Ancestors Fairies Gods and Goddesses Home & Hearth Kitchen Witchcraft

Household Gods, Ancestors, and Fairies

In this article, we will learn about household Gods and Spirits according to ancient tradition in Europe. We will also learn about ancestors and household fairies. Join me on an adventure into the past, to a world where our venerable ancestors lived alongside spritely and sometimes-vengeful household spirits.

Household fairies like the brownie are said to occupy old castles.

Cranshaw Castle in Scotland is home to a household fairy called a brownie.

When Everything Had Consciousness…

Times have truly changed. Our ancestors’ customs focused on appeasing the spirits in nature and in their homes. The belief in spirits of trees, rivers, and even spirits in their homes was not just “silly superstition”…it was reality. From China to England and everywhere in between, our ancestors believed in spirits and took precautions not to provoke them. Nowadays, the majority of people don’t believe in spirits in the way our ancestors did. Sure, some might believe in God or angels, but the belief in household spirits, revenants, and fairies has all but faded.

Ancient Roman Household Gods

The ancient Romans honored household gods called Lares. Each household maintained an altar, similar to the re-created altar shown below. In the richer homes, there was a painting or sculpture to represent the household gods and offerings were left in front. The household gods’ images were placed at the dinner table to partake in the family meal. These Roman household gods were guardian spirits who protected the home and the family from illness and invasion.

Lares weren’t only household gods in Roman times, they also guarded places in nature. This points to the fact that lares were originally nature spirits brought into the home and deified. Interestingly, the lares were often depicted as snakes (as seen in the painting on the altar here) and lived under the hearth. This points to the idea that perhaps the lares were fire elementals of some kind.

Bes is an ancient Egyptian god who was thought of as a guardian of the common peoples’ homes. Many Egyptian families kept altars for Bes and worshiped him. He was invoked to protect the household, provide abundance, and also to aid in fertility and childbirth. Interestingly, this Egyptian household god is frequently depicted with holding a snake in his hand. I find this link to snakes and household spirits as seemingly stretching across ancient cultures. 

Household gods in Roman times were called lares.

A recreation of a Roman lare house altar for household gods.

The Ancient Tradition of Household Spirits

Most of our ancient ancestors believed everything in nature had consciousness. When trees were cut down and other things from nature were used to build a home the fairies or spirits linked to these items were brought into the home. Others believed the fairies occupying the landscape where a home was built became household spirits. This is why there were many superstitions as to where a home was built. For example, our Scandinavian ancestors stayed the night at the site of a new home to see if evil spirits manifested. If the person slept peacefully, the home was built there. There were different methods of testing a suitable site, including checking the ground or nearby trees for signs of a previous fire. Fire was a bad sign, associated with evil spirits, and many people refrained from building somewhere that had a fire. If there were good fairies on the new home’s site, the homeowners petitioned the nature spirits to become their household gods.

Ancestors’ Buried in the Hearth

Other methods of acquiring a household spirit were a bit disturbing. In ancient Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, when a new home was built, a person might be sacrificed and buried in the walls or hearth. The victim’s spirit was eternally tied to the home and became the household god or guardian. When a family member died a violent death in the home, the windows were opened immediately to let the soul out. They didn’t want a violent spirit lingering and wreaking havoc on the household. If a family moved into an already-established home, the original owner of the home would become the household spirit. Ancestors who lived in a house beforehand could also become household spirits. Read about more of these traditions in Claude Lecouteux’s book “The Tradition of Household Spirits”.

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Where the Spirits Resided and What They Did

There were many, many names for household gods, which vary by country, region and family. They were also titled differently depending on where they resided in the house. Some household gods lingered on the thresholds (doorways, windows, chimneys), while some lived beneath the hearth. Evil spirits occupied the corners of the home, so people burnt herbs in each corner to cleanse the space. But what did a household spirit do? Household gods and spirits protected, healed, and brought abundance to the family. They also helped with chores around the house.

Many household spirits lived in the chimney or hearth.

Household gods and spirits lingered at the thresholds of a house – similar to this large hearth in Salem.

The Ancestors as Household Gods

Modern people do not honor our ancestors like we once did. Our ancestors believed in honoring their ancestors. There are certain religions today that still focus on ancestor-worship; however, this is mainly in places in Asia and Africa. In the United States there are not that many people incorporating ancestral beliefs into daily life. But what do ancestors have to do with household gods and spirits? Our ancestors believed household gods could be ancestors; this was especially true if the home was passed down in the family.

If an ancestor built, lived and died within a home, he protected it and his descendants even after death. Back then, ancestor shrines and altars were set up around the home to honor the ancestors’ spirits. In Northern and Eastern Europe, a place at the dinner table was set for the household gods to enjoy offerings of food and drink. If the ancestors weren’t honored, they would leave or become angry ghosts.

