Slavic Folklore II: Urban Spirits, Demons, and Creatures

(pl. domoviye, domovye)

The Domovoi is a male house spirit in Slavic mythology, alternately known as Domovik, Domovoy or numerous similar names due to translations.  The Russian translation literally means "of the house" and "dom" in Russian just means "house".  Most English translations of the name from languages such as Croatian and Bulgarian also loosely mean "home" or "owner."  Peasants generally did not call him "Domovoi" and instead used words such as "master," "well-wisher," "live-stock-nourisher," "the other half," "he," "himself," and "that one."  

Domoviye were sometimes affectionately referred to as dedushku or dedka meaning "grandfather" or chelovek meaning "fellow" by the members of the household.  Other times they were referred to as barabashka meaning "pounder" or "knocker" as a derogatory term.
Domovoi a Spirit of the House by Ivan Bilibin
The ideas of the Domovoi were basically the same throughout all of Russia.  The Domovoi originated in a pre-Christian cult and he was believed to represent the former head of the family.  Some traditions claimed that he was the actual spirit of the family's founding ancestor.  Another legend regarding how the Domoviye came to earth is that they revolted against Svarog (Slavic god of celestial fire and blacksmithing) when the universe was created.  They were cast out of Svarog's realm and they fell to earth.  Some fell in chimneys, backyards, stoves, forests, and plains.  Over many years the Domoviye outside of houses disappeared or assimilated with other spirits, leaving behind only a single race of Domoviye.  

Though Domoviye were generally see as good spirits, around the end of the nineteenth century ideas about the devil began to affect how people viewed him and he became regarded as a relative who belonged to the unclean dead or that he was an ancestor who had been cursed by God for a specific period of time and was therefore not acceptable to the earth.

The Domoviye was usually unseen, it was usually accepted that he was invisible, his presence was only made known by creaks and moans in the house.  Those who have claimed to see the spirit describe Domoviye as small old men with long beards, with fur covering their whole body, including palms of the hands and feet.  The only parts of their body visible through the fur are their eyes and pointed nose.  In most traditions Domoviye could take on the likeness of the current or former owner of the house with the addition of a beard and occasionally a tail and horns.  Some traditions claimed that a Domovoi could take on the form of a cat or a dog and he would wander around outside in this form until returning to the house.

Traditions claim that there is a Domovoi in every house, to be a guardian, look after the welfare of the family, and do chores and field work.  He was seen as an overseer of domestic activities in the house and his benevolence was essential to the proper functioning of the members of the household and the farmstead.  They generally live under the stove (stoves were the focal point of the house), the threshold under the door, the cattle shed, the stables, the attic, or the center of the house.  In some areas it was believed he lived in branches of fir and pines that had an abundance of needles, peasants would hang up branches outside for him.  

Domoviye are generally not seen as harmful spirits unless they were angered by an unkempt house, profane language used by the family, or if he felt neglected in some way.  When a Domovoi is angered or unhappy is plays tricks on members of the house, such as moving objects, rattling objects, banging on pots, moaning, breaking dishes, messing up the yard, tangling needlework, spreading manure on the floor, or leaving muddy footprints in the house.  If the problem from the Domovoi's anger was not fixed the tricks could eventually escalate to poltergeist-like activities (poltergeists manifestations involve noises and destruction that have no apparent reason), and he may stifle people in their beds (sleep paralysis).  It was thought that the Domovoi did not like to be seen and meted out punishment for excessive curiosity.

The Domovoi's behaviour could foretell about the future.  Pulling a woman's hair meant to warn of danger from an abusive man.  Moaning and howling meant to warn of coming trouble.  Showing himself warned of death, weeping meant a death in the family, laughter meant good times were to be expected and strumming a comb meant there would be a wedding.   

Members of the household would often leave bread and milk out in the kitchen at night as a gift to a Domovoi in return for the protection of the house.  Salted bread in a white cloth and hanging old boots in the yard were ways to appease the Domoviye.  By putting clean, white linen in his room one could invite the Domovoi of the house to eat a meal with the family.   

In Polish tradition, when a new house was built the owner would attract a Domovoi by placing a slice of bread on the floor before putting the stove in.  In Russian tradition one would get the Domovoi to move to a new house with them by offering him a boot as a hiding place.  Another way to attract a Domovoi is to go outside while wearing ones best clothes and call "Grandfather Dobrokhot, please come into my house and tend the flock."  To get a Domovoi to move to a new house one  has to make an offering and call "Domovoi! Domovoi! Don't stay here but come with our family."  To be rid of a rival Domovoi one would have to hit their walls with a broom and call "Grandfather Domovoi, please help me chase away this intruder."

Domoviye were particularly fond of farm animals and at night they would feed them, water them, groom them, and plait their manes and tails.  When a peasant bought a new animal they were ceremoniously presented to the Domovoi, the peasant would walk the animal around the yard, ask the Domovoi to welcome the new animal, and say ""Grandfather Domovoi!  I bought myself a horse (or other animal), if you don't like this colour, wait until summer (or winter) and I'll sell it."  Peasants believed that the Domovoi's animal preference depended heavily on the colour, when an animal was doing poorly it would be traded for one of a different colour, sold animals that the Domovoi had liked would be repurchased to please him.  Peasants would spend the night in the stables to determine their Domovoi's colour preference.  Domoviye would torment the animals that they didn't like by scattering its feed, tying its tail to the stalls, riding it to exhaustion, or making it stomp all night.

