Russian Folklore. Spirits. Domovoi (+video)

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Russians believed that the world is full of spirits which live next to people, but can be very rarely seen by them. Usually, they were malicious creatures, but still they could help human beings and even protect them in dramatic situations. The spirits inhabited forests, lakes, fields and even houses, and if a person didn’t show respect or didn’t gain their favor by giving some things, they could get really angry, destroy the dwelling, kill the cattle or even murder him or her. Let’s have a look at the list of Russian evil spirits. 

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A domovoi (dom=a house) is a house spirit, a masculine one, usually rather short, old and very hairy. They also have a long grey beard and tails or horns and live with people. They are believed to be the masters of the house they inhabit. A domovoi usually helps the family with domestic chores, of course, if he’s treated well (given milk and biscuits or bread), and guards the house. Some people say that a domovoi can turn into cats and dogs, and each house can have only one of them – if an “intruder” came, people asked the old one to help chuck the newcomer out. If the family decided to move to a new place, they always asked the spirit to follow them. To make this transportation comfortable for the spirit, they offered him an old boot, where he could hide and thus come to a new house without any trouble.

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Their favorite places are the threshold under the door or a spot under the stove. If he likes people he lives with, he always warns them of upcoming danger, but if not he cries and breaks dishes and makes bruises on people’s bodies or even may threaten people in bed to stifle (when this happens you should ask “For good?” or “For bad?”, meaning, what will happen in future, and he answers in a muffled voice “Yes’ or “No”). People say that a domovoi is born as an old man and dies as a baby (seems like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, doesn’t it?). They are not evil spirits in general, they were just not forgiven by God, and have to serve people for 70 years to go to heaven. That’s why they are not afraid of religious icons, but don’t like them very much, because they remind “house men” of their punishment.

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Domovye (plural) in general like domestic animals and usually take care of horses, but it depends on the animal’s color. If the spirit approves the horse, he cues its mane, feeds it very well, and if the owner of the house doesn’t have grains, the spirit can still the food from the neighbor.  But if a domovoi doesn’t like the animal, he causes loss of cattle, doesn’t let them eat and drinks and continually harasses them.

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This spirit hates mirrors, he-goats, the sign of the cross and swearing. He can either play bad tricks when hears profanity, or even leave if you hang a mirror in the room. Usually they like to be people’s helpers, but now we have a new kind of domovye, called barabashki, who live in modern apartments and like to make nasty things and frighten the family members, and unlike their ancestors these ones can hardly be calmed down.

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Now you can watch this funny Russian cartoon about Kuzya, a little domovoi, with English subtitles.

To be continued.

Photo credits – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

34 thoughts on “Russian Folklore. Spirits. Domovoi (+video)”

  1. “Russians believed that the world is full of spirits which live next to people”
    If I were not Russian, I would probably think that Russia is some kind of medieval country where people jump around fire talking to spirits. It’s not true actually. Years of communism cured all of that.

    • Don’t worry Rita… people still think that Brazil is a freaking jungle where monkeys walk in the streets, among the people…

      • I Live in Porto Alegre and I only see monkeys in Zoo (or painting frames in Globo’s soap opera at 7 o’clock).

    • >Years of communism cured all of that.
      eradication is not equal to curing. see, christianity in Ireland was accepted, afaik, without spilling much blood and annihilating native religion – it (as christianity in other parts of the world) just assimilated parts of the heathen religion. pay attention at the celtic cross – the one with the circle: it is native celtic circle symbol and the christian cross united.
      so, what i am trying to tell – is that losing roots of the nation (historical and religious i mean) is not good at all for nation. nowadays we have no religion, i’d say. of course Russia includes a lot – christianity, buddism, islam, etc
      but russian people (i mean ethnicaly russian, i.e. the slavs) seem to have lost their religion – the one that ancestor’s had (heathendom), the eastern christianity (cured during the years of communism) and the faith in communism too. though, the last is not a religion %>

  2. This is a great article. I disagree with Rita. These types of stories endear me to a culture. I know verty little about Russian folk history and find these kinds of articles fantastic! Cannot wait for the next installment!

    • You may find the stories facinating, but they do endear us to be a superstitious race. Personally, my domovoi spends all his time at the Krysha Club.

    • It may endear you to a culture you know little about, but it also endears us as a superstitious race. Personally, my donovoi spends all his time at the Krysha Club.

  3. I disagree with Rita. This is a great article! I love learning about folklore! Folklore gives outsiders an in depth look into culture outside of the political realm. Keep up the good work, can’t wait for the next installment.

  4. I did not say that the article is bad and I did not say that there is no folklore in Russia. In fact Russian folklore is very interesting indeed. However, I disagree with the quoted statement. It sounds like Russians believe in existence of the spirits but in reality this stuff is only for children. Majority of people do not believe in this. This statement is about Russia now and it’s not true. It was probably true 200 years ago.

  5. Reminds a lot of the Finnsih folklore… Sitting away, far away from Finland and remenissing…

    Please post more.

  6. Dumb Russian superstitions indeed, but than again, every country with long history has them, or legends for that matter, except US. Even England, Scotland, France, etc… have some. They are part of every nations folklore, and everyone knows, they are only fiction, like god. Americans could have their own superstitions, but prevented it by wiping out native population. Indians seemed to have very interesting Folklore, Americans on the other hand have Ronald Mcdonald.

  7. We fear the west and the east both, because the mentality there is in general better. Chinese are like working bees and will outperform every single russian without problems. Western Europe and Americans have very high work ethics too and use tried and tested business approaches that will put everything Russia has in shadow. We sit here in Russia, bragging and saying ‘we do things our way, **** the west’ but everything is short term here, to make quick money and then run. All is corrupted, which is like cancer and infects and kills all motivation.

  8. Poor drunk Russians belive in spirits… FFFFuuuuuu. What a dirty medieval country! We should take all Russians and send them to Mars. Without Russians it’s be a better world.

  9. Wasn’t one domovoi featured in “Quest for Glory IV” by Sierra? All I remember from it was a very Transylvania-like environment the game took place in.

  10. you are not right. almost all nations have “little creatures” in their heathen religion. so it is not Slavs-specific.

  11. the story about Kuzya is soooo funny! Even I don’t know Russian well, but I still can follow the story with their motion!

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