Who is the Slavic House Spirit – The Domovyk?

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Domovyk by Ivan Bilibin

Who is the Domovyk?

Have you ever heard of the Domovyk? Do you even know who the Domovyk is? If not, then have a seat by the fire and get acquainted with this magical being from the Slavic lands.

The Domovyk is a spirit who’s not so well-known outside of Slavic cultures, but is very well-known in Eastern Europe. The Domovyk is a house spirit and could be considered a spiritual cousin of Baba Yaga. In some ways, he’s a little bit like Dobby the house-elf, but in other ways he’s very, very different. He’s someone much more important than just a house elf, because he’s an ancestral spirit who can take care of your home and the family within it — especially the children and the pets. But he can also make a ruckus in your house, or hide things that you’re looking for. So, is he a good guy or a troublemaker? Well, it  depends on how you treat him.

Domovyk by the pich

The Domovyk is a House Spirit

The Domovyk is a house spirit that appears in the folklore and legend of almost every Slavic country. He goes by a lot of different names. In Ukraine, which is my ancestral homeland, he goes by The Domovyk, of course, but we also call him Did, Didko, Didukh, or Didus – which is “grandfather.” We call him the Domovyk — which means the house guy, the house watcher, house spirit — or we might call him granddad, grandpa.

In the Czech Republic, they call him Děd, Dĕdek, Děduška, Šetek, Šotek, Skřítek. Those names, Šetek, Šotek, and Skřítek mean dwarf or elf. And then, of course, Děd, Dĕdek, Děduška mean grandfather. They give that grandfather concept. In the Czech Republic they also call him Domovníček. Domovníček, Hospodáříček, which is the host of the house.

In Belarus, they call him Damavik. In Slovakia, he’s known as Škrata or Škriatok. And in Slovenia, he’s known as Škrat, or Škratek, or Dedek. Škrat, Škratek, and Škrata all mean elf, and Dedek means grandfather, of course.

In Serbia, he’s known as Domovik. In Poland, he’s known as the Domovyk as well, but he’s also called the Skrzatek, the Skrzat, and the Skrzot, the words for elf. In Bulgaria, he’s known as Stopan, the master of the house. In Croatia, he’s known as the Domaći.

In Russia, he’s known as the Domovoy. He’s also known as the Chozyain or the Chozyainuško. Domovoy, of course, means the guy of the household, and Chozyain means master or little master. So he’s the master of the house. And we do call him the master of the house, even in English.

Domovyk the lord of the house

The Appearance of the Domovyk

So, who is this “guy of the house”? And what does he look like? Well, the Domovyk is a little man. He is usually about a foot tall and he has shaggy hair covering him from head to toe. He’s got long hair, a beard and hair all over his body. The hair can sometimes be gray, sometimes white, sometimes dark. However, he always has a long beard and is exceptionally hairy — he even has hair on his feet, believe it or not. It might sound a little odd that he has all this hair, but his hairiness is actually a positive attribute. It tells you about his wellbeing; the more hair he has, the happier he is. And the happier he is, of course, the more prosperous your home will be. So if you see a real hairy Domovyk, that’s a good sign.

He also has bright eyes. Sometimes they say his eyes are glowing like embers. We’ll find out why they glow like embers (hint: it’s because of where he hangs out) but his eyes are always said to be bright and sparkly. Sometimes they can be green,  or blue, or sometimes they are said to glow in the dark. 

Sometimes the Domovyk appears naked with simply hair covering his body, so that he looks like a little tiny Sasquatch. Other times, he is said to be dressed in traditional peasant costume from the old country with loose pants, an embroidered shirt (the Vyshyvanka), and a woven belt wrapped around his waist — but even when he’s dressed, his feet will be barefoot and hairy. 

The reason his clothes are so old-fashioned is because he is a family ancestor. So he can bear a family resemblance. He can look like a member of your family or have that family resemblance, or he can actually look like a tiny version of a strong and positive male ancestor of yours.

Domovyk

Domovyk the Shapeshifter

Now, he doesn’t always show up in this form. He can also shapeshift. As most spirits are, he’s a master shapeshifter. He can show up as a cat that comes into your house, a dog, a frog, a bird — even a rat or a snake that comes into your house. He can also shapeshift into being invisible, and most of the time he will make himself invisible. When he is invisible, the only way you’ll be able to detect him is by the sounds that he makes. You’ll be able to hear him make sounds. But there’s an exception to that invisibility rule. What is the exception? Well, most adults (except for very gifted and adept ones), won’t be able to see him, but young children and your pets can see him in his true form. Maybe you’re one of those gifted ones who can see spirits in physical form. If so, you might be able to see him, but for the most part, it’s little kids and pets that see him.

