Do You Have a Domovoi?
Posted: May 6th. 2012
Fairies and spirits are spoken of in tales all across the world. Little, mischievous creatures that wreak havoc or offer help – always as they see fit, and only sometimes when you truly need it. Legends portray them in so many different forms, each more exciting than the last. I may not have directly seen a fairy, but I have felt their presence once or twice, and the concept of such spirits has always fascinated me.
One thing that I have noticed is that the fairies in legends seldom match the modern media conception of fairies. Little fluttery winged creatures may seem beautiful and magickal, but I tend to find far more stories of ugly trolls sitting under bridges, or beautiful women who turn out to be elven seductresses, luring young men off to the realm of the fey. Obviously, not all fairies are malevolent – most of them seem to be neutral – but they are rarely the completely benevolent, cheery souls that the movies tell us about. A prime example of this is the domovoi, a common occurrence in Russian folktales.
A domovoi is a Russian house spirit who generally takes up residence under the stove, the doorway, or in the attic. While they are shape shifters, and could take the form of anything from a cat to a mouse to a snake, one of their more common forms is that of a little old man. Much like brownies, domovoi can be incredibly useful; if they like you, they will help you with chores, feed your animals while you are away, and protect your home from robbers.
However, domovoi are not the house spirits of gentle bedtime stories. In order to help their home family, the domovoi will steal from neighboring families and even attack the domovoi of other houses. If you are too noisy, fail to be respectful, or ignore a commandment from the spirit, he will retaliate. Unlike many western fairies, domovoi are not known for harmless mischief. If you get on their bad side, they will do anything from blighting your crops to killing your livestock. One legend even tells of a woman whose domovoi braided her hair every night, and told her never to undo the braid. She went 30 years without combing her hair until her wedding night, when she decided to wash it. Her family found her strangled the next morning with her own braid.
Despite some of the bad reputation, domovoi can be benevolent and bring luck to your home. A well-treated domovoi can be a blessing upon your house, so long as you step lightly.
In order to determine whether or not you have a domovoi, first you need to see if you have any strange activity going on in the household. Domovoi have a tendency to announce their presence through loud noises or by making small changes – turning off the stove, moving objects around, and generally either being useful or mischievous. Obviously, not every random bump in the night is going to be a strange Russian house fairy, but if enough strange things happen, it is a possibility you may want to consider.
Once you have ascertained that there is something going on in your home, try leaving an offering of milk or bread out. These are foods that the domovoi typically enjoys, and will help increase his respect for you. Other foods might be acceptable as well, but for first contact you likely can’t go wrong with being traditional.
Having established good terms with the spirit, make sure to maintain them. Domovoi prefer quiet, clean homes, so try not to be too disturbing of his peace. If he likes you, the fairy may even decide to help keep things clean for you – ashes from the fireplace will remain swept up, small messes on the floor might disappear, or plants may stay healthy even though you forgot to water them. Good fortune tends to come the way of a household with a happy domovoi as well, although it may be in subtle ways.
One of the biggest things to be wary of if you do have a domovoi is to make sure to follow any special rules it sets out for you. They seldom make direct contact with the residents of the house, so there may likely be a reason for any commandments. No matter how trivial they seem to you, the domovoi takes them very seriously. A prime example comes from an old story about a woman whose domovoi forbid her to leave the house without a cloth covering her head. The woman failed to obey the command, and was yanked back into her abode by her hair. While the results of disobeying the domovoi’s command might not always be this drastic, it is well worth it to listen.
It is somewhat unlikely that you will find a domovoi if you live in the west, as their native land is Russia. However, inviting the domovoi along when a family moved was customary, as failing to do so could anger the creature. Thus, there is a good chance that one or two made their way to other parts of the world, so don’t completely turn down the notion that one may be living within your home.
So try paying attention the next time you find things are inexplicably moved, or you feel a strange presence wandering around. Go gently with the broom when you sweep under the stove, and don’t make too much noise if you visit the attic. A little offering of milk now and then can only help, and will surely be appreciated if such a fairy does indeed live in your abode. And likewise, be kind to any small creatures like snakes or cats hanging around your porch – they could be a spirit in disguise, debating whether or not to bless your home with his presence. Domovoi may be a bit of a handful, but a well-treated fairy will bring nothing but good fortune to you and yours.