After looking at two nature-dwelling entities (the Vodyanoi and Leshy), this week it’s time for something (or someone) that’s much closer to home; literally living under your stove and a lot more human-oriented than previous entries in this series.
Rather than being malevolent towards humans, the Domovoi are house spirit-guardians, linked directly to the family within the home rather than to the bricks and mortar under which they dwell.
So much so that the belief, amongst very traditional households, is that the elder of the family should even invite their Domovoi spirit along when moving house.
In appearance, the entity is described as a small, hairy, grey-bearded, humanoid that takes the general form of an elder male ancestor, or even resembles the present-day master of the house. Nothing too outlandish or disturbing there, though some descriptions also bestow Domovoi with optional ‘pick-and-mix’ extras: brow-less burning eyes, horse-ears, a tail and horns. Certainly enough for a good scare on a midnight trip to the fridge or bathroom!
It is also said that he can mask his appearance by adopting the form of a dog or cat – his true form may be a very bad omen indeed (see later). However, like the proverbial Victorian child; he is usually heard rather than seen, making his presence felt in harsh, hollow vocal tones or via the sounds of his activities.
Your Domovoi is said to dwell principally under the stove, at the centre of the house or beneath the threshold. Animal outhouses are possible alternatives, although somewhat ignominious by comparison. He seeks to maintain order and peace throughout the home and if treated well, helps with chores of the house and field. Small tokens of nourishment and comfort are appreciated, even expected, such as: porridge, milk, bread, salt and tobacco. Maintaining good standards of living within the house will keep him happy, along with respectful behaviour and the avoidance of bad language at all times; especially so at the dinner table.
Certain other protocols should also be observed when dealing with your Domovoi, for the benefit of all concerned. Food or cutlery should not be left out overnight, lest the utensils be used by the spirit for his unfathomable purposes or the food made ‘unclean’ for human consumption. In any case he is a little light-fingered when it comes to useful tools and may take a few for purposes unknown.
A mark of respect should also be paid to the Domovoi if the house is to be left unoccupied for a while, perhaps for a holiday or long visit away. This is undertaken when family members “take a seat for the road”, ie: sitting in respectful silence after everything is packed for the trip, as a way to say a temporary goodbye to their benevolent Domovoi.
If the human residents slip into slovenly behaviour and let household standards fall, then the Domovoi will resort to Poltergeist-style antics in order to show his displeasure. Worse still, he may ‘smother’ sleeping family members (presumably not to the point of death?!) to show that something is wrong, or seek to injure the family’s cattle and horses as physical evidence of his anger – or perhaps as a misdirected punishment? In extreme cases he may desert the family altogether, a disastrous occurrence that removes his cohesive influence and leaves the disgraced home-dwellers to their own ruin.
Assuming that good relations (literally) are maintained, the Domovoi may communicate indirectly with the family through certain patterns of behaviour, indicating his mood or signalling portentous events to come. Signs of an ebullient Domovoi; laughing, joking around, dancing and singing all announce good times/fortune ahead, as does the warm touch of his furry hand. An impending marriage is signified by his strumming of a comb.
Darker messages may also be sent, however: a cold touch for instance foretells the coming of misfortune. Worse still: his snuffing of a candle, nocturnal wails or his visual manifestation all signify the approaching death of a family member, usually the head of the household. Fortunately this is a rare occurrence, and frankly there’s usually not much you can do about it anyway, so best enjoy the good times.
Remember folks: keep your Domovoi happy at all times, then your livestock needn’t worry.