Domovoi – A House Spirit in Slavic Mythology
Domovoi is a house spirit in Slavic folklore. It is masculine, typically small, bearded, and sometimes covered in hair all over. According to some traditions, the domovoi takes on the appearance of current or former owners of the house but has a grey beard, sometimes with tails or little horns.
The name “domovoi” derives from the Slavic word “dom” (house). It is the protector of the house. Every home had its own domovoy who dwelled behind the oven and who would abandon the house if he was not properly honored. The domovois protected not only the human inhabitants of the house but their herds and household animals as well.
In some areas, Slavs believed that prosperity and well-being could not exist in a new house until the head of the family died and became its guardian spirit.
The domovoi is often called the “master” of the house. Many rural and urban Eastern Slavs, still believe that every household has its own spirit guardian, which determines the well-being of its family members, their health and the fertility of their livestock.
As a rule, the domovoy remains unseen. The creature reveals itself in strange noises, the sounds of footsteps in silence, sighs, and sometimes even murmuring.
Traditionally, the stove was the domovoi’s dwelling place. The domovoi tries to take good care of pets – if a cat gets too noisy during the night, that means it is playing with the home domovoy. People would usually bribe the domovoy with milk or bread put into a corner behind the stove. The domovoy possesses the main features of a household keeper. On the whole, the domovoy is believed to be a good spirit (even though nothing is 100% good or bad in paganism). If the masters look after this creature, it protects their house from various dangers, including fire accidents, lightning strikes or floods. The domovoi is capable of “switching off” all the iron and keeping your plates untouched. However, if it becomes dissatisfied with something, the spirit can make mischief or even cause some serious damage. For instance, the domovoy can make milk go off or put some obstacle in front of a person wandering in the dark, so he or she stumbles upon it, falls and gets hurt quite badly. Sometimes peasants would wake in the morning and find their cattle exhausted. They believed that the domovoi nursed a grudge against them and was riding their cows and horses all night long to tire them out. Then people would try to understand the reason behind its displeasure and bribe their domovoy as soon as possible. Otherwise, the vengeful creature would be leap on their back and harass them.
When people built a new house or moved to another place, they took their domovoy with them. How could it be otherwise? A new house would be vulnerable without the domovoy’s protection. Then misfortunes could happen, a fire or something worse.
Modern ethnologists believe that the domovoy replaced other Old Slavic guardians like Chur. The name Chur is still used among Russians in order to protect them from evil spirits “chur menya!” (absit omen!), which literally stands for “chur, zashchiti menya!” (chur, protect me!)