Have you been taking care of your house spirit? They’ve certainly been taking care of you. These finicky wights, extremely loyal and generous if treated well—but terribly shy and easily heartbroken and offended according to folklore—take care of their households, promoting luck, fertility, and activity among their patrons, cleaning little messes here and there, and often serving as an intermediary between other local spirits. Sometimes they’ll accompany the same bloodline for generations, becoming elevated thereby as a kind of ancestral protector of its own, representative of a family’s luck over centuries. However, a series of heated arguments and tantrums between family members gone wrong can be all that it takes to make their house spirit up and leave in search of a new home.
These characteristics are not universal, of course. I’m mostly speaking about my experience with Slavic house spirits, which are most often known as domovoi. Growing up in Eastern Serbia, my friends and relatives usually called singular house spirits domaćin, meaning a host or a housekeeper. Like the majority of Balkan folkloric traditions the term varies across towns and countries (even families!), but the core concepts endure. Since I spent the majority of my childhood and early adolescence constantly moving from one house to the next, barely staying in place for over a year, I’ve seen my fair share of variety between these spirits. Those that follow families will accompany them as they move, but most seem to be fully rooted in the actual buildings themselves, tending to numerous individuals and groups over the generations. My prababa told me when I was little that if you wanted to guarantee that your domaćin will accompany you when you move, you should place their token object (vessel) into a boot after asking them to come along with you and then carry that boot to the new home and reestablish them.
Today the domaćin that resides within my home is one that I summoned in my teens. My family and I had moved to a completely new house that had just finished construction and with the aid of my spirit teachers we evoked and established a hearth guardian that has been with us since. (The procedure was actually remarkably similar to the ritual found on page 168 of Nigel G. Pearson’s original version of Treading the Mill). He has a shrine above the fireplace with a candle, glass of water, and room for bread and milk on holidays, family birthdays, special occasions, and so on. In early May I finally found the perfect “token object” for him which is now installed there as well: a carved domovoi from Wuflund Jewelry. The small stang-wand I painted red in the picture is one that the domaćin himself led me to. We found the curious thing—perfectly smooth and sanded—lying neatly near our property.
He has been an absolute treasure of a companion over the past few years, even if our interactions aren’t anything like those of my spiritual court—house spirits are notorious for their behavioural taboos, some fleeing forever if you give them clothes or verbal thanks. I show my gratitude wordlessly and let him know when I’m leaving and when I’ll return. I update him when to expect guests and which dates are important and will be celebrated by the household. When I hosted some relatives from Serbia this summer, I made sure to let my house spirit know well in advance how our routine was going to be changing for that time. Working together has made the accommodations effortless, the jet-lag nonexistent, and the time zone friction melt away into deep sleep for my guests.
Every Red Meal, Devil’s Supper, Housle, or Troyl Hood—the witching feast held at the conclusion of a ritual to feed and honour the forces of the Compass—I also make sure to set out a healthy portion of bread and wine for our diligent, kind, and temperamental housekeeper. Just as I work with the spirits of the land near where I live and work, and even the spirits of my city more broadly, I always ensure that I pay careful heed to the very genius of my home.