I was skimming through a book I bought a while back, looking for monsters to use in a story when I came across the Domovoi.
It just shows that there are incredible creatures in folklore if you just look…
“A domestic spirit of Slavic folklore.
Traditionally, they made their home at the threshold points of the house, such as the hearth, the cellar, or the loft, and were guardians of the household and its property, including its animals. Members of the household left offerings of milk or bread to thank the Domovoi for completing household chores or to ensure their continued protection and guardianship.”
– More can be read in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper.
The domovoi are household spirits that were common in pre-Christian Slavic myths. Although Christian missionaries were mostly successful in removing the old pagan ideas from their new Slavic converts, domovoi traditions remained intact throughout the centuries.
Domovoi were household protectors that were generally seen as kind spirits. Most depictions of domovoi show small, bearded, masculine creatures that are similar to Western European household spirits such as hobgoblins.
To complete his chores and protect the house, a domovoi often took the form of the head of the household. Many legends state that a domovoi was seen working in the yard in the shape of the head of the household while the real person was fast asleep in bed. Rarely, a domovoi took the shape of a cat or dog.
If the household that he was protecting was rude or unclean, the domovoi harassed the family in ways that were similar to a poltergeist, pulling small pranks until the family cleaned up their act.
A domovoi could also act as an oracle. If one was seen dancing and laughing, good fortune would come. If a domovoi rubbed the bristles of a comb, a wedding would happen soon. But if he extinguished candles, misfortune would fall upon the household.
In Russian folklore a domovoy is a household spirit, also called “the grandfather” and “the master”. He looks like a tiny old man whose face is covered with white fur, or as a double of the head of a house. There is a legend on the origin of the domovye (plural): when the evil host had been thrown out of the sky, some malicious spirits fell into human habitats. Living near the mortals those spirits became soft and friendly in time so to say, transformed into a kind of mischievous helpers.
There is a domovoy in each house, and he watch not only the house itself but all the inhabitants as well (obviously, today we should say that there is a domovoy in each apartment). This spirit is a big trickster and mischief-maker: he tickles sleeping people, squalls, knocks on the wall, throws pans and plates just for the sake of nothing. He is on good terms with the domovye of the houses next-door to his own until they start pilfering; then he gets up to protect the house and the property.
There are two kinds of the domovye a domovoy who lives in a house and a dvorovoy who lives in a courtyard (now people can meet a dvorovoy only in the country). A domovoy is a shapeshifter and could take a shape of various animals -a cat or a dog, a snake or a rat.
A domovoi or domovoy (Russian: домово́й; IPA: [dəmɐˈvoj]; literally, “[he] from the house”) is a protective house spirit in Slavic folklore. The plural form in Russian can be transliterated domoviye or domovye (with accent on the vowel after the v). In some accounts, the domovoi is described as having a wife (domovikha or kikimora) who lives in the cellar or henhouse. The Slavs and Balts of former times kept idols of the domovoi.
Domovye are masculine, typically small, bearded, and sometimes covered in hair all over. According to some traditions, domovye take on the appearance of current or former owners of the house and have a grey beard, sometimes with tails or little horns. This belief is commonly held to be a remnant of the pre-Christian cult of ancestors which is also reflected in some of the titles of the domovoi (e.g., dedko, dedushka “grandfather”). There are tales of neighbors seeing the master of the house out in the yard while in fact the real master was asleep in bed. It has also been said that domovye can take on the appearance of cats or dogs. The domovoi is more often heard than seen and his voice is said to be hollow and harsh.
Traditionally, every house is said to have its own domovoi who lives either in the stove, under the threshold, in the cattle shed, or in the stables. The center of the house is also said to be their domain. The domovoi is seen as the home’s guardian, and if he is kept happy he maintains peace and order and rewards the household by helping with household chores and field work. To stay in his good graces, his family leaves him gifts such as milk, porridge, tobacco, bread, and salt.
If angered by the family’s slovenliness, disrespect, or abuse, the domovoi acts in a way resembling a poltergeist but is rarely harmful. The Russian word barabashka (Russian: бараба́шка; “knocker, pounder”) is a pejorative term sometimes used to describe domovye in connection with this poltergeist-like activity. If he becomes irretrievably offended he abandons the family. In times past, this flight was viewed as a great catastrophe as his benevolence was essential to the livelihood and well-being of the household. In Latvian folklore, the house spirit (analogous with the domovoi) would occasionally pinch the family in their sleep. If the resulting bruises didn’t hurt, no meaning was to be derived from this action, however if the bruises were painful, it meant that the house spirit wanted to drive the family from the house.
The domovoi is also an oracle, as his behavior foretells or forewarns about the future. If he laughs, sings, jokes, or dances good times can be expected, and if he strums a comb there is a wedding in the future, but if he wails at night, extinguishes a candle or makes himself visible it means a family member, usually the head of the household, will die. The touch of the domovoi is also a harbinger. If his furry hand feels warm, good fortune is indicated; however, if his touch is icy cold, misfortune is coming.
A Domovoi is a house spirit in Russian folklore, usually making its living place at the threshold under the entrance, under a stove or in the attic. It is usually said to resemble a tiny, hairy old man, though it can sometimes take the appearance of the current or the former owner of the house – there are stories of neighbours seeing the master of the house out on the yard tending to his land, when in reality he was asleep in his bed. The Domovoi can take on other forms as well, such as a cat, a dog or a snake.
Despite the vivid descriptions, a Domovoi rarely shows itself. Instead, it will announce its presence through bangs and knocks, as well as moving things around in a helpful or mischievous manner. In fact, legends say that seeing the Domovoi is a forewarning of death in the near future.
