Russian folklore: Domovoi
In Russian and Slavic folklore a domovoi or domovoy, was a household spirit. Domovoi are usually small bearded males who sometimes have bodies covered in white fur, or hair and sometimes they are affectionately called “Grandfather” or “Master.” Sometimes they appear as the miniature double of the head of the household and sometimes, but rarely, they have a female companion.
According to tradition there are two kinds of domovoi. One kind lives inside people’s houses and the other, called a dvorovoi, lives outside in the yard or garden and can only be found in the country. Sometimes they have a wife and are considered less friendly and more dangerous than a domovoi especially to animals and livestock that have white fur.
Origins of the Domovoi
Some people think they have originated before Christianity and were part of an ancestor cult. Another tradition tells that they were once malevolent spirits who were thrown from the skies. Some of these spirits landed in human dwellings and overtime grew to like people in the dwellings and grew less evil. They still retained the ability to cause mischief when they wanted if they were not adequately placated, or were treated disrespectfully. However, overtime as they got used to humans they became more benign and helpful. They can grow fond of people who take care of their home environment and will help maintain it but dislike those who neglect it and begin causing trouble.
The Shapeshifting Domovoi
There have been claims that domovoi can take on the appearance of the owner or householder of the home. Witnesses have claimed to see the owner of the home outside in the garden or yard when in fact he has been sound asleep in bed. They are also thought to have the ability to change their shape into replicas of the cat or dog of the home and even rats and snakes. The voice of the domovoi is said to sound rather harsh and hollow.
By tradition every home has its own domovoi. Although the middle part of the home is said to be their domain they also live under the threshold, or under the stove, stairs, or sometimes outside in the chicken or cattle shed. Every human house, cottage, apartment, flat or dwelling of any kind large, or small, has a domovoi to look after it and its human dwellers.
The domovoi can sometimes be a trickster or maker of mischief and sometimes tickles people when they are asleep. He will also knock on the walls and throw crockery and pans for the sake of making mischief. Usually he will be friendly and on good terms with the domovoi next door but if they start stealing from the home he protects he will defend the property from his neighbour.
The domovoi is the guardian of a home and it is wise to keep him happy by leaving rewards such as salt, porridge, bread, milk or tobacco. If he is kept happy he will guard the home and maintain order and peace and will help with household chores and outside jobs, but a word of warning. If a domovoi is disrespected or abused, or the homeowner becomes untidy and slovenly the domovoi can become angry and bad things start to happen. He becomes like a poltergeist making objects move and fly through the air and things happen that should not, though he will rarely harm humans directly.
Sometimes when the domovoi is producing unhelpful or unwelcome behavior this can be called barabashka which means knocker or pounder. The domovoi can become greatly offended at times and will abandon the home and family. This was something that caused great concern as his presence usually ensured a benevolent and harmonious atmosphere in the home prevailed.
Foretelling the Future
It was believed that the future could be foretold by the behaviour of the domovoi. If the domovoi was laughing and joking, or singing and dancing, then happy times can be looked forward to. When he sweeps his thumb up and down a comb like he is strumming a guitar a wedding is pending. The touch of the domovoi can also dictate the future. Good luck will abound when his furry hand feels warm but when it feels cold then beware because bad luck is on its way. Beware when a domovoi becomes visible, puts out the flame of a candle, or cries in the night. These are signs of an impending death of someone in the family and very often the head of the home.
Respect Your Domovoi!
All in all, according to tradition, a domovoi in the home can be of great benefit to the homeowner. To keep him content they must respect, reward and placate him in an appropriate manner and do their utmost to maintain the home environment in a clean and tidy state. If these things are done then the home will be a happy and harmonious environment for all.
© 05/08/2020 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright August 5th, 2020 zteve t evans