The Domovyk house spirit

The Domovyk’s Natural Habitat

Now, where does the Domovyk like to live? Traditionally, in the old times in the Slavic countries, he would live behind the big wood stove. So you need to know a little bit about a Slavic home. In most Slavic countries, which have cold climates, there would be a big wood-burning stove in the house. This big stove, in this little one-room cabin that people would live in, might take up a quarter of the house. It was the place where cooking was done. It was the place where heating happened, and clothes were washed and dried there, and all kinds of household chores were done around the stove.

There was even a little nook above the stove where people could get warm if they were elderly and getting cold, or little babies that needed to be kept warm. There was a nook, a shelf above the stove where they could keep warm. So the stove’s called the pich in Ukrainian. The pich is the place where our ancestors live. We believe that the fire is the ancestors, the realm of the ancestors, and the spirit of the ancestors. The pich was the place that housed our ancestors, and the Domovyk is an ancestor spirit, and is the guardian of the hearth, the guardian of that fire. So he would live behind the pich or in the corner, in the nook around the stove, and be guarding it, and keeping warm, and staying close there because he’s an ancestor spirit.

Nowadays, most people don’t have a pich. There are some people in Ukraine, maybe 30% of the people in Ukraine in the countryside, in particular, might still have this big, big wood-burning stove in their house. But most people living in the cities, of course, and places with modern architecture will not have this. So, if you are someone who lives in a more modern house, and you don’t have a pich, you’re not gonna find him there, obviously. So where would he live? Well, if you have a fireplace, he would live near the fireplace, because that’s the cousin of the pich. But most people don’t have a fireplace, either. And if that’s the case, then he would live in an attic, or a cellar, or in a hidden little corner, someplace where he could stay safely hidden when people are about— a kind of a little nook, since he likes to hide away. That’s where you might find him, where you might see him, and that’s where he might be making noises.

Who is the Domovyk

Benefits of a Domovyk

Why would you want this little hairy guy in your house? Well, a respected and well-loved, and well-taken-care-of Domovyk will guard the home, and keep out evil or troublesome spirits. He can also keep out evil or troublesome people, like people who are coming to make trouble with your family or something. They will be turned away at the door by the Domovyk, or you’ll be able to identify troublemakers because things will fall out of their hands. Let’s say that you give them a cup of tea. They’ll drop the cup, or a spoon will slip out of their hands. That’s the Domovyk telling you, this person doesn’t have your best interests at heart. So the Domovyk will guard your family, and your home. And that’s a beautiful thing that he will do.

Now, if you’d like to have a Domovyk in your house and you’d like to interact with him, you need to know how to treat him. If he’s treated with attention and kindness, he really becomes a valued member of your extended family. He is part of your extended family; he’s an ancestor. Se can offer that strong spiritual protection that only an ancestor would give, and bring generous blessings to everyone in the family.

However, if he is neglected — or worse, disrespected — he will let you know. He will start hiding things, and not reveal them. He will spill salt. He will slam doors. He might knock over furniture, or make really weird noises like moaning, or even start howling. You’ll really know that he’s unhappy. He’s not quiet about it, for sure. If you start to see or hear some unexplainable phenomenon in your home, it might be a sign that your Domovyk needs your attention or is ready to get acquainted with you. Either way, it might be positive, like, “Hey, I’m over here,” or it might be, “Hey, you need to pay attention to me and take care of me.”

The Domovyk lord of the house

Attracting a Domovyk

First thing you have to know — if you are going to invite a Domovyk into your home — is you are inviting an ancestor into your home. It’s a good thing, but it’s also something that you have to really be prepared to do. It’s a little bit like if you have a pet. You don’t just adopt a pet because you are interested in having a dog or cat for a week. You’re going to be caring for that pet for their entire life. And with the Domovyk, it’s all your life long that that Domovyk will be with you. So if you’re inviting one in, he can bring so many good things to you, but you have to make a commitment that you’re going to attend to him and care for him. Otherwise, he can cause problems. So if you’re going to do that, the first thing to do is go outside, get dressed up in your best clothes, go outside, and then call out to invite your Domovyk to come to you. In English, you would say something like, “Grandpa Domovyk, please come in to our house and tend to your family.”

You’re inviting your ancestors in, and it’s a beautiful way to do that. You would dress up as though you were inviting a relative over. You’d wear some nice clothes and you’d invite them in. It’s as simple as that to invite him in. But, once you have your Domovyk in your home, what happens if you move? Well, if you move, it really is important to invite your Domovyk to come with you. He is family after all, and if you leave him behind and another family moves in, it’ll be confusing. And if they bring their Domovyk, the two Domovyki could fight. It could be like a real disaster. So, you definitely want to bring him with you. You wouldn’t leave Grandpa after you moved, right? You’d want to bring him with you when you go to your new house.