Russian peasants used to try and win their Domovoi’s favor by making offerings, such as leaving milk and biscuits or bread in the kitchen overnight. When moving to a new house, they would entice the Domovoi to move with them, as there are many benefits to its presence.
Today, the Domovoi, like other beings of folklore, has mostly faded into myth and legend, though it is possible people in some remote rural areas still pay tribute to the spirit of the house.
In Russia, monster does not scare you. You scare monster. Case in point, the shape-shifting Slavic household spirit called the Domovoi, literally “he of the house” (Belarus “Damavik”; Polish “Domowik”; Russian “Domovoj”; Serbian “Domaći”, Ukranian “Domovyk”; Slovak “Domovik”; Czech “Dědek”), a pleasant addition to home and hearth in a harmonious house, but akin to a fearsome poltergeist when domestic strife dominates, when not properly propitiated, or in regards to problematic neighbors. “The domovoi, or house fairies, are a very moodish lot. You must not mention their names after twilight, and if you ill-treat them they will make sleep impossible. If your house is blessed with good domovoi who love you and your children, they will do many things for you — they will take care of the horses, watch over your daughter, see that she gets a good suitor, and will never let you or yours know starvation” (Wright, 1917, p123-124).
One of the most curious and widespread beliefs of the peasants is that every house contains a domovoi or house-spirit. Russian peasants catch glimpses of the domovoi about as often as Americans see ghosts, but they all believe in his existence. The domovoi is described as a little old man, no bigger than a five-year-old boy. Sometimes he is seen wearing a red shirt, with a blue girdle, like a moujik on holidays. At other times he sports a suit of blue. He has a white beard and yellow hair and glowing eyes. Though mostly invisible, the peasants firmly believe that he is always about the premises and busying himself in their affairs. His usual hiding-place is understood to be behind the big brick stove that forms the chief feature of a Russian cottage. When the people are asleep he issues forth and conducts himself amicably or otherwise, according to the humor he happens to be in. The domovoi is mischievous as a monkey, and like that animal is inclined to fly into a passion at very short notice if he is not satisfied with his surroundings and treatment. Many peasant families after eating supper always leave a portion of food on the table for the domovoi, who would otherwise consider himself ill-treated and disturb their sleep by pounding on the table with his fist (Thomas, 1891, p292-293).
The natural form of the Domovoi reportedly ranges from a hirsute, small, long-bearded man to a slightly more ghoulish dwarf-like creature with horns and a tail (likely a late overlay via Eastern Orthodox Christianity that associated common pagan house spirits with devils), but it is believed he can assume the form of the resident family members, their dead ancestors, or family pets. In theory, every Slavic home has a Domovoi living under its threshold or stove and it is traditionally the home’s guardian, rewarding respect with assistance in chores, providing pre-cognitive warnings of danger to household members.
Steadfast belief in the Domovoi among Slavic cultures persisted well into the 19th Century, if not the 20th. Particularly interesting is the fact that the Domovoi for a good portion of his history was actually credited with defending the home from external goblins of more malign intent.
There are certainly analogues for the Domovoi in other cultures, which no doubt is due to the near universality of the origins of religion in ancestor worship, and the early sanctity of the household as the most fundamental form of sacred space. In particular, the Celtic Brownie has been noted as being almost identical to the Slavic Domovoi.
I took all of this and turned it into a creature that I can use in my writing.
Domovoi [Origin of Fae Page]
The Domovoi are invisible servants. They do not clean or cook, but they do take care of the animals of whatever dwelling they’ve claimed as their home. They even live with humans. Most importantly, they protect the home from invaders – whether supernatural or human.
They act as a sort of oracle: if the Domovoi become visible, it foretells of catastrophe approaching. If they extinguish candles (lights) trouble is imminent.
If one sees the Domovoi, they have little horns, tails, and long, grey beards. They are waif-thin and wear grey suits (they act much like butlers; the suits matching the era they live in).
Domovoi are patient, with high tolerance for neglect.
They only consume bread and milk.
If they are not regularly fed and given the proper respect on occasion, they turn feral and attack: the inhabitants of the dwelling they protect, usually by pinching or worse; the animals on the property, mostly by scaring them and chasing them off; and even the land itself, making plants wither and die. You can tell that they’ve turned feral before they attack: they have nasty sneers and their eyes are red. The longer the problem is left untreated (feeding them and telling them how awesome they are), the more malicious they become until they need to be removed by other Fae.
The Domovoi is but one of several creatures I used in a gothic fantasy story I entered into a #creaturefeature competition on Wattpad early August.
“Alyssa’s grumbling stomach pulled her thoughts back to the present.
Not even her tightly laced corset could quiet the beast.
‘Princess? You should stay away from the windows.’
She took one last look at the sun and walked back into the shadows. She was surrounded by lots of candelabras filled with lit candles. Yet the darkness wouldn’t flee.
The Domovoi sighed gratefully as he closed the curtains. Alyssa knew that she’d been a little difficult of late. She felt that she could snap at any moment and rip someone’s head off. Hunger could turn anyone feral, even a proper princess. Somehow this hunger had turned to rioting among her subjects. This had caused her parents to seek advice from the most powerful warlock around. They’ve been gone for some time.
Alyssa’s eyes flashed to the corner. Another Domovoi had extinguished a few.
She swallowed, straightened an invisible crease from the brocade stretched over the hoop framing her dress and walked away.
Seeing the grey bearded servants already foretold catastrophe. Having them extinguish candles…
She shivered delicately as she walked down the twilight corridor. A mirror barely caught her reflection dressed in gold and pink flowers on a silver-gold background. Even the dress couldn’t hold or give light.”
– Wishmaster, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you enjoy reading this tale. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. I haven’t heard back yet about the competition I’d entered it into, but I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I did writing it. Have you heard of the Domovoi before? Do you like gothic fantasy?