Fairies as Household Spirits

In Europe, certain types of fairies were also household spirits. In Scotland, the brownie was a small man who lived and worked in the household at night. He helped the lady of the house with unfinished chores, as long as she was a hard worker and pure of heart. The Brownie shapeshifted into the form of a rooster to alert the family that he was going to bed and it was their time to rise and shine. Never offer the Brownie clothing as a gift – he will leave your home for good! This is a popular European folk motif. The wee folk rarely revealed themselves to the household. Sometimes the household fairies showed up as a child or wee man, sometimes as a red-haired adult. Again, depending on the family the household spirit took different shapes—even of animals or things like a tea kettle or fire poker.

House Elves and Other Imps

Have you seen the Harry Potter movies? Dobby and Creature are house elves who serve masters of old magical families. JK Rowling used folk tales as inspiration for her book series. And yes, when Harry Potter gives a sock to Dobby, Dobby is freed from servitude to the Malfoy house. The Monaciello in Italy is known as the “little monk”. He looks like the Irish leprechaun, but he doesn’t watch over a pot of gold. His job is to protect the family’s wine cellar. The monaciello gets drunk on the family’s wine sometimes. Don’t anger him or your entire stock will go bad or be overturned! Sprites and imps are other household fairies. Some say these household fairies were actually demons or familiars in disguise.

Brownies and a book.

Brownies are the most well-known household spirit and are considered fairies.

Where Have the Household Spirits Gone?

Where have all these household spirits gone? Most people don’t believe in household spirits anymore. Disbelief = disappearance. Another problem is industrialization. When things were wild, the spirits abounded. Now we live in man-made boxes in suburban areas where trees are cut down daily. The nature spirits leave when their habitat is destroyed.

Houses are built out of more synthetic materials, i.e. less natural woods and stones which leads to less natural spirits inhabiting our homes. Plus we live in new homes that haven’t been passed down from generation to generation, so there’s no ancestral history and no household spirits being passed down. When we believe and care for nature, we attract nature spirits and household gods.

Learn about household gods, ancestors and fairies here.

14 Comments

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    […] The kitchen witch works with spirits of the hearth. These spirits might include the household guardians, kitchen guardians, the ancestors, and hearth gods and goddesses. In ancient times, every hearth had a guardian spirit, and the family acknowledged and worked with that spirit. The kitchen witch gives offerings to the household and hearth spirits in return for help with the chores. Learn more about household spirits here.  […]

  2. Tarn

    June 21, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    @Chelsie
    Smudging would make the spirit go away for many reasons. First off, if the spirit has a negative side, smudging is meant to clear away negativity. And even though the spirit may be helping you, the smudge may affect the spirit’s negative aspect. Another thing could be not making your intention clear as you smudge. “Make this space clear/pure/clean” may remove all energies as well as the ones you are after. Be very specific about what energies to be removed and which ones to be left alone. Then, there is the possibility of smudging without warning. How would you feel if the house spirits started smoking rabbit dropping and blowing it around you? The spirit may have left because of getting smudged unexpectedly. Or, it could have been insulted. Here, the spirit is protecting your place, and you start smudging. That’s like ordering a pizza while someone is cooking dinner for you.
    There are other reasons, but you get the idea.

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    […] Household gods were common in ancient times, and Egypt had its own – Bes. Bes was a fierce protector of the people. He particularly loved families and children and was strong enough to fight off lions with his bare hands. In the New Kingdom, Bes’ appearance changed and he often wore leopard skin. Of the ancient male cat gods, he was the smallest in stature – a “dwarf god” in nature. But powerful, nonetheless.  […]

  5. Chelsie

    January 5, 2019 at 2:32 am

    Why would smudging make it go away? I smudge all the time but I encourage fairies in?!?

  6. Diane

    November 6, 2018 at 1:19 am

    My granddaughter has a house brownie in her apt. Her boyfriend a physical therapist saw it and it scared the hell out of him. It fixed a broken glass, yes, a broken glass. It also fixed a broken vacuum cleaner. It moves things around the house. They did a smudging and it went away for about 2 month. Recently she said it has come back. She spoke to the landlord and all previous tenets have broke their leases, One after only 2 weeks.

    1. admin

      November 6, 2018 at 12:46 pm

      There’s nothing to be scared of if you have a spirit/fairy that fixes things!

    2. Chris Simon

      November 16, 2018 at 4:03 pm

      Why would you want to evict it if it’s being helpful? Send it round to me, I’d appreciate the extra help.

      1. admin

        November 17, 2018 at 1:52 pm

        Same here! LOL

  7. marilyn roberts

    October 3, 2018 at 9:02 am

    that was a very good article. thank you for sharing it with us. its my hope we continue believing and encourage others to do the same. !

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