy tales: Svarog and Koschei. Sutra 1(1), 104-106.
World Congress on Psychology and Spirituality-2008, Delhi, India
Quiet life of wisdom in language and fairy tales: Svarog and Koschei
Tonu R. Soidla,
St. Petersburg, Russia
In Russian mythology, Koschei, (also Kashchei) is an evil person of ugly senile appearance, menacing principally young women. Koschei is also known as Koschei the Immortal or Koschei the Deathless. This name may be derived from "kost’" (bone), thus suggesting a skeleton-like appearance (Kaschei-Wikipedia, 2007). The fairy tales involving Kaschei are still very popular among Russian children.
Tilak (1903) considered Koschei as a Vedic hero, representative of evil forces of cold, darkness and death. This ascription was penetrating but rather intuitive.
Demin (2007) has provided some evidence in support of the original version of the name as “Kosh the Immortal.” The root “kosh” exists in contemporary Russian language, for example, in “koshelek” (a purse).
Koschei is called Immortal because he cannot be killed by conventional means targeting his body. “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 Buyan, in the ocean”(Kaschei-Wikipedia, 2007).
Quite unexpectedly this description reminds us of the structure of five sheaths (koshas) veiling Atman according to the Taittriya Upanishad.
Five sheaths: of food, of the vital breath, of the mind, of the intellect and of bliss veil Brahman/Atman (“A tma,”” a tamas”). In Sanskrit the sheaths are named koshas: Annamaya kosha, Pranamaya kosha, Manomaya kosha, Vijnanamaya kosha, Anandamaya kosha (Swami Nikhilananda, translator, 2006).
Possibly this meaning of the word “kosha” allows for considering Kosh the Immortal as a dramatic visualization of the archetypical small “I,” ego, as opposed to the real “I,” Self.
Then one can see Kaschei’s death as an Ego death due to realizing the true Self (Atman).
Alternatively, Kaschei can be considered as Tamas coated in five sheaths like an Atman, perhaps an ancient dualistic counterpart of Atman.
The term illusion, in the form of tempting and evil Mara, seems also to apply to the events related to Kaschei’s death, especially, when taking into account, that the main consort of Kaschei is a sorceress called Marena (Morena) (Marena-Wikipedia, 2007). Here one can call to mind the “matryoshka dolls,” nested dolls that are very popular in Russia that call to one’s memory both the sheaths of Atman and sheaths of the Kaschei’s death-needle. The derivation of Matrena (giving rise to Matryoshka) from Marena remains conjectural, of course. Matryoshkas look healthy, rustic, naïve, beyond anything evil or mystical. But who knows?
Also the egg, the last sheath of the deadly needle, seems to hint at the world egg (cosmic egg), found in the creation myths of many cultures and civilizations. (Usually, the universe or some primordial being comes into existence hatching from such an egg.) The result of breaking such an egg can obviously lead to global consequences (Demin, 2007).
Indeed, in the version of Kaschei tales (Naumov, 1994) that involve his consort Marena, the very act of killing Koschei leads to a kind of pralaya, to the end of the world caused by global fire, followed by flood.
Illusion or not, the cosmogonic role of Koschei shows that a wholly black view of this hero is not the whole truth about him. Demin (2007) found evidence allowing us to consider Koschei being related to Kashyapa. In the Puranas, Kashyapa was an ancient sage (one of the rishis), father of the Devas, Asuras, Nagas and all ofhumanity(Kashyapa-Wikipedia, 2007). It seems quite likely that the original image of Koschei had not only negative connotations.
Independent of these philosophical speculations, the survival of the term kosha not only in the name of a popular fairy tale hero but together with all the imagery related to five metaphysical sheaths seems to be rather remarkable.
Somewhat related seems to be a story, connected with a Slavic god Svarog (Svarog-Wikipedia, 2007). The Russian words vor (thief), var (boil, arch.: fire) andtvorchestvo (creativity) and some other words related to healing, telling lies and naming several magical creatures share the remarkable root vor (var). An important Slavic god Svarog, a fire and smithery god also retains this most powerful root in his name, reminiscent of the Greek myth of Prometheus. What is most curious is that Prometheus, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals, also carries in hidden form the same constellation of meanings, not only in his myth but in his very name.
“The name comes from the same proto-Indo-European language word that produces the Vedic pra math, which means "to steal." This verb produces pramathyu-s, "thief," whence "Prometheus." The Vedic myth of fire's theft by Matarigvan is, not coincidentally, an analog to the account found in Greek myth. To these etymological cognates we may add pramantha, the tool used to create fire. Thus Fortson 2004, 27; Williamson 2004, 214-15.” (From Prometheus-Wikipedia, 2007)
It is difficult to estimate, how widespread is such a cryptic survival of ancient philosophical meanings in language and fairy tales. My impression is that we still have overlooked many cases of this kind.