The Domovyk

Moving with Your Domovyk

There are two methods for moving to a new home and taking your Domovyk with you. The first is the old, traditional method, which was to take an ember from your fire in the old home and invite your Domovyk to come with you. And you would say something like, “Domovyk, Domovyk, don’t stay here. Come along with our family.” That’s it. When you get to your new home, you put the ember from your old home into the new fireplace, and invite your Domovyk to settle in, saying, “Welcome, Grandfather, to your new home.”

Now, as I said, not everyone has a fireplace. You might be moving from a place that does to one that doesn’t, etc. You might be moving across the country. How are you going to keep an ember burning cross-country? If that isn’t possible for you to do in the traditional way, you can invite the Domovyk in another way, and that is by bringing a broom from the old house to the new house. You take your old broom that you’ve used at your old house, and you ritually sweep the already-clean floor of your old house. Once you’ve done that, you hold the broom out and you call it an invitation to your Domovyk. “Grandpa Domovyk, come with me. A new mansion awaits us. Warm walls await us. Come with me. There will be food there. It will be hearty, and the kitchen will be bright. Come with me.” So you’re inviting him to jump onto that broom. You put the brushy part of the broom in a cloth bag, a pillowcase, for example, and then you bring it to the new house. You take a new broom and put it in your new house and unwrap the old broom and you set it next to the new broom overnight so that your Domovyk can move in.

As I mentioned before, if the family prior to you has left their Domovyk behind, it’s not a good thing. It might be difficult for you and the Domovyk to move in peaceably. Two Domovyki from two different families will battle and create chaos. If that happens, you have to beat the walls with the broom after your Domovyk has moved in already and say, “Grandpa Domovyk, help me get the stranger Domovyk out of here.” And that usually gets rid of him. You can also do some things like fumigate with burning juniper, for example, or sprinkle salt around — just get the old Domovyk moving on his way to find his real family and not stay with you.

Domovyk and a sleeping cat

Honoring Your Domovyk

Once you’ve invited your Domovyk in, or you moved him from the old house to the new house, you need to honor him. To do that, you need a little space, a little altar that you’re going to dedicate to him. You need to have a little bowl that you can serve him a food offering in, and some food. And you set aside that place. It could be tiny — a bookshelf, a window sill. The mantle of the fireplace is a good place, or a little table. Now, you just need to feed him every once in a while. You can offer him things that you’re eating and making for yourself, like a little piece of your sandwich, or a piece of bread, or a saucer of milk. These are all the right things. It doesn’t need to be a big meal that you make for him. He’s just a little guy and he’s a spirit. So he doesn’t eat very much. Just give him a little bite of something.

The kinds of food that the Domovyk likes are baked goods, breads, pastries, cookies. He likes breakfast foods, pancakes, porridge, yogurt, maybe some cooked grains, some sweets. Or you can give him some candy or honey, or drinks like milk, sweetened tea, or water. Any of these things would be really nice for him. And just give him a little bit. When you make your offering to him, you need to speak out loud and let him know that the food is for him. You tell him, “Grandpa Domovyk,” or, “Grandpa,” or, “Master of the house, here’s some food for you. Thank you for watching over us.” And you leave it for him. You can leave food every few days or once a week. You don’t need to leave it every day, but you want to make sure that you change that food out. You don’t leave it out so long that it gets moldy or spoiled or stale. You leave it out one day, maybe a day and a half. And then you either take the food outside and offer it to the plants or animals or, traditionally, people would feed that food to their pets. But you can take it outside and let the birds have it, or let the garden take it.

A Domovyk soaking his feet

Going on Vacation? Let Your Domovyk Know

The Domovyk is very family-centered. What happens if you go on vacation? The Domovyk might think that you’re leaving him behind and abandoning him, and moving to a new house. It’s very traditional in Slavic countries — and in particularly in Ukraine — that before you leave on a trip, you take your suitcase, you set it down in the center of the living room and you sit on it for a few minutes. And this is a way that you can let the Domovyk know that you’re just going on a vacation and that you’re not leaving him behind.

You might even tell him, “We’re going on a vacation. Watch over the house. We’ll be back in two weeks. Thank you. We’ll be back soon.” Let him know that you’re not leaving him or abandoning him because, if he’s abandoned, a Domovyk who’s abandoned can become really angry and really upset, and can even do things like burn the property to the ground. So you don’t want to upset him or have him raising a ruckus. You let him know: sit on your suitcase, let him know that you’re going to be back. And tell him, if you want to. I think that’s always a good idea to do that before you go. That way he knows you’re going to be back, and he’ll watch out for your property and watch over the house.

