I just realized a few days ago that Sauron's One Ring is kind-of like a horcrux, in that Sauron can't ever be totally destroyed as long as the One Ring exists. That set me to wondering: did Tolkien invent that idea, or did he take it from some other legend? How far back does the "horcrux" idea go? (Not taking away from JKR the originality of murdering someone as the way to make a horcrux.)

[edit: For purposes of discussion, I am asking about a device/means to allow one to survive death, which requires one to put a large part of one's power/soul into the device, but which does not change one's mode of existence.]

[edit: The interesting question about a phylactery as a soul jar is different. First, it is asking if there is a logical line of reasoning or literary transition for phylacteries (boxes of scripture worn on the forehead and arm) morphing into soul jars (containers for souls). It isn't asking for the origin of the "horcrux" (soul jar) idea. Second, the phylacteries in the question are used by liches (sorcerers who have turned themselves into undead) in D&D, so the other question isn't even asking about soul jars in general. Third, Sauron's Ring and Voldemort's horcruxes did not change them into undead creatures, but rather allowed them to survive having their bodies killed. So the phylacteries of the other question are very different sorts of soul jars. Hope this edit clarifies.]

  • 2
    Not sure where the true origin is, but the idea is pretty old. See this answer to a question about a Phylactery / soul jar.
    – K-H-W
    May 18, 2015 at 13:13
  • 3
    The answers have older examples, but isn't Dorian Gray's portrait a kind of horcrux? That precedes Lord of the Ring of about half a century.
    – Taladris
    May 18, 2015 at 16:45
  • I edited this question to make it clear that it is not a duplicate. Please remove the duplicate marking.
    – dmm
    May 19, 2015 at 13:14
  • Tolkien mentions this old idea in his essay "On Fairy Stories", specifically referencing the story "The Monkey's Heart" in one of the Andrew Lang Fairy books Jul 22, 2022 at 20:36

2 Answers 2


As pointed out in the comments, a horcrux is part of the trope Soul Jar.

One reference I can find is from the biblical book of Ezekiel where the angels are described as having their spirits contained in wheel machines. It is estimated to have been written between 593 and 565 B.C.

An older and better reference would be "Tale of Two Brothers" which dates to about 1,200 BC. Bata places his heart atop a tree and tells his brother, Anpu, to find it so he can revive Bata were he to die. Bata is killed, Anpu finds the heart, and Bata is resurrected.

  • 8
    That's good as a general reference to having one's soul in an object, but I think the question is also asking for the origin of the concept of a being putting their soul in some object in order to ensure that the only way to kill them is to destroy the object, barring that they can live (and in our world, not banished to some other realm of existence) indefinitely. The story about Koschei the Deathless in the answer K-H-W linked to might be the earliest clear example, but maybe someone knows of an older one.
    – Hypnosifl
    May 18, 2015 at 14:50
  • I don't think the "angels with spirits in the wheels" comparison works. The passage does not say anything about the angels voluntarily placing their essence in the wheels, and there's certainly no implication that this somehow grants the angel immortality. It seems more like these "wheels" are some kind of companion vessel that stores "fire". I believe there is too much room for interpretation to make a definitive claim that this is what is meant by the passage, and it's certainly not the impression I get from a plain reading.
    – jpmc26
    May 18, 2015 at 23:08

FWIW, I found this:


It is Gaelic, and dates to at least 1820, but almost certainly is much older Gaelic mythology. Seems like something Tolkien might have liked and known about (as opposed to Koschei the Deathless).

[edit: The story has a giant, who kidnaps the young king's wife. The wife tricks the giant into telling her the secret of his invincibility. (Shades of Sampson and Delilah -- but that's another trope!) The secret is...his soul is hidden inside an egg, inside a duck, inside a wether (?), under a flagstone, under a door's threshold. Very similar to Koschei.]

  • 1
    +1 for a very interesting story (even if the 19th-century half-illiterate Gàidhlig was a bit hard to parse in places). The giant with the hidden soul seems to be the exact same mythological trope as Кощей in the Slavic mythologies, which is good evidence that it is indeed a very old trope. May 18, 2015 at 17:21
  • Good thinking. The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body, a Norwegian fairy tail, sounds like a variant of that one. I remember there was a good adaptation of it for the Jim Henson "Storyteller" series, it's online here.
    – Hypnosifl
    May 18, 2015 at 17:30
  • 2
    You should summarize the parts of the story relevant to the question. Who was the creator of the horcrux, why was it made, and what form did it take? May 18, 2015 at 18:53
  • @PaulDraper: Summarized. In the old legends like this that I have found, you don't get any details about how the situation came about. It just is. I'd be interested in learning about one that included the origin story of the "horcrux".
    – dmm
    May 18, 2015 at 21:20

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.