The Dvorovoi is a male house spirit in Slavic mythology.  The name is derived from the Russian word "dvor" meaning yard.  it was considered a great insult to the Dvorovoi if someone called him "Domovoi," the primary house spirit.

The Domovoi is sometimes considered to be the only spirit of the household, meaning he was an overseer of the house, the yard and the bathhouse.  The Dvorovoi represented a bifurcation of the house spirit, meaning that the Domovoi only an overseer of the house, yet still the head of the whole residence.

The Dvorovoi is described as having the exact same appearance as the Domovoi.  They are generally considered to be invisible, but when they are seen the description is usually consistent.  They appear as tiny old men with long beards and fur covering their whole body, excluding the palms of their hands and their feet.  The only things visible through the Dvorovois fur is its intense eyes and pointed noise.  The Dvorovoi could, like the Domovoi, take on the likeness of the former or current master of the house, or animals such as a dog or a cat.

In addition to their similar appearance, the Dvorovoi and the Domovoi also shared very similar behaviour, though the Dvorovoi was considered more hostile.  He was not as well liked, and therefore he was treated with less respect.  He would play tricks on members of the household and visit peasants at night when they slept.  If he liked a certain animal he would groom it, feed it, water it, and plait its mane and tail.  

As he was the spirit of the yard, cattle shed, and stable he spent most of his time around animals.  If he disliked an animal he would ride it to exhaustion, tie its tail to the manger, scatter its feed, or make it stomp all night.  When calves and lambs were born peasants would bring them into the house the house in order to protect them from the Dvorovoi.

When the Dvorovoi caused too much trouble peasants took punitive actions against him.  They poked pitchforks full of manure at the lower logs of the fence or hung dead magpies (The Dvorovoi and the Domovoi detested magpies) on the fence.  They also wove threads from the shroud of a deceased person, dipped it in wax, and at midnight lit the threads on fire and whipped at all of the corners of the cattle shed, hoping to beat the spirit.

Kikimora by Ivan Bilibin
The Kikimora is a female house spirit in Slavic mythology, alternately known as Shishimora.  She is a household spirit that is believed to be the wife of the Domovoi.  Sometimes the "mora" in the name is linked with the word "mara" which is related to the nightmare.  One type of Kikimora lives in the house and another lives in the swamp.  The swamp dwelling one is said to be the wife of Leshy. 

She is either described as a hunchbacked woman in dirty clothes or a normal woman with her hair down.  She spins in the nighttime and if anyone sees her they will soon pass away.  If the home is well kept she will watch over the chicken and the housework.  If the house is unkempt she will instead break dishes and make noises during the night.  In order to protect a chickens eggs from the Kikimora an adder stone (a stone with a naturally occurring hole through it) or a bunch of juniper twigs are hung above the chicken's nesting place.

If another Kikimora is introduced to the house the original will be angered.  A second Kikimora is very difficult to get rid of.  In order to appease an angry Kikimora, all pots and pans should be washed with fern tea. 

The Bannik is a spirit of the bathhouse in Slavic mythology.  Slavic bathhouses resembled saunas, the an inner steaming room and an outer changing room.  It was often a place where women would give birth and practice divination.  The bathhouse was strongly endowed with vital forces.  Sometimes a Bannik would have a female companion called a Bannaia or Bainikha.  A Bannik was rarely seen because he hid in the steam.

A Bannik was seen as a capricious, sometimes harmful, household spirit.  Women who bathed alone were at risk of being spied on by the Bannik.  An angry Bannik could cause one to suffocate in the steam of the bathhouse or cause the structure to burn down.  As a result, peasants avoided wearing icons or hanging Christian symbols in the bathhouse, and avoided bathing alone or at night.  When young women gave birth in the bathhouse they had to be watched carefully to prevent a Bannik from kidnapping the unbaptized infant.

When leaving the bathhouse, peasants would often thank the Bannik and they left offerings of soap, water, and fir branches.  A Bannik has the ability to predict the future, during the yuletide season, girls and young women would gather in the bathhouse to consult the Bannik.  He would predict their fortune by touching them from behind, a warm, soft touch meant happiness, but a cold, prickly scratch was a warning of ill fortune.

Bannik by Ivan Bilibin
The Bannia, also known as Bainikha, was the female counterpart of the Bannik, a bathhouse spirit in Slavic mythology.

The Ovinnik is the spirit of the threshing barn, which is a barn used for processing and storage of cereals.  The Ovinnik is generally considered to be a malevolent spirit, often setting fire to the grain and burning down the threshing barn.  There is a story from Kaluga Province in which a peasant outmanoeuvred the spirit and managed to throw it into the fire, years later the vengeful Ovinnik burnt down the threshing barn, killing the peasant's son in the process.  In a story from Orel Province an Ovinnik burnt a woman for beating flax on a day of prohibition.  

In order to appease the Ovinnik the people would offer him bliney (a type of pancake) and roosters.  Roosters were usually sacrificed on Novemeber the first, by beheading them on the threshold of the barn, then sprinkling blood in the corners of the barn.

The Ovinnik was similar to the Bannik in that they are both malevolent and they were both believed to predict the future.  On New Years peasants would go into the threshing barn and if they felt a warm, soft touch it meant good fortune and a cold, prickly touch meant ill fortune.

While the spirit was generally malevolent, there were occasions when it was considered to be a good spirit.  One occasion is a story of an Ovinnik who protected a child by fighting with the spirit of an old woman until dawn, when the rooster crowed.