An angry Domovyk

The Unhappy Domovyk

What happens if you have an unhappy Domovyk? It happens. A neglected or disrespected Domovyk will for sure let the family know of his displeasure. He’ll cause mischief, he’ll make loud noises, or even be destructive — knock things over, break things, hide things. It’s a mess, right? So if you’re in this situation, what you need to do is, before you go to sleep, ask the Domovyk out loud why he’s dissatisfied — and in your dreams that night, you should get an answer from him. Once you get the answer, go sit in your kitchen and have a conversation with your Domovyk, telling him that you will correct the situation.

Generally, it may mean that you need to feed him. You need to pay attention to him. Maybe there’s arguing in the house (he doesn’t like that). Maybe you need to bring peace into the home. Maybe your home is messy, and you need to clean it up, and he’s upset about that. He likes a clean home. Find out from him what it is that’s upsetting him, and fix it. Let him know you’re going to fix it, and that you care about what he thinks, and you’re going to take care of him that way.

Domovyk and a mouse

The Happy Domovyk

How do you know if you have a contented Domovyk in your house? Well, it will be pretty apparent. You’ll hear interesting noises. You might hear knocks on the floors, or the walls, or the ceiling. You might hear floors creaking or doors opening and closing, when no one is there to open and close the door, or step on the creaking floor. Your pets or your kids — your little ones, usually little ones under five — might be playing with an imaginary friend or staring at something that’s invisible to you. If that’s happening, you can be sure that they’re hanging out with the Domovyk. My cats play with the Domovyk all the time. They love him. He loves them. He’s very fond of children and pets. He’s very, very watchful over them.

Another way he might let you know that he’s contented is he might get playful with you. He might take something and move it or let it go missing, but then make it quickly return. Within a few minutes, you’ll find it — and it wasn’t there before. If he takes it for a long time, it means he needs your attention. But if he takes it just for a minute and then replaces it, then you know it was him. And he’s just playing with you and having fun. You might hear some other noises like a grunt noise, or a cough, or just get a sensation that there’s someone else in the house, but it won’t be an unpleasant sensation. It’ll be comfortable, like, “Oh, there’s somebody else here.” But it’s a nice feeling, not a bad feeling.

If you live in a snowy climate, you might see small footprints or shaggy footprints around your house on a winter’s night. He’s walking around your house, inspecting things or guarding it. You might hear someone call your name when no one’s there. It’s another way he lets you know he’s around. The most magical way is that you might feel a touch from him. I get this one all the time. If the touch is warm and hairy, it’s a good sign. If the touch is cold or bristly, or scratchy, that’s not a good sign. So if it’s a warm touch, a nice touch, a soft touch, then you know he’s just saying, “Hi, I’m here.” If it’s a harsher touch, he may be saying, “Hey, you need to fix something,” or “You need to pay attention to me.” So take some precautions if you feel that colder hand. He might be warning you about something: “Oh, I’ve gotta put up some protection, or deal with something here,” so go take care of it!

A Domovyk Singing

The Benefits of a Domovyk

Again: Why would you want a Domovyk in your house? Well, as we mentioned before, he protects you from malicious people. He protects the home, he’s a really good guardian and a protector of the home. People with bad intentions won’t be able to enter the house, you can keep out mischievous people, bad people with ill will toward you, and so on. Another thing that he offers is that he takes care of children and the pets in the home. He is really a guardian spirit for those children and pets. He’s a guardian for the whole family, but he loves little kids and pets, and really takes care of them and can keep them out of trouble. He can play with them, have fun with them, and just keep them from getting harmed by anything.

Another plus is that the Domovyk can remind you when you have things to do. Beautiful! I love this part of working with the Domovyk. He’ll wake you up in time. You don’t need an alarm. Your Domovyk will wake you up in time for whatever you have to do in the morning. You’ll wake up naturally, but it’s the Domovyk waking you up. You might hear a noise, or get a sensation and you’ll wake up. So it’s really nice because you don’t have to have an alarm clock. Another thing is, he’ll remind you if you’ve forgotten anything before you leave the house. He’ll give you something in your head that you’ll remember, “Oh, yeah, I’ve gotta bring that today.”

So just remember if you’re inviting a Domovyk into your home, the Domovyk is your family in every good way, and the way that you have to be responsible to him. He spiritually protects the house, the people, and the pets who live there. He’s also family. So you wanna be welcoming and warm to him. He’s a very loving spirit. So enjoy all the good things that he brings to you and your loved one, and also feel the loving warmth that he brings as well, being one of your ancestors. It is a beautiful, beautiful way to work with this spirit.

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