The domovoi is often called the “master” of the house. Many rural and urban Russians, as well as some neighboring peoples, still believe that every household has its own spirit guardian, which determines the well-being of family members, their health and the fertility of livestock.
The name “domovoi” derives from the Russian word “dom” (house).
Domovoi’s name day. Aleksandr Maskaev
The domovoi’s love
In the time of ancient Rus’ all men had beards. The shaving of facial hair was introduced only by Peter the Great. If a man woke up in the morning and found his beard plaited it was regarded as a token of love and respect from his domovoi. Good success should attend his house.
The domovoi likes cleanness, wealth and hard-working hosts, who try to make their home more comfortable and beautiful.
How does the domovoi reveal itself?
As a rule, the domovoi remains unseen. The creature reveals itself in strange noises, the sounds of footsteps in silence, sigh and even murmur.
Where did the domovoi live?
Traditionally, the Russian stove was the domovoi’s living place. The spirit lived under the stove, behind it or behind the chimney. Sometimes it could reside under a broom, in a barn or even in the Russian banya (sauna) if there was a furnace.
The “bannik” (the banya domovoi). Viktor Korolkov
If in the banya someone was burnt by hot steam or boiling water, the domovoi would be blamed for it.
The Russian banya and the banya domovoi. Aleksandr Kostenko
The domovoi: good or evil
The domovoi had the main features of a household keeper. However, if it becomes dissatisfied with something, the spirit can make mischief or even cause some serious damage. For instance, the domovoi 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 tried to understand the reason of its displeasure and bribe their domovoi as soon as possible. Otherwise, the vengeful creature would be on their back.
The domovoi was usually bribed with milk or bread put into a corner behind the stove.
The domovoi is also characterized by mischievous nature. Although the spirit can be naughty, it plays tricks out of boredom and not wickedness.
In some cases this character trait can serve as a perfect excuse. If something gets lost (more likely it was put in other place) it is the domovoi’s fault. When it grows tired of playing games, the hidden thing will be found under the nose.
Visiting the domovoi. Aleksandr Maskaev
On the whole, the domovoi is believed to be a good spirit. If masters look after this creature, it protects their house from various dangers, including fire accidents, the strikes of lightning or floods. The domovoi is capable of switching off an iron and keeping your plates untouched.
The domovoi tries to take good care of pets. If a cat gets too noisy during the night, then it plays with the home domovoi.
Some people hired a team of carpenters to build their house. It happened so that builders were treated badly and did not get the promised money for their work. Then they put floor boards in a special way.
When the night came, these boards got colder and started to creak like someone was walking there. The noises scared the masters of the house to death. The deceived carpenters were so cunning in their revenge that it sounded like real footsteps!
At times the owners had to sell such a “haunted” house very cheap because they could not live there anymore.
Carpenters’ revenge has survived to these days.
The domovoi’s move
When people built a new house or moved to another place, they took their domovoi with them.
How could it be otherwise? A new house would be vulnerable without the domovoi’s protection. Then misfortunes could happen, a fire or even something worse.
Previously, the domovoi was moved in a bast shoe (traditional birch-bark shoes and currently a popular Russian souvenir). Nowadays the domovoi is transported in a slipper. People should always invite their domovoi to go with them by saying: “Domovoi, domovoi, here is your sledge (a bast shoe), go with us”.
In a new house people prepared a treat for their domovoi. Interestingly, this pagan rite accompanied the Christian one as a priest was brought to bless a living place.
The domovoi. Vladimir Chernikov
Paganism in the Russian life
The domovoi belongs to the pantheon of Old Russian pagan gods.
Modern scientists believe the domovoi replaced other Old Russian guardians like Rod and Chur. However, the name of the god Rod remained in the Russian language as the word “rod” (gender). The name Chur is still used in lower-class utterances to protect from evil spirits “chur menya!” (absit omen!), which literally stands for “chur, zashchiti menya!” (chur, protect me!).
The Christian priesthood tried to couple the domovoi together with other imps and set common people against this creature. Under the influence of Christianity the bulk of supreme pagan gods left people’s everyday life. The domovoi was an exception. This creature is likely to remain in the Russian life because Christianity deals with a spiritual level while the domovoi is connected with more mundane things.
Besides, the domovoi can explain a lot of misfortunes. The milk got spilt, it is the domovoi’s fault. The milk goes off, the domovoi is to blame. Something clatters or rattles in the house, it is the domovoi once again. And there is nothing to worry about since the guilty spirit is found.
The wife of a merchant and the domovoi. Boris Kustodiev
The domovoi is still revered in Russia, especially in its rural areas
This article is based upon the written works of Soviet and Russian ethnographers.