After shipwreck of civilizations, fragments of the dominant metaphysical systems are not always lost, but sometimes they seem (as fascinating toys or tales) to find their way to safety of children rooms. I have supposed that metaphysics and creative art are based on special modules, heritable seed texts, written down within hypothetical synchronization signals (“filled commas”) of memory (Shapiro & Soidla, 2004). This helps to resurfacing of lost material of this kind. The very construction of these modules allows for multiple interaction with other modules. Below we describe several “case studies” possibly speaking in favor of reality of such survival of metaphysical material. In Russian mythology, Koschei (also Kashchei) is an evil person of ugly senile appearance. Tilak (1903) considered Koschei as a Vedic hero, representative of evil forces of cold, darkness and death. Demin (2007) has provided a synopsis of numerous ideas about the genesis of image of Koschei, including some evidence in support of the original version of the name as “Kosh.” The root “kosh” exists in contemporary Russian language, for example, in “koshelek” (a purse). Koschei is called Immortal, because he cannot be killed by conventional means. “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 oak tree” (Kaschei, Wikipedia). What has escaped attention of scholars is a parallel between the sheaths masking Koschei’s death, and the structure of five sheaths (koshas) veiling Atman according to the Taittriya Upanishad. Five sheaths: of food, of the vital breath, of the mind, of the intellect and of bliss veil Brahman/Atman (“a tamas”). In Sanskrit the sheaths are named koshas: Annamaya kosha, Pranamaya kosha, Manomaya kosha, Vijnanamaya kosha, Anandamaya kosha (Feuerstein, 1990, Swami Nikhilananda, 2006). Possibly this meaning of the word “kosha” allows for considering Kosh the Immortal as a dramatic visualization of the archetypical small “I,” ego, opposed to the real “I,” Self. One can see Kaschei’s death as an Ego death due to realizing the true Self (Atman) in Advaitic Vedanta (see “Who”, 2002). Independent of these philosophical speculations, the survival of the term kosha both in the name of Koschei and within a story, cleverly rationalizing the metaphysics implied, seems to be remarkable. More details are provided in (Soidla, 2008a, Soidla 2008b). Bone legged Baba Yaga (Baba Roga) is, in Slavic folklore, a popular witch-like character, who lives in a house on chicken feet. There are some stories where she helps people with their quests, but generally Baba Yaga is shown as an antagonist. She kidnaps children and threatens to bake them. Baba Yaga’s hut is surrounded by fence made of human bones and topped with human skulls with burning star-like eyes. Propp (1998) supposed that the hut is related to the initiation huts, where neophytes were symbolically "consumed" by the monster, to emerge later as adults. He classified Baba Yaga’s roles as that of a female warrior, a donor and child abductor. Here we suggest Baba Yaga’s connection with two Egyptian forms of a soul of a deceased person: Ba (“soul”) and Akh (a luminous star-like “spirit”), both depicted as birds (Wikipedia). These terms clearly refer to chtonic world of Baba Yaga and point towards chicken-like legs of Yaga’s hut, to her own “bone leg” and to the “burning” eye-sockets of the skulls. Egyptian Gods are often considered to be Ba of other Gods. Baba Yaga can also be considered to be related to Ba or Ba Akh of Hathor. Hathor is a horned Goddess of starry sky, also of music (Wikipedia). In her chtonic aspect she greets, feeds and helps the new souls in another world. As Sekhmet, she is a warrior and as Isis was involved in baking a child in fire in Byblos (presumably to transform his physical nature). It is difficult to estimate, how widespread is such a cryptic survival of ancient metaphysics. I have demonstrated (Soidla, 2008c) that imagery related to Frog-Princess points to some yogic techniques aimed at “opening the third eye”. Also I have noted a curious constellation of fire and theft in the material related to both to Prometheus and to Slavic smithery and fire god Svarog (Soidla, 2008b).
References: Demin, Valery N. Hyperborean mysteries of Russia Moscow: Veche, 2007 [In Russian]; Feuerstein G. Encyclopedic dictionary of yoga. New York: Paragon House, 1990; Propp V.Y. Morphology and historical roots of fairy tales. Moscow: Labirint. 1998 [In Russian]; Shapiro S., & Soidla T. R. (2004) Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 36(2), 202-219, 2004; Soidla T.R. Sutra 1(1), 104-106, 2008a; Soidla T.R. Proceedings of the Baltic Pedagogical Academy 80, 69-74, 2008b [In Russian]; Soidla T.R. ibid. 80, 75-78, 2008c. [In Russian]; Swami Nikhilananda (translator) Taittiriya Upanishad http://sanatan.intnet.mu/upanishads/taittiriya.htm 2006; Tilak, L. B. G. The Arctic Home in the Vedas. Poona City, India, 1903; “Who”. Maha Yoga. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam, 2002; Wikipedia